June 21, 2007 (by Tech SGT. Benjamin Matwey of the Delaware ANG) - The 166th Airlift Wing is marking 44 years and 160,000 accident-free flying hours this month on transport aircraft (C-97, then C-130A and now C-130H models) without a class A, B or C mishap.
On June 4, 1961, a Lockheed T-33 jet trainer departed Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, to return to home station in New Castle. A linkage in the fuel controller failed, and the jet crashed off the end of the runway. The pilot, Lt. Col. David McCallister, commander of the Delaware Air National Guard's 142nd TFS, did not survive. Passenger Brig. Gen. William W. Spruance, a founding father of the Delaware ANG in 1946, suffered third-degree burns. Spruance, now 90, has since then given more than 2,000 presentations on flying safety and crash survival. The tragic accident reset the safety attitude in the unit and spawned what base members started calling The Delaware Way.
The 166th Airlift Wing is marking 44 years and 160,000 accident-free flying hours this month on transport aircraft (C-97, then C-130A and now C-130H models) without a class A, B or C mishap -- which means there have been no fatalities, permanent or partial disabilities or aircraft damage incidents costing more than $20,000. The unit estimates 44 million miles have been flown since 1963, averaging one million miles of accident-free flying per year.
2006 was the safest year in Air Force history, and the fleet of nearly 500 C-130 transport aircraft had an even better safety record. The ANG, with units in all 50 states and several territories, has seen an improving safety record for the past 30 years. For 44 years the Delaware ANG's near-perfect safety record has lifted the results in each category.
Airmen who flew and fixed aircraft in World War II began the unit. Delaware ANG members completed fighter combat missions in the Korean War, losing numerous airmen. The unit's lengthy safety record began with transport flights to Vietnam, continued with airlift and airdrop flights to nearly every combat zone and numerous humanitarian missions in the U.S. and abroad and persists with combat flights in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"I firmly believe that our impeccable safety record over the years originates with the many wing commanders' philosophies and leadership practices," said retired Col. James Dugar, commander of the Delaware ANG 166th Tactical Airlift Group from 1988-95. "My few years at the DuPont Colorad, where safety was constantly emphasized, helped me to be paranoid about every aspect of safety. As commander, I put safety above everything. My goal was to groom my senior leaders to practice and teach safety as a way of everyday life. Ground safety was as important as flying safety. That practice has continued to today and has resulted in a safety record envied by everyone."
Brig. Gen. Ernest Talbert, current vice commander of the Delaware ANG, notes a difference between an accident board -- to find out why something happened and who to punish -- and a safety board -- to find why things happened and prevent their recurrence. He believes the Delaware ANG embraces the safety board philosophy.
"We learn from each incident, take preventative actions and improve unit practices so all are better trained and prepared. It is not forgiveness, but a conscious thought in embracing candor in our missteps" that the whole unit embraces, he said. "Having an environment where you can't admit mistakes prevents learning." Noting human imperfection, he said, "I think that makes us a better organization -- we are conscious of our limitations."
Retired Brig. Gen. Tom Lauppe, former director of operations, believes several factors influence the Delaware Air Guard's envious safety record: Spruance's safety presentations; a respected flying and ground safety office staff; leadership from commanders down to individuals; an ever-changing organization culture that never abandons focus on safety; base-wide teamwork about how to maintain and fly safe aircraft; individuals' belief that safety should be part of everything; realizing and accepting the importance of safety and mission accomplishment.
An experienced work force of NCOs and officers provides stability in maintenance and operations, with a core group of skilled airmen staying in the unit for decades. A strong corporate knowledge base is preserved and passed on while mentoring new personnel. That skill base helps to manage significant ups and downs of personnel changes; since Sept. 11, 2001, half of the unit's membership is new, reflecting the citizen-airman concept of part-time National Guard service that draws people from many walks of life. There is no single action, great revelation or magic formula that fostered this safety culture. "The Delaware Way is not set in stone, or a certain procedure. It is a way of life, an attitude, a culture. We bring that attitude to making weather decisions, in preflight planning, to all kinds of things. It is evolving," said Major Craig Conrad, 166th Airlift Wing chief of safety. "We've done these things for years that the Air Force has now institutionalized."