Training Squadron (VT) 10 and Lt. Katherine Smisson of Command and Control Squadron (VAW) 121 are winners of the 2019 Grampaw Pettibone Award.
The award, presented by the Naval Safety Center (NAVSAFECEN), recognizes individuals and organizations that contribute the most toward aviation safety through publications and media resources.
Smisson received the individual award for her article, “Pressurized into an Early Recovery,” describing a May 2019 over-pressurization event aboard an E-2D Hawkeye assigned to the VAW-121 “Blue Tails.” Her narrative recounted a rare event during a flight in which a Hawkeye crew experienced over-pressurization, and how teamwork brought the five-person crew safely back aboard ship.
“This was an emergency we don’t normally see on Hawkeyes,” Smisson said. “We had to trust our training, trust others and work together.”
The outcome of the incident, the resulting reports and the article was a new Naval Aviation Training and Operating Procedures Standardization Manual (NATOPS) procedure to more quickly identify and respond to over-pressurization.
VAW 121’s safety officer chose Smisson to write the article based on her communication skills.
“Her article allowed us to re-evaluate the incident in a way everyone can understand,” said Lt. Cmdr. Gerald Armstrong. “The new NATOPS procedure is proof that their teamwork paid off.”
What impressed the judges at NAVSAFECEN most was its applicability Navy-wide.
“This article told how the crew made quick, real-time decisions that got them safely back on deck,” said NAVSAFECEN Aviation Safety Programs Deputy Director Adam Hyams, who chaired the awards board. “There were other articles that were as professionally written, but this was the only one with lessons for the entire aviation community.”
The article will appear in the spring 2020 issue of Approach magazine.
VT-10 was chosen as the organization winner due to innovative communications within the squadron and with the student Naval Flight Officers (NFO), it trains. Through required reading, crew resource management (CRM) training and its internal newsletter, the “Wildcats” of VT-10 show that communicating safety is a priority.
“The squadron has a quality safety promotion program,” Hyams said. “With their internal communications program, including The Scratching Post, they incorporate multiple safety and operational aspects into a strong message that helps VT-10 student NFOs realize the interrelation between safety and operations and how both are essential to mission accomplishment. The desire is that they take that mindset with them when they report to the fleet.”
The Scratching Post is VT-10’s semi-annual internal publication full of lessons learned from activities on the ground and in the air.
“It’s a kind of a ‘there I was, I was wrong and how I got it right’ letter,” said VT-10 Safety Officer Lt. John Montana. “We are all going to make mistakes. It’s how we overcome them and learn from them that’s important.”
Montana said that the squadron wants student NFOs to understand the importance of safety from day one.
“We want them to stand up for safety,” Montana said. “We want them taking the lead in safety, so we bring them into safety decisions early on instead of holding their hands.”
VT-10’s aviation safety officer said that communicating openly with student NFOs encourages them to speak up when they see something wrong.
“The reason our program runs so well is that leadership empowers everyone to bring up something that’s unsafe, all the way down to the newest student NFO or the newest airman in the squadron,” said Lt. Rebecca NeSmith. “By empowering everyone, it gives mission ownership and encourages safety in every aspect.”
The Grampaw Pettibone awards are named for the cartoon character and curmudgeon from Naval Aviation News magazine. For more than 75 years, he has shared stories of miscues, mishaps, goofs, flubs and other airborne misadventures. Sharing lessons learned has long been a hallmark of professional aviators. Publishing these lessons learned as well as other innovative ideas, keep countless aviators from learning the hard way. Grampaw Pettibone was the idea of the late Capt. Seth Warner (USN) and the late Robert Osborn, who was Pettibone’s illustrator.
The Grampaw Pettibone Award winners will receive a commemorative plaque from NAVSAFECEN.