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Improving Quality in an Environment of Austerity
LCDR Gordon “Judy” Faulkner
VFA-106 Training Officer
The Genesis: 2
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The Solution: 17
Works Cited 20
A special thanks to LT Steven “Pepe” Raulli, LCDR Rafe “Bloach”
Wysham and LT Robert “Vicky” Prince for your input and dedicated
What follows is a TOPGUN (one word, all caps) debrief. Please
check your egos and rank at the door and recognize that there
are many goods in addition to the others presented herein.
The mission of VFA-106 is to provide the fleet with combat ready
Replacement Aircrew (RAC). This requires conversion of newly
winged Category One Replacement Pilots (RP) or Weapons System
Officers (RWSO) into a steely eyed warrior, fully prepared to
employ the F/A-18 in combat, rapidly assimilate into a fleet
Ready Room and assume the duties of a squadron Junior Officer.
In an environment of lengthening cruises, shrinking budgets and
reduced fleet training opportunities, the role of the Fleet
Replacement Squadron (FRS) and Training Command in producing
quality warriors is more important than ever.
Over the past two years the VFA-106 Training Department observed
an alarming two-fold trend: overhead costs soared as SODs
increased 132 percent from fiscal year 2011 to fiscal year 2013
and several incidents involving poor officer-like qualities
arose, where before there were few documented issues involving
professional conduct. In the past 18 months VFA-106 conducted
11 Field Naval Aviator Evaluation Boards (FNAEB), issued four
Non-Punitive Letters of Caution (NPLOC) and eight Letters of
Instruction (LOI) addressing issues with officer-like qualities.
In the preceding 18 months, the squadron conducted only two
FNAEBs and Field Flight Performance Boards (FFPB).
Surprisingly, less than 40 percent of unsatisfactory events have
been related to increasingly complex tactical skills, but have
instead been for deficiencies in core skills. This degradation
in core skills from Category One aviators has occurred over
time, insidiously, as the number of Training Command platforms
(at least for pilots) was reduced from three to two and the
number of Training Command flight hours declined over a decade
from nominally 290 at winging compared with 240 today. The
principal result is Fleet Replacement Squadrons (FRS) that focus
on remediating basic air work (BAW), formation, and admin,
rather than converting winged aviators into fleet warriors. Not
surprisingly, VFA-106 is also devoting an increased amount of
time to mentoring officers who have demonstrated significant
character deficiencies and integrity problems.
Normalized SOD rate adjusted for students in training
In addition to these trends, the Naval Aviation Enterprise (NAE)
has been pursuing several efforts to “optimize” training by
downloading flights to less expensive cost per hour (CPH)
platforms. The Chief of Naval Air Training (CNATRA) has made
several requests for suggested FRS flights to “download” to less
costly platforms. The FRS syllabus already operates at the
minimum required number of flights, introducing most concepts
only once during the course of training. Any flight time
reduction in the FRS syllabus would likely result in additional
remediation, thus negating the savings from that reduction. At
the very least decreasing flight time could tangibly reduce the
quality of the aviator going to the fleet.
A viable alternate solution is to optimize training by reducing
FRS overhead in the form of remedial flights. Each remedial
flight offered by VFA-106 is, on average, 1.3 flight hours and
$15,600 in direct costs (of note, this measure of cost per hour
does not include the expense of valuable and limited life-cycle
time and fatigue). From fiscal year 2012 to date, VFA-106 flew
510 flights to remediate 250 failed events (not including
Carrier Qualification (CQ)). When CQ is included VFA-106 has
flown 730 remedial flights. That is $14 million dollars spent
on remediation. While it is impossible to entirely eliminate
remediation at the FRS, it is viable to target a reduction of 60
percent based on an examination of the current breakdown of
remediation. Those hours, if reallocated to the T-45, equate to
2,940 T-45 flight hours (direct cost). As the author assumes
that VFA-122 and VMFAT-101 experience similar SOD rates, the
actual effects are even greater. Properly focused additional
flights in the training command could significantly reduce the
number of failed flights in the FRS and hence the costs of
remediation. In an increasingly austere operating environment,
the true gain from reducing remediation in the FRS is a savings
in service life on our valuable but aging fleet of F/A-18s.
The amount of information presented to aircrew in an F/A-18
cockpit has grown in complexity. Increasing amounts of
information available from onboard systems provide a deluge of
Situational Awareness (SA) for the competent aviator that can
completely overwhelm more junior aircrew. The amount of
information displayed in the cockpit and our updated tactics
provide an incredible challenge to even experienced aviators,
let alone recent training command graduates. Additionally, a
lack of these systems at the FRS leaves a graduate with a
significant amount to digest when they arrive at their first
fleet squadron. The radar warning receiver (RWR), electronic
attack (EA), defensive countermeasures (DECM), the joint helmet
mounted cuing system (JHMCS) and advanced tactics, techniques
and procedures (ATTP) are but a few of the advanced systems and
concepts required for fleet proficiency.
Over time, this creep towards more capable weapons and
increasingly complex tactics created an increasing gap between
the FRS graduate and the trained fleet nugget. Since VFA-106
does not have the systems or resources to completely train FRS
students to fleet tactics, we must instead rely on ensuring that
the basics of book knowledge, formation, sensor and
communications are so engrained as to enable them to focus
appropriately on new and advanced tactics presented in the
A 2011 letter from Commander Naval Air Force Atlantic indicated
that VFA-106 was not achieving this goal.
To the end of
improving quality, VFA-106 implemented the following critical
- Created a skill based proficiency matrix for each phase
- Validated the entire syllabus to ensure that it
efficiently contributed to achieving the proficiency
- Engaged with fleet Training Officers to uncover specific
weaknesses in our graduates, syllabus and instructor
- Worked in concert with VMFAT-101 and VFA-122 to conduct a
survey of FRS instructors on the preparedness of incoming
- Made several revisions to the Category One syllabus and
completely re-authored the Category Three syllabus.
Developed a survey for Carrier Air Wing Commanders to
track the results of changes to the Category Three
syllabus and make improvements.
- Completely revised performance review procedures,
emphasizing a TOPGUN mindset of remediating individual
events until RAC achieved the appropriate level of
proficiency, setting them up for future success in the
Source: Commander Naval Air Force Atlantic ltr. dtd. 18 Jan 2011
- Fostered an environment of ownership by encouraging every
instructor to view VFA-106 as a brand and to ensure that
only the highest quality product matriculated to the
The results have been tangible:
- Graduating Department Heads, Prospective Executive
Officers and Prospective Deputy Commodores achieved
unprecedented levels of proficiency.
- A marked increase in positive feedback from fleet
Commanding Officers on the performance of nuggets. While
it is too early to draw conclusions based on hard data,
recent Commanding Officer survey results and substantial
positive feedback from Fleet Training and Commanding
Officers indicate that VFA-106 is producing high quality
An outgrowth of this concerted emphasis on quality was an
increase in remediation in the weakest students. Eventually
this resulted in the FNAEBs of four VFA-106 RAC with ultimate
classifications of B1. Simultaneously VFA-106 instructors were
generally dissatisfied with the bottom 25 percent of Training
Command graduates. As a result the VFA-106 Training Department,
in conjunction with VFA-122 and VMFAT-101, conducted an in depth
analysis of signal of difficulty (SOD) data as well as a survey
of all FRS instructors.
The results of those surveys spawned this project and uncovered
three distinct trends:
- The majority of instructors felt that the bottom 25
percent of RAC were only marginally prepared for FRS
training and the bottom 10 percent were not adequately
trained at all.
- Eighty-eight percent of respondents reported that
arriving RAC possessed a “sense of entitlement.” There
was disagreement on the overall professionalism of RAC
with VMFAT-101 feeling that RAC were adequately prepared
on a professional level, while the data from VFA-106 and
VFA-122 showed variability with a mean of RAC being only
- The results for RWSO preparedness showed significant
variability; however, across the board, FRS instructors
Source: Commanding Officer’s survey of F/A-18 FRS aircrew training
felt that RWSOs were less prepared than their pilot
Throughout 2012, the VFA-106 Training Department participated in
several training optimization conferences. Based on information
gained at those conferences, VFA-106 recommends a twofold
approach of increased flight time and a fundamental shift away
from the “X” production mindset towards a culture of ownership,
quality and mentorship. The cost of quality is not cheap, but
with focus and hard work, it can be cheaper.
Several changes have occurred in pilot training in the past 15
years. The overall pipeline is shorter, and the number of
flight hours and platforms have been reduced. The resulting
pool of aviators ranges from competent and prepared to marginal
at best. Additionally, the NAE has seen the sundown of the S-3
and the F-14 as well as the impending retirement of the EA-6B.
In today’s Navy, 85 percent of tailhook aviators will end up in
some variant of the F/A-18. Diminishing resources and a focus
on efficiency have resulted in a production system (and Navy)
that is strained to the ragged edge. Over time, this lack of
resources and focus on efficiency created a pervasive mindset of
production vice quality. While the NAE has a responsibility to
efficiently achieve production goals, VFA-106 questions whether
the pendulum has swung too far towards cheap and fast and away
from quality. As in business, it follows that when faced with
the production goals of inexpensive, fast, and good, history
dictates that only two of the three are realistically
Changes in Training:
Comparing the author’s background to today’s average Category
One pilot illustrates the point. The author graduated flight
school after flying 291 hours in T-34, T-2 and T-45.
average Category One pilot receives 240 hours in a primary
flight trainer and the T-45.
The loss of the third platform
materially detracts from the adaptability and flexibility
inherent in having to learn three platforms vice two. Coupled
with the loss of 50 hours of flight time, the effect is
significant. Fifty additional flight hours represents an
The author completed advanced flight training in October of 2001, tracking
through the Training Command at a representative pace, with no failed events
or remedial events.
IFS data not available.
increase of 20 percent in total SNA experience. That equates to
50 more hours of formation flying, 50 more hours of air sense
and situational awareness, at least 50 more rendezvous and at
least 50 more landings. Sixty percent of FRS remediation comes
from deficiencies related to formation and the administrative
portion of flight, not advanced tactics. If the Training
Command utilized increased flight time to focus on the
development of fundamentals in a task saturated environment, the
FRS would see a significant reduction in remedial flight time.
Not all aircrew develop at the same pace. The loss of the F-14,
the S-3 and eventually the EA-6B significantly reduced the
number of platforms available to TACAIR Student Naval Aviators
(SNA) and Flight Officers (SNFO). Fifteen years ago, a full 70
percent of Navy TACAIR SNAs were assigned to the EA-6B, S-3,
F-14 or E-2/C-2s. Today roughly 85 percent end up flying some
variant of the F/A-18. Where at one point the system could play
to aircrew’s strengths, now platform selection is relatively
homogenous. The only way to achieve a relatively homogenous
result in both the Training Command and the FRS is through the
amount of remediation offered. In order to standardize output,
the Training Command and FRS must tailor its training to the
individual. There is no “one size” fits all solution.
The results of VFA-106’s FRS instructor aircrew survey captured
- The average FRS instructor feels that the top 25 percent
of RAC are prepared for the FRS syllabus.
- The middle 50 percent of RAC are partially prepared.
- The bottom 25 percent of RAC are marginally prepared.
- The bottom five to ten percent of RAC are unsatisfactory.
This correlates to studies of SOD data, which show that 70
percent of SODs are concentrated on 33 percent of RAC. As the
number of SODs per student increases, the remediation required
increases as well. Approximately 20 percent of RAC account for
70 percent of remedial flights.
Additionally, a fiscal year
2012 study showed 66 percent of SODs occur in students who were
below average in the Training Command. While this is not
surprising, a better prepared and more homogenous Training
Command product will result in a reduction in remediation at the
FRS. Put simply, top Training Command graduates fare well in
the FRS. There is no requirement to raise the quality of top
CQ SODs not included due to the unique nature of the phase.
graduates; instead the bar needs to be raised for below average
Training Command students.
VFA-106 SOD data shows that 60 percent of all SODs are
attributable to administrative or formation related items. In
later phases, the percentage of SODs for formation increases as
aircrew are tasked with additional cockpit workload. This
indicates that the bandwidth of those students who struggle is
perhaps sufficient during low intensity operations, but when
faced with more demanding environments requiring multi-tasking
they are not up to the challenge. The Training Command should
use this data to focus the efforts of additional training. With
the eventual advent of the Virtual Mission Training System
(VMTS), it will be possible for the Training Command to more
adequately train to formation flying in task saturated
environments. This should identify problem aviators earlier in
the system and allow for remediation in less expensive
Data from VFA-106 shows a disturbing uptick in early stage SODs.
Out of the last nine classes to start VFA-106, the first six
classes experienced a SOD rate of 3.5 SODs per class in the
Transition phase of training. The most recent three classes to
start training have experienced a SOD rate of 6.3 SODs per
class, an 81 percent increase.
In an effort to rule out an
artificial bias or shift in standards, VFA-106 conducted an in
depth review of a sample of failed and completed events and saw
no significant shifts in standards in either the grades or the
instructors’ comments. The standard for a SOD has not shifted,
but the performance of the below average Category One pilot has,
for the worse.
There are potential external and internal causes for the noted
shift in Transition Phase performance. Internally, VFA-106
continues to experience continuity of training problems created
by a lack of sufficient resources. Too few ready for production
and various strains on simulator resources create
an environment where training aid supply fails to meet syllabus
demand. In this scenario, scheduling becomes overly restrictive
and only the highest priority classes get scheduled. These
constraints result in a “hurry up and wait” effect. This
Data normalized for class size.
Source: VFA-106 fiscal year 2013 NAPP data
materially affects SOD rates; however, due to the recent nature
of the shift, there is insufficient data to prove this. Trying
to achieve more with less has consequences. What may be saved
in the short term, is lost in additional remediation or quality;
what is gained by utilizing fewer Sailors, is lost in
maintenance programs, safety and the morale of those Sailors who
work harder to turn fewer aircraft more quickly and more
frequently than planned.
The bottom line is that production
squadrons must be properly resourced in order to achieve the
results that are expected of them.
Externally a recent shift to the MPTS grading system in the
Training Command created difficulty in properly evaluating
student naval aviators (SNAs), resulting in lower quality
students matriculating from the Training Command. Anecdotally
there appears to be significant confusion and frustration among
Training Command instructors about the grading system and
attrition process. Effective evaluation systems should
prioritize an instructor’s experience and expert opinion of an
SNA’s performance vice a complicated attempt at objectivity
which results in confusion and inconsistency in grading. The
grading system is so convoluted that it has been the butt of
jokes on Junior Officer Facebook blogs. While there are
attempts to objectively quantify each graded item on a flight,
it is nearly impossible for an instructor to achieve the
fidelity of memory required by MPTS; however, all instructors
should be capable of determining whether or not a student meets
the level of proficiency required to advance to the next flight
or stage of training. The author recommends significant further
study of the accuracy of the MPTS grading system and its effects
on the overall evaluation of Training Command students.
An overarching and continuing concern is a Training Command
culture that prioritizes event completion (“X” generation) over
quality. Recently VFA-106 requested that the Training Command
explore refreshing select SNA’s instrument qualifications prior
to leaving for the FRS to ensure currency through the initial
phases of F/A-18 training. A Training Command Standardization
Officer responded that this had been explored before, and “the
reason it was not supported was because everything we do with
SNA's (sic) is/should be X generating oriented.” Ignoring the
validity of the request itself, this comment captures an
important aspect of Training Command culture. “Everything we do
Source: VFA-106 fiscal year 2014 PPF submission
with SNAs is/should be X generating oriented.” The Training
Command and FRS should be focused on producing high quality
officers and aviators who are geared for success in the fleet,
while maintaining a keen focus on efficiency.
Upper level leadership encourages this “production first”
mindset through awards which focus on achieving production
goals, not capturing the quality of matriculating aviators. The
criteria for the Ellyson award is as follows: “A CNO-appointed
awards committee will select five squadrons which demonstrate
the greatest efficiency in meeting the fleet requirement for
pilots and naval flight officers within the CNO-approved
syllabus.” There is no mention of quality in this award, only
The effect of this is best illustrated in a comparison of
attrition rates. In fiscal year 2012, VFA-106 attrited five
percent of our Category One RAC for performance. In the past
three years, only two VFA-106 graduates received fleet FNAEBs
for performance. Both finished in the bottom ten percent of
their training command classes. Today both would have been
better identified by VFA-106’s performance review system and
remediated or attrited. Anecdotally, the Training Wing One
Commodore indicated in 2012 that total Training Wing One
Intermediate and Advanced Strike Fighter attrites for all
reasons numbered three. Comparing expected production rates,
Training Wing One rates of attrition are significantly lower
than current FRS levels. The Commodore also indicated there
were zero attrites for Training Wing One CQ during the same time
The bottom line is that production squadrons have to achieve
production goals but also have a responsibility to ensure
quality. In order to achieve that goal, production squadrons
need to be properly resourced and rewarded for the quality of
the warrior they produce as well as the efficiency with which
they produce that warrior. While the current system emphasizes
that Commanding Officers have the ability to attrite subpar
aviators, the system is also set up to incentivize those same
Commanding Officers to achieve production over quality. The
result is an FRS which conducts FNAEBs at a higher rate than the
Training Command attrites poor performers. Attrition rates
should be lower in every phase of training and almost zero in
the FRS. If Fleet Replacement Squadrons hold the bar where it
should be, attrition for performance based problems should be
zero in the fleet. Not only does this make sense from a
standpoint of pride in mission, it makes sense financially. The
sooner substandard performers are identified, the sooner they
can be remediated or attrited at significantly lower cost.
Four careers almost ruined in their infancy. Four young
aviators, two pilots and two WSOs, briefed, conducted a
preflight on two BLU-111 500 pound bombs hanging from their
airplanes and manned up their $60 million dollar F/A-18Fs for a
seminal moment in their budding careers. Like so many before
them, they transited to the range, made a cold pass and then
rolled in “hot” for the first time. So far, so good. What
follows is a transcript of the inter-cockpit comm on that day:
RP: So the second one is all you.
RWSO: I’m too chickenshit.
RP: Say what?
RWSO: I’m too chickenshit to do it.
RP: You’re not going to do it?!
RWSO: Ok, I’ll do it.
RP: Might not get another shot at it.
RWSO: I know.
RP: I think it’s the left hand controller.
RWSO: Yep (pause) … are your tapes on right now?
RP: Uh yeah, but whatever.
RP: Alright, you got it
RWSO: Ugh, I don’t know.
RP: Did you get on the pickle, er?
RWSO: I don’t know … (unintelligible) I didn’t want to.
RP: Ok, I’ll take the next one then.
RP: No biggy.
RP: It will be our little secret.
RWSO: (unintelligible) [do you think they’ll look] at the
RP: Probably not.
During tape review (with the volume turned down), an instructor
notices that one of the pilots seems nervous; then, an off
comment from the WSO; now, suspicion on the instructor’s part.
Following this event, the instructors carefully reviewed the
tapes a second time and discovered the pilot’s attempts to
convince his RWSO to release live ordinance from the aft
cockpit. This action is not trained to and in fact is expressly
forbidden in VFA-106 instructions. When confronted, the RP
fabricated a story to cover up the “no drop.” When pressed
further, the RP stood behind his intentional efforts to cover up
attempts to release from the back seat. Only when confronted
with direct evidence of the attempt did he finally yield and
admit to the attempts.
This is not the only example of a demonstrated lack of
professionalism by RAC. Here is another example:
- Another RP (someone with noted attitude issues prior to
this event) flies one of the last events of the syllabus.
During an extremely dynamic Air to Air flight, this RP
drives himself below BINGO fuel state. After landing,
when queried about on deck fuel, he responds that he
landed with SOP minimum fuel. When pressed, he holds to
his tale. After being confronted with data from his
flight recorder, he breaks down crying and admits to
landing well below SOP minimum fuel.
These are only a few examples of several issues with officer-
like qualities. There are several potential internal and
external reasons for these noted deficiencies.
VFA-106’s most recent four FNAEBs suggested that Command Climate
may have contributed to the violation of standards because our
RAC might not be comfortable approaching instructors. In a
recent survey of RAC, very few expressed concern that VFA-106
instructors were not approachable. Additionally RAC
consistently rate VFA-106 instructors as more professional than
their Training Command counterparts. However, the command takes
the concerns of even a small portion of RAC seriously and is
making adjustments to the instructor cadre via ongoing
instructor training, standardization checks and a continuous
In the case of the aircrew who attempted to release from the aft
cockpit, the RAC were well aware that their actions were not
above board, as evidenced by the transcripts of their cockpit
communications. Why worry if you’re tapes will be reviewed
unless you already understand that your actions are
inappropriate? Why lie to cover your trail unless you were
aware of your own wrongdoing? These RAC violated standards
knowingly and lied to cover it up because they knew they were in
A more likely explanation of the issue that applies to both the
Training Command and FRS is a lack of ownership on the part of
our instructors, Department Heads and perhaps even Commanding
Officers. In both the Training Command and FRS, most officer
development takes a backseat to aviation training. Interviewed
RAC frequently commented that their only instructor interaction
throughout the Training Command was during their briefs, flights
and debriefs. This flies in the face of the most basic officer
training. Naval Aviators are officers first. While VFA-106
encourages off-duty interaction during regular detachments, the
days of telling sea stories in the Officer’s Club are few and
far between. Those off-duty interactions were vital
opportunities for RAC, Junior Officers and NAE leadership to rub
shoulders and further personal relationships. Now those
personal relationships are delayed until RAC arrive in the
fleet. It is not that there is a need to get more “intrusive,”
which smacks of micromanagement; there is a need to get to know
each other better. Healthy class advisor programs focused on
mentorship are a viable solution to this critical area of
concern. Too often these programs take a back seat to
production, again driven by the X generation mindset and not a
quality driven model.
With that being said, other reasons instructors do not spend
substantial off-duty time with RAC include heavy tasking at
work, a high percentage who are married with children and many
who have recently been deployed. The solution is a concerted
effort to properly resource production squadrons so that shore
duty is actually shore duty and for squadron leadership to
encourage healthy class advisor programs from the top down.
Additionally, when on detachment the FRS and Training Command
should encourage appropriate off-duty interaction.
The current generation of Training Command students and F/A-18
aircrew grew up in a very different environment than even their
instructors, potentially contributing to noted shifts in
professionalism. There is substantial academic research
suggesting shifts in personality traits which are fundamental to
success as a military officer. Here are a few examples of those
Narcissism and Self Assessment:
American culture has shifted to emphasize the rights of the
self as more important than duty...the social rules for
behavior so prized in Milgram’s early 1960s have declined
(Twenge and Im, 2007) replaced by an assertiveness (Twenge,
2001) and self-focus so strong it has veered into
narcissism (Twenge, Konrath, Foster, Campbell, & Bushman,
2008). (Twenge J. M., 2009)
A recent RP represents an excellent example of this. The RP
struggled early in his FRS training. In order to address these
concerns the VFA-106 Training Department conducted a HFB and
identified preflight preparation as a deficiency. The board
offered several suggestions and provided a mentor. During his
HFB, the RP admitted to “throttling back the amount of effort he
put into preparation…because he erroneously felt ‘comfortable’
that he was doing okay.” Subsequent to the HFB the RP’s
performance improved dramatically, highlighted by his strike
performance as one of the top five in the last 100 in training
at VFA-106. As he entered the next phase of training feeling
confident, he dropped his pack again. Upon arriving in Key West
for a fighter weapons detachment he initiated a relationship
with a local female. This resulted in a loss of valuable
preparation time. Not only did this marginalize the RP, it left
his classmates in the lurch, picking up the slack for the
weakest link. An end of phase review of training trends by his
class advisor revealed average flight performance but noted a
trend of poor preflight preparation. Fourteen grade sheets
mentioned deficient preflight preparation, and the RP failed two
flights for preflight preparation. The RP is now repeating a
portion of the Fighter Weapons phase as remedial training to
ensure that he can demonstrate the level of preparation and
dedication required of a fleet nugget.
This is not the only example of a RAC’s perception of their
performance being out of sync with reality. Several HFBs have
demonstrated that RAC have an over inflated sense of their
performance, indicating an inability to accurately self assess
and a potential rise in narcissistic traits. One RP, after
being medically disqualified from flying F/A-18s posted a
picture of himself in front of the jet to Facebook with the
comment, “my other ride is an F-18.”
The following research addresses self assessment specifically:
Compared to previous generations, more American college
students now rate themselves as above average on attributes
such as academic ability, drive to achieve, leadership
ability, public speaking ability, self-confidence, and
writing ability (based on a nationally representative
sample collected 1966–2009; N=6.5 million)…Trends in
positive self-views are correlated with grade inflation
(which increased d=0.81), but are not explained by changes
in objective performance (e.g., SAT scores have declined,
d=70.22) or effort (time spent studying is down, d=70.31).
Broad cultural trends toward greater individualism and
positive self-views (such as parents, teachers, and media
encouraging higher self-esteem among young people) could
result in younger generations embracing increasingly
positive self-views…Eventually, these cultural messages
encouraged people to not just think positively of
themselves, but to consider themselves better than they
actually were (e.g., ‘Everyone is special’). (Twenge &
The best example of this personality trait negatively affecting
an RP follows below:
- VFA-106 recently received a Category One RP who came from
the Training Command with several emails offering
apologies and trying to explain that after many attempts
to attrite said aviator, he ultimately remained in the
system and matriculated due to perceived pressure from
the squadron’s Commanding Officer. This was confirmed in
conversations between the author and the unit’s Executive
Officer. This RP continually argued with his instructors
and even took a confrontational tone on several
occasions. His lackluster performance as an officer
continued at VFA-106. Eventually his attitude landed him
at a Human Factors Board (HFB) and with a LOI for
officer-like qualities. In light of our mission to train
not only sound aviators but also good officers, VFA-106
elected to remediate this young man rather than send him
to a FNAEB. His remediation was the pilot of a new
VFA-106 mentorship program aimed at remediating the worst
of the worst. His mentor uncovered a systemic inability
to accurately self assess and self esteem bordering on
narcissism. While he was eventually successfully
remediated and matriculated to the fleet as a well
prepared officer and aviator, the costs of remediation
were substantial. Whether or not they were worth it
remains to be seen.
Self assessment is critical to success as a Naval Officer.
Imagine a new Department Head or Commanding Office unable to
accurately assess the condition of their department, squadron or
ship. Accurate self reporting is critical to building a picture
of readiness. There is little worse to imagine than a Navy
whose leaders over inflate a picture of their own performance or
readiness, especially in an environment of financial austerity.
The path to a hollow force is paved with financial austerity and
inaccurate self assessment.
Technology has enabled relationships to be easy, and
according to recent research, Millennials see this as
defining their generation (Pew Research Center, 2010). The
ease with which Millennials establish relationships and the
open and casual nature of many of those relationships, is
likely to carry over to the work-place. This may be true
even with managers and supervisors, who in previous
generations commanded respect simply by the virtue of their
position. (Thompson & Gregory, 2012)
Eighty-eight percent of instructors noted that they believed RAC
lacked professionalism in the brief and debrief, with one
instructor commenting, “I am shocked at the lack of
professionalism in the Brief and Debrief… My impression is 95%
of the students think it is a privilege for Naval Aviation to
have them, not a privilege for them to be a part of Naval
While the jury is still out, substantial academic research
suggests that disobedience is on the rise in the Millennial
generation [generally defined as people born between 1980 and
the late 1990s] (Twenge, 2009). “90 percent more men disobeyed
the experimenter in 2006 than did in 1962” (Twenge J. M., 2009).
When viewed in concert with the conduct of RAC who flagrantly
violated flight standards and subsequently lied about it, we
must ask ourselves: are we in for more of the same? How can we
effectively train this disobedience out of our young officers?
Sense of Entitlement:
Among the instructors surveyed, 88 percent feel there is a
perception of a sense of entitlement in RAC.
Millennials “grew up with unprecedented levels of positive
reinforcement and positive attention. Parents, and in some
cases society at large, have moved toward rewarding
children for participation, rather than performance –
leading some to refer to this generation as “trophy
kids.” (Thompson & Gregory, 2012)
Interviews with several RAC revealed that they perceived a
substantial difference between themselves and their training
command instructors. After winging, they expected to be
welcomed to the club, unaware that the really hard work of being
a professional officer and aviator was just beginning. The
results vary from a casual attitude with instructors to a
distinct air of entitlement and a disregard for established
norms. Interestingly, the data from VMFAT-101 suggests fewer
issues with professionalism among Marines, perhaps due to
service culture and training pipeline differences.
The effects of these shifts are potentially devastating to
character development. Because participation was rewarded vice
performance, character developing failures were likely few and
far between. Although the author does not have data on current
Training Command flights, training should be structured to
expose aviators to stress and failure in a controlled
environment in order to prepare them to deal with stress when it
matters most: in combat. Meridian simulator instructors Jack
Douglas, Burt Zoeller and others were famous for subjecting SNAs
to famously painful simulators rife with yelling and artificial
stress. Anecdotes from recent Training Command graduates
suggest that has changed substantially in recent years. Where
before the system utilized artificial stress, distraction and
failure to test character early on, now perhaps there is too
much concern for people’s feelings. How well are we preparing
young officers if the first real stress they experience is
behind the boat, or worse, in combat?
Developing Millennial officers requires a concerted leadership
approach. Officers cannot lead in the ways that they believed
worked for their generation. They must study, adapt and lead in
the way that their Sailors require them to. Leaders must adjust
their approach to their Sailors, not the other way around.
1) Ownership. Raise the bar fleet wide. Always prepare people
for the next level, not the current one. Remind students that
their wings are just the beginning! Emphasize being humble,
approachable and credible while instilling confidence,
aggressiveness and calculated risk. Think of each squadron as a
brand. High quality leadership and instruction does not require
sending #1s to the training command. It requires the fleet to
raise the bar for their mid-grade performers. Better #1 Must
Promotes are better instructors than we have now.
2) Ensure that mentorship is emphasized during all phases of
training. Getting to know Sailors and Officers is the most
fundamental aspect of success as leaders.
3) Do not cut the FRS syllabus. Increase resources to
Production Planning Factor (PPF) recommended levels or cut
production accordingly. Give squadrons the flexibility to
adequately schedule with continuity of training. Supply must
exceed peak demand at almost all times. Otherwise, demand is
shifted left and right, creating a push-pull effect throughout
the syllabus. The result is poor continuity of training and
increased remediation costs.
4) Increase flight time in the Training Command through re-
flys. Adopt the TOPGUN mindset. Test student’s ability to
compartmentalize. Introduce advanced TACFORM, necessitating
mission cross check with high cockpit task loading. The top 25
percent are prepared. Apply flight time where it is required
through targeted re-flys. Trust the opinion of instructors. Do
not allow aircrew to move on to the next phase until they have
mastered the current one. The current evaluation system is
setup for that, but the standard is too low! Proper application
A conversation with Jean Twenge, a PHD from San Diego State
University and the author of the majority of the research
contained herein, corroborates the information presented in this
section of the paper.
should result in less remediation at the FRS. This will save
valuable service life where it is needed most: in the fleet.
5) Train, remediate, mentor and attrite when necessary. Create
an environment of spirited competition to excel, not a
lackluster environment of survival. Ensure a syllabus that
challenges people enough to develop character. Failure should
be a part of the game. Michael Jordan said it best, “I've
failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I
succeed.” Test character in a controlled environment before
sending aircrew into combat. Empower those who thrive in
stressful situations. Remediate or find other lines of work for
those who do not.
6) Consider specific approaches for the current generation.
Millenials, who may be more defiant could require more character
development to encourage integrity and obedience. Provide
consistent feedback that emphasizes goods as much as it does
others. Put the focus back where it needs to be: officer first,
7) At the earliest stages of training, ask if the Navy is
recruiting and retaining the right people for Naval Aviation and
setting them up for success. Examine the effects that allowing
pilots with eye surgery has on the quality of SNFOs. Explore
radical changes in Primary flight training to encourage
competition. All eligible candidates could start as
“Replacement Aircrew” and select pilot or flight officer after a
period of initial training. This would allow for competition
and quality spread between designators. Offer opportunities to
convert from NFO to pilot without damaging a career. Reexamine
changes to the Aviation Selection Test Battery and the
personality type that Naval Aviation seeks to acquire.
Right now, Naval Aviation is expending valuable money to
remediate performance at the most expensive level.
Additionally, fleet tactics continue to grow more complex,
widening the gap between the FRS graduate and the fleet nugget.
Without a fundamental change in the way we do business, this gap
will continue to increase FRS remediation, straining the system
further. Targeted additional flight time is needed in the
Training Command along with a renewed focus on quality. While
this may require more Training Command flight hours, the overall
effect will be a savings in FRS overhead and valuable fatigue
life on our most valuable airframes. The NAE can no longer
attempt to do more with less. It is time we focused on doing it
1hompson, 1., & Cregory, !. 8. (2012). Managlng Mlllennlals: A lramework for lmprovlng Auracuon,
Mouvauon and 8eLenuon. >?- @'A%?8.8B&'1CD#*#B-$ E86$*#.F 39 , 237-246.
1wenge, !. M. (2009). Change Cver 1lme ln Cbedlence: 1he !ury's Sull CuL, 8uL lL MlghL 8e uecreaslng.
0(-$&%#* @'A%?8.8B&'1 , 28-31.
1wenge, !. M., & Campbell, W. k. (2011). Cenerauonal lncreases ln agenuc self-evaluauons among
Amerlcan college sLudenLs 1966-2009. ,-./ #*+ G+-*<1A .
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