Marines Go Bump In The Night: Bad Driving a Flightline Hazard

FILE PHOTO -- An instructor pilot with Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501, flies into Beaufort skies to conduct an F-35B Lightning II night flight, March 2, 2015.(U.S. Marine Corps/Cpl. Aneshea Yee)
FILE PHOTO -- An instructor pilot with Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501, flies into Beaufort skies to conduct an F-35B Lightning II night flight, March 2, 2015.(U.S. Marine Corps/Cpl. Aneshea Yee)

Marines have a problem in bumping into stuff while towing aircraft, particularly at night, Marine Lt. Gen. Steven R. Rudder, the deputy commandant for Aviation, told a House hearing last week.

The towing accidents contribute to the Corps' Class C aviation mishaps, Rudder said at a June 21 hearing of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness on aviation safety. Class C is a category of mishap that results in $50,000 and $500,000 in damage to the aircraft but no fatalities.

Rudder said many of the Class C mishaps occurred when "young Marines trying to do the right things" had accidents because of inexperience.

They ended up "towing very expensive airplanes into things. So we've revamped our whole towing policy," he said. "Most of these happen during night crew," when much of the work gets done to meet the next day's schedule.

To cut down on accidents, "we've increased the level of expertise and [non-commissioned officer] leadership to our night crews," Rudder said.

Rudder did not specify any particular towing accidents but he joined with other top-ranking representatives of all the services at the hearing in stressing the need to improve the performance and retention rates for maintainers and ground crews in the overall effort to cut down on aviation mishaps.

Rudder, Air Force Lt. Gen. Mark C. Nowland, Army Maj. Gen. William K. Gayler, and Rear Adm. Roy J. Kelley all said they expected improvements to come from the recent two-year budget deal that will boost funding for increased flight training hours and retention bonuses.

Rudder told reporters after the hearing that rewarding maintainers with higher-level qualifications had proved to help the Marine Corps retain talent.

"So in the Marine Corps, we promote if you can shoot well, you can run, you are in shape, and you're smart," he said. "In aviation maintenance, we would like to reward people that can do all those things as well as be a professional, qualified mechanic on an F-35 or V-22."

Last year, Marine Corps aircraft maintainers got a "bonus kicker" for reenlisting, Rudder said.

"And part of that reenlistment was, you get that $20,000 and we kept you in a squadron for another two years, you didn't go anywhere else," Rudder said.

However, he said, there was another part of the equation.

"The truest metric of health in aviation is aircrew flight hours, because that number -- which is easy to track -- allows us to compare our combat readiness month over month and year over year [and] encompasses aircraft readiness, aircrew preparation, and flexible logistics and responsive supply chains," Rudder said in his prepared statement for the Subcommittee.

And aircrew flight hours are increasing, he said, a sign that the Marines' recovery strategy is seeing success.

"In the last 12 months, we averaged 17.2 hours per crew per month," he said.

The Marines consider 15 hours per months adequate for safe operations, and 16.9 hours best for combat readiness.

In 2016, Marine pilots were averaging 13.5 hours a month, and in 2017 the average was up to 15.4 hours per month, Rudder said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at richard.sisk@military.com.

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