NATOPS

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Sailors studying for the NATOPS exam

The Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization (NATOPS) program prescribes general flight and operating instructions and procedures applicable to the operation of all US naval aircraft and related activities. The program issues policy and procedural guidance of the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) that is applicable to all U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps aviation personnel.[1]

Each NATOPS manual for each USN and USMC Type/Model/Series (T/M/S)[2] of aircraft has the following statement:

NATOPS is a positive approach toward improving combat readiness and achieving a substantial reduction in the aircraft accident rate. Standardization, based on professional knowledge and experience, provides the basis for development of an efficient and sound operational procedure. The standardization program is not planned to stifle individual initiative, but rather to aid the commanding officer in increasing the unit’s combat potential without reducing command prestige or responsibility

—OPNAV Instruction 3710.7 T[1]

History/raison d'être[edit]

NATOPS was established by the United States Navy in 1961 as a positive approach towards improving combat readiness and achieving a substantial reduction in naval aircraft mishaps.

In 1950 the US Navy and US Marine Corps lost 776 aircraft (roughly 2 aircraft per day or a rate of 54 major mishaps per 10,000 flight hours).[3] Numerous technical initiatives, including the angled flight deck on aircraft carriers in 1954, and various standardization programs, were credited with significantly reducing the rate to 19 major mishaps per 10,000 flight hours by 1961, and further to 9 by 1970 (the current rate, for comparison, is under 2 major mishaps per 10,000 flight hours).[3]

A lack of standardization and training in both aircraft maintenance and flight operations was cited as causal in a large percentage of mishaps. Several standardization programs were initiated in the late 1950s and early 1960s to counter this problem. The first was the Naval Aviation Maintenance Program (NAMP) in 1959. Prior to the NAMP, aircraft maintenance practices were completely non-standardized across US naval aviation. For example, an aircraft maintenance procedure might be significantly different from one squadron to the next, even though both squadrons operated the exact same T/M/S aircraft. The NAMP standardized maintenance procedures across the entire naval aviation enterprise.

The second standardization initiative began in 1961 with the introduction of the fleet replacement squadron (FRS) program. The purpose of an FRS is to indoctrinate newly designated aircrew (naval aviators, naval flight officers, enlisted naval aircrewman) and aircraft maintenance personnel into the peculiarities of specific aircraft. Prior to the FRS concept, qualified pilots transitioning to a new aircraft were essentially told how to start it, and then sent to go fly. The final major standardization initiative put in place was the NATOPS program in 1961.[1]

NATOPS Publications[edit]

NATOPS manuals contain standard flight doctrine and the optimum operating procedures for the aircraft model or aviation activity (e.g., CV NATOPS, LSO NATOPS, etc.) concerned. They do not include tactical doctrine.

There are numerous publications associated with NATOPS covering three basic areas:

  • The overarching document establishing the program is Chief of Naval Operations Instruction (OPNAVINST) 3710.7: NATOPS General Flight And Operating Instructions
  • Specific aircraft NATOPS flight manuals for each USN and USMC T/M/S aircraft; these are similar to the Technical Order "Dash 1" series flight manuals in the U.S. Air Force[4]
  • Miscellaneous manuals

Compliance[edit]

Compliance with stipulated manual procedures is mandatory, but deviations are allowed per the following statements found in all NATOPS manuals:

"NATOPS must be dynamic and stimulate rather than suppress individual thinking. Since aviation is a continuing, progressive profession, it is both desirable and necessary that new ideas and new techniques be expeditiously evaluated and incorporated if proven to be sound. To this end, commanding officers of aviation units are authorized to modify procedures contained herein for the purpose of assessing new ideas prior to initiating recommendations for permanent changes."[1]

"NATOPS manuals provide the best available operating instructions for most circumstances, but no manual is a substitute for sound judgment. Compound emergencies, available facilities, adverse weather or terrain, or considerations affecting the lives and property of others may require modification of the procedures contained herein. Read this manual from cover to cover. It is the air crewman’s responsibility to have a complete knowledge of its contents."[1]

"NATOPS is not intended to cover every contingency that may arise nor every rule of safety and good practice. Aviation personnel are expected to study and understand all applicable portions of the program."[1]

OPNAVINST 3710.7[edit]

The "3710" or "OPNAV 3710", as it is commonly referred to, is issued by the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. Often called the "General NATOPS," it is the overarching document in the NATOPS program and it provides policy and procedural guidance applicable to a broad spectrum of users.

Among a variety of topics, 3710 covers:

  • The general scope and purpose of the NATOPS program
  • What naval aircraft may be used for and who may pilot and crew them
  • Flight demonstrations, authorized airfields, cross-country flights and fuel planning
  • Supersonic flight operations and aerobatic flight
  • Individual qualifications, including instrument ratings
  • Aircrew and aircraft documentation requirements

Specific aircraft manuals[edit]

Aircraft specific NATOPS manual cover. These manuals are typically about 2 inches thick.

These are manuals for specific aircraft models containing standardized ground and flight operating procedures, training requirements, aircraft limitations, and technical data necessary for safe and effective operation of the aircraft. There are typically several volumes, including supplements for weapons systems, performance charts, servicing checklist, and post maintenance functional checkflight checklist.

Pocket checklists (or "PCL") contain pertinent extracts from the main publications necessary to normal operations, emergency procedures, and training.
Pocket checklists are designed for quick access to information in the cockpit.

NATOPS flight manuals are prepared using a concept that provides the aircrew with information for operation of the aircraft, but detailed operation and interaction is not provided. This concept was selected for a number of reasons: reader interest increases as the size of a technical publication decreases, comprehension increases as the technical complexity decreases, and accidents decrease as reader interest and comprehension increase. To implement this streamlined concept, observance of the following rules was attempted:

  1. The pilot is considered to have above-average intelligence and normal (average) common sense.
  2. No values (pressure, temperature, quantity, etc.) which cannot be read in the cockpit are stated, except where such use provides the pilot with a value judgment. Only the information required to fly the aircraft is provided.
  3. Multiple failures (emergencies) are not covered.
  4. Simple words in preference to more complex or quasi-technical words are used and, unnecessary and/or confusing word modifiers are avoided.

Miscellaneous manuals[edit]

Miscellaneous NATOPS manuals are issued for special aircraft-related operations or systems that require fleet-wide standardization.

CV NATOPS Manual with distribution notice.

They include:

Publication changes[edit]

Changing NATOPS publications requires following a full approval process. Changes can be rapidly accomplished for urgent/safety of flight issues (via electronic directive to make pen and ink modifications to publications/procedures). There is also an annual conference for manual users (aircrew, maintenance personnel, engineers, policy makers, etc.) do deal with more routine/less urgent matters. These conferences produce a list of "recommended changes" that are then vetted by an approval process prior to promulgation.[5]

Key people[edit]

The key people involved in NATOPS go from the Chief of Naval Operations all the way down to individual users.

  • NATOPS model manager — The unit commander designated to administer the NATOPS program for a specific aircraft model or aircraft related system. Model managers conduct annual NATOPS evaluations of units assigned.[1]
  • NATOPS program manager — An officer assigned by the model manager who performs administrative responsibilities for the NATOPS program and who is given written authority to act on behalf of the model manager in NATOPS-related matters. The program manager is highly qualified in his aircraft/activity.[1]
  • NATOPS evaluator — A highly qualified air crewmember assigned to a NATOPS evaluation unit who conducts annual unit NATOPS evaluations for a flightcrew position.[1]
  • NATOPS instructor — A highly qualified air crewmember whose primary duty is administering the NATOPS evaluation program within a squadron or unit.[1]
  • Unit NATOPS officer — An aviator whose primary duty is to administer the NATOPS program within a squadron or unit. The NATOPS officer may also be a NATOPS instructor.[1]

Implementing NATOPS[edit]

The standard operating procedures prescribed in NATOPS manuals represent the optimum methods of operating various aircraft and related equipment. The NATOPS evaluation is intended to evaluate individual and unit compliance by observing and grading adherence to NATOPS procedures.[1]

Individual NATOPS evaluation[edit]

Individual pilots, flight officers or crewmembers are evaluated when initially qualifying (or requalifying after a non-flying assignment) in a given T/M/S aircraft, and a minimum of annually thereafter. Flight crews may also be evaluated prior to annually as part of a unit NATOPS evaluation administered by NATOPS evaluators. NATOPS exams consist of an open book examination, a closed book examination, an oral examination, and an evaluation flight or simulator check. Use of operational flight trainers (OFTs) / weapon system trainers (WSTs) is encouraged for simulated emergencies and scenarios that present significantly increased risk when actually performed in an aircraft. If no such flight simulator / training device is available, aircraft may be used. Evaluation flights in aircraft that require simulated emergencies are avoided.

Ground evaluation[edit]

Prior to commencing the evaluation flight, an evaluee must achieve a minimum grade of qualified on the open book and closed book examinations. The oral examination is also part of the ground evaluation, but may be conducted as part of the flight evaluation.

Unit NATOPS evaluation[edit]

A unit NATOPS evaluation is conducted for every squadron/unit every 18 months by the appropriate NATOPS evaluator. The unit NATOPS evaluation includes NATOPS evaluations for each crew position (ground evaluation and an evaluation flight) selected at random by the evaluator to measure overall adherence to NATOPS procedures. NATOPS evaluators will re-evaluate all squadron NATOPS instructors during a unit NATOPS evaluation and will also select one flight crewmember from each aircraft position at random for a flight or simulator evaluation. For random evaluation check selectees who perform beyond expectations, NATOPS evaluators may recommend to the squadron commanding officer that the individual be tracked for designation as a NATOPS instructor.[1]

See also[edit]

References[edit]