There are a few interesting similarities between the Aviator Badges currently awarded by the United States Army and the Aviator Badges awarded to members of the U.S. Air Services nearly 100 years ago during World War I. For one, both types were issued in three degrees, although the old Air Service Badges included an “Observer” degree for aircrew who did not handle actual aviation duties.

The second commonality is more interesting: Enlisted Army personnel were eligible for Aviator Badges during and after the Great War (until 1933, while today the U.S. Army is the only branch of the United States Armed Forces that currently (2016) features a pathway—The Warrant Officer Flight Training Program—for enlisted Soldiers to become pilots and thus earn Aviator Badges. In all, there are ten career fields/aircraft open to Warrant Officer Aviators; in addition to rotary-wing aircraft, there are Aviator positions for Jet Aircraft Pilot (the (C-20F/J, or Gulfstream III) and Prop Aircraft (C-12 Huron).

As with most Aviator Badges, the different degrees are awarded in large part based on flight time and a minimum amount of time assigned to a flying unit (Total Operational Flying Duty Credit). Basic Aviator Badges are awarded upon completion of Graduate of the Initial Entry Rotary Wing (IERW) Training Program or Flight School XXI, both held at Fort Novosel (formerly designated as Fort Rucker) in Alabama.

IERW comprises four phases, beginning with a two-week ground-school introductory course covering essentials of aerodynamics, flight controls, and pre-flight checks and start-up procedures. The second phase, covering ten weeks and featuring sixty flight hours, puts students into the cockpit of the TH-67 trainer for their first short flights in which they learning the essentials of takeoffs and landing before progressing to complex operations such as emergency procedures and handling the craft in confined areas. Phase three revolves around instrument training, and Phase four wraps up with combat training. (Note that students in the FSXX1 program will be training in different types rotary-wing aircraft.)

Senior Aviator Badges are awarded only after Soldiers have logged seven years of rated aviation service; for Aviators who transferred with their rating intact, four of those years must have been spent as Army Aviators. They must also have acquired credit for a minimum of 1,000 hours of DOD Aviator flight time (this must include flight time as a pilot in command, the aircrew member who in the end is the one completely responsible for the operation and safety of the aircraft).

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