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The Old Days

The Old Days

Joint Forces Headquarters-NC
North Carolina Army National Guard
Raleigh, North Carolina

In the dark days at the outset of World War II, a young Army Air Corps flight officer, gifted with 20/10 vision and a natural flying ability, was grounded for nine days after hitting a tree and clipping two feet off the wing of his Bell P-39 Airacobra. It happened when he was chasing cattle in his aircraft while trying to help a local farmer he thought needed it.

Institutional lore records a myriad of instances where an aviator did something foolish and dinged, bent or damaged an aircraft; received minor, if any, punishment; and went on to become a valuable part of the organization. The tendency is to question all the doom-and-gloom repercussions if an aviator breaks regulations. The response is that aircraft and missions are much more complex, and the premature and unnecessary replacement cost of personnel and machines is unacceptable. We operate in an Army where every Soldier and every piece of equipment is critical to mission accomplishment and lengthy and costly training forces a shift in ideology. Confronted with these facts, we can ill afford to keep relearning lessons.

Someone in the past made a mistake and, in some cases, paid the ultimate price. In other cases, they made no mistake yet still paid the ultimate price while testing equipment so we could discover the limits of materiel and procedures. Greater speed, weight, composition and complexity of our aircraft have only increased potential damage in the event of a crash. Commanders routinely accept mission risks with the understanding that we are doing all we can to minimize it. So, initially it may seem that the proper answer is to hammer away mercilessly at even the hint of undisciplined behavior. However, now is the time for responsible leadership, not a knee-jerk reaction.

At various levels an aviator’s commander, standardization pilot, safety officer and peers all need to participate in the process of “recovering” the individual, if necessary. First, directly address the aviator in particular about whatever issue is causing the perceived undisciplined behavior. Then, if that doesn’t work, the leaders need to act in a deliberately measured manner without stifling initiative or audacity in execution. We still need to be warriors who apply ourselves at the decisive point of the fight.

So who was that aviator mentioned at the beginning of the article? It was retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Charles “Chuck” Yeager, who landed in the history books as the first person to break the sound barrier when he flew the Bell X-1 rocket 670 mph in 1947. He may have broken the “regs” at one point in his service, but he completed his career as a key figure in Army (and later, Air Force) aviation.

  • 1 November 2014
  • Author: Army Safety
  • Number of views: 10357
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