Naval aircrewman

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Naval aircrewman
Rating Badge AW.jpg
Naval aircrewman rating insignia
Issued by: United States Navy
Type Enlisted rating
Abbreviation AW
Specialty Aviation

The naval aircrewman rate (known as aviation warfare systems operator or AW prior to 2008) is a crew rating of the US Navy. It was previously designated as aviation anti-submarine warfare operator. However under the CNO-directed “Helicopter Master Plan”, all 78XX, and 94XX aircrewmen were re-designated as ‘aviation warfare systems operator’. Many technologically advanced navies have a similar trade.

Naval aircrew wings, typically earned by AWs upon completion of on-the-job training.


All AWs must attain a minimum amount of education and training in several fields of science, technology, and aviation at several different schools. The educational “pipeline” averages 18 months to two years in length. The following list describes most of those schools.

Aviation warfare systems operators monitor the acoustic station during the flight of a P-3C Orion


Naval Aircrew Candidate School (NACCS)

NACCS of NAS Pensacola, Florida, introduces to and evaluates the student in basic flight physiology and water survival. Low-pressure hypobaric chamber sessions, night vision evaluations, multi-station spatial disorientation device (also known as the “spin and puke”) sessions and aircraft emergency water egress device sessions are part of the training. Advanced first aid and CPR and a very aggressive physical regimen including running up to 8-10 miles, swimming a mile at a time, etc. are part of the curriculum.

AW “A” School

Naval Air Technical Training Center (NATTC) provides the student a basic introduction to all the fields the student must be well versed in to operate in their prospective platform. Active and passive electronic warfare, active and passive sonar. Reading sonargrams, magnetic anomaly detection equipment, physics, wave propagation, oceanography, meteorology and working with classified information are included in this phase of training.

AW “A” School

AW “A” School provides prospective aircrewmen with the basic knowledge necessary to excel within the helicopter sea combat, patrol squadron, and helicopter mine countermeasures communities. Students will learn the basics of naval special warfare support, combat search and rescue, airborne mine countermeasures, and oceanography. Upon successful completion, students can expect to transfer to MH-60S (HSC) FRAC or MH-53E (HM) FRAC.

Survival, evasion, resistance and escape (SERE)

This course is designed to provide Level “C” Code of Conduct training to pilots, flight officers, intelligence officers, aircrew, and other designated high risk of capture personnel as directed by respective TYCOMs/MCCDC in accordance with DOD Instruction 1300.21 and the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) executive agent instruction. Training encompasses those basic skills necessary for worldwide survival, facilitating search and rescue efforts, evading capture by hostile forces, resistance to interrogation, exploitation and indoctrination, and escape from detention by enemy forces in accordance with DOD Instruction 1300.21. It is based on and reinforces the values expressed in the code of conduct while maintaining an appropriate balance of sound educational methodology and realistic/stressful training scenarios.

Participation in SERE training requires certification of a current physical examination (within 1 year for aircrew) and completion of a medical screening form within 14 days of training by competent medical authority (i.e. flight surgeon, IDC). Students must report for training with medical and dental records or they will be dis-enrolled from the course. SERE training is physically demanding, therefore, students must comply with their own service’s body fat standards and have successfully passed their most recent physical readiness test.

Fleet Replacement Aircrew Training (FRAC)

This phase of training immerses the student much further into training for their specific platform (aircraft or operations centers) and specialty (acoustic or non-acoustic). Typically, the student will report to an East Coast or West Coast Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS) to conduct training (Note that all MH-53E FRS training is conducted on the East Coast at Naval Station Norfolk). Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization (NATOPS) and tactics are also introduced. After completion of training and reporting for duty in the fleet, they are required to complete “on the job training” lasting around six months before being recognized as fully qualified.

Position summaries

There are several platforms (fixed wing P-3 Orion and rotary wing SH-60 Seahawk aircraft, aircraft carriers, etc.) specialties and special certifications available within the rating. Additional training can be acquired to qualify rotary wing AWs as combat search and rescue swimmers. Below is a list of specialties within the rating.

An AW performs maintenance on a .50-caliber crew-served weapon aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower


These AWFs fly on the C-2A Greyhound, a carrier-based fixed-wing aircraft, and fly high priority passengers, cargo, and mail to and from aircraft carriers. Their designations as loadmasters start from FRAC school at VAW-120 in Norfolk, Virginia where they become transport second crewman. From there the AWs complete on the job training, their NAWS package, and a second crewman board to become carrier transport second crewman. And then finally completing more job specific qualifications to become a carrier transport crew chief. These AWFs also fly on C-130T aircraft as well as C-40 and C-9.

Naval aircrewman (operator)

(abbreviated as AWO, SS1 & SS2)
These AWs fly in a fixed wing, long range patrol aircraft. Currently the P-3 Orion is fulfilling this role, with the P-8 Poseidon planned to take over this mission starting in 2013. Acoustic sensor operators begin their career in the fleet after attending specialized training. They start as sensor operator 2, and after sufficient flight and related experience is acquired, advance to sensor operator 1 with their own crew. The job can be related to the civilian fields of machine condition monitoring, or predictive maintenance. The AW is responsible for the analysis of all sensor data and must interpret this data in order to search for, localize and track, determine spatial orientation and vector, identify, assess condition of, establish attack parameters on a single, or multiple surface or subsurface contacts. These systems include but are not limited to passive sonar used to listen to underwater sounds, active sonar systems which can be used to pinpoint targets. They control the type and settings for the sonobuoys, underwater communication equipment for platform to platform communication, sensor system to fire control system data transfer and recording.

Naval aircrewman (operator)

(abbreviated as AWO, SS3)
Non-acoustic AWs, also known as “sensor 3s” or electronic warfare operators, currently fly in P-3 Orion aircraft, they will be transitioning to the P-8A Poseidon beginning in 2013. Non-acoustic AWs are responsible for operating the radar, electronic support measures system, electro-optical/infrared imaging devices and magnetic anomaly detection device aboard variants of the P-3 Orion. They acquire data necessary to identify surface or air contacts, and can also provide data to help search, localize, and track contacts of interest. SS3s aid in establishing attack parameters on a single, or multiple surface contact. Non-acoustic operators also work with the flight station and navigator to ensure safety-of-flight conditions are maintained.

Naval aircrewman (operator)

(abbreviated as ASWMOD/ASWOC)
These AWs brief and debrief aircrews, filter through, organize, and relay intelligence collected during the mission in an aircraft carrier ASW module (ASMOD) or in a land-based ASW operations center (ASWOC). They coordinate ASW information-gathering throughout the battle group, operate various under-sea warfare and non-under-sea warfare related sensor systems to extract, analyze and classify data obtained; perform specified pre-flight, in-flight and post-flight operations in a multitude of naval aircraft serving anti-surface, USW, mine countermeasures, electronic, counter-narcotics, and land and sea rescue missions performance; operate tactical support center systems to analyze and classify USW and non-USW data; assist in aircrew briefing and debriefing; and provide data base information to the tactical commander for use in prescribing mission objectives and tactics.

Naval aircrewman (tactical helicopter)

These AWs flying in various versions of the SH-60, and are trained as rescue swimmers. The jobs performed by these AWs varies depending on the model they fly in. F

Previous platforms

Past AW-crewed aircraft include aircraft carrier-based S-3 Viking and S-2 Tracker aircraft. They also flew in SH-3 Sea King and SH-2 Seasprite helicopters and P-2 Neptune patrol aircraft.


Roots of the rating

The “naval aircrewman” rating was once called the “aviation warfare systems operator” and was originally the “aviation anti-submarine warfare operator” rate, created on September 1, 1968 by BUPERS Note 1440 of 29 Feb 1968. It was re-designated “naval aircrewman” by the NEOCS package without change of abbreviation in 2008.

See also


  1. “Navy enlisted manpower and personnel classifications”. Bureau of Naval Personnel. US Navy. Archived from the original on 25 March 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-23.

United States Naval Aviation 1910–1995, Appendix 14, Aviation Ratings Naval Historical Center