NORFOLK, Va. –
The flight deck of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier is a fast-paced and complex place, especially when operating at sea. It takes only seconds for a multi-million dollar aircraft to “crunch” into another one and render both unable to fly. This miscalculation of movement and spilt-second mistake made by personnel working on the flight deck create huge complications for operational units that provide forward presence around the globe.
Rear Adm. John Meier, commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic (AIRLANT), believes the unfortunate mistakes made on the flight deck can be mitigated through more rigorous training in the classroom and hands-on experiences on the flight line. From his perspective, the Naval Aviation community has a duty and obligation to train and prepare Sailors who will, or who presently, work and manage day-to-day operations on a flight deck.
“The vast majority of reportable safety incidents we have in Naval Aviation are ‘crunches,’” Meier said. “This is when personnel working on a ship’s flight deck or flight line tow a $100-$200 million aircraft into something else. The worst of these types of events occur when one aircraft is towed into another one, and then a squadron or unit is down two of their aircraft. Mission and readiness are automatically impacted in a blink of an eye.”
Due to these incidents mostly resulting from human error, Meier is working with his team at AIRLANT to take necessary steps toward making Naval Aviation safer by trying to stop problems before they happen, and to close out the most preventable mistakes in order to keep Navy aircraft where they belong: in the air.
“Last year we had a significant number of crunches throughout the fleet,” Meier said. “A-B-H-U is our approach to that. It’s basically our ground school for aircraft handling.”
ABHU, or Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) University, is a new course that Aviation Boatswain’s Mates (Handling) (ABH) within AIRLANT’s claimancy can now take part in to refresh their skills, or acquire more knowledge in an area they may be unfamiliar with due to ship maintenance periods or their assigned job position within their shops. The first ABHU participants, from USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) and USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69), graduated from the course on Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia, on June 2. The second class of Sailors comprised of participants from Harry S. Truman graduated June 9.
ABHs supervise the movement, spotting and securing of aircraft and equipment ashore and afloat and provide crash rescue, firefighting, crash removal and damage control duties in connection with the launch and recovery of aircraft.
“It’s a basic ABH course with a lot of extra reps [repetitions] and sets that they can use to practice in between being underway, so they can get extra proficient for when they go out to sea,” said Senior Chief Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) Maurk Burks, a Sailor assigned to AIRLANT and one of the instructors of ABHU.
The course length is set to meet the needs of the students based on how far along their ship is during their maintenance phase, which is part of the five-phased Optimized Fleet Response Plan (OFRP). If the ship is in the shipyard or beginning their maintenance phase, the course is five days: two classroom and three that are hands-on moving training aircraft. For ships entering advanced and integrated phases, the course is three days: one classroom and two hands-on. The course is for ships that are out of the shipyard and have operated, or are preparing to operate, at sea in preparation for exercises and an upcoming deployment.
“What we’re here to develop is a relentless and flawless execution of the basics,” Burks said. “So, basically, Sailors who are relentless in executing the basic responsibilities of their jobs aboard aircraft carriers.”
ABHs often work outdoors on the flight decks of various platforms in all climates, and the rate is largely considered a fast-paced and often hazardous job.
“During this course, I was able to work on some basics that I haven’t been able to work on for a while,” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 3rd Class Ramon Antonio Reyes, assigned to Eisenhower and one of the first ABHU graduates. Reyes emphasized that the course allowed him and his classmates to slow down, get back to basics, build on knowledge and to improve within their rate.
By making the basics fresh and striving for perfection in any way possible, AIRLANT strives to minimize the number of preventable mishaps when it comes to aircraft, and, ultimately, make Naval Aviation safer every day.
“ABHU is just one of many initiatives to get ahead of a problem and to stop preventable mistakes from happening on our flight decks,” Meier said. “It starts with our people and ensuring that our Sailors have the training and means to be successful within their rate and to put safety first.”
Commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic (COMNAVAIRLANT) is responsible for seven nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, 54 aircraft squadrons, 1,200 aircraft and 52,000 officers, enlisted and civilian personnel based on the East Coast of the United States. It provides combat ready, sustainable naval air forces with the right personnel, properly trained and equipped, with a focus on readiness, operational excellence, interoperability, safety and efficient resourcing.
Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tatyana Freeman is with Commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic.