Mr. Safety: A legacy of safer skies

  • Published
  • By Randy Crewse
  • Via Air Force Safety Center Public Affairs

In the archives of the Air Force's rich history, certain individuals have passed on a legacy of safer skies, such as "Mr. Safety" himself, retired Maj. Roger G. Crewse.

From 1954 to 1981, Crewse's unwavering commitment to aviation safety and innovative solutions left an indelible mark on the Air Force Safety program. He flew more than 4,500 hours throughout his career, earning the Command Pilot Designation.

Crewse's first assignment in Air Force Safety was as assistant to the commander for safety in 1954 with the 31st Air Division, St. Paul, Minn. From there, he became the chief of safety in Colorado Springs, Colo., as the first F-106 project officer. However, before Crewse could even get a flight in the F-106, Col. George Orr, chief of safety for the Air Defense Command, assigned him the duty of editor for the Interceptor magazine. Crewse wrote his first Coolstone article, "Coolstone Concedes," for this issue on Jan. 1, 1959.

Coolstone was the fictitious amalgam of all the Air Defense Command pilots Crewse had known, with some of his own experiences added in for good measure. Since Coolstone's adventures and misadventures were based on actual events to which ADC aircrews could relate, they received instant recognition and served an important role in accident prevention. Coolstone's career spanned 20 years and 45 articles.

Crewse's most famous Coolstone story, "Coolstone Convenes the Board," published in the April 1960 issue of the Interceptor, became an instant hit. The Interceptor and Coolstone article series would become well known within the Air Force and an acknowledged influence on the Air Staffs of Canada, Denmark, India, Sweden and Greece. Duplicated in both format and content by the Turkish Air Force, more than 13 professional publications published Coolstone articles. Crewse served as editor of the Interceptor from October 1958 until April 1961, when he medically retired from the Air Force.

In March 1963, Crewse returned to Colorado Springs as a civil servant. He was assigned to the Office of the Chief of Safety, Headquarters Air Defense Command, as chief of the Safety Analysis Division. There, he provided the Aerospace Defense Command with expertise that impacted the aircraft accident rate and saved lives, resources and combat potential.

In 1966, a NATO country using F-104G aircraft experienced an accident rate of more than 300 percent. Maj. Gen. Von R. Shores, deputy commanding officer, Allied Air Forces, Europe, requested Crewse conduct a study and make appropriate recommendations. Completing the study and submitting it informally resulted in changes being made to the operational procedures and training programs in each country's Air Force, lowering the accident rate and decreasing the unfavorable publicity for the aircraft.

The next year, Crewse conducted a unique study to determine the relationship between aircraft abort rates and accident rates, in which he found a direct relationship between abort and accident rates using two years of accumulated data. As a result, each unit conducted abort investigations, directly reducing accident potential.

In 1969, Crewse received the Air Force Chief of Staff Individual Safety Award to recognize his contributions to the Aerospace Defense Command Safety program, including a successful project devoted to F-102 compressor stalls.

During that same year and next, the F-106 aircraft experienced increased control loss with four major accidents. Crewse became aware of the problem and recognized the need for a revision in procedure. On his own, he spent numerous hours reviewing and researching the aerodynamics of the F-106. Along with other experts, he developed and published an in-flight safety supplement and briefings for aircrews. One pilot said, "The airplane did exactly what Roger said it would do, and when I did exactly what Roger told me to do, the aircraft recovered immediately."

On many occasions, he recommended specific actions during airborne emergencies not covered by standard emergency procedures and subsequently prevented a major aircraft accident.

In 1974, Crewse was assigned to the Air Force Inspection and Service Center as chief of the Reports and Analysis Division, Directorate of Aerospace Safety. There, he identified and assembled a team of specialists who took on a prominent role in the Air Force mishap prevention program. They created a workable database of thousands of mishaps over 13 years. With this database, the capability now existed to track and identify critical safety data as well as compile a forecast of predicted accident experience by aircraft type and accident-producing area, like the Air Force Safety Automated System used today.

Crewse participated in many other essential projects and studies top Air Force decision-makers used to make the Air Force safer. Among these were the Single vs. Twin Engine Fighter/Attack Mishap Comparison Analysis, Red Flag Mishap Experience Study, and the Pilot Flying Hour Study, to name a few.

While acting for the Secretary of the Air Force in 1977, Congress amended the Freedom of Information Act to require the Air Force to release factual portions of mishap reports. Crewse ensured the Air Force met the new standard while protecting privileged information.

Crewse wrote a widely acclaimed article in the January 1980 issue of Aerospace Safety, "For Pilots Only." Gen. Brian Poe wrote in a memo to top leadership, "I consider Roger Crewse's article ‘For Pilots Only’ in the January 1980 Aerospace Safety magazine to be the best of its type I've ever read anywhere. It's right on track. My compliments to the author."

Crewse originated and significantly contributed to the "Blue Four News."  The still-existing monthly message to Air Force flying units presents a brief recap of mishap experience and identifies unit-level accident prevention objectives. This innovation generated considerable favorable feedback.

Crewse's love for storytelling and his commitment to preserving the legacy of military aviation is memorialized in "Coolstone Takes Flight," a 2023 book compiled by his son Randall Crewse. The book is more than just a collection of tales. It is a chronicle of an era of rapid technological advancements, evolving training paradigms and the undying spirit of those who called the skies their home.

In March 1981, Crewse earned the Decoration for Exceptional Civilian Service, the highest award the Secretary of the Air Force granted to civilian employees of the Air Force ... a fitting tribute to a man who had earned the moniker "Mr. Safety."