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A sergeant pilot was a non-commissioned officer who had undergone flight training and was a qualified pilot in the air forces of several Commonwealth countries before, during and after World War II. It was also a term used in the United States Army Air Forces, where they were commonly called flying sergeants. After World War II, non-commissioned pilots began to be phased out and today all air force pilots are commissioned officers.
United Kingdom and Commonwealth
In Commonwealth air forces, a sergeant pilot (pilot IV, III or II from 1946 to 1950) could be promoted to flight sergeant pilot (pilot I from 1946 to 1950) and warrant officer pilot (renamed master pilot in 1946). Many went on to be commissioned. There were still master pilots flying helicopters with the Royal Air Force at least into the early 1970s. Corporals, sergeants, staff sergeants, and warrant officers may still qualify and operate as pilots in the British Army Air Corps.
The United States Army Air Forces originally favoured officer pilots and the few enlisted pilots were usually civilian-qualified. The adoption of transport and strategic bombing missions meant that a larger number of pilots were needed to perform monotonous and gruelling jobs. Officer pilots were usually assigned to fly fighters and fighter-bombers and commanded units. Enlisted pilots usually were assigned to fly light reconnaissance and artillery-spotter aircraft, cargo aircraft, and medium- and heavy-weight bombers.
The Flight Officer Act of 1942 created the warrant officer rank of flight officer. All enlisted pilots were promoted to that rank and the rank of flight sergeant was discontinued. The flight officer rank was cancelled in 1945 due to there being adequate numbers of commissioned pilots.
The United States Navy and United States Marine Corps had several programmes to train civilian pilots and enlisted personnel to become naval aviators. There were also programmes to train enlisted men to serve as enlisted pilots to fly torpedo and dive bombers, transport and reconnaissance planes, and airships.
On December 17, 2015, the United States Air Force announced that it would begin training enlisted airmen to fly Remotely Piloted Aircraft, specifically the RQ-4 Global Hawk. The first two enlisted pilots since 1961 soloed on November 3, 2016 at Pueblo Municipal Airport in a Diamond DA20. The first-ever female enlisted pilot completed RPA training at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph on August 3, 2017.