By Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker
Commander, Naval Air Forces
Summer safety is a topic across the Navy as we begin enjoying longer days, barbeques and watersports, but it is aviation safety that has my full attention.
Last week was a difficult week for Naval Aviation, culminating with the loss of Blue Angel #6, Marine Capt. Jeff “Kooch” Kuss, in a tragic mishap during an air show practice flight in Smyrna, Tennessee. Capt. Kuss was an incredible Marine, husband and father, and an inspiration to so many; his loss will be felt across the nation. Being a naval aviator is an inherently dangerous profession and our aviators knowingly accept that risk in service to their nation, but it still pains us greatly when we experience the untimely loss of a valued aviator and shipmate. Our heartfelt condolences go out to his family, friends, fellow Marines and Blue Angel teammates. That loss was the third Class A flight mishap in an eight-day period that began with Strike Fighter Squadron 211’s (VFA-211) mishap on May 26 and Electronic Attack Squadron 133’s (VAQ-133) hard landing May 29.
At this time, there is no indication that these three incidents have a common thread, nor a direct connection to any readiness or resourcing issues. These three mishaps will be thoroughly investigated, and we will learn from them all. Regardless of trends or causal factors, three mishaps in just over a week warrants awareness, attention and leadership focus. If you compare the aviation mishap rates this year with our fiscal year 2015 data, we were in a similar situation. Entering the second half of the year on a good safety glideslope with two class Alpha mishaps October 2014 – March 2015, we added nine more class Alpha mishaps in the next six months. I am not interested in repeating FY15’s safety “finish.” I am relying on my Naval Aviation leadership to engage their air wings and squadrons to emphasize a focus on safety. They’ll do this by encouraging open discussions about the recent mishaps with ready rooms and taking a deeper look at both operational risk management and crew resource management, factoring in how the recent mishaps might relate to each squadron’s current operations.
History has demonstrated that trying to explain why we got two-thirds of the way through the fiscal year with only one class A flight mishap is just as difficult as trying to explain or connect the last three mishaps. Naval Aviation is an unforgiving business, but I have full trust and confidence in my leadership team’s ability to help arrest these trends.