By Lori Yerdon, U.S. Army Combat Readiness CenterMay 23, 2018
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (May 23, 2018) - Army aviation mishaps remain at historic lows, but aviators must remain vigilant to sustain that success, Brig. Gen. David J. Francis said recently at the 2018 Army Aviation Mission Solutions Summit in Nashville, Tennessee.
"We as an Army are doing very well in terms of aviation mishaps, but I say that with a note of caution," said Francis, U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center commander and director of Army Safety . "We cannot allow ourselves to take a break because just beneath the surface, the difference between a Class A mishap and something else is minuscule. It's seconds, it's inches. Many variables can cause that number to go in a different direction very quickly."
To set the context for audience members, Francis' opening slide illustrated manned Class A mishaps dating back to 1983, when Army aviation became a branch.
"Over time, we have done an amazing job while operating very technical machines in difficult conditions to drive down our Class A mishap rates to historic lows," he said. "In the last three years, Class A mishap rates are lower than they have been throughout our history as a branch, with the exception of 2000."
Francis pointed out spikes in the mishap rates for the same period and correlated them with combat deployments. He cited unfamiliar terrain, weather and other factors as significant contributors in aviation mishaps.
Despite the spikes in Class A mishaps during combat deployments, Francis said, "best practices, lessons learned and doctrinal changes have all impacted Army aviation safety and the numbers of accidents have decreased over the years as a result."
"Mishaps are a significant problem for readiness," he added. "Looking back to 2001 through 2003, to where we are today, it's evident that we've made significant and consistent progress toward getting the accident rate down."
Francis attributed adjustments to the way units prepare for a deployment - for example, receiving high altitude training before operating in that type of environment, enhancement to aircrew coordination training, improvements in night vision goggle training and the modernization of aircraft - to the gradual decline of aviation mishaps.
"We're still deploying forces to Korea, Europe, Afghanistan, Iraq and other locations," Francis said. "We're certainly not a less busy force, and Aviation is in the neighborhood of 84 percent committed on any given day. Doing all of those missions and maintaining low accident rates is without question due to the leadership in this room and across the Aviation Branch."
"Training is undoubtedly the number one thing we can do to continue to reduce mishaps," Francis said. "There's no substitute for training."
Addressing industry professionals, Francis charged them with reducing the complexity inside cockpits so aviators can focus outside of the cockpit as the Army modernizes legacy aircraft.
While the USACRC attributes nearly 80 percent of Army aviation mishaps to human error, Francis said spatial disorientation is another issue that has caused a significant number of mishaps and is an area that needs improvement.
He also addressed maintenance issues and explained that human error does not always happen inside an aircraft.
"We have complex machines with critical flight components that require a significant amount of training, oversight and quality control to make sure we get right," he said. "We have found in several instances where, if that's not done exactly right, it can lead to something catastrophic."
During AAAA's award presentation earlier in summit, Francis co-presented the Army Aviation Association of America's James H. McClellan Army Aviation Safety Award to Spc. Nicklaus A. Black for his actions while performing a preventive maintenance daily service on an AH-64E Apache. Black, assigned to Troop D, 17th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, identified the improper installation of a scissor assembly. He received this recognition for his attention to detail and willingness to bring it to his leadership's attention.
While in the Nashville area, Francis took the opportunity to brief several units at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, as part of his initiative to brief every combat aviation brigade in the Army about near-miss data. He visited command teams assigned to the 160th Special Operation Aviation Regiment (Airborne) and the 101st Airborne Division. He also addressed National Guard aviators at the summit.
"We are in a business that's inherently dangerous and what we cannot do is be risk adverse," Francis said. "That's actually more dangerous than going out and doing the aggressive training that we need to do before sending our young aviators into harm's way yet again."