Trust Without the Verify

A pilot and naval flight officer assigned to the Black Aces of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 41 prepare to depart an F/A-18F Super Hornet on the flight deck aboard the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74). (Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Cole C. Pielop)


During our fall patrol in November 2016, I was assigned to the early return crew from USS Ronald Regan (CVN 76). We were sent to catch our 10 F/A-18E Super Hornets as they returned to our homeport at NAF Atsugi, Japan.

I was informed by the maintenance master chief (MMCPO) that one of our returning aircraft would land with inflight refueling (IFR) probe issues. Conferring with the electrician, we decided to read out the wiring once the jet landed. After hours of troubleshooting, we came to the conclusion that the wiring must be good and the problem must be mechanical.

We explained the situation to the MMCPO, and he decided to replace the probe from another aircraft. After replacing the probe, we performed an operational check and still found the IFR probe with problems. Over the next several days, we poured through our manuals and changed multiple parts with no progress being made. The problem was put aside for the weekend to be taken back up once the entire squadron would be at work.

First day back from the break, I explained to my leading petty petty officer officer (LPO) what had been done so far in an attempt to correct the problem. Letting him take over the job, he walked over to the electricians to speak with their LPO. After examining the situation, the two first classes decided to open the wire harness bundle to check for broken wires. There was indeed a broken wire, and the discrepancy was repaired in short order. Once the operational check was complete, I signed inspector on the work order only confirming the parts were put back together (not physically looking, just taking the word of another inspector).

Two months later during our post deployment material condition inspection (MCI), one of the inspectors was inspecting the IFR probe bay area and found a missing cotter key on one of the linkages that was disconnected during the repair. This led to a quality assurance investigation on all personnel involved in the maintenance and statements were written. The results of the investigation found that I was at fault for not only signing inspector, but because I signed without personally ensuring the work was completed correctly. This led to my qualifications being suspended for 90 days, extra military instruction (EMI), and holding training about the responsibilities and duties of a collateral duty inspector inspector (CDI).

I failed in my duties as a CDI by not doing the final inspection of the aircraft prior to signing as inspector on the work order. The potential for mishap is a constant in naval aviation and there is an increased risk when people fail to follow standard procedures.

I am beyond grateful that nothing serious happened with our aircraft or aircrew. I will work harder to train junior sailors and future inspectors not to make the same mistakes I did. Always perform that final inspection rather than trusting another person’s word. We have all heard the old saying, “Trust but verify.” Keeping that quote in mind could prevent you from making the same mistake.


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