by Senior Airman Benjamin Stratton
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
6/27/2013 – SOUTHWEST ASIA — Cruising at nearly 30,000 feet and traveling at speeds topping more than 500 mph with supplies intended for the joint-war fighter, a C-17 Globemaster III crew encounters another aircraft directly in their flight path.
Events like this are easily avoided through proper planning, training and flight safety briefs.
“We, as aviators, all have the responsibility to be aware of potential conflicts and avoid them,” said Maj. Ed Grier, the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Flight Safety chief deployed from Joint Base Charleston, S.C., and a C-17 pilot by trade.
The wing’s flight safety office conducts monthly flight safety briefs objectively poised to abate potential flight safety risks.
“Typically we brief local flying hazards, especially weather, and go over any mishap trends Air Force-wide,” Grier said. “We then brief a mishap that can be educational to the crew force, for example, ‘lessons learned.'”
However, these flight safety briefings make up only half of flight safety’s officer and NCO responsibilities.
“We’re like the crime scene investigators of safety,” Grier said. “If we have a mishap, we find out what caused the incident so the same thing doesn’t happen to another crew and aircraft.”
Approximately 65 percent of all near mid-air collisions reported occur near airports, 15 percent on low-level training routes, and 10 percent in military operating areas, according to the Air Force Safety Center.
Grier said flight safety collects incident data and forwards it on to the Air Force Safety Center for a complete investigation. Inquiries conducted locally include bird strikes and hazardous air traffic reports (mid-air collision avoidance). The office also monitors for wildlife hazards and coordinates dispersal if required.
But as with most organizations in the military, a healthy mix of both officer and enlisted personnel is needed to effectively accomplish the mission.
“We have some of the best NCOs out there working for us and we couldn’t do it without them,” said Maj. Nicholas Barnes, a 379th AEW flight safety officer and C-40 pilot deployed from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. “Flight safety NCOs are maintainers by trade, so they know all the ins and outs of maintenance and can speak the language.”
Flight safety NCOs, Master Sgt. David Yost, a B-lB Lancer crew chief deployed from Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., and Tech. Sgt. Brandon Hopkins, an F-16 Fighting Falcon crew chief deployed from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, said not only do they provide a sure line of communication between the maintainers and the pilots, but also between home station safety offices and the deployed flying units for mishap investigating and reporting.
“The reports we produce are used to prevent possible aviation mishaps both here at our deployed location and Air Force-wide,” Hopkins said. “A hazard identified here on a single aircraft could impact many more fleet-wide. For example, if there is a problem with an aircraft component here, we would investigate and determine an appropriate recommendation to prevent recurrence.”
The recommendation, Hopkins continued, is then channeled to aircraft engineers and approved repair actions may be implemented to all other aircraft of the same model to prevent future mishaps.
Individuals selected to fill the position should have, as a minimum, maintenance experience on a unit-assigned airframe with at least two years’ experience as a 7-level. FSNCOs are primarily crew chiefs or flight engineers.
“Having knowledge of aircraft maintenance operations allows us to easily identify potential hazards on the flight line,” Yost said. “We conduct inspections on the flight line as well as monitoring flight line maintenance and operations to ensure the safety of all 379th AEW personnel and aircraft.”
[Editor’s note: This story is part three of a three-part series highlighting the three sections of wing safety.]