Aerospace Optometry

The Aerospace Optometry (AsO) program began in June 1989 when Navy Optometrist then-LCDR Michael Mittelman received his aeromedical "wings of gold." The Aerospace Optometry curriculum parallels the other aeromedical officer programs, with additional training that is specific to clinical eye care and vision science. The other members of the aeromedical officer team members include: Flight Surgeons (FS), Aerospace and Operational Physiologists (AOP), Aerospace Experimental Psychologists (AEP) and Aerospace Physician Assistants (APA).

What is an Aerospace Optometrist?

The Aerospace Optometry course is the unique aeronautical and aeromedical training received at NAMI that allows the Aerospace Optometrist to adeptly serve the aviation community. By integrating into the aviation culture, the AsO is able to knowledgably speak the language of aviation. This credibility instills confidence in those they serve. Being acutely aware of all of the stressors of flight, training, scheduling and deployments ensures the AsO is able to function to meet the needs of all wing wearers.

In addition to performing regular eye examinations on pilots, aircrew and their families, the aerospace optometrist also serves as the expert on all ocular and vision related aviation matters. Aerospace optometrists administer the aviation contact lens program and serve as specialty consultants for pre-operative and post-operative refractive surgery cases for aviators.

The winged OD is also knowledgeable about various military aircraft, survivability and life-saving equipment (such as ejection seats and specific breathing devices), aviation physicals and administrative processes, and potential problems that can occur in flight, especially those that deal with the eyes and vision. Meeting the demand for eye care after hours, on the ship, or whenever and wherever is needed is what is expected of the AsO. These capabilities set the aerospace optometrist apart from the conventional optometrist.

Course Curriculum

Navy Aeromedical Officer training is six months in length, and convenes at the Naval Aerospace Medical Institute (NAMI) in Pensacola, Florida. Upon graduation, the optometrist (OD) will be pinned with the Medical Service Corps "wings of gold" and receive the additional qualification designation (AQD) of 6AN. The newly-designated aerospace optometrist will then need to maintain a minimum of four hours of flight time per month in order to remain aeronautically qualified and to continue receiving flight pay.

Phase I Training: Aviation Preflight Indoctrination

Aviation Preflight Indoctrination (API): The first phase of this course is a six-week flight orientation and ground school at the Naval Aviation Schools Command. A prerequisite to flight training, this segment consists of 177.5 hours of academic and survival instruction condensed into 31 days of training. Basic ground school topics include aircraft engine systems, flight rules and regulations, meteorology, aerodynamics, navigation, aircrew coordination, and fitness. Aviation physiology, land survival, and water survival training is also included. This phase of instruction is conducted side by side Navy and Marine Corps aviator students. This section is challenging to students both physically and mentally. Physical Fitness Requirements: Training demands good physical conditioning in order to meet the water survival and aviation physiology requirements. Swimming ability should exceed basic staying afloat skills. For those individuals whose swimming skills are weak, prior training should be considered.

Phase II Training: Primary Flight School

The second phase of instruction is a ten-week flight indoctrination syllabus with Training Air Wing FIVE at Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Milton, Florida. Training is conducted in the fixed-wing Beechcraft T-6 (Texan II) and the rotary-wing Bell TH-57 (Jet Ranger). The primary goal of flight training is to introduce the student aerospace optometrist to the hazards and stressors of flight from the perspective of the aviator. The course of instruction provides exposure to various flight regimens and associated phenomena of aeromedical concern. The student is required to demonstrate aeronautical capacities while obtaining hands-on experience with the physiologic and psychological stresses inherent in the flight environment. The intense exposure to the aviation environment, as well as the skills acquired, are essential to function with credibility in the operational aviation arena.

Phase III Training: Didactics and Clinicals

The final eight weeks of training are spent in the classrooms and clinics on the NAMI campus. Intense didactic instruction in environmental physiology familiarizes the student aerospace optometrist with the physiologic stresses imposed on the aviator in flight. An operational medicine overview covers topics that are pertinent not only to aviation but to all military medical assignments, augmenting the aerospace optometrist’s understanding and appreciation of the mission of the Navy Medical Department. Specific enabling objectives for each clinical course of instruction are provided below:

  • UNIT 1: Environmental Physiology - Presents the student with a spectrum of physiologic problems encountered in the hostile aviation environment. Topics covered include: atmospheric physics, physiologic effects of altitude, biodynamics of acceleration, disorientation and visual illusions of flight, motion sickness, noise and hearing conservation, thermal stress, and radiation biology.
  • UNIT 2: Naval Aviation Medicine - Introduces the student to clinical and administrative aspects specific to practice as an aeromedical officer in the Navy. Topics covered include: carrier medicine, aviation life support and ejection systems, night vision and lasers, pilot selection, safety and mishap investigation techniques, human factors, crash survivability, physical standards, exams and waivers, aviation pathology and aeromedical evacuation.
  • UNIT 3: Operational Medicine - Acquaints the student with preventive and clinical medicine topics including medical organization and administration, enlisted evaluation and promotion, officer professional development, nuclear and chemical weapons, occupational health and safety, and the Manual of the Medical Department.

Note: Units 1-3 are taught to the entire Student Aeromedical Officer class. Units 4-7 are taught only to student aerospace optometrists.

  • UNIT 4: Aviation Vision Topics - Presents students with a variety of topics including visual testing and standards, prescribing specifically for aviators, contact lenses, color vision, night vision, lasers, optics, human performance, and waivers.
  • UNIT 5: Administration - Presents administrative aspects of aviation training, including fitness reports and evaluations, Navy and Marine Corps organization and the requirements of OPNAVINST 3710.
  • UNIT 6: Academic Instructor Training - Provides informal training in lecturing and presentation techniques. The optometrist will assist the staff in instructing the student flight surgeons during their rotation through the optometry/ophthalmology clinic.
  • UNIT 7: Clinical Rotation - The optometrist will obtain working knowledge of aviation standards and the waiver process, as well as gain practical experience in aviation physicals while performing exams in the NAMI eye clinic. Attendance at Special Boards of Flight Surgeons will be included if applicable.

Physical Fitness Requirements

The Aerospace Optometrist Program demands excellent physical conditioning, especially to meet water survival and other aviation physiology requirements. Students must be able to stay afloat while wearing survival gear, as well as swim one mile in a flight suit while utilizing the survival strokes learned during training. For those individuals whose swimming skills are weak, prior training is highly recommended. Waivers for a lack of water survival skills are not approved. The applicant must be in good overall health with a benign medical history.

Physical Requirements

Assignments

Follow on assignments are typically known prior to the commencement of training. The Optometry Specialty Leader and the Aerospace Optometry Program Manager will satisfy the needs of the Navy and the aerospace optometry program while working with the detailer and the student aerospace optometrist. A minimum two-year utilization tour is required after training.

Current 6AN (winged OD) Billets

OCONUS

  • Atsugi, Japan

CONUS

  • NH Jacksonville, FL
  • NH Lemoore, CA
  • NH Oak Harbor, WA
  • BHC Oceana, VA
  • NMC (NTC) San Diego, CA
  • NAMI Pensacola, FL (2 billets)
  • NAMRU-D Dayton, OH
  • NACC Newport, RI

Point of Contact/Questions

NAMI Aerospace Optometry Department: 850-452-3222