A Day in the Life of a Flight Student in the US Navy

Ever wonder what a typical day in the life is like for a flight student in the US Navy?

A Day in the Life of a Flight Student in the US Navy

Every aspiring naval aviator’s dream is to one day be playing shirtless beach volleyball under the SoCal sun, telling sea stories of the flight they had earlier that morning, and slapping their teammate on the ass in celebration when a point was just scored…

Okay maybe that’s not every naval aviator’s dream but that famous naval aviation movie from the 80s sure made it seem that way.

And while I have no clue what life is like as a winged pilot in the fleet, I have a pretty solid grasp on what life is like as a student naval aviator in the US Navy.

So if you want to know what it’s like to be a 24-year-old figuring out what the hell renters insurance is on Tuesday and then to be responsible for a $17 million dollar military aircraft on Wednesday, keep reading!

The Flight Schedule

The best and worst part about being a flight student in the military—or a military pilot in general—is that your day-to-day existence is predicated on the almighty flight schedule. The flight schedule lists all squadron activities for the day: flights (obviously), simulator events, classroom studies, and everyone’s favorite: duty/watch.

The flight schedule is dictated by Ops (operations) and is meticulously planned to maximize the efficient use of aircraft, simulators, instructors, students, and crew day (the maximum time IPs/students are allowed to be working in a day).

The best part about being a military aviator? No two days are the same. The worst part? Some days you fly at 0500, and some days you land at midnight.

Oh, and the schedule for the following day only comes out at 5:00 PM the day prior.

What’s in a Day?

As Shakespeare said: “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.”

This applies to days of the week as a flight student, too. There’s often not a huge difference between days of the week when you’re in a training command learning to fly.

You could fly or stand duty on the weekends and you could have a random Tuesday or Friday off. The only requirement is that students have off one in every seven days.

This usually works out just fine as a day flying a Navy jet beats a day doing just about anything else. But every so often (read: way more often than you’d like) you’ll find yourself scheduled to be on duty (clerical work, answering phones, making coffee, etc…) the one weekend you wanted to go to that Nickleback concert in Austin with your friends.

Semper Gumby…

A Day in the Life

So, a typical workday in the life of a military aviator usually consists of four things: studying, working out, simulator events, or flying.

It’s not uncommon to do several or all four of these things in a given day. Unless you’re a P8 pilot, in which case you’d probably rather stand duty for an entire month if it got you out of the fitness test once a year.

While these tasks can take up the majority of your working hours and then some, as a student you still need to find the time to do the “normal” things: eat, sleep, grocery shop, walk the dog, and hang out with your friends and significant other (unless she’s a Corpus Christi local—then run).


The bread and butter of every student naval aviator… You’ll study more in flight training than you ever did in college and it never stops. Even when you get to the fleet as a winged aviator you’ll still crack into the NATOPS for your new aircraft and constantly be prepping for your next qualification.

Studying for flying, however, is definitely more fun than studying for your typical college-level Wars of Basket Weaving 101 class.

With flying, you are studying numbers, emergency procedures, the aircraft’s limitations, maneuvers, and all kinds of other things similar to memorizing dates and events in college. But you also practice the physical actions you’ll do in the plane (chair flying), you’ll study in groups and walk the maneuvers out in physical space with other students, and you’ll constantly be bouncing “What would you do in this scenario?” ideas around with your roommates even when you’re just hanging out.

I like to start my mornings with coffee and review the most important information for that phase of training. Emergency procedures and limits in the beginning, system knowledge during ground school, maneuver airspeeds and angles of bank during the flight phase, etc…

Working Out

All military aviators should incorporate fitness into their daily lives—and most do! For some platforms, being fit will literally be part of what it takes to be successful at your job (think dogfighting with over 7 Gs). While for other platforms, the flying may not be as strenuous.

Either way, all available research indicates that increasing your fitness level has a direct correlation to mental well-being and actually improves memory and cognitive acuity. Therefore, whether you’re training to fight the next generation of adversaries in a fighter or you want to fly at 150 knots hunting for submarines in a helicopter, working on your fitness (shoutout Fergie Ferg) is critical to every aviator’s lifestyle.

The timing of the workouts will always differ. If you’re in ground school, you can anticipate a somewhat regular schedule but otherwise, the goal is to squeeze in a workout whenever it fits. And with flying itself being a pretty exhausting event, it’s not uncommon to take a day off here and there to maximize recovery.


Although they do differ, sims and flights are the practical portion of your training—the part where you get to implement and practice all the skills you’ve been learning about in class.

Simulator events can have a different feel depending on what part of training you’re in. For instance, in Primary Flight Training, the sim events are typically looked at as just another evaluation since grades play a critical role in that portion of the pipeline. You still learn a lot but the focus is performing and showing your sim instructor that you’ve already spent time on your own practicing in the sims.

On the other hand, in Advanced Flight Training the sims have a much more educational feel to them. Especially in the jet pipeline, the goal is to have a single-seat mentality whenever you encounter emergencies. In most fleet aircraft there’s not even an NFO in the back so being able to solve emergencies on your own is a crucial skill to develop. That’s why sim instructors in this phase allow you to make mistakes, reevaluate, and make several attempts using different strategies to solve the problem in the air.

Sims can be scheduled as early as 5:00 AM and as late as 10:00 PM. Sometimes you’ll have one per day and others you’ll have two. In Advanced, the understanding is that you can keep up with a faster pace now and most sims are scheduled for two per day.


Finally, the flying. The best and most difficult part of flight training. Everything seems to move twice as fast in the plane and your brain works half as efficiently.

Because of this, the preparation for flying is critical. This can start hours before your brief time. This could be a typical routine for a noon flight:

0700: wake up and coffee
0800: review weather, airport NOTAMs, and flight plan
0830: have a light breakfast, pack water and a snack for later
0900: head to base
0930: prepare the briefing space and review the flight plan
1030: brief
1200: fly
1330: post-flight debrief
1430: head home

Every flight is without a doubt a privilege and a lot of fun but as you can see it takes about four hours of preparation for a simple one-hour flight. Sometimes you’ll even have multiple flights in one day but when this is the case the flights are often similar and will share much of the preparation. So, you won’t necessarily double your workload to prepare for the flights but you’ll definitely be exhausted at the end of the day and ready for a cold beer.

Dream Job

So that’s it: the typical day in the life of a Naval Flight Student. At times it can be highly stressful and at others it can feel like Groundhog Day. With the ups and downs, one thing is certain: it’s the best job in the world. Not only are you getting paid to learn to fly, you’re doing it for the world’s greatest Navy in one of the coolest aircraft you can imagine.