Navy uses Palms to rate pilot carrier landings

Navy uses Palms to rate pilot carrier landings

BY TONY LEE ORR | GCN STAFF

Aboard the USS constellation'Some Navy landing signal officers are using handheld technology to ease the task of grading pilots' abilities, but others have yet to get a grip on the idea.
During pilot qualification testing late last month, the signal officers returned to paper'trusty spiral notebooks'as they hurried to keep up with scoring and making notes on pilots who were landing on the aircraft carrier every 60 seconds.


Navy Lt. Mike Biemiller, a landing signal officer for Sea Control Squadron (VS)-38, records a landing evaluation on his Palm.
The landing officers had to score the landings of more than 60 pilots by 3 p.m. Jan. 23, and another 60 more of the jet jockeys' night landings shortly before midnight.

'I don't think [the Palms] will ever be quick enough for this type of qualification,' one landing officer yelled above the noise of an incoming jet. It takes longer to wade through the Palm's dropdown menus than it does to scribble the information into the notebook, he said of the Navy-approved process developed by two pilots.

Only a few evaluators have access to Palms and are simply not familiar enough with the process to be speedy, the landing officer said. 'When you are only doing 11 planes, it works fine,' he said.

Pilots must requalify for taking off and landing on carriers when they return to ships after shore duty, said Lt. Charlie Brown, a Navy spokesman. The number of landings needed to requalify depends on how long it has been since the pilot last flew on a carrier.

The landing officers grade and critique the pilots during the requalification as jets traveling in excess of 100 mph snag one of three wires strung across the carrier deck and come to a screeching halt. An excellent pilot is never too high, always centered and consistently hits the second wire, evaluators said.

Lt. Ken Schneider, who wrote the Palm program along with Naval Academy chum Lt. Mike Lapaglia, said speed using the Palm comes with familiarity.

Experience helps

Landing signal officers aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln use Palms to log pilot scores regularly, keeping up with the pilots' landing pace, Schneider said.
Officers who have the device for personal use are more likely to feel comfortable wading through the dropdown boxes to complete the evaluations, he said.

The landing officer must first enter a number denoting the landing qualification and the pilot's number. Then, using a series of dropdown boxes, the officer tracks whether the pilot successfully snagged the second of the three wires and gives the landing an overall grade. The officer also writes comments so the pilot will understand the score. Schneider walked through the process in about 30 seconds.

The rate at which the application is spreading by word of mouth proves its popularity, Schneider said. At last count, Schneider estimated that 24 landing signal officers were using the software. But the exact number is impossible to track, he said, because officers interested in trying the software are downloading it from peers' Palms in a sort of 'viral distribution.'

Landing officers realize the program's true benefit after the hours of judging pilot landings are over, Schneider said.

When they scrawl pilot scores on paper, the officers must spend hours after their shift typing the scores into a Microsoft Access database, he said. Keying the data often introduced errors that muddled reports, he said.

But with the Palm, an officer can download information about more than 100 landings into the database, which runs on a variety of Pentium III PCs under Microsoft Windows. Schneider said the downloading process reduces data input time from a couple of hours to a couple of minutes. A Visual Basic overlay helps make the transfer easily understood, he said.

The two lieutenants developed the application using CodeWarrior programming software from MetroWerks of Austin, Texas, Schneider said. Although the software was initially written for Palm OS 3.0, there are no glitches when used with Palm OS 3.5, he said. The program takes up 42K of the Palm's memory.

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