Navigating to success

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Marjorie Bowlden
  • 911th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
"Five second left turn prep," said the navigator over the faint static of the headset.

The crew of a C-130 Hercules was on an all-weather airdrop system mission. Nature itself seemed to be working against them; the drop zone was enshrouded in thick clouds and fog. The pilots had to depend solely on the guidance of the navigator, whose radar was the only way to keep their course.

"And, execute."

The plane banked gently left, but amid the clouds it was difficult to tell that it was moving at all. The pilots, though flying blind, were able to keep the plane right on target. The delivery was made safely, releasing the building tension and letting everyone breathe a sigh of relief.

"On an AWADS mission, everything depends on the navigator," said Lt. Col. Aldo Filoni, primary evaluator navigator with the 911th Operations Group. "If they can't see, the pilots can't fly safely without the radar, and if you don't do things right, the potential for catastrophe is huge."

Filoni, who has been a navigator for 34 years, recently received the Individual Mishap Free Flying Hour Award for achieving 10,000 flight hours without a safety violation.

Reaching 10,000 flight hours by itself is not often done, said Filoni. It takes dedicating one's entire career to a flying job, which not many Airmen do. Airmen often choose to switch careers before achieving this milestone.

What makes this award even more significant than the number of hours itself is that the individual has not been deemed responsible for any significant mishaps, said Maj. Diane E. Patton, 911th Airlift Wing chief of safety. In 2013, only four Airmen in the Air Force Reserve Command reached the same achievement.

"Lieutenant Colonel Filoni is not only highly experienced, but he's one of the most level-headed and intelligent crew members I have flown with," said Patton. "He's never afraid to speak up when a situation might be heading down an unsafe path. We need that sort of risk management mindedness, and I think that that is one of his strengths."

For Filoni, keeping safety a priority during flight isn't just essential for the well-being of the aircrew; it's also important to keep the civilian population in mind.

"When you take a 120,000 pound airplane with 30,000 pounds of diesel fuel, if you don't keep safety in mind, it's a bomb," said Filoni. "The last thing you want to do is hurt a civilian or someone not associated with this. We're here to protect the civilian population."