Poor flight discipline and use of checklists in different WW2 AFs (20% accidents!)

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by Reegor, Jul 20, 2013.

  1. Reegor

    Reegor Member

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    I've just completed a paper on pilots' flight discipline and use of standard flying methods in multiple air forces in WW 2. The Luftwaffe was the worst by far. They even called their high accident rate "the plague." Simply transferring planes from factory to the front had a 20% loss rate!!

    Some of my findings are likely to be controversial. The RAF, the Luftwaffe, and to an extent the US Navy had needlessly high losses
    due to accidents. The Brits had access to all the American checklists but instead made up with their own weak versions. Curtis LeMay turns out to be one of the key leaders of the USAAF. I am hoping that people on this list will take a look and add material/make corrections.

    The paper is at NOT FLYING BY THE BOOK: SLOW ADOPTION OF CHECKLISTS AND PROCEDURES IN WW2 AVIATION. It covers the following air forces:
    • American Army Air Force ( AAF) fighter pilots
    • American AAF strategic bombers, in both Europe (B-17s) and Asia(B-29s)
    • American Naval aviation
    • British Royal Air Force
    • German Luftwaffe
    • American Army helicopters in Vietnam (briefly)
    In the late 1930s, US military aviators in the American Army and Navy began using aviation checklists. Checklist became part of a new paradigm for how to fly, which I call Standard Procedure Flying, colloquially known as “flying by the book.” It consisted of elaborate standardized procedures for many activities, checklists to ensure they key steps had been done, and quantitative tables and formulas that specified the best settings, under different conditions, for speed, engine RPM, gasoline/air mixture, engine cooling, and many other parameters. This new paradigm had a major influence on reducing aviation accidents and increasing military effectiveness during World War II, particularly because of the rapidly increasing complexity of military aircraft, and the huge number of new pilots.

    Slow adoption during WW2 cost many lives. Worst affected was probably the German Luftwaffe, whose new pilots suffered accidents rates of about 100 percent per year, partly as a result of its antiquated flying paradigm. The British Royal Air Force and the US Navy were also slow to make full use of the new technology. Ironically, the US Navy published the first known formal checklist, in May 1937. I discuss why the ethos of Navy pilots and commanders, and the type of fighting it did during WW2, kept it from making the change to Standard Procedure Flying.

    Thanks for any suggestions!
     
  2. Jenisch

    Jenisch Active Member

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    I never saw a German training film for planes...
     
  3. Jenisch

    Jenisch Active Member

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    #3 Jenisch, Jul 20, 2013
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2013
    Some of the glider instructors I had always did the pre-landing checklist with voice, but not by telling me to me read the list with them. I stop of just following them just with the voice and went for the list every time, specially after I flown with instructors who told me to do it. They might be expecting that the student woul "logically" use the checklist alone, but they may be not, so it's good for the instructor to teach the student to have good flying habits since the start.

    PS: no, I'm not a WWII veteran. =P
     
  4. daveT

    daveT Member

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    Interesting topic. This is a good subject for further study. I would include several sample checklists from the different time periods.
     
  5. N4521U

    N4521U Well-Known Member

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    Do we have a thread for "our scary flying experiences"????????
     
  6. oldcrowcv63

    oldcrowcv63 Well-Known Member

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    Is the USN accident rate corrected for shipboard ops? IIRC, in the modern era, the USN accident rate was about twice that of the USAF and was attributed to the inherent risks and demands of ship board aviation. I also recall that, in general, the (modern, Vietnam era) USAF had a reputation of doing things more "by-the-book" while the USN was reputed to be more of a 'seat-of-the-pants' operation. That could also be a cultural artifact of the relative independence of the shipboard captain who is more an independent operator than the equivalent colonel or Brigadier General.
     
  7. GrauGeist

    GrauGeist Well-Known Member

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    Luftwaffe pilots had a thorough training program before and during the early stages of the war. This included glider school and then advancing to the powered schools where many pilots even crossed trained on the various aircraft (single multiple engined airframes) available at that time.

    I see mention of high pilot losses (the plague) and am wondering if this was a result of the Luftwaffe reducing pilot training requirements in order to get pilots into the air quicker.
     
  8. Reegor

    Reegor Member

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    The good training was definitely there, in 1940. Then the older pilots were killed off/disabled, and the newer ones were not nearly as well trained. But the plague - high losses due to carelessness - came earlier. Apparently it was an issue of pilot arrogance/risk taking. I was very surprised by that, but I have a variety of evidence saying that. For example, simple transfer flights of new aircraft from the factory to the front had losses of 20 percent! The comparable US number was less than 2% - and that was for flights from the US to England!

    The vicious circle was rolling by 1943. Not enough training ---> high losses ---> rushing trainees through training, not giving them conversion time, and so forth. Some fighter pilots had never fired their machine guns until they reached the operational units.
    Bohn graph 2.jpg
     

    Attached Files:

  9. GrauGeist

    GrauGeist Well-Known Member

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    You are aware that the majority of transfer pilots were civil pilots, employed by either the manufacturers delivering new aircraft or by the Luftwaffe for ferrying existing aircraft for repair or refitting.

    The quality of training could be called into question regarding these pilots and when one crashed, it had to be investigated by the Luftwaffe, because it involved military property.

    So in those reports, how many accidents involved civil pilots and how many were qualified Luftwaffe pilots, any idea?
     
  10. Reegor

    Reegor Member

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    In response to Oldcrow. The USN rates are raw rates, no adjustments. Shipboard accidents were a huge part of them, e.g. the F-8 Crusader. But this was clearly being used as an excuse not to crack down on the problem. When the Navy finally got serious about accidents in the 1960s, they got the rate down.
    I relied on two excellent papers for the 1960s part of the story.
    “Six Amazing Years: RAGs, NATOPS, and More” Vice Admiral Robert F. Dunn, U.S. Navy (Retired) Naval War Col- lege Review, Summer 2011, Vol. 64, No. 3.
    and
    Robert C. Rubel, “The U.S. Navy’s Transition to Jets,” Naval War College Review, Spring 2010, Vol. 63, No. 2.

    The cultural explanation is important, I agree. I'm looking for more evidence, or at least quotes, on the topic.
     
  11. Reegor

    Reegor Member

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    Good point, I thought all the civil pilots had been put into the military when the war started. The transfer issue is from the PhD dissertation of Dr. Ernst Stilla. It's fascinating, and I got part of it translated. Here's the excerpt I put in my paper:
    It sounds like you know more about how the transfers were done. Can you say more?
     
  12. mhuxt

    mhuxt Active Member

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    Interesting work, thanks for making it available.

    For what it's worth, I had a run through some of my Mosquito data, since Mike Williams some time back kindly posted the front-line strengths of various RAF aircraft in the various western Commands (Fighter, Bomber, and Coastal Commands etc.) for the months November 1944 to May 1945 (numbers from the start of the relevant month).

    The Front-Line Mosquito strength in the west was 885 aircraft at the start of November '44. During the 6-month period from the start of November '44 to the end of April '45, according to my figures, the front-line units lost 243 Mosquitos to accidents, and 295 in action (all causes - flak, aircraft, misadventure, etc) I make that a 27.5% loss to accidents and 33.3% loss to operational causes.

    In the same period, front-line Mosquito strength in the West increased to 936 Mosquitos, which, given the losses, must have meant 589 Mosquitos were taken on strength at front-line units in the theatre. A total of 1,752 Mosquitos were produced over the period, including 76 trainers, which means that 1,676 operational-type aircraft were produced. Bear in mind some of these would have been delivered to the recce and night-fighter units in the Med and in India/Burma. However, as there were fewer total front-line squadrons in the Med and India combined, many of the Mossies produced would have been delivered into storage.
     
  13. mhuxt

    mhuxt Active Member

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    Sorry, of the accidents, here's the top causes, which combine for 85% of the total:

    Engine failure 61
    Overshot 26
    Bad Visibility 19
    Swung on landing 14
    Swung on takeoff 11
    Undercarriage fail'd 11
    Crashed on takeoff 9
    Not Stated 9
    Stalled 9
    Collision 8
    Hit obstacle 7
    Engine fire 6
    Bounced on landing4
    Crashed on landing 4
    Unknown 3
    Ran out of fuel 3

    "Bad visibility" I believe is basically a misnomer for bad weather - 10 of the losses came in January '45, 7 on a single night, 14/15 January. "Engine failure" tends to lead to other things, generally a crash-landing or a spin. Primary cause for the crash though is the engine having gone out.
     
  14. GrauGeist

    GrauGeist Well-Known Member

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    If not storage, how many went to other nations, such as the USAF's Night Fighter unit (416th/425th), 802nd recon (8th recon sqdrn/8th weather recon) and the 25th BG?
     
  15. Milosh

    Milosh Well-Known Member

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    Afaik 140 Mosquitoes went to the USA.
     
  16. Reegor

    Reegor Member

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    Very interesting! 27% is very similar to the Luftwaffe numbers in the "good years." Is there any chance of finding similar data for other RAF aircraft? I don't have a sense of whether the Mosquitos were more or less accident prone than other aircraft. I suppose many of their operations were at night, which would make landings harder. (But was blackout still being observed that late in the war?)

    I would love to put this into the paper as a comparison. Perhaps I can find similar data for USAF.
     
  17. GrauGeist

    GrauGeist Well-Known Member

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    The civilian pilots in military service were even issued thier own Luftwaffe badge: Luftwaffe Pilot's Badge - Civilian (Zivile's FlugzeugFuhrerAbiechen Der Luftwaffe)

    At the start of the war, the paramilitary NS Flying Corps (Nationalsozialistisches Fliegerkorps, NSFK) trained ferry pilots. Also, there were women entering into the transport service, though it was a slow transition, because the Nazi party promoted "traditional" values, where the woman did not have access to "technical" tasks. At war's end, there were at least 5 women who were ferry pilots, holding the rank of Captain in the NSFK.
     
  18. swampyankee

    swampyankee Active Member

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    US and UK ferry pilots, under US WASP and the British ATA, were civilian organizations. In Fall of 1944, the WASP were disbanded as the USAAF had sufficient military pilots.
     
  19. GrauGeist

    GrauGeist Well-Known Member

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    Also U.S. WAAC (Women Army Auxilery Corps), U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) did ferry service
     
  20. mhuxt

    mhuxt Active Member

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    Hiya,

    I certainly don't have it for other aircraft, though I assume there are other "anoraks" out there for the various RAF types.

    You might try the "Key Publishing Historic Aviation Forum" board, or the "RAF Commands Forum" as a start. Especially on the latter board, there may be folks who know of references to original documents in the U.K. National Archives that deal with such things. I imagine they were of interest at the time as well.

    If you like, PM me your email addy and I'll send you the files I used to cobble my data together. I've been relatively good at keeping references to my source data, so you could even cite the work properly in the bibliography...
     
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