News | Dec. 21, 2022

CNATRA Flight Surgeon Earns Wings of Gold

By Anne Owens

A flight surgeon attached to Training Squadron (VT) 35 of Training Air Wing Four recently earned his Wings of Gold, the first Aeromedical Dual Designator (AMDD) to transition from flight surgeon to pilot in 20 years.

Lt. Danny Xu, a native of New York, was joined by friends and family at the Catalina Club aboard Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas, as he received his wings designating him a naval aviator.

Xu attributes his drive to pursue a medical degree to his parents, who are both doctors. He also had many friends from high school who enlisted in the Navy, which made him curious about following that as a career path.

“I always thought about aviation and wanted to fly, but I didn’t know how to fly and no one around me knew, so I always kept it in the back of my mind,” Xu said. “After talking to a recruiter, I was made aware of the medical scholarship program and ultimately decided to apply to med school.”

His first duty station was Portsmouth Medical Center for his first year of residency in general surgery, where he applied and was accepted for the flight surgeon program. Following training in Pensacola, Florida, he graduated in May 2018, earning his wings as a Naval flight surgeon.
His first official flight surgeon tour brought him to NAS Corpus Christi to serve as flight doc to the “Rangers” of Training Squadron (VT) 28. The time he spent with the students and instructor pilots of VT-28 was pivotal in his growing interest in aviation and would ultimately give him a unique perspective as a future flight student.

“When I decided to pursue the dual designator path and transition to flight school, I was fortunate to be a flight surgeon for the first two years and met so many student pilots going through training,” Xu said. “I was able to see their side of training with an outsider’s perspective and utilize that to further help my classmates once I started flight school by being a resource to their training.”

Xu’s time with the “Stingrays” of VT-35 gave him exposure to a wide range of aviation platforms and pilot experiences.

“Because I don’t have fleet experience or deployment experience, a benefit from this tour is hearing the experiences of the instructor pilots here,” Xu said. “I get to hear their personal accounts of deployment and flying experience. Having a broad understanding of the Naval Aviation Enterprise at a single location is one of the biggest perks I take away from the CNATRA [Naval Air Training Command] mission. I had access to pilots from every Navy platform, fixed wing, rotary, jet. All the talents come back here to teach.”

Xu received guidance through this transition process from his mentor, Capt. Roderick Borgie, Commander, Naval Air Force Reserve Force Surgeon and chair, aeromedical dual designator advisory group. Borgie was the last AMDD from flight surgeon to pilot in 2000 and Xu is the first to follow that path since. He explains that the aeromedical dual designator program most commonly sees pilots who complete their line tours and subsequently train as flight surgeons.

“Although more rare to be a pilot after becoming a flight surgeon, that path has been traveled quite a bit,” Borgie said. “Famous astronauts Sonny Carter and Dave Brown each joined the Navy as flight surgeons and were selected for pilot training.”

Borgie sees the qualities needed for serving successfully as a dual designator in Xu.

“Danny has been a competent and compassionate doctor who has done well in the aviation lane through flight surgery school with an aptitude for flying,” Borgie said. “He gets the big picture of health in naval aviation, the camaraderie and trust he builds with aircrew, and using his team player attitude to advance the lethality of our Sailors.”

Xu selected to fly the CMV-22 Osprey and both he and Borgie see many practical applications for both designations in the tilt-rotor platform.

“Danny was uniquely chosen to pursue the tilt-rotor platform for many reasons. It is a relatively new platform and is the only platform without a dual designator,” Borgie said. “The CMV-22 will be tasked with a part of the medevac system as a strategy is developed for medical care involving long distances in the Pacific. Having a subject matter expert in the aircraft platform capabilities who is also a subject matter expert in medevacs and enroute care will be crucial to informing future policies and decisions in this arena.”

Xu sees the CMV-22 Osprey as the ideal platform for accomplishing his professional goals as a dual designator. The Osprey is the replacement aircraft to the C-2 Greyhound and will primarily be carrier transport, personnel, cargo and patient transport. Whereas the Greyhound requires a catapult shot and arrested landings, the Osprey does not have those requirements.

Xu is a presence around the flight line, greeted by nearly every instructor pilot and student who walks past because they have met him either as a flight doctor or flight student. His impact at VT-35 was significant during the challenging time that COVID mitigation created for flight production.

Xu’s training will continue at his fleet replacement squadron in Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina, to receive training in the MV-22 Osprey.

Written by Anne Owens with Naval Air Training Command (CNATRA).