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 Navy and Marine Corps aviation personnel.
Each NATOPS manual 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.—
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/Marine Corps lost 776 aircraft (roughly 2 airplanes per day or a rate of 54 major mishaps per 10,000 flight hours). Numerous technical initiatives, including the angled flight deck in 1954, and 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).
A lack of standardization and training in both maintenance and flight operations was cited as causal in a large percentage of mishaps. Several standardization programs were initiated in the late 50’s and early 60’s 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. For example, an aircraft maintenance procedure might be significantly different from one squadron to the next. 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. FRSs indoctrinate newly designated aircrew and aircraft mechanics 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 program put in place was NATOPS in 1961.
NATOPS manuals contain standard flight doctrine and the optimum operating procedures for the aircraft model or aviation activity 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 manuals.
- Miscellaneous manuals.
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."
"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."
"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."
Overarching Document: OPNAVINST 3710.7
The "3710", as it is commonly referred to, is issued by the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. 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:
- What naval aircraft may be used for and who may pilot them
- Flight demonstrations, authorized airfields, cross-country flight and fuel planning
- Supersonic flight operations and aerobatic flight
- Individual qualifications, including INSTRUMENT ratings
- Aircrew and aircraft documentation requirements
Specific Aircraft Manuals
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 (aka the PCL) contain pertinent extracts from the main publications necessary to normal operations, emergency procedures, and training.
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:
- The pilot is considered to have above-average intelligence and normal (average) common sense.
- 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.
- Multiple failures (emergencies) are not covered.
- Simple words in preference to more complex or quasi-technical words are used and, unnecessary and/or confusing word modifiers are avoided.
Miscellaneous NATOPS manuals are issued for special aircraft-related operations or systems that require fleet-wide standardization.
- Air Traffic Control
- Air to Air Refueling
- Ground Refueling
- Aircraft Signals
- Carrier (CV) Operations
- Flight Deck/Hangar Deck Operations
- Instrument Flight Rules
- Landing Signal Officer (LSO) Procedures
- Crash and Salvage
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.
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.
- 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.
- NATOPS Evaluator — A highly qualified air crewmember assigned to a NATOPS evaluation unit who conducts annual unit NATOPS evaluations for a flightcrew position.
- NATOPS Instructor — A highly qualified air crewmember whose primary duty is administering the NATOPS evaluation program within a squadron or unit.
- 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.
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.
Individual NATOPS Evaluation
Individual pilots or crewmembers are evaluated annually, consisting of an open book examination, a closed book examination, oral examination, and an evaluation flight/simulator. Use of trainers is encouraged for simulated emergencies and scenarios that present significantly increased risk when performed in an aircraft. If no such device is available, aircraft may be used. Evaluation flights in aircraft that require simulated emergencies are avoided.
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
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.
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