Career Profile: Army Rotary Wing Aviator

Fly Army helicopters after attending its training program

This illustration shows a day in the life of an Army rotary wing aviator including "Piloting for types of missions including: reconnaissance, security, gunnery, and rescue operations," "Flying several different types of aircrafts such as the AH-64 Apache, UH-60 Blackhawk, and OH-Kiowa," "Aiding ground troops by transporting equipment of medical evacuation," and "Flying during the day and night with the help of night vision goggles."

 Chloe Giroux © The Balance

In the Army, Rotary Wing Aviators (helicopter pilots) are still officers, but not the commissioned variety. They’re Warrant Officers, the military’s solution to making officers out of highly trained technical experts without saddling them with the same burdens of command and politics faced by lieutenants and above. Most Warrant Officers in any service branch are prior enlisted, with about a decade of experience in their field of expertise, but the Army makes an exception for aviation.

Warrant Officer Flight Training Program Requirements

The Warrant Officer Flight Training Program is open to US citizens at least 18 but no older than 33 years, who have passed the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery with a score of at least 110 on the General Technical section of the test.

Would-be flyers must also take the Flight Aptitude Selection Test and score at least 90. And you must pass appropriate physical examinations and have vision no worse than 20/50 (correctable to 20/20).

If you’re accepted, the Army starts you out in Basic Combat Training (boot camp) like any other enlisted soldier. After boot camp comes the six-week Warrant Officer Candidate School (WOCS).

If you’ve already read about commissioned officers, then WOCS is exactly what it sounds like – a variation on Officer Candidate School tailored specifically for Warrant Officers. After all of this, you are officially promoted to Warrant Officer.

Finally, brand new Warrant Officers head to ten months of flight training at Fort Rucker, Alabama. Like other flight training programs, everyone begins with a single basic aircraft -- in this case the TH-67 Creek helicopter – that’s not used in active service but gives students a firm foundation in piloting.

As they gain experience, student pilots then move on to specialize in the specific helicopter they’ll fly for the rest of their career.

Duties and Responsibilities

Army helicopter pilots fly every type of combat and support mission under the sun, including those not under the sun. (Flying with night vision goggles sounds fun until you’ve seen how disorienting they are.)

The Army’s Warrant Officer Recruiting site lists, among other missions in the pilot’s repertoire, “reconnaissance, security, gunnery, rescue, air assault, mine/flare delivery, internal/external load, and paradrop/rappelling operations.”

These missions can also vary depending on the pilot’s aircraft specialty:

  • The UH-60 Blackhawk performs a variety of transport missions for the Army, including troop movement and medical evacuations.
  • The AH-64 Apache is, at least in my eyes, the helicopter equivalent of a fighter jet. Though not as fast as jets, of course, Apaches are small, light, fierce beasts that exist to support the ground troops by raining bullets and bombs on the enemy.
  • The OH-58 Kiowa Warrior performs reconnaissance missions.
  • The CH-47 Chinook, with its twin rotors, has been pulling duty as a troop transport and heavy equipment lifter since the Vietnam era.

Warrant Officer pilots may also pull collateral duties not directly related to flying (which is a given for anyone in the military). But unlike commissioned officers, they remained focused throughout their careers on being expert pilots, not pursuing larger command positions.

It’s no walk in the park, but the Warrant Officer Flight Training Program is a remarkable opportunity to dive into a career as a pilot and a professional soldier, especially for those who can’t wait for (or afford) a four-year degree to start getting their hands dirty.