Pax River airfield services, air operations score high marks following 2020 inspection, evaluation

Sailors from NAS Patuxent River’s Airfield Services team assist as blue-clad inspectors from the Carrier and Field Service Unit in Lakehurst, New Jersey, check out an arresting gear engine on Pax River’s airfield during the 2020 Aircraft Launch and Recovery Annual Certification Inspection.

Once again, the E-28 Shore-Based Arresting Gear and Visual Landing Aid Systems at NAS Patuxent River’s Trapnell Airfield received certification by a team from the Carrier and Field Service Unit (CAFSU) in Lakehurst, New Jersey, following the Aircraft Launch and Recovery (ALRE) Annual Certification Inspection.

Conducted Aug. 10-14, 2020, the ALRE certification inspection was a four-day review that began with inspectors poring over maintenance publications and documentation. It continued throughout the week with the inspection of each arresting gear engine and associated equipment, along with the Fresnel Lens Optical Landing System (FLOLS) carts assemblies.

“The CAFSU inspection team was looking to certify arresting gear and the VLA by ensuring the material condition and operational integrity of the equipment,” explained Lt. Kimberlee Garcia, airfield services division officer. “At NAS Patuxent River, we have four sets of Emergency E-28 Arresting Gear engines and five FLOLS carts that have to be inspected for us to receive certification for the airfield. All equipment must be maintained and operated in accordance with the most current maintenance program, publications, notices and messages available. The CAFSU team also ensures that all applicable documents are up-to-date and accurate.”

To prepare themselves for the annual certification, the Airfield Services (AFS) team, comprising 28 Sailors, performed self-inspections of its maintenance program and equipment material and operating condition based on the previous year’s inspection reports and discrepancies.

“Overall, though, we make sure to operate appropriately and maintain our equipment and documentation year-round, so it’s not a huge headache to meet their criteria when it’s time for the inspection team to come out,” Garcia noted. “Maintaining the emergency equipment and VLA on the airfield is important because having the arresting gear available for any emergency landings is critical to flight operations and the safety of aircrew. The pilots also use the FLOLS to assist their landing efforts; so it’s critical to the safety of the aircrew to have those 100% operational.”

In her role, Garcia ensures the CAFSU inspection is scheduled and communicates with the inspectors regarding any specific requirements.

“The AFS team prepares all the materials, tools, equipment and operating necessities, and ensures they’re available at an inspection-ready standard,” Garcia added. “They also make sure to organize the inspection-specific documentation for the most efficient review, and that the equipment and all tools needed to inspect the equipment are on stand-by for the CAFSU inspection team.”

Pax River has consistently performed well on these inspections over the years because the Air Operations Department and Airfield Division team constantly communicate with CAFSU to ensure their operating standards and maintenance efforts are above standard and in compliance.

“In the final report, inspectors noted ‘the entire arresting gear crew provided exceptional support during the annual inspection,’” Garcia added. “They also mentioned while they were here that the AFS crew was extremely helpful, organized and motivated. The AFS team is incredible and their work ethic is unmatched. There’s a lot of trust in our division and the Sailors are always motivated to be doing the right thing.”

Air Operations receives highest grade

Pax River’s Air Operations Department received a “Satisfactory” evaluation — the highest grade achievable — following their scheduled Commander, Naval Installations Command (CNIC) Airfield NATOPS Evaluation, Dec. 1-3, 2020.

The evaluation looked at the airfield as a whole, as well as the Air Operations Department, which is responsible for Air Traffic Control, Airfield Services, Airfield Management, Search and Rescue, and the Ground Electronics Maintenance Division.

“During the inspection, they observed the airfield for policy discrepancies, safety discrepancies and major discrepancies,” said Andrew Jilcott, Pax River’s deputy airfield manager. “This includes identifying airfield obstructions such as trees, equipment, or anything that shouldn’t be there. Airfield markings are also a significant part of the inspection — faded, missing, and markings that need to be updated are identified.”

Normally an in-person inspection, due to COVID-19 restrictions and in order to ensure the safety of Pax River personnel and the inspectors, the review was performed virtually this year using Microsoft Teams and multiple different applications.

In order to be prepared for the evaluation, which takes place every two years, Air Ops will conduct their own internal assessment each year.

“That way, we can identify ahead of time any issues that may cause a discrepancy during the inspection,” Jilcott noted. “We also complete daily inspections to allow us to track the progress of our current and prior discrepancies. Properly maintained and functioning airfield equipment allows the tenant squadrons to perform the operations and testing they need to complete in order to support the warfighter at home and abroad.”

Over the years, Air Operations has routinely performed well during the CNIC evaluations.

“Air Ops continues to keep a very professional team on board between the Sailors and civilian workforce,” said Jilcott, whose job is to track all work requests, maintenance, and help coordinate all airfield construction projects , as well as inform inspectors of the schedule for correcting any discrepancies identified during the inspections. “There are always discrepancies that will be found; however, our team holds our airfield to high standards. All discrepancies are addressed quickly and tracked until completion. Despite funding issues for large projects, there is rarely a repeat discrepancy.”

Pax River’s Trapnell Airfield averages just over 60,000 flight operations each year. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a slight decrease in 2020 to approximately 51,000.

“I could not be prouder of this team,” noted Air Operations Officer Cmdr. Ken Sheffield. “The attention to detail and daily dedication required to ensure this airfield runs safely and efficiently cannot be understated, and it showed in these outstanding results. These things don’t just happen. It’s a culture of excellence that existed in Air Operations long before I arrived and will persevere long after. It’s a privilege to be part of it.”