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Accident Trends

Combat Readiness Center / By LTC James T. Donovan: Army Aviation units continue to do an outstanding job of mitigating risk to acceptable levels, thereby conducting missions safely in complex environments both at home and across the globe.

Today’s aviation force is the most seasoned, dedicated and capable in our Army’s history, and without question the safest. Yet, we must ask ourselves, are we doing enough to proactively prevent the next accident?

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CH-47F on a low illumination NVG training flight contacted a sand dune during a dust landing approach. / USACRC courtesy photo

Safety metrics are notoriously difficult to quantify, but using those established by senior Army leaders, we have not done enough. We as aviators did not meet the Fiscal Year 2015 Army Safety and Occupational Health Objectives, signed last October by the Army chief of staff and Army secretary. Our objectives were to achieve a Class A accident rate of less than 1 per 100,000 flight hours and reduce degraded visual environment (DVE)/spatial disorientation (SD) accidents by 50 percent through enhanced training and leader awareness. The following paragraphs highlight where we fell short of the mark.

The Challenges
During FY15, aviation units across all components experienced 13 Class A flight accidents, resulting in a corresponding accident rate of 1.52 accidents per 100,000 flight hours. Of those accidents, six occurred under night vision devices (NVD), three happened in DVE, and 10 were attributed to human error. Totals were slightly higher in FY14, with 15 Class A accidents recorded across all components (12 under NVD, two in DVE, three related to power management, and 11 resulting from human error), yet the accident rate was exactly the same, 1.52 per 100,000 flight hours. This is a reflection of how actual flying hours manipulate the accident rate – reduced hours during FY15 meant the rate stayed the same, converse to a drop in total accidents.

Mining further into the data, Class A DVE accidents increased by one from FY14 to FY15 and rose from three to six for all Class A and B accidents. Class A human error accidents made up 77 percent of FY15’s totals, compared to 73 percent during FY14 (for both Class A and B accidents, FY15’s human error rate was 80 percent, compared to 74 percent for FY14). Other Class A accident causes in FY15 included, with one case each, environmental, materiel and unknown, compared to three materiel and one unknown during FY14.

Having historically contributed to approximately 80 percent of all Army Aviation accidents, human error remains far and away the leading causal factor in mishaps today. Common themes during FY15 were overconfidence, complacency, inadequate mission planning, aircrew coordination errors and direct violations of mission approval criteria.

DVE a Primary Focus
DVE continues to be a primary focus for the USACRC. It has factored into 25 percent of all Class A and B accidents since 2002 and accounted for 123 fatalities and more than $965 million in equipment loss. The vast majority of past DVE accidents, 57 percent, occurred in brownout conditions, while inadvertent instrument meteorological conditions accounted for 21 percent, low illumination/low contrast 14 percent, and whiteout 4 percent. DVE is a continuing issue for Army Aviation, as evidenced by the doubling of Class A and B DVE/SD accidents between FY14 and FY15 (an increase from three to six).

The combination of improved aircraft systems and increased competency of our professional aircrews allow Army Aviation to operate safely in some of the most complex and demanding environments on earth. However, these harsh environments, coupled with decreasing flying hours, will challenge leaders to prioritize training missions to maintain aircrew proficiency. As actual hours decline, the need to incorporate simulators and AVCATT into training plans will grow. This is but one of the topics the USACRC Aviation Directorate will focus on in future issues of this publication, so stay tuned for updates.

A well-trained and disciplined aviation force is the best strategy to mitigate the risks inherent in operating at the margins of pilot capabilities. Getting back to the basics of aircrew training and reinforcing the three-step mission approval process will remain the most important elements of safe aviation operations as we move forward into an uncertain future. Understanding the hazards is critical to knowing ourselves better, and through proactive risk management, Army Aviation will continue to overcome every challenge.

Army Safe is Army Strong!
Note: All data cited for FY15 is based on preliminary year-end information. Late reports could affect these statistics somewhat in the coming weeks and months.

LTC James T. Donovan is the aviation director for the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center, Fort Rucker, AL.

Today’s aviation force is the most seasoned, dedicated and capable in our Army’s history, and without question the safest. Yet, we must ask ourselves, are we doing enough to proactively prevent the next accident?

Safety metrics are notoriously difficult to quantify, but using those established by senior Army leaders, we have not done enough. We as aviators did not meet the Fiscal Year 2015 Army Safety and Occupational Health Objectives, signed last October by the Army chief of staff and Army secretary. Our objectives were to achieve a Class A accident rate of less than 1 per 100,000 flight hours and reduce degraded visual environment (DVE)/spatial disorientation (SD) accidents by 50 percent through enhanced training and leader awareness. The following paragraphs highlight where we fell short of the mark.

The Challenges
During FY15, aviation units across all components experienced 13 Class A flight accidents, resulting in a corresponding accident rate of 1.52 accidents per 100,000 flight hours. Of those accidents, six occurred under night vision devices (NVD), three happened in DVE, and 10 were attributed to human error. Totals were slightly higher in FY14, with 15 Class A accidents recorded across all components (12 under NVD, two in DVE, three related to power management, and 11 resulting from human error), yet the accident rate was exactly the same, 1.52 per 100,000 flight hours. This is a reflection of how actual flying hours manipulate the accident rate – reduced hours during FY15 meant the rate stayed the same, converse to a drop in total accidents.

Mining further into the data, Class A DVE accidents increased by one from FY14 to FY15 and rose from three to six for all Class A and B accidents. Class A human error accidents made up 77 percent of FY15’s totals, compared to 73 percent during FY14 (for both Class A and B accidents, FY15’s human error rate was 80 percent, compared to 74 percent for FY14). Other Class A accident causes in FY15 included, with one case each, environmental, materiel and unknown, compared to three materiel and one unknown during FY14.

Having historically contributed to approximately 80 percent of all Army Aviation accidents, human error remains far and away the leading causal factor in mishaps today. Common themes during FY15 were overconfidence, complacency, inadequate mission planning, aircrew coordination errors and direct violations of mission approval criteria.

DVE a Primary Focus
DVE continues to be a primary focus for the USACRC. It has factored into 25 percent of all Class A and B accidents since 2002 and accounted for 123 fatalities and more than $965 million in equipment loss. The vast majority of past DVE accidents, 57 percent, occurred in brownout conditions, while inadvertent instrument meteorological conditions accounted for 21 percent, low illumination/low contrast 14 percent, and whiteout 4 percent. DVE is a continuing issue for Army Aviation, as evidenced by the doubling of Class A and B DVE/SD accidents between FY14 and FY15 (an increase from three to six).

The combination of improved aircraft systems and increased competency of our professional aircrews allow Army Aviation to operate safely in some of the most complex and demanding environments on earth. However, these harsh environments, coupled with decreasing flying hours, will challenge leaders to prioritize training missions to maintain aircrew proficiency. As actual hours decline, the need to incorporate simulators and AVCATT into training plans will grow. This is but one of the topics the USACRC Aviation Directorate will focus on in future issues of this publication, so stay tuned for updates.

A well-trained and disciplined aviation force is the best strategy to mitigate the risks inherent in operating at the margins of pilot capabilities. Getting back to the basics of aircrew training and reinforcing the three-step mission approval process will remain the most important elements of safe aviation operations as we move forward into an uncertain future. Understanding the hazards is critical to knowing ourselves better, and through proactive risk management, Army Aviation will continue to overcome every challenge.

Army Safe is Army Strong!


Note: All data cited for FY15 is based on preliminary year-end information. Late reports could affect these statistics somewhat in the coming weeks and months.

LTC James T. Donovan is the aviation director for the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center, Fort Rucker, AL.

Looking Back

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    Remember When?

    (From Army Aviation archives. Page 27, Vol. 3, No. 3, New York, NY., March 1955. By: Lieutenant Colonel Thomas E. Haynes, OCT, D/A.) WWII vintage L-4 and the two characters are Major Carpenter (right)[1] and Lt. Col. Thomas E. Haynes Read More
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