MIGHTY CULTURE

This is why Navy pilots prefer to be called 'naval aviators'

At some time in our military careers, we come across pilots of all sorts, helicopter pilots, Air Force cargo pilots, Navy fighter pilots, etc. While the former two might allow you to refer to them as simply "pilots," there's a good chance the naval aviator will take the time to remind you that he or she is an "aviator," not a pilot.

And there's a very good, non-egotistical reason for that. We promise.


Insert obligatory "Top Gun" reference here.

During your military experience, you may have noticed the Navy has an entirely different vocabulary for so many things. Floors become decks, walls become bulkheads, beds become racks, etc. But the Navy's tradition of a maritime language exists for a reason. It turns out the world they live in predates the United States Navy, the United States, and most navies, not to mention the concept of powered flight.

The maritime world is way, way old, man. And the terms used to describe that world are too. We can't just change them overnight. Or ever, as it turns out. So while the aviation world refers to a pilot as someone who flies an aircraft, that term has a different meaning in the maritime world.

No one aboard this ship called those boxes "toilets" but they had the same use.

For hundreds of years before navies around the world were flying jet-powered aircraft off the decks of massive floating cities, "pilots" were operating in navies long before ships had engines that weren't powered by wind or slaves. In those terms, a pilot is specially qualified to drive a ship in and out of a specific port or a specific area. For large ships, this pilot is someone from outside, who literally comes in to your boat and drives it into the harbor because he or she knows the area better than anyone else.

The pilot will roll up next to your ship aboard a pilot boat, which carries the pilot in a boat, one marked "pilot boat." And those poor guys have to climb up the side of your ship just to park it for you. Both naval aviators and maritime pilots have a hard job that allows for zero error – so call them whatever they want.