For those unfamiliar with military nomenclature, the term “Flight Surgeon” can be somewhat misleading, conjuring images of doctors conducting operations or administering emergency care mid-flight to the wounded or sick. In the case of all Flight Surgeons in general and U.S. Navy Flight Surgeons in particular, however, the focus is almost overwhelmingly on preventive medicine aimed to reduce to a minimum any problems that could lead reduce the levels of safety for aviators and aircrew members, be it in the air or in their ground-based working environment.
While physicals from the Medical Corps seeking qualification as Flight Surgeons have the lion’s share of the hurdles behind them—they have their medical degrees and are commissioned officers—the path to acquiring their wings involves much more than becoming acquainted with the peculiarities of powered flight. Their journey is made up of three distinct legs, beginning with an Aviation Preflight Indoctrination followed by the Naval Aviation Survival Training Program (NASTP).
Training alongside aviator students from the Marine Corps and those in the Navy seeking other aviator qualifications, the six-week course crams nearly 180 hours of classroom and academic studies, as well as a course in survival skills, into just forty days. Flight regulations, meteorology, aerodynamics, navigation, and aircraft engine systems are just a few of the technical topics that are covered. The NASTP includes a surface swim of between 25 to 50 years, treading water and executing drown-proofing techniques for at least two minutes each, underwater emergency egress training, and “hands-on” hypoxia training (undergoing the effects of oxygen deprivation at 25,000 via a hyperbaric chamber).
The second phase involves Flight Training, which is a U.S. Naval Aviation twist on the old saying, “Physician, heal thyself!” Flying in both fixed-wing (Beechcraft T-6 Texan II) and rotary-wing (Bell Jet Ranger TH-57) aircraft, Flight Surgeon candidates undergo the same experiences that give them the ability to understand the stressors involved in flight from the perspective of pilots and aircrew members.
Seven academic units comprise the final and third phase of the Navy’s Flight Surgeon training regimen, held at the campus of the Naval Aerospace Medical Institute in Pensacola, Florida. Study areas are Operational Medicine, Naval Aviation Medicine, Environmental Physiology, and Otorhinolaryngology (Ear/Nose/Throat), Ophthalmology/Optometry, Internal Medicine/Neurology, and Psychology from a distinctly Aerospace perspective.
Medical Corps members who complete the course are required to serve a two-year utilization tour, which provides them time to hone and practice the skills they acquired. In total, there are over 260 billets for Flight Surgeons across the globe.

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