U.S. Air Force Aeronautical Ratings

U.S. Air Force Aeronautical Ratings

U.S. Air Force aeronautical ratings are military aviation skill standards established and awarded by the United States Air Force for commissioned officers participating in aerial and space flight. USAF aeronautical badges, commonly referred to as "wings" from their shape and their historical legacy, are awarded by the Air Force in recognition of degrees of achievement and experience. Officers earning these badges are classified as rated officers.

For all categories of aeronautical ratings, to be eligible for the rating and to wear the appropriate badge, an officer must be medically qualified to fly and also be qualified by flying status proficiency. Certified flight officers who develop medical conditions that disqualify them from flying are classified DNIF (Duties Not Including Flying). DNIF may be temporary or permanent. Officers placed on permanent DNIF status are either cross-trained into another career field, or separated from the Air Force, depending on the severity of their medical condition.

The Astronaut "qualifier" is awarded only by the Air Force Chief of Staff for rated officers formally qualified to perform duties at least 50 miles above the earth's surface and who have participated in at least one operational mission, and has a distinctive Astronaut Badge, consisting of a qualifier device superimposed on their rated badge. [Air Force Instruction (AFI) 11-402, Paragraph 2.2.2]

The five categories of aeronautical ratings are: [AFI 11-402. Paragraph 2.2 defines the categories of aeronautical ratings and Paragraph 2.4 the authority making the award.]
*Pilot - awarded by the Commander or delegated wing commanders, Air Education and Training Command (AETC)
*Navigator - awarded by the Commander or delegated wing commanders, AETC
*Air Battle Manager - awarded by the Commander or delegated wing commanders, Air Combat Command
*Observer - awarded by the Senior Air Force Officer, National Aeronautics and Space Administration
*Flight Surgeon - awarded by the Commander, USAF School of Aerospace Medicine


Aeronautical ratings were established on 23 February 1912, by War Department Bulletin No. 6, as a new measurement of pilot skill. [Hennessy, Juliette A. (1958). USAF Historical Study No. 98: "The United States Army Air Arm, April 1861 to April 1917", USAF Historical Division, p.58.] Before that time most pilots of the Aeronautical Division, U.S. Signal Corps soloed by the "short hop method" (also known as "grass-cutting"), in which student pilots, flying alone, learned to handle airplane controls on the ground, taxied in further practice until just short of takeoff speeds, and finally took off to a height of just ten feet, gradually working up to higher altitudes and turns. The practice resulted in the first pilot death only a month into training. At least three of these pilots had been previously instructed by Glen Curtiss at North Island field, California. Concurrently, two pilots (Henry H. Arnold and Thomas DeWitt Milling) were instructed by the Wright Brothers and certified by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) in July 1911.

To establish formal standards of certification, the Army created the Military Aviator rating (MA) and published requirements on 20 April 1912. The first rating was awarded to future General of the Air Force Henry H. Arnold, on 5 July 1912. [John T. Correll, "The First of the Force", "AIR FORCE Magazine", August 2007, p. 50.] The first rating requirements were:
*Attain an altitude of at least 2,500 feet;
*Pilot an aircraft for at least five minutes in a wind of 15 m.p.h. velocity or greater;
*Carry a passenger to an altitude of 500 feet, with a combined weight of pilot and passenger of 250 pounds or more, and make a deadstick landing to within 150 feet of a designated point; and
*Make a military reconnaissance flight of at least 20 miles cross-country at an average altitude of 1,500 feet. [Hennessy, Appendix 8, p.227.]

War Department General Order (GO) No. 39, dated 27 May 1913, certified 24 officers including Arnold as "qualified", and authorized issuance of a certificate and badge. A number of designs were considered before the War Department chose a design of an eagle, holding Signal Corps flags in its talons, suspended from a bar embossed with "Military Aviator", for the badge. The first group of 14 aviators was authorized to receive the badge on 29 September 1913, with the first two issued 16 October 1913, to Captain Charles DeF. Chandler and Lt. Thomas D. Milling, both of whom had also received the first ratings with Arnold on 5 July 1912. All 24 officers certified by G.O. 39 were eventually issued the badge. [Hennessy, p.59.]

In 1914, Congress established the Aviation Section, U.S. Signal Corps, replacing the Aeronautical Division. Two levels of qualification were specified in War Department Bulletin No. 35 on 4 May 1914, with aviators below the rank of captain rated as Junior Military Aviator and those captain and above rated as Military Aviator. The Military Aviator badge was replaced on 15 August 1917 by creation of a new "wings" badge, the first sketches of which are attributed to Arnold in early 1917.

Pilot ratings

The USAF awards navigator ratings at three levels: "Navigator", "Senior Navigator", and "Master Navigator", for active duty officers and officers considered "rated assets" in the Air Reserve Components. The following additional criteria are required for rating as a navigator:

Observer ratings

The USAF awards flight surgeon ratings at three levels: "Flight Surgeon", "Senior Flight Surgeon", and "Chief Flight Surgeon", for active duty officers and officers considered "rated assets" in the Air Reserve Components. The following additional criteria are required for rating as a USAF flight surgeon:


Flight surgeons may also perform duties as "Pilot-physicians". Pilot-physicians are primarily assigned to an operational flying squadron in their respective aircraft, with their main assignment as a pilot, but also with clinical duties seeing patients, usually the flight medicine clinic, depending on the pilot-physician's medical specialty. While the number of available positions is not specifically authorized, the numbers are small because of service commitments required for both USAF pilot training (10 years) and USAF-sponsored medical training (4 years), and because of authorized limits of pilot slots in specific aircraft types. Pilot-physician is also an alternative track for NASA astronaut candidates. [AFI 11-405 "Pilot-Physician Program"]

Pilot-physicians are eligible for advanced ratings as both flight surgeons and pilots. They may apply toward advanced pilot ratings any USAF pilot years of aviation service, months of operational flying duty, and total flying hours accrued before achieving flight surgeon status. After attaining status as a pilot-physician, all hours flown as a pilot, and months of operational flying duty credit accrued as a pilot, may be "dual-credited" toward both advanced pilot and flight surgeon ratings as long as the officer is on aeronautical orders as an active pilot-physician. Hours flown as a flight surgeon, however, may be applied only towards advanced flight surgeon ratings. [AFI 11-402, Paragraph 2.9]



* [http://www.e-publishing.af.mil/pubfiles/af/11/afi11-402/afi11-402.pdf AFI 11-402, "Aviation and Parachutist Service, Aeronautical Ratings and Badges", 29 July 2003]
*Correll, John T. "The First of the Force," "AIR FORCE Magazine", August 2007, Vol. 90, No. 8, the Air Force Association, Arlington, Virginia
* [http://www.rcooper.0catch.com/ebeck1.htm History: The 1913 Military Aviator's Badge awarded to Captain Paul W. Beck, U.S. Infantry, by Walter Schott The Early Birds of Aviation, Inc.]

ee also

* Badges of the United States Air Force
* Military badges of the United States
* Obsolete badges of the United States military

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