One man's tradition is another man's tyranny and in the U.S. Navy -- since the end of World War II -- naval officers have complained to one another and to outsiders

that "The Aviators," the sailors who flew off the carrier decks to glory, were getting all of the key promotions that guaranteed they would

be running the service in perpetuity.

With the recent installation of Adm. Frank B. Kelso II, the third nuclear submariner in a row to ascend to the office of chief of naval operations, the "tyranny" of the aviators has come to an end.

But the Navy is nothing if not tradition-bound, and its traditions die hard.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a former naval aviator and Vietnam-era prisoner of war, is waging a personal campaign to rescue what he perceives as the declining fortunes of the aviator "career path" in the service.

He has lobbied Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney, Navy Secretary H. Lawrence Garrett III and the just-departed chief of naval operations, Adm. Carlisle A.H. Trost, to investigate Navy practices on promotions to flag rank from the Navy's three major factions: aviation, surface warfare and submariners.

As McCain is a key Navy supporter on the Senate Armed Services Committee, a senior Navy official said his concerns will be taken seriously.

A little background: In 20th-century Navy culture, battleship commanders were the first to dominate the service. World War II showed -- at Pearl Harbor and elsewhere -- that their great battlewagons were too vulnerable to air attack and would not be the best platforms to "project" power overseas in the future. Carrier air power, which was decisive in defeating Japan in the Pacific, created a new class of admirals, who dominated the Navy after the war.

Then, during the early 1960s, the seeds of a new naval faction were born under the aegis of then-Vice Adm. Hyman G. Rickover,

father of the nuclear Navy. "More than 20 years ago, Rickover began taking the best and the brightest

for his program," said one Navy

official. Added another, "It was almost inevitable that in the late 1970s and early 1980s nuclear submariners would rise to the leadership ranks."

McCain says he has no quarrel with Kelso's qualifications, but he feels too many qualified aviators have been passed over for promotion.

"All I am seeking is that every discipline in the Navy get an equal opportunity, and I say that freely admitting that aviators had the advantage certainly during the post World War II years," McCain said in an interview.

He said he has won a personal assurance from Garrett "that the whole system" of officer advancement in the Navy "will be looked at very carefully" to determine whether any inbuilt biases are tilting promotions in favor of the submarine community.

Garrett declined to be interviewed on the subject and two other senior Navy officials who commented on Garrett's position insisted that they not be identified.

At least one former CNO who later became chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, retired admiral Thomas H. Moorer, also an aviator, agrees with McCain that the influence of naval aviation has been diminished.

Moorer pointed out that none of the three CNOs who came from the submarine service have Vietnam battle ribbons because nuclear

submarines did not play a significant role in the Southeast Asian conflict.

He also criticized a Navy decision to remove the requirement that the commander of any aircraft carrier battle group be an aviator.

"The reason is very simple,"

said Moorer. "Pilots are simply uncomfortable when being told to launch aircraft in bad weather conditions by someone who never has done it."

Moorer also worried that submariners, who operate as "loners" detached from the fleet as they prowl the silent depths, face more formidable challenges in coordinating a fully integrated naval task force built around carriers, their surface escorts and air wings.

McCain too criticized the change in Navy regulations.

"The reason why my grandfather {Adm. John S. 'Slew' McCain} and Admiral {William F. 'Bull'} Halsey {Jr.} and several other senior officers attended pilot training in the 1930s," explained McCain, "was due to the requirement that if you wanted to command a {carrier} battle group or a carrier, you had to be an aviator."

Service in key assignments, such as the command of the Navy's 14 aircraft carrier battle groups, gave the "brown shoe" aviators an advantage over officers from the Navy's other two career communities: the "nukes" and the "black shoes."

Said retired admiral Elmo Zumwalt Jr., another former CNO: "Number one, I applaud the selection of Kelso; number two, I hope his successor is a destroyer man."

Zumwalt pointed out that he and Adm. Arleigh Burke were the only two "black shoes" -- surface ship commanders -- who reached the CNO's office during the long captivity by the aviators.

He said diversity in the selection process is essential for a simple reason: "Each unit must have the feeling that one of their boys someday can make it."

Of the current succession of submariners, he added, "I think three is ample."