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The title flight officer was a military rank used by the United States Army Air Forces during World War II. It was also an air force rank in several Commonwealth nations where it was used for female officers and was equivalent to the rank of flight lieutenant. The term flight officer is sometimes used today to describe job title positions as aircrew members.
A flight officer is a member of the crew of an aircraft who is responsible for specific functions. The flight officer may function as the navigator, responsible for planning the journey, advising the pilot while en route, and ensuring that hazards or obstacles are avoided. The flight officer may also be responsible for operating aircraft mission/weapon systems, including mission planning, mission timing, threat reactions, aircraft communications, and hazard avoidance. In the United States Navy and Marine Corps and formerly United States Coast Guard, officer aircrew members responsible for operating airborne weapon and sensor systems are called naval flight officers. The title of flight officer is also used for police officers who serve as pilots in law enforcement aviation units.
United States Army
The rank is equivalent to warrant officer junior grade which is today's Warrant Officer (NATO grade: W-1). Enlisted and aviation cadet trainees who successfully passed air qualification training were appointed as flight officers and served as rated pilots, navigators, flight engineers, bombardiers and glider pilots. At the end of World War II, the Army Air Forces discontinued the use of the rank of flight officer. All of the service's flight officers had either been promoted to commissioned officer ranks during the course of the war or discharged.
At the beginning of the 1950s, the United States Army required more helicopter pilots but congressionally imposed commissioned officer strength levels prevented pilot expansion. The Army requested authority to establish the Flight Officer/Warrant Officer program. This proposal was rejected because the Army already had three groups of personnel - -enlisted, warrant officer and commissioned officer. As a fall back position, the Department of the Army decided that the grade of flight officer was in reality a Warrant Officer grade with a restriction to the Warrant Officer Junior Grade rank (WOJG).
Civil Air Patrol
The rank of flight officer was re-instituted by the United States Air Force's civilian Auxiliary, the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), in the mid-1980s, replacing the former ranks of warrant officer and chief warrant officer, new entrants for which had been eliminated by the Air Force in 1959 and discontinued with the retirement of the last USAF chief warrant officer in the Air Force Reserve in 1992. CAP Officers between the ages of 18 and 20 are eligible for promotion to the ranks of flight officer, technical flight officer and senior flight officer. Requirements for promotion to each grade is generally the same as for promotion to CAP second lieutenant, first lieutenant, and captain, respectively.
Flight officer was established as a rank equivalent to flight lieutenant in the women's air services of several Commonwealth nations. The rank was used by the British Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and its successor, the Women's Royal Air Force (WRAF), until 1968, and by Princess Mary's Royal Air Force Nursing Service (PMRAFNS) until 1980. It was also previously used in the Women's Royal Australian Air Force, which was absorbed into the Royal Australian Air Force in 1977.