12 months ago

Military Aviation Mishaps

Military Aviation Mishaps

Vincent "Jell-O" Aiello

I’d like to reflect on the recent spate of military aviation mishaps and then provide a brief update on the podcast.

Mishaps

Lately, news outlets have reported several instances of military aircraft involved in mishaps because… well, there have been a lot of military aircraft crashes lately.

Last week a Puerto Rican ANG C-130 crashed in Georgia, killing all 9 on board. The week before an F-16 ran off the runway at an Arizona airfield, destroying the plane. Before that we lost Thunderbird 4, a Super Stallion and four Marine crew, and two Super Hornet aircrew in Key West, among others.

Indeed, mishap rates are up.

The US Naval Safety Center reports that as of May 9th of this fiscal year, the Navy has experienced as many “Class A” mishaps (defined as costing $2M+ or loss of life) as all of FY17, with a mishap rate almost double this date last year.

The Marine Corps has actually experienced fewer mishaps and a better rate than one year ago but is still trending above a moving 10-year average. (Current FY mishap data could not be found for the US Air Force.)

While it may be tempting to blame this apparent rash of mishaps on some underlying root cause, I am mindful of two things:

First, flying military aircraft—or any aircraft, really—is risky business.

Unlike automobiles (which, to be fair, are also “risky”), a pilot cannot simply pull over and stop when encountering a problem.

Captain A.G. Lamplugh of the British Aviation Insurance Group put it best when he said, “Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity or neglect .” (I am not attributing one or more of these factors to any of the above mishaps but, on the other hand, certainly something out of the ordinary happened to cause each crash.)

Second, statistical clusters are not only common but to be expected.

We humans tend to find patterns in images and make connections between events where none exists (this latter phenomenon is known as apophenia).

I recently listened to a podcast where the show guest suggested you can wow your friends at a party by handing them a coin, a pencil, and two sheets of paper. While you step in to another room, they are to write down what they think the result of flipping the coin 25 times will be. Then they actually flip the coin 25 times and record the results on the other page. When you return you can impress the guests by correctly identifying which list is which (this guy must have really been the life of the party).

The point is simply that the party goers will write down a pattern far closer to heads alternating with tails on nearly every flip, whereas in reality there will be larger clusters of sequential heads and sequential tails. The distinction gives away the two lists and makes you look like a genius.

I believe we are in a cluster of mishaps that are not connected by a common thread, other than that they are all on our minds at the moment. And I imagine the information-on-demand era we live in only accentuates our apophenia.

To be clear, however, these observances in no way diminish the tragedy of the lost souls and—to a much lesser degree—the damaged and destroyed equipment. As a 25-year Navy pilot, I have experienced this time and again, and it is never an easy situation to rationalize or explain. My heart goes out to the affected families and squadrons.

Show Update

In other news, your Fighter Pilot Podcast continues to enjoy growth and success. In April, we kicked off a series on aircraft carrier operations that continues into May with episodes on day and night carrier landings.

We recently conducted several interviews which will be featured in future episodes, including a retired 3-star admiral formerly in charge of all naval air forces, a Desert Storm MiG killer, and an air-to-surface weapons expert. We also welcomed back episode 1-guest Brian “Sunshine” Sinclair who stole the show during a Facebook Live listener question session:

I’m so glad you are on this journey with us. We look forward to continuing to provide you quality air combat audio and video content. If you have input or questions for the show, please do not hesitate to reach out. After all, this is your show!

See you around the site,

Vincent “Jell-O” Aiello
Host

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