MARCH 30, 2017, NORFOLK (NNS) – One of the Navy’s hidden treasures is its emergent fly-away teams. Some may consider them superheroes due to how they do business — they go in, fix the problem, test it and head home — without many knowing what they did or where they went.
The first fly-away team was established in the 1990s when Commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic (AIRLANT) called for a detachment of experienced personnel from Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) who could fly to a carrier with little notice to make repairs and get that ship back to sea.
“Fly-away teams are just that. They are casualty teams that are put together to respond to a Casualty Report (CASREP), which is an emergent casualty for a naval vessel that needs to be repaired right away, whether they are underway or pierside,” said Lonnie Kenley, Off-Yard Carrier Project Superintendent, Code 312. “It is an emergency because that ship and their strike group’s mission are affected.”
Code 300 keeps a daily running list of available personnel it could send on an emergent fly-away team. It is made up of NNSY welders, mechanics, engineers, machinists, managers, and contractors. Knowing what the situation is and who has the talent and experience is vital in building an emergent fly-away team.
“Making sure the right mix of people is sent is important. They are chosen based on their qualifications, passports and experience with both traveling and their repair knowledge,” said Kenley. “We choose the best of the best; our ‘star hitters’ go out and represent NNSY. We also look at who is ready to hop on a plane that very same day when an emergent CASREP comes in.”
“What emergent means to the shipyard is: all senior leadership become aware very quickly that we have an emergent situation with a carrier that is preventing her from doing her mission,” said Kenley. “Everyone knows when these types of situations happen; this supersedes and takes high priority over anything else they have going on within the shipyard. These situations have the attention of the Navy’s top leadership.”
A team of eight to 30 people is formed very quickly and on a plane to get to its destination as soon as possible. “How the group is built depends on the job, what needs to be fixed, where they need to go, and how emergent the repair is to their mission,” said Donald Wessells, Assistant Project Superintendent Code 300. “We include contractors because they may have the knowledge and experience we need to help do the repair. And, just recently, we started adding apprentices to the fly-away teams to build field experience that will benefit them throughout their careers at the shipyard.”
Before the team departs, it gets briefed on the situation and the demands of the repair. Some repairs take days and some take a week or two. “You need look no further to know why Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) is the force behind the fleet than the work Norfolk Naval Shipyard did recently,” said Thomas Moore, Vice Admiral, Naval Sea Systems Command. “NNSY devised a plan and then sent a fly-away team to meet the ship on her first port call. Fantastic work by everyone on the NNSY team.”
“We really execute the shipyard’s motto: It’s any ship, any time, any where. We are your Triple A. If your car breaks down somewhere, who do you call? You call Triple A. If your ship breaks down, you call us. We are the Navy’s version of “Triple A” — Any ship, anytime, anywhere,” said Wessells.
When the repair is complete, the next step is to test all the components. “We always test our repair before we leave. We make sure everything is up and running the way it is supposed to before we head home,” explained Wessells. “If the ship is pierside, we do what is similar to a fast cruise. An underway evolution while in port. This process lets us know the repair was successful and the ship can return to its mission at sea,” said Wessells.
Being part of a repair team for the first time and experiencing the journey of going on a fly-away to repair a ship was quite memorable for a recently graduated apprentice returning home. “When we landed at Oceana, we thought it was over until we walked off the plane and saw senior leadership waiting for us. That was pretty exciting,” said Jonathan Woodruff, Rigger, Shop 72. “Being a part of the fly-away team and being recognized by senior leadership was a huge milestone for me. It’s a great honor and feeling of accomplishment when you know you had a part in keeping our country safe. It was truly an incredible experience.”
Several people are involved to ensure a fly-away runs as smoothly as possible from beginning to end. “When we have an emergent situation, everyone does everything they need to do to accomplish the mission successfully,” said Capt. Scott Brown, Norfolk Naval Shipyard Commander. “It comes down to what we do, who we are, and where we are going. It’s pretty exciting and amazing because we are ‘America’s Shipyard’ — any ship, anytime, anywhere.”
By April Brown, Norfolk Naval Shipyard Public Affairs