History of Naval Aviation Ordnance

The Navy's Aviation Ordnance Rating


The Navy's Aviation Ordnance rating really began on April 9, 1915 when a Chief Gunners Mate and a Chief Turret Captain, along with several other mechanics, were sent to Pensacola, Florida to work on what would be the beginning of aircraft armament and ordnance systems.

The Navy accepted its first aircraft, a Curtiss Triad (Hydroplane), on August 9, 1911. Early bombing tests were held in January and February of 1913, at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in July 1914 at Indian Head, Maryland. Twenty-two months later, in May 1916, the development of a gyroscopic bomb-sight was initiated. On April 6, 1917, at which time the United States entered into World War One, the inventory of the fledging air arm consisted of the following: 45 seaplanes, six flying boats, three land planes, and one airship. By September, 1917 two types of bombs were in service with a third type coming into production, weighing 163, 270, and 216 pounds respectively. Successful tests of machine guns were conducted between January and May, 1918 at Pensacola, Florida.

In March of 1918, the Aviation Ordnance (AVORD) sub-section in the Bureau of Ordnance, became a separate unit. Previously it served as a division of the Surface Gun Mount section, dating back to the early months of the war. As a separate group, they were given cognizance over the procurement and technical aspects of machine guns, including mounts, sights, fittings and ammunition. Other aviation ordnance items falling within AVORD cognizance in 1918 were larger caliber guns, bombs, bomb racks, bomb sights, pyrotechnic signaling devices, air launched torpedoes, aircraft torpedo launching equipment, and training devices which include miniature practice bombs.

Gunner's Mate (Aviation) 1918-1921

On August 12, 1918 the Commandant of the Pensacola, Florida Naval Air Station recommended the establishment of the Gunner's Mate (Aviation) - G.M. (A) rating. The commandant emphasized that men doing such duty had no chance for advancement as they did not have the occasion to better themselves in the specialty of the ratings held. The commandant listed the ordnance items in which personnel should qualify to obtain the G.M.(A) rating, including the ability to act as instructors and armorers. Although rating badges (winged crossed gun barrels) for Gunner's Mate (Aviation) existed, official directives authorizing the wearing of same did not exist. The specialty mark was never included in the various changes issued between 1917 and 1921 to uniform regulations. The rating of Gunner's Mate (Aviation), which extended from Third Class through Chief Petty Officer, was officially listed in Bureau of Navigation Circular Letter (BNCL) 158-18 of August 30, 1918.

Gunner's Mate (Assigned to Aviation) 1921-1926

By an Act of Congress, approved June 4, 1920, the Secretary of the Navy was authorized, at his discretion, to establish such grades and ratings as necessary for the proper administration of the enlisted personnel of the Navy and Marine Corps. The Gunner's Mate (Aviation) rating was not included in this listing. An aviation designation for Gunner's Mates who had qualified as aviation armament and munitions technicians, and were attached to an aviation activity, were so identified by appropriate entries in their service records. These Gunner's Mates functioned as the aviation ordnancemen until mid 1926.

Aviation Ordnanceman 1926- Present

The Aviation Ordnanceman rating was established at all four petty officer grades of Chief, First, Second and Third Class on March 2, 1926 as a rating within the Aviation Branch. The Aviation Ordnanceman rating was filled initially from qualified personnel serving primarily with the ratings of Gunner's Mate and Torpedoman (assigned to aviation). The Aviation Ordnanceman specialty mark, a winged flaming spherical shell, was incorporated into Uniform Regulations in January 1927.

The Aviation Ordnanceman family of ratings since 1918 have encompassed the following:

Gunner's Mate (Aviation)



Gunner's Mate (assigned to aviation)



Aviation Ordnanceman



Aviation Ordnanceman B (Aviation Bombsight Mechanic)



Aviation Ordnanceman B (Aviation Bombsight & Fire Control Mechanic)



Aviation Ordnanceman T (Aviation Turret Mechanic)



Aviation Ordnanceman F (Fire Control)



Aviation Ordnanceman T (Turrets)



Aviation Ordnanceman U (Utility)



Aviation Ordnanceman



November 5, 1958 marked the promotion of 15 Senior Chief Aviation Ordnancemen (AOCS) E-8 and two to Master Chief Aviation Ordnancemen (AOCM) E-9.


I suppose we should consider the man, who handed the first grenade to the first pilot who subsequently dropped it in anger, as our first Aviation Ordnanceman, however this act and the date it occurred is lost in history. In an effort to establish a date as the birthday for Aviation Ordnance it is necessary to back up and look for a moment at the history of Marine Aviation.

The idea of Marine Aviation dates, perhaps, from the year 1903, when a young Alfred Austin Cunningham first watched a manned ballon fly and talked its owner into giving him a ride. A year later Cunningham entered the U.S. Naval Academy, graduating in 1909 and chose to become a second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps. He was continually obsessed with flying and after stirring a congressional tempest, was ordered to the Navy's Aviation camp at Annapolis for flight training on 22 May 1912. There he became the Marine Corps first aviator and Naval aviator number 5. From that date until WW I, Marine aviation was small. Starting with only five officers and thirty enlisted men on the day the United States declared war, the Marines increased their air arm until the close of the war they had 282 officers and 2180 enlisted men.

It was during WW I that Marine Aviation first saw combat. In 1918 the Marine First Aviation Force, with one squadron deployed to the northern coast of France to bomb the German Submarine bases in Belgium. They deployed without aircraft which were to be furnished later. These planes were so long in coming that the restless Marines proposed to the British and the French that Marines fly with them and use their planes. The offer was accepted and the Marines flew with their allies for the rest of the war.

In the two decades that followed WW I Marine Aviation went into Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. It was during this era that Aviation Ordnance was finally identified as a separate skill. The document that did this was a Table of Organization (T/O). To understand just how a Table of Organization could establish a skill, it is necessary to trace backwards from the present system of Military Occupational Specialties.

Marine AO's are currently known as Aviation Ordnance with occupational field 65. This has only been true since 1949. From 1942 to 1949 all Marines were identified by their Specification Service Numbers (SSN's). Enlisted ordnancemen were (SSN 991's). Prior to 1942 and through the years Marine Aviation was emerging, the Marine Corps identified their enlisted men through their promotion certificates which were then called Branch Warrants.

Upon graduating from boot camp and until a man was promoted to Corporal he was a Marine with no identifiable skill. On promotion to Corporal there would appear on the Warrant the words "Corporal" (Aviation). The term "aviation" designated his branch. There was no further break down. The number of branches in the Marine Corps varied from time to time but generally included such specialties as Aviation, Communications, Engineers, Motor Transport, Ordnance (ground), Artillery and the Infantry (line).

To further identify the skill of a Marine it was necessary to look at the T/O and see what slot the man was filling. The First Aviation T/O's were issued about 1918 and showed only six kinds of personnel, Motor Shop, Erection Shop, Quartermaster, Transportation, Mess and Police. It wasn't until Table of Organization No. 37 was issued on 25 April 1922 that ordnance appeared on a T/O, and when it did, the term used was Gunnery personnel. This T/O authorized one Warrant Officer, one Sergeant, one Corporal and one PFC for a Division Aviation. They were assigned six airplanes.

The name Gunnery personnel stayed until Table of Organization No. 43-W was published on 11 September 1925 when the name was changed to Armament personnel. At this time the personnel allowance for a squadron was increased to 3 Marine Gunners, 3 Sergeants, 3 Corporals, and 3 PFC's. This remained in effect until 6 February 1935 when Table of Organization No. 23 changed the name to Ordnance. This authorized an Ordnance strength of one First Lieutenant, One Marine Gunner, one Master Technical Sergeant, one Sergeant, one Corporal and 3 PFC's/Privates. Since that day the title has stayed the same, only the method of identifying us has changed.

Taken from an article written by G. H. CONNER,Capt USMC

The First Combat Ordnancenmen

The first ordnancemen to meet a combat environment were Marine Corps ordnancemen.

On 25 February 1927, VO-1M landed in Nicaraqua to assist the government against the insurrection of Sandini. The squadron consisted of eight officers and 81 enlisted with six DH aircraft. On 23 May VO-4M arrived and joined VO-IM. The first combat flights began 15 July with strafing and dive bombing. In December, the DH were replaced with the more modern 02U aircraft (During the operations then were Navy ordnancemen present but numbers are not available. It is known that one was an instructor in AO "A" school at Norfolk in 1940.)

The first ordnanceman captured by the enemy was Sgt. F.E. Dowell, after the aircraft in which he was backseat gunner crashed. He is believed to have been tortured and hanged by the Sandinistas.

Also in 1927 other ordnancemen were with Marine aircraft in China but did not load a bomb or fire a gun in anger.

Our next combat ordnancemen were also Marines, who were in action December 6, 1941 at Wake Island with VMF 2ll with twelve F4F3 aircraft. The arrival was so rushed on December 4 that the crew consisted of two master sergeants, specialty unknown and 45 ordnancemen with one AMMI probably from the tender WRIGHT. Ordnancemen performed all maintenance as they were very versatile people as we prove from time to time.

Total ordnance expended until all aircraft were lost, consisted of 20 one hundred pound bombs and 2O,OOO rounds of .50 caliber. The bombs were loaded with suspension lugs hand made on the spot due to problems in configuration. (sound familiar)?

Source: History of Marine Corps Aviation in World War II, by Robert Sherrod 1952+










Association of Aviation Ordnancemen

The Association was founded in 1976. The first annual convention was held in July of that year in San Diego, CA. During this first convention the decision was made to formally establish the Association of Aviation Ordnancemen with membership open to all Navy and Marine Corps AOs, past, present and future. Membership was also opened to all civilian personnel who demonstrated expertise in the development and maintenance of airborne weapons and related equipment. Under the in-preparation charter an election of officers was held for the first president, vice-president, secretary/treasurer, and six board of directors.

The basic idea of the annual convention was to ping-pong the convention site from one coast to the other with an occasional stop somewhere in between. (Las Vegas, Reno, St Louis, etc.)




M. Kirk Nelson


Donald G. Baumer


Charles R. Onken


Gary L. Laun


Jeffrey P. Sassone


David Lepard


Michael Price





Gerald F. Gannon


Warren G. Seal


Troy C.Moore


James Rupert


James Rupert


Charles R. Onken


Dave Moore


Joe Manley


Dion Edon





Bob Branum *


Thomas D. Robins


Gerald F. Gannon**


Robert A. Ashworth


Gerald F. Gannon***


Billy B. Earl


Richard J. Grass (office split 2001)



Vic Leonard


John "JJ" Lamaitre


Tom Lord





Dennis Costa *


John "JJ" Lamaitre



 * The office of Secretary/Treasurer was split as per AAO National Vote.

* Bob Branum was elected then the next day at the board of directors meeting he changed places with Tom Robbins on the board of directors.

** John Baugh was elected to the office of Secretary/Treasurer during the 1987 convention. Gerald F. Gannon retained the office for a period of one year until a replacement could be named at the 1988 convention Board of Directors meeting. He was his own replacement as the Board of Directors appointed him, with his consent, to complete the tour.

* ** Resumed office on 24 April, 1992 due to the death of Robert A. Ashworth (4/18/92)


-- The objectives of the Association of Aviation Ordnancemen shall be to promote the professionalism of the aviation ordnance rate within the United States Navy, Marine Corps, and the Department of Defense. To promote all aspects of ordnance handling safety, and to provide technical and professional support whenever possible to AVIATION ORDNANCEMEN in the fleet.

-- To bring about improved communications and increased cooperation between the AVIATION ORDNANCEMEN and the personnel responsible for the design and procurement of weapons systems, components, associated hardware, and related handling support equipment.

-- To continually improve and promote ordnance safety, encourage proper and consistent supervision of ordnance evolutions. To make "ZERO" personnel error caused explosive mishaps our primary goal.

-- Provide and promote recognition and remembrance of those AVIATION ORDNANCEMEN who have sacrificed their lives for their country, by supporting the memorial scholarship fund established by the National Association.

-- Provide the support necessary for the establishment and maintenance of THE AVIATION ORDNANCEMEN'S museum.

-- Foster positive community relations and enhance the image of the United States Navy and the AVIATION ORDNANCEMEN profession.

-- To promote the fellowship of AVIATION ORDNANCEMEN worldwide.



John William Finn
United States Navy/Retired

Navy Medal of Honor Recipient

John W. Finn is the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor nearly 57 years ago. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor on September 15, 1942 by Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz aboard USS Enterprise.

Finn born July 24th 1909 in Los Angeles, CA. joined the Navy in July 1926 at age seventeen. In July 1927, John was assigned to Naval Air Station, North Island Ordnance Division and became an official ordnanceman working on four 3"50 caliber anti-aircraft gun emplacements.

Finn was a Navy ordnance CPO who is depicted in the motion picture, "Tora! Tora! Tora!". In the classic film he is seen standing inside a sandbag emplacement, firing a 50-cal. machine gun at Japanese fighters and bombers swooping low over Kaneohe Bay and Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on that fateful morning of Dec. 7, 1941.

Finn was awakened shortly after dawn by the sounds of low flying aircraft diving over CPO housing, where he and his lovely wife Alice were residing, on the heights overlooking the bay adjoining Pearl Harbor.

"They say Pearl Harbor was struck at 7:55 a.m., that Sunday morning," said Finn "But I remember waking up under the drone of low-flying aircraft, looked at my watch I had ,and it was exactly 7:50 a.m. I never forgot that. With my next door neighbor and friend Chief Eddie 'Sulli' Sullivan beside me, I drove hell-bent-for-election down the peninsula to the PBY hangars. Japanese planes were strafing the hell out of the place. Their wing guns were peppering everything - parked cars, parked aircraft, the hangars, and anything that moved. I was the sole ordnance chief with VP-11. We were based in a new hangar right next to the bay. I remember yelling to Sulli that this was no mock training attack. That's what I first thought was happening when I woke up. When I saw a dull, red meatball on one of the fighters passing over us I yelled, " Sulli, this is the real McCoy."

Finn said two of the newer Catalina's delivered from the states had taken off at dawn for a reconnaissance mission because his squadron had been assigned the weekend patrol duty. He said some of his men had spent the night in the hang getting the patrol planes ready for a dawn takeoff. He said when arrived in the area, two or three of his men had stripped machine guns off other PBY's and were finding places to mount them to fire on the Japanese attackers.

"I remember some lulls during the attack," Finn said. "I fired 30-calibers and 50s 'til I ran out of ammunition. Then I even found a 3-0-3 British Vicker gun, and a Lewis gun . . . . anything I could get my hands on. I was mad. Mad as hell," said, Finn. "We had one gun mount on that apron, and a light-metal gun frame used only for training. I had wanted gun mounts built all around the rim of the hangar, but my request had been delayed because of paper work.

Finn had suffered multiple wounds during his actions against the enemy. His Medal of Honor citation reads that despite the number of enemy shrapnel that peppered his body, he fought on, and declined medical treatment until his men were treated and evacuated. As for the Medal of Honor, Finn still asks, "Why me? Why me, when so many men did more than I did? Many, many others lost their lives. I wear this medal for them. Never would I ever disgrace this honor, or those who died around me."

Medal Of Honor Citation

The President of the United States in the name of the Congress takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to


Lieutenant, USN.

for service set forth in the following Citation:



"For extraordinary heroism, distinguished service, and devotion above and beyond the call of duty. During the first attack by Japanese airplanes on the Naval Air Station, Kaneohe Bay, on 7 December 1941, Lieutenant Finn promptly secured and manned a 50-caliber machine gun mounted on an instruction stand in a completely exposed section of the parking ramp, which was under heavy enemy machine-gun strafing fire. Although painfully wounded many times, he continued to man this gun and return the enemy's fire vigorously and with telling effect throughout the enemy strafing and bombing attacks and with complete disregard for his own personal safety. It was only by specific orders that he was persuaded to leave his post to seek medical attention. Following first-aid treatment, although obviously suffering much pain and moving with great difficulty, he returned to the squadron area and actively supervised the rearming of returning airplanes. His extaordinary heroism and conduct in this action were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service."











Seaman Ronald K. Curry, USN

Captain Ronald K. Curry, USN

Captain Ronald Curry was the first aviation ordnanceman to be promoted to the rank of Navy captain.



Ordies of Attack Squadron 52 (A-1H/J Skyraiders) aboard USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) in the Tonkin Gulf in 1965.

Back Row: Left to Right: AOCS Bob Tinsley (RET), AO2 Jimmy Wenke (AO1, RET), AO3 Ed Murphy (AOC, RET), ABH3 Paul Huller, AO3 Stu Anderson, AO2 Jerry Kuhlman (AOC, RET), AO3 Carl Collier (CWO4, RET), ABH3 Jimmy Morgan.

Front Row: Left to Right: AO1 "Jay" Vandegriff (RET), AN Dale Gibbs, AO3 Jim Freemon, AA Jerry Valdez, AO3 Jim Doran (CWO4, RET), AN Mike Bush

Missing from Photo: The Night Check: AO2 G.D. Sanders (AOCS, RET), AO3 "Dutch" Clentimack, AO3 Ron Wood, AO3 Alex Augst, AOAN Frank Fehrenbach, AN Bill Howard, AN Jim Chaple, AN Steve Duffield.

Photo submitted by Jim Doran

Last updated 12 April 1998