News | June 21, 2023

Two Marine Corps Aviators Earn Second Set of Wings After Completing New Program

Two Marine Corps Weapon Systems Officers (WSOs), Lt. Col. James Corrington and Maj. Syed Rashid, both earned a second set of the coveted “Wings of Gold” March 23, after completing flight training with the “Rangers” of Training Squadron (VT) 28. Their recent flight training allows both officers to become instructor pilots in the T-6B Texan II, the Navy’s primary flight trainer.
At the beginning of their careers, both officers completed training and served tours as WSOs. WSO is the Navy and Marine Corps terminology for a Naval Flight Officer (NFO) that operates as one of two crew members in the F/A-18D or F/A-18F. In those aircraft the WSO operates in the rear seat, behind the pilot. Their inflight responsibilities include navigation and operating weapon and aircraft systems.
Now complete with pilot flight training, Corrington and Rashid are entitled to wear the warfare devices of the Naval Aviator (pilot) and Naval Flight Officer. The VT-28 winging ceremony was held onboard Naval Air Station Corpus Christi and is the first “winging” in over 30 years of VT-28 history.
VT-28 was originally commissioned in May 1960 as an advanced training squadron for multi-engine flight training. Decades later, in 1990, VT-28 was repurposed as an instructor training squadron. Three years later, VT-28 became a primary aviation training squadron in 1993. By training and qualifying Corrington and Rashid as pilots, the pair are the first “wingers” to graduate from the squadron in over 30 years. Since 1993, typical Student Naval Aviators (SNAs) complete primary flight training and then continue to train in an advanced flight training squadron prior to receiving their wings.
Their newly repurposed careers are the result of the Professional Flight Instructor Program designed to supply Naval and Marine Corps Aviation with additional instructors via non-traditional career paths. Although the program has already produced new instructors in recent years, Corrington and Rashid are the first two candidates to graduate and “wing” directly from a primary training squadron before reporting to the Fixed Wing Instructor Training Unit (FITU). At the FITU, they will hone their teaching skills in the same aircraft (T-6B) before returning to a primary squadron where they will immediately begin teaching new students.
This unconventional path is an avenue capable of quickly producing T-6B instructors at a greatly reduced cost. The cost savings are a result of a shortened amount of time-to-train because candidates are already experienced aviators. Additionally, candidates like Corrington and Rashid, who will instruct SNAs operating the T-6B, are not required to undergo follow-on training in advanced flight trainers because they will only instruct SNAs in the primary phase of flight training.
Rashid, at the beginning of his career, was unable to pursue training as a pilot due to issues relating to eyesight. As a result, he continued down the career path of a WSO, but he always kept an eye out for a path to transition from the backseat of the jet to the front. Following his first tour as a WSO, he received corrective eye surgery and began applying to transition to the pilot career path in 2016.
“I’d been trying since then [2016] to move to the front seat, it’s been a dream of mine since childhood to be at the controls of an aircraft,” Rashid said. “This program that became available in the last few years, the Professional Flight Instructor Program, took guys and gals like the myself who had been serving as Naval Flight Officers, and took the experience we had in aviation, and applied that to learning to fly and ultimately to instruct the young generation of future Naval and Marine aviators. It was something I couldn’t pass up on.”
The Professional Flight Instructor program selects candidates with already existing and extensive professional aviation experience. Officers like Corrington and Rashid are able to leverage their time as NFOs and WSOs to quickly and expertly adapt to their new responsibilities as instructor pilots. Seasoned Aviators selected by the Professional Flight Instructor Board are able to continue instructing late into their careers as an alternative to the traditional sea/shore rotation that requires most instructor pilots to eventually return to the fleet.
“Marine Corps leadership understands that WSOs are an untapped resource [for Naval Aviation]. There is a lot of aeronautical experience in the WSO community. It’s kind of a gimme, to send us to flight school because we have all that experience of flying on the instruments, talking on the radios, and have mastered those harder concepts that make training complicated for a [traditional] student while learning how to fly. Now you put us in the program and all we need to do is, literally, learn to wiggle the stick around,” Corrington said.
In 2021, the “Sabrehawks” of VT-86 graduated and winged the last two Marine Corps WSOs needed to operate the F/A-18D Hornet. With the Marine Corps reducing need for WSOs as the organization moves to the F-35 Lighting II (a single-seat advanced strike fighter), individuals like Corrington and Rashid have become a valuable resource for the Navy and Marine Corps to repurpose as Naval Aviation looks to continue producing the next generation of professional warfighters.
“I’ve been an instructor in the F/A-18, I’ve had all of the qualifications [in that aircraft] that a WSO could have, I’ve been teaching for a very long time and I was also a teacher prior to joining the Marine Corps. That is an aspect of me, that I really enjoy teaching and now, as a Lt. Col., the flying opportunities can be pretty limited, so to be able to come back here to flight school to learn how to be a pilot and then to turn around and instruct is really just a very unique opportunity and I’m very grateful that the Marine Corps was able to select me for this program. I love teaching and I love flying,” Corrington said.
VT-28 is one of 17 training squadrons led by the Chief of Naval Air Training (CNATRA). CNATRA trains, mentors and delivers the highest quality Naval Aviators who prevail in competition, crisis and conflict. Headquartered at NAS Corpus Christi, CNATRA comprises five training air wings in Florida, Mississippi and Texas. In addition, CNATRA oversees the Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron—the Blue Angels—and the training curriculum for all fleet replacement squadrons.
From Chief of Naval Air Training Public Affairs.