Last Marine WSOs receive their wings

| September 29, 2021

With the US Marine Corps slowly transitioning from the two-seat F/A-18D to the single-seat F-35 Lightning II, the need for Weapons and Sensors Officer (WSO, pronounced wizzo) is coming to an end. The final two Marines to complete the training and receive their wings just happened.

From Marine Corps Times;

The Marine Corps’ final weapons systems officers pinned on their wings at a ceremony at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, on Friday.

The change is mostly due to technology. The Marine Corps has used WSOs or “wizzos” in the rear seat of the F/A-18D.

The officer focuses on running weapons systems, navigation support, communications forward air control and tactical airborne reconnaissance so that the fighter jet pilot can fly the aircraft.

But with the shift from F/A-18s to the single-seat F-35s, Marine aviators now have algorithms and a suite of tech-enabled options to do those tasks instead.

Or, in Marine speak, “As the Marine Corps continues to transition from the F/A-18 Hornet to the F-35 Lightning II, the need for a WSO military occupational specialty (MOS) will come to an end,” according to the release.

Also, an increase in the number of F/A-18Cs, a Navy single-seat version, has cut the need for WSOs.

Current plans call for all two-seat F/A18s to be replaced by single-seaters by 2030, according to a Marine Corps release.

First lieutenants Michael LoGrande and John Roger Rueckel III were the last two Marines to graduate with the “Sabrehawks” in training squadron (VT) 86, according to a Marine Corps release.

Category: Marines

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So, do these guys transition to become pilots in 2030?

Jeff LPH 3, 63-66

So flying the one seater should be a wizz even without the wizz being onboard.


I’ve always been a little curious about this position. Is the WSO a qualified pilot or not? Does he have the ability to fly the aircraft in an emergency if the pilot becomes incapacitated? Are there even flight controls in his portion of the cockpit?

Am I right in thinking that the WSO has to have at least some of the same training as the pilot, at least up to a certain point, before their career paths diverge and pilots go one way and WSO’s go another?

Green Thumb

Ask Slider and Goose.


Stop that.




Shots fired! Careful GT! Put them type of comments on Ice, man. ‘Ed may lose that loving feelin’.

Side note…It was the “Key West Agreement” of 1948 that took the (GO) Army out of the armed aircraft business. Albeit, that was only temporary. The Airedales got their panties in a bunch when the (GO) Army started arming some Aerial Artillery Platforms on the sly in the ’50s/early ’60s.


IIRC there was some kind of revision to the “Key West Agreement” in the 1960’s or 70’s. I think that was the time it was decided that the Army would only operate fixed wing aircraft for reconnaissance/surveillance purposes and for transportation (C-12 and so on.) Army fixed wing aircraft were not to be armed as this was an Air Force mission (the OV-10 and A1E Skyraider being Air Force birds while the OV-1 Mohawk would be used for recon and surveillance only.)

In exchange, Air force rotary winged aircraft could be armed but could not have forward-firing weapons as these were to be limited to the Army.

On one hand, it makes sense to not replicate missions of aircraft since that would be a waste of resources.

But on the other hand, the fact that such “agreements” need to exist demonstrates that maybe instead of focusing on platforms (fixed wing vs rotary wing) we should be focused on MISSIONS, i.e. the Close Air Support (CAS) mission, that is, the immediate support of troops in contact with the enemy, should be performed by the Army while the “strike” missions (attacks deep into enemy territory) should be done by the Air Forces.


A WSO is a Navy Flight Officer (NFO) and not trained to actually pilot a Naval aircraft. They perform navigation and Comm chores, as well as operate the weapon systems associated with that particular aircraft. The back seats in TACAIR birds do not have flight controls, unless configured for a trainer. The AH-1 series of Marine attack helos have dual flight controls, but have no NFOs on board.
Truth be told, there is nothing a NFO does that an enlisted aircrew can’t do just as well with similar training, but the Navy has odd ideas on who can actually employ most aircraft weapon systems. Can’t have a mere ‘E’ getting all the fun, dammit. And the kills.


…After the Vietnam unpleasantness, the USAF was horrified to discover that their leading MiG killer of the war- since USAF gave credit to both the front AND back seater- was in fact a WSO, Jeff Feinstein. As soon as it was decently possible to do so, he was sent through flight training and USAF changed the rules.


I’ve always been amused and mystified by the notion of whether aircraft should be operated by officers or enlisted.

In the early days of aviation, there were many enlisted aviators.

At that time “driving” an airplane was seen as just another individual skill, not much different than driving a truck or a tank – both of which are tasks exclusively given to enlisted soldiers.

IIRC the Army had enlisted aviators as late as the early stages of WWII, when the enlisted aviators were finally converted to “Flight Officers” – FO’s – which were the predecessors of the modern day Warrant Officer aviators.

And the Navy had enlisted pilots AFTER WWII – Anybody remember “The Bridges at Toko Ri”, which took place during the Korean war and in which the rescue pilot, played by Mickey Rooney, was a Navy CPO?

I can’t help but think it wasn’t until the late 1930’s when airplanes were seen as sexy and elite (as opposed to the flying box kites of WW1) that the military finally decided that enlisted men weren’t good enough to be pilots.

Really, if you think about it, officers should all be LEADERS, right? Whereas a pilot is, let’s be honest, just an equipment operator.


Aw1Rod should be along shortly with the nickname for our NFOs.

AW1 Rod

Sorry. Late to the game.

I believe Ed is referring to “Self-Loading Baggage.”


Yup. I’m a retired Navy Aviation Electronics Technician and I never quite figured out why it takes a college education to break an airplane but only a high school education to fix it.


I didn’t realize the Marines had stopped calling them RIOs Radar Intercept Officer. No they are not pilots, they are NFOs. (Naval flight Officers)

Back in the day of the F-4 one difference between Navy/Marine variant and Air Force variant was USAF had a set of controls to fly from back seat. Initially USAF had two pilots but before long used Navigators a WSOs. some IPs carried a dual qual as a WSO so in early training phase, the instructor pilot WSO could operate the radar as the newby learned to fly it. Later they’d fly with student pilot and student WSO.

Ken 3531 VN

My son was a Marine WSO. They went through the first level of basic ground school and flight training. On his first flight, he actually had to land the T34-C when his instructor became disoriented with vertigo. The F/A1-18D has no flight controls in the rear (WSO) seat, so the rest of their basic flight training was strictly comm, navigation and time on target. I was, and am, incredibly proud of the service he performed during his time in the Corps, including Iraq and Afganistan… “Watching over the guys on the ground”.



James Brolin….
What a poser pose.


Nothing quite screams “I’m just pretending” like hiring an actor that’s unwilling to even cut his hair to regs in order to sustain the illusion of legitimacy.


As an former Army “backseater”, I’ve often wondered what the difference was between a USAF/USN “RIO” (Radar Intercept Officer) and “WSO” (Weapons Sensor Officer.

Potato- Pa-Tot-tow
Tomato- To-Mat-tow


Did/does the army had planes or just helos?

MI Ranger

Reconnaissance Aircraft: OV-1 Mohawk, OV-10 Bronco, RC-12/MC-12 Guardrail, and a few commercial stuff for transporting “popular people” around C-12, C-26, UC-35, C-20, C-37.
Some folks made an agreement back in 1947 or so that the Army should stay out of the attack aircraft role (at least for fixed wings) and they have abided by that…even though the other side keeps wanting to ditch their best support the A-10. Boy the Army could do some hellacious recruiting if they were able to bring that famous bird back to its roost!


Interesting. Thanks for the intel.

And yeah: the A-10 would definitely be a square peg/square hole in the Army. It’s been quite the coup in the Corps could ever get it too!


Name only. GIB works for the pilots- Guy In Back.


SO, Butt Pirates?? *LOL *runs*


If the WSO is the one that operates the weapons, isn’t it the other way around? The pilot is just the taxi service for the WSO to put ordnance on target, right? 😉

So, really, Maverick was working for Goose.


This is one of the best kept secrets of The Pilot Mafia. In most crewed aircraft the back-seaters do the mission. The pilots drive the bus, and are most helpful in getting home.
This fact alone makes them heroes in my book.


Speaking of aviation (and I know I’m taking this off topic a bit) I would encourage anyone here to read Stephen Ambrose’s “The Wild Blue.”

What I found fascinating was the “system” the USAAF had of training pilots. It was a very long “pipeline” that started with basic selection and then went through a number of stages. I can’t remember how long the total training regimen was for a B-24 pilot (which is what Ambrose focused on in his book) but it was a long one with candidates transitioning from base to base across the US as they went through different stages.

As is often the case, there were people who washed out or quit during the process to become pilots – but what I didn’t know is that often times, those “washouts” were given the option to remain in the Air Forces and ended up serving as enlisted crew members.

What that meant was that if, in some instance, both the pilot and co-pilot were incapacitated, there might have been enlisted crew members on board who had actually completed some rudimentary flight training before they washed out, which was obviously a great benefit to the crew overall.

The other thing I didn’t know until I read the book was that after it was discovered that NCO’s received better treatment in German POW camps than lower enlisted men did, the USAAF in Europe had a policy that all enlisted crew members who flew over enemy territory would be promoted to NCO ranks. That’s why you don’t see any privates or PFC’s as air crew members. They were all Corporals, Sergeants, staff sergeants or technical sergeants, or their “Technician” equivalents, T/5 (Corporal), T/4 (Sergeant) or T/3 (Staff Sergeant.)

I don’t know if the Pacific Air Forces had the same rule since the Japanese treated all their prisoners like shit regardless of rank.

Green Thumb

I have read a few of his books but I will leave this here.


Good article. Learnt me some things.

“Plagiarists are almost always bright…”
I guess one of the listéd is the exception, perhaps?


A lot of what you describe is because many were Aviation cadets and got their commisions after receiving their Pilot, Navigator or Bombardier Wings., the others became enlisted aircrew.


I read that book. A mechanic I went to had been a nose gunner on B-24’s and I asked him about all the enlisted crew being NCO’s. He said “yeah, we all had rank”.

Another interesting tidbit, he liked to tell how only the 2 lead aircraft carried a bombardier. On the rest of the aircraft the nose gunner released the bombs. When you saw the bombs start to fall from the lead aircraft, you released your bombs.


Walt: I think at least one reason that only the lead plane had a bombardier was because of the highly classified Norden bombsight. They didn’t want to have too many of those for the enemy to potentially capture, so only the lead aircraft in a formation would have the bombsight.

Also, if you think about it, by the time the following aircraft get to he bomb release point, it’s likely that the target will be obscured by smoke and debris from the first bombs falling, so it really wouldn’t make any sense for following aircraft to have a bombardier on board.

You have to wonder sometimes who had it worse in WWII. Yeah, the grunts on the ground were living in mud, freezing cold or blistering hot, but they could almost always find a hole to crawl into when the shelling started. The air crews got to sleep in nice beds at night and drink beer on the weekends but for hours and hours they were stuck in a freezing cold airplane (sometimes -30 f) with nothing between them and the machine gun bullets but a very thin sheet of aluminum, and they had literally no place to hide or take cover, they just had to grit their teeth and take it.

Not a life I would want, even if it did come with a comfy bed and a cold beer afterwards (for those that survived, that is.)


I think probably the biggest advantage the US Army and Naval air forces had was that as the war went on, our pilots got better as our training methods became more refined and sophisticated, while at the same time pilots for the Axis countries got worse because the trained and experienced pilots of the early war years became casualties and training for newer pilots became more haphazard.

IOW at the beginning of the war the Axis’s best pilots were going up against the Allies worst. By the end of the war it was just the opposite.


That right my late father in law washed out of primary training in WWII. He had come to pilot training via the Navy were he had been a radio man. They offered him enlisted crew member and he became a radio operator on the B-29’s. He was in the 99th Bombardment Squadron , 9th bombardment group (Very Heavy) part of the 313 Bomb Wing at North Field Tinian, the circle X squadron. He got out as a TSgt and became a civil engineer. We still have his Morse code keys his wings and his DFC and Air medals.


I flew CH-46’s for the Marines from 1989 through 1994. The requirements to qualify for an aviation contract were passing the AQT/FAR exam and flight physical. The only difference between SNA’s (student naval aviators) and SNFO’s (student naval flight officers) was the latter group did not have uncorrected 20/20 vision and was disqualified for pilot training. I believe the standards have changed since then.


Also commonly referred to as “Self Loading Cargo.”


In the Navy NFOs could become pilots, at least it was that when I retired in 2008, but there was only one way to do it. They’d have to do a tour in a logistics support squadron and they could get time in the right seat. Some of them could become qualified as pilot-in-command.

I knew one NFO in the reserves who was able to actually become a commercial pilot going that route. It blew my mind; I knew he worked as a commercial pilot in civilian life but in uniform he wore NFO wings.