New procedures that will aid surface warfare officers and helicopter pilots while increasing safety during flight operations on destroyers have been successfully tested and recently rolled out to the fleet.
“Operator polar plots” (OPP) consist of a series of placard overlays that identify limits and safety considerations that take into account a ship’s speed and sea conditions in addition to pitch, roll and relative winds. Based on the height and direction of waves, a specific OPP is used by both the ship’s officer of the deck and the helicopter pilot to determine the best options for safely landing a helicopter on a ship’s flight deck.
Destroyers and their aviation detachment crews fleetwide have been trained on using the OPPs. As well, surface officers in training pipelines including the Basic Division Officer Course, Surface Warfare Officer School, and prospective CO/XO indoctrination are also being trained on their usage before heading to their new commands.
“This was a joint effort across several commands,” said Capt. Jack Olive, responsible for aviation operations aboard surface ships for Commander Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet. “Naval Sea Systems Command, Naval Air Systems Command, Naval Air Forces, Navy Safety Center and Naval Surface Forces worked together to address the safety concerns of landing helicopters on low freeboard flight decks, such as destroyers.”
A low freeboard flight deck is one that is close enough to the surface of the water such that a wave could wash over the flight deck, creating a hazardous situation for crew and equipment. Olive noted that Arleigh Burke-class destroyers have a flight deck approximately 13 feet above the waterline.
“Because the deck is so close to the waterline, conditions could exist that allow waves to more readily come over the deck,” Olive said.
He said such a condition was cited as a factor in a 2013 mishap aboard an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer where two aviators lost their lives and an MH-60S Seahawk helicopter was lost when a wave washed over the deck and swept the helicopter overboard.