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VP-46 sets safety record

Whidbey Island Naval Air Station’s VP-46, the “Grey Knights,” celebrated a Pacific Fleet-record 40 years without a Class A mishap Friday, an achievement that is all the more remarkable because on April 16, 2003, a Grey Knight P-3 Orion was the first Navy aircraft to land at Baghdad International Airport.

Cmdr. Ed Campbell noted that VP-46 was the “oldest and best” of the Maritime Patrol Aviation Squadrons.

“What’s impressive about what we do is the people who do it,” he said, speaking to the squadron assembled in the VP hangar. A P-3 behind the sailors standing at attention was adorned with a banner proclaiming their success: 280,000 hours without a Class A mishap. A large cake with the same message sat on a table waiting to be cut.

Class A means no deaths or accidents causing in excess of $1 million damage. The last time a Grey Knights plane incurred that much damage was on Jan. 30, 1964, when a P-3 ran off the runway at NAS Moffett Field in California. Since then the squadron has flown in the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, Operation Southern Watch, and Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom.

They returned in June with 7,000 hours of flight time on that deployment.

Cmdr. Steve Krotow piloted the P-3 that touched down at Baghdad airport April 16, with the mission of delivering Vice Adm. Timothy Keating, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, to his meeting with Gen. Tommy Franks.

Keating at that time praised the crew: “The crew of the P-3 was outstanding. They were professional in every aspect, and were already asking for tomorrow’s mission on the way back.”

The Grey Knights also brought something for the Air Force ground crew in Baghdad — pizza.

Commodore Tim Tibbits praised the crew in his remarks at the ceremony, noting that they had set a U.S. Pacific Fleet record.

“This record is a tribute to all of you and your shipmates that have gone before you,” he said. “It is a testament of hard work, dedication, and of uncommon professionalism demonstrated by both seasoned veterans and by junior sailors who had previously never seen a Navy aircraft prior to coming to VP-46. It’s all of you working together that make these things happen.”

Safety records of the other Patrol and Reconnaissance squadrons at NAS Whidbey show VP-40 close behind with 235,000 hours and 36 years; VP-1 with 121,000 hours over 20 years; and VQ-1 with 100,000 hours in 16 years.

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