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ATSUGI NAVAL AIR STATION, Japan — As the only forward-deployed helicopter antisubmarine squadron in the Pacific, HSL-51 has a lot riding on its ability to act on short notice.

“We are the only squadron in Japan that can support all the ships in Yokosuka, so it is critical that we be combat ready every single day,” said Cmdr. Christopher Fletcher, the Atsugi-based unit’s commander.

A recent milestone illustrated the unit’s ability to keep its helos in the air — it became one of three such squadrons to surpass 100,000 Class A mishap-free flight hours. It hit the mark on Aug. 14.

The Navy defines Class A incidents as those in which there is total destruction of the aircraft, death or permanently disabling injuries, or damage exceeding $1 million.

According to the National Aviation Hall of Fame, the first military casualty in a powered aircraft flight was on Sept. 17, 1908, when a plane piloted by Orville Wright crashed and killed his passenger, Army Lt. Thomas Selfridge.

Fletcher said he is especially impressed with how fast his squadron achieved the incident-free milestone. The clock started running in 1991.

“It took the HSL-41 and 45 almost 20 years each to reach 100,000 Class A mishap free flight hours,” he said. “I think because of our break-neck operational tempo, we were able to do it in only 16 years.”

To illustrate the difficulty of reaching 100,000 flight hours, Fletcher explained that it takes about 40 hours of maintenance to achieve one flight hour.

“That adds up to 4 million maintenance hours,” he said.

“It’s a tremendous achievement.”

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