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Military pilots operate many different jet and propeller planes. Aircraft range from combat airplanes and helicopters, to supersonic fighters and bombers. In addition to actually flying aircraft, military pilots develop flight plans; check weather reports; brief and direct all crew members; and perform system operation checks to test the proper functioning of instrumentation, controls, and electronic and mechanical systems on the flight deck. They also coordinate their takeoffs and landings with airplane dispatchers and air traffic controllers. At times, military pilots may be ordered to transport equipment and personnel, take reconnaissance photographs, spot and observe enemy positions, and patrol areas to carry out flight missions. After landing, military pilots must follow "after landing and shutdown" checklist procedures, and inform maintenance crews of any discrepancies or other problems noted during the flight. They must also present a written or oral flight report to their commanding officer.
Military aviation specialties include flight navigators or radar technicians, who use radio, radar, and other equipment to help military pilots determine aircraft position and determine its route of travel, and flight instructors, who teach flight students how to fly via classroom training and inflight instruction.
Opportunities as a military pilot are available in all five branches of the U.S. Armed Services. The following paragraphs detail these opportunities by military branch.
Although the Army is best known for its land-based occupations, it also employs military pilots to serve in combat, rescue, and reconnaissance settings. Army pilots are classified under the warrant officer designation along with other skilled experts in nonaviation fields.
The Air Force has the largest number of military pilots. These pilots work in a variety of specialty areas including bombers, airlifts, special operations, surveillance, and navigation. Specific job titles in this branch of the military include air battle managers, airlift pilots and navigators, bomber pilots and navigators, fighter pilots and navigators, reconnaissance/surveillance/electronic warfare pilots and navigators, special operations pilots and navigators, and tanker pilots and navigators.
Marine aviation officers provide air support for ground troops during battle. They also transport equipment and personnel to various destinations.
Pilots in the Navy are called naval flight officers. Unlike other military pilots, they take off and land their airplanes on both land bases and aircraft carriers. Depending on their specialty, they receive advanced training in air-to-air combat, bombing, search and rescue, aircraft carrier qualifications, over-water navigation, and low-level flying. Naval flight officer specialties include turboprop maritime propeller pilots, who track submarines, conduct surveillance, and gather photographic intelligence, and navy helicopter pilots, who search for underwater supplies, deliver supplies and personnel, and participate in emergency search-and-rescue missions.
The U.S. Coast Guard is the only armed force in the United States with domestic law enforcement authority. Coast Guard aviators work at nearly 35 air stations, enforcing federal laws and treaties and conducting military operations to safeguard the American homeland.