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Performance Hack - Air to Air Refuelling (and other routine tasks).

I’m strapped into my F/A-18. It’s a very dark night in Northern Australia, and I’m waiting to start the jet at the pre-briefed time. I look at my watch, synchronised with my leader during the briefing more than an hour ago.

Tonight's mission is a strike onto a target deep in the Australian outback. We will depart the base in full radio silence with our radars off to avoid detection by the enemy. Our first task…find the tanker to top up with fuel. We will then turn on our radars, check in on the radio, and begin fighting our way towards the objective. After destroying the target with multiple cans of 'instant sunshine' (high explosive laser guided bombs), we will fight our way home, grab a coke and debrief the mission.

“5, 4, 3, 2, 1…” I initiate the start.

At precisely the same second, 3 other jets in hidden locations around me also start.

20 minutes later, I prepare to taxi…my briefing card tells me there will be 2 jets taxiing past my shelter…the second one is my lead, and I MUST slip in behind him to avoid mass confusion which could only be solved by breaking radio silence.

Success...15 minutes later, I am lined up on the runway next to my lead. Not a single word has been uttered, and we are communicating with Air Traffic Control via light signals.

I see the green light which serves as our take off clearance…my leads selects afterburner, and accelerates away. I avoid looking at the blue glow of his exhaust to retain my night vision…I will need it very soon. After takeoff, I join up in close formation, and we track south west to rendezvous with the tanker.

Flying close formation requires a fairly intensive scan of the visual cues on the lead aircraft combined with regular glances at your own instruments. At night, this gets even busier as you battle to maintain position with a much reduced set of visual cues. Eventually, I see a large shadow looming into my peripheral vision. Something big seems to be in front of my lead's jet, and appears to be 'reversing' back towards us. A quick glance…it’s our tanker! Still in radio silence, we use a system of light signals to be cleared to take our fuel. 15 minutes later, we have full tanks, and begin our transit to the fighting airspace.

Now the work really begins.

Fighter operations are incredibly complex. We rely on a set of extremely well tested and robust procedures to do almost everything which can be considered ‘routine’…including the radio silent departure I described above. This reliance on procedure has distinct benefits:

  1. It drastically reduces the briefing time required for complex but common tasks,

  2. It simplifies execution into discrete events which can be easily delegated, and

  3. It allows us to continually refine our procedures based on issues that arise during execution.

But, you don’t need to be flying fighter aircraft to benefit…recently a restaurant group CEO told me that his operations manual for a single restaurant is 800 pages long; he followed by stating that opening a new restaurant is now much simplified because of it. (Interesting, his COO is ex-military)

If your business has complex but common tasks, you will greatly benefit by writing standardised procedures for task execution. Your staff can then be expected to know the procedure, they can execute IAW the procedure, and analysis can be performed by referring to the procedure. Finally, if necessary, modifications can be made.

Constant improvement is not a theory. It’s a way of doing business.

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