Due to the urgent need for more pilots in World War II, the United States Army Air Forces lowered the entrance requirements for aviation cadets to admit eighteen-year-olds with high school diplomas. Enlisted men in the Army could also be allowed to enter flight training. Sergeant pilots had also existed, but it was an awkward situation. Such people had the responsibility of operating airplanes, but did not get the benefits or pay that commissioned officer pilots did. Pilots who were commissioned officers were also reluctant to accept the enlisted pilots and new recruits with just a high school education as their peers.
In May 1942, the USAAF asked Congress to create a new grade above the enlisted ranks but below that of second lieutenant. On July 8, President Roosevelt signed Public Law 658, establishing the grade of flight officer (F/O), equal in status to that of warrant officer junior grade. Like warrant officers, they held a place between the enlisted and commissioned officers. Often described as a "third Lieutenant," they wore the uniform of an officer but had the rank insignia of a blue bar with a gold bar across the middle. This was informally called the "blue pickle."
The most famous person to be a Flight Officer was also one of America's most famous pilots. Before he broke the sound barrier flying the Bell X-1, Charles Yeager was an enlisted man. After being accepted for flight training, he graduated as a Flight Officer during the war. During his time as a fighter pilot, he was promoted to the rank of Second Lieutenant, and continued to rise up the ranks of the USAAF and later, the United States Air Force. By the end of the war, many of the other Flight Officers had also been promoted to commissioned officer status with the rank of Lieutenant. Exactly when the last flight officers entered service is unclear, but the law authorizing the grade was not repealed until July 1947, two months before the Air Force became a separate service.
Sources: "The Third Lieutenants” By Bruce D. Callander and J.H. MacWilliam
Air Force Magazine, Sept. 7, 2008
"He's a Flight Officer Now"
Yank, the Army Weekly, December 2, 1943
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