Posted by: Waring Hills | 22 March 2011

“Naval Aviator” Sobriquet Born 1915

World War II recruiting poster

Before 22 March 1915,  a pilot in the Navy was known as a “Navy Air Pilot,” after that date the term became Naval Aviator. As the World War II poster above asks, “Have you got it?” The Blue Angel pilot below demonstrates that he has got it!

How low can you go?

So where does the term “aviator” originate? The first recorded use of the term (aviateur in French) was in 1887, as a variation of ‘aviation‘, from the Latin avis (meaning bird), coined in 1863 by French aviation pioneer Guillaume Joseph Gabriel de La Landelle (1812-1886) in Aviation Ou Navigation Aérienne (Aviation or Air Navigation). The term aviatrix (aviatrice in French) is used for a female aviator. As opposed to the term pilot which had nautical origins, the early days of aviation contained more dangers than the perils of the sea. This fact imbued bravery, romance and the almost James Bond qualities expected of someone who would leave the safety of the earth for the ethereal air of the skies. Some would say aviators were defying the Gods, if man were meant to fly God would have given him wings.

The term aviator would soon apply to anyone who ventured forth in aircraft, but only the term “naval aviator”  would single out the pilot of a naval aircraft. Naval aviators not only dared to fly like a bird through the skies, but also dared to fly over the great oceans of the world and either land on them or even more dangerously, land onboard a moving ship in pitching seas! As  naval  aircraft became faster and more complex, naval aviators would be seen to acquire even more of those amazing qualities as noted  in Tom Wolfe’s book  The Right Stuff. Hollywood has continuously  through the years turned out nautical miles of film documenting the qualities of naval aviators, below a few are noted such as:

1931 – Helldivers

1939 – Wings of the Navy

1941 – Dive Bomber

1944 – The Fighting Lady

1954 – Bridges At Toko-Ri

1975 – Midway

1979 – The Great Santini

1980 – Final Countdown

1986 – Top Gun

1991 – Flight of the Intruder

I guess today there should also be a new term “Naval Aviatrix,” see Captain Joyner’s picture below…so young men and women should be careful what they wish for…in my experience you get what you wish for…

First female Air Wing Commander, Captain Sara Joyner United State Navy. (US Navy photo)



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