Tuesday, June 30, 2009

You're only an O5, Skipper - and aircraft don't care

The JAGMAN results are out from the OCT 08 P-3 crash at Bagram, Afghanistan - and there is a lot here to learn from.

One of the great dangers of Command is that you are it. Unless you have a very good, secure, and well grounded CMDCM, XO, and WOs - there is a very real danger that the fact that you are "The Skipper" can warp the perspective of even the very best officer. You can quickly lose the perspective of who and what you are - and what you are there to do. Especially at the CDR Command level - sometimes you are looking at the next set of orders or future prospects that you forget to take care of what is right in front of you. You can forget that for now are are a Tactical level Commander - CAPT, DC, and Major Staff stuff will follow, but first thing first.

Our point man on the topic, Andrew Tilghman from NavyTimes has all you need to know, but here are the pull quotes for all to ponder relative to the second paragraph above.
The commanding officer of a P-3 Orion squadron who overshot a runway and crashed a specialized $93 million plane in Afghanistan last year was not current on his flight-hour requirements and was violating Navy rules prohibiting jet-lagged pilots from flying, investigators found.
Spies also tell me that his total pilot hours for a career were minimal for a Commander to begin with - which make the what follows even more of a "... should have seen that coming ..."
(The CO) brought the plane in too fast, hit the brakes and skidded off the runway. The starboard landing gear was sheared off, two starboard side propellers broke off and the right wing caught fire as the plane came to a stop, an investigation found. One crew member suffered a twisted ankle and all five walked away from the aircraft.

(He) had failed to meet the pilot proficiency requirements — at least 10 flight hours per month — for five of the six months preceding the crash, according to the Judge Advocate General Manual report, or JAGMan.

(He) assigned himself as pilot of the plane after he had traveled across 9½ time zones during the previous 46 hours. Despite regulations requiring several days of rest after such a trip, he took the controls 14 hours after arriving at a forward operating base, ...
Note the attitude. Physics and physical requirements do not care who you are. You can just see the rest.
(he) was unable to sign for the aircraft because his name was not in the maintenance database. But, the report said, he told the crew: “No question here. I am the CO and this is my aircraft.”

A crew member told investigators that (he) “had to be coached on nearly all aspects of the combat arrival.”

When asked why he failed to maintain pilot proficiency, (he) “
said that CO duties, his desire to spread flight time with junior pilots and aircraft availability” were factors.
How many times have we seen this in the last half-decade? Surface CO's with poor seamanship and Aviation CO's who do not have enough hours. At the Tactical level - what are we doing that prevents our Commanding Officers from maintaining their basic warfare qualifications?

As I have mentioned before, part of it is a mentality we have that pre-CDR Command people MUST go to War College --- MUST do this or that --- much of which is busy work ticket punching. But let's move on.
Under Navy rules, pilots should allow an additional day for each hour exceeding a three-hour time change. When asked why he didn’t follow those guidelines, (he) told investigators, “That’s never been our culture.”

Just before the crash, (he) failed to run through the landing checklist at 500 feet. He told investigators that the checklist is “just a technique.”
"Culture?" Interesting. P-3 folks out there - your accident rate this decade has spiked. What is your senior leadership doing about this. Like Gen. Mattis said last week, you get what you reward. Are you are not getting a focus on basic flight safety and primary warfare experience at your CDR Command level --- therefor you are not rewarding it? If not, what are you rewarding?
Lewis tried to blame the crash in part on the cockpit arrangement, saying he “did not have airspeed in my scan as much as I would” in other versions of the P-3.
Not familiar with your own squadron's aircraft? That is a pathetic excuse.
After the crash, when he climbed out of the burning plane, (he) laid down on the wing and put his hands over his head. He said he “stopped there for a second, when the enormity of the whole thing hit him.”

Two flight engineers grabbed his boot and yanked him off the wing as a crash crew responded to extinguish the flames.
Notice where the focus was. Shipmate or self?

I don't think we should beat up too much on the pilot. He has been beat up enough, and the fault is 100% his. Sure we lost an aircraft, but no one was killed. What should be done though is to look close at the culture and the process that got that crew to that point on that day.

Where were the checks and balances? What is the culture that allows an already relatively inexperienced pilot (I will not release it here, but the total career flight hours of the CO is significantly lower than what a CO should have and have had in the past) who wasn't even current to do what he did?

Sure, the CO failed himself and his Sailors --- but are their lessons here for Big Navy? From the emails I have received on this, yes. Once again, it is a leadership issue - one that Skippy reminded us of last year has roots to those Flag Officers who have already retired. That does not excuse the present leadership from not looking closely at the decisions of the last decade and the results and not taking action.

I hope they are. Next time we may not get so lucky. Even if P-3 senior leadership can't fix it - at the Tactical level there is everyting that the CO, XO, CMDCM, WOs and other leaders can do to simply say, "No."
UPDATE: In the same latest issue of the NavyTimes, there is an article that discusses the aircraft availability issue. Though not available online, in summary the P-3 community has: 154 aircraft. 62 mission ready; 58 waiting for depot work; 29 non-mission "bounce birds"; 5 special mission aircraft.

When the latest Commander, Patrol and Reconnaissance Group, Rear Admiral Mike Moran took over last year,
...he found that around 40% of the Navy's Orion pilots were not current on monthly flight hour requirements.
He has since brought that number down to 15% by establishing that as his top priority.

OK, I'll bite. Who has been held accountable for the 40% before he showed up?

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