WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – The National Commission on Military Aviation Safety visited Wright-Patterson Sept. 11-12 in their effort to understand the man, machine and environment interface and its impact on safety in military aviation operations.
During their visit, the commissioners received briefings and tours at the Air Force Research Laboratory, Naval Medical Research Unit – Dayton (NAMRU-D), and the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center Simulator Program office.
The Commission has been conducting a series of focus groups with aircrews, mechanics, and logisticians at locations across the Department of Defense, and is also seeking input from experts with specialized skills and experience such as those found at AFRL’s 711th Human Performance Wing and NAMRU-D.
Due to recent military aviation accidents, Congress established the Commission to conduct a comprehensive review of military aviation mishaps occurring between 2013 and 2018 to reveal trends, identify shortcomings, and highlight best practices.
The Commission is looking for aggregate trends from previous mishaps, including lessons learned and how they are incorporated into current operations, training, and maintenance procedures. They are also reviewing organizational and supervisory influence, human factors, training, physiological effects, maintenance, operational tempo, and budgetary constraints.
Once of the specific tasks the Commission is appointed with is to make an assessment of the underlying causes contributing to the unexplained physiological events some military pilots have experienced in the past few years.
Gen. Raymond E. Johns (USAF, Ret) is one of the commission members and said he was glad to see the wisdom put into the decision to locate NAMRU-D at WPAFB adjacent to the 711 HPW.
“I think it was with great vision and I’m glad to see that the system, from the resourcing to the leadership, to the organizations were able to come together in such a positive way,” Johns said. “You see cooperation, respect and admiration here of, ‘How do we work on the human’s performance when it comes to aerospace machines?’”
The Commission desires to find out what has caused accidents and what might prevent future accidents.
“They asked us to look as specific aspects of the entire enterprise, so we’re looking at the rate of recent military mishaps compared to historical data and trying to answer, ‘Why is there a difference?’” Johns said.
The commission is looking to learn about the causes that have contributed to mishaps, including underlying causes contributing to unexplained physiological effects.
“To do this, we need to look at the entire aerospace environment, including the machine because technology has changed – we have new equipment that can fly faster and higher and pull more Gs. Then we have to look at the pilot and the maintainer. We have to look at the whole aerospace system because if you think about it, are they all in harmony? What is the man-machine interface? How is that machine being used in the environment? It’s a whole balanced equation, so what we’re doing in the first phase is going out and talking to the people on the front lines, the maintainers, the aviators, because there is an obligation to our community and to our families that we maintain the highest safety levels and highest regard for the Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Coastguardsmen.”
Much of the Commission’s focus while at Wright-Patterson was on the human aspect and the physiology knowledge that is available here between the Navy and the Air Force.
“We came here to learn and have them help us understand the things we should be considering,” Johns said. “What was probably one of the most significant learning opportunities for me was to see the corpus, the amount of experience, that resides here on the subject of human performance.”
Johns was particularly impressed by the depth of knowledge, dedication, and passion shown by Air Force and Navy researchers here in trying to solve issues facing aviators flying high performance aircraft with systems such as the on-board oxygen generation system, or OBOGS.
“They are tackling that problem to basically say, how do we keep the human safe in these maximum performing aircraft?” Johns said. “We want our pilots to know they can go out and have confidence they will be safe and return to their family after they accomplish the mission.”
“You can be a great success by picking up pieces of a train once it’s wrecked, but what I see here is leadership that wants to prevent the train from wrecking. And that gift–that dedication and passion I think are something that all of us will take away from our experience here. The collaboration here between academic researchers, industry, and others within DOD really is a one team effort.”
Johns also commended the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Simulator System Program Office for the work they do with pilot training.
“Going to the Simulator SPO gave us an opportunity to look at training because as technology has changed, we need to know how we have adapted our training. How are we using artificial intelligence, virtual reality to actually try to enhance training, and how the pilot has changed over time? What are the cognitive, physical, evolutionary characteristics of the pilot force now that interact with this technology? That interaction going to the simulator SPO was very helpful in trying to start understanding how to best frame that.”
Currently, the Commission is scheduled to report their findings and recommendations on how to best reduce future military aviation mishaps to the President, Congress and DOD no later than March 1, 2020.