First, my background: USNA 1989, currently an admissions outreach volunteer for USNA (known as Blue and Gold Officers, we counsel prospective candidates through the admissions process). I couldn’t help but notice this gem in the Media Blog
…After four abysmal academic years at Annapolis distinguished only by his misdeeds and malfeasance, no one with a record resembling McCain’s would have been offered such a prized career path. The justification for this and subsequent plum assignments should be documented in McCain’s naval file.
Simply put, this is nonsense. Available pilot billets vary from year to year, but aviation billets are open on a competitive basis to all midshipmen that are physically qualified. In practical terms, it boils down to having 20/20 vision and excellent hearing at the time of graduation. It is entirely possible that there were unfilled billets during McCain’s era because there were not enough graduates that met the vision standards. In my class, we had pilots that graduated near the bottom; they were focused on doing the minimal academic work needed to graduate, because they knew their were pilot billets available regardless of class standing. This was different from my own experience of the more competitive Naval Flight Officer program (navigators and weapons officers). NFOs only needed 20/20 vision with corrective lenses. Also, there were less billets available, so this program was much more competitive. I barely made the cut, graduating in the middle of my class.
Today, my outreach is complicated by the fact that USNA is mandated to have 2/3rds of the incoming class with 20/20 vision. That requirement is there to keep the fleet manned with pilots. Medical specialists can get more technical, but the typical 18-22 year old is going to go through some vision changes as they mature, and at graduation, there are even fewer aviation candidates. What this means in all practical terms is that if a typical midshipman, regardless of class standing, meets the physical standards required, than aviation is a likely career path.
It’s all a moot point anyway. Whether or not McCain got a “plum assignment”, he certainly paid for it in Hanoi.