Born: United States of America
Primarily active in: United States of America

Col. Paul Croisetiere, US Marine Corps, Program Manager for H-53 Heavy Lift Helicopters

Marine Colonel Paul Croisetiere has been the manager of the H-53 heavy lift program office (PMA-261)  at the US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) since October 2003.  He formally launched the System Development and Demonstration phase of the new CH-53K Heavy Lift Replacement helicopter in June 2006 and observes, “This is a job where you can truly make a difference, and I love coming to work every day because this team makes things happen.  The CH-53K heavy-lift helicopter is truly a transformational capability that will provide us with a great advantage against the threat of 2015 and beyond.”  

A graduate of the Navy Test Pilot School, Colonel Croisetiere has more than 3,800 flight hours in 40 different aircraft types.  He retires from the Marine Corps at the end of this year to pursue a career in private industry.  “The day I leave this assignment, I am going to really miss the great people I have had the pleasure to work with and the community that has been at the core of my professional life for almost 30 years.”

Paul Croisetiere chose a commission in the Marine Corps when he graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1977 with a Bachelors degree in Physical Science.  He acknowledges his family ties to the Marines.  “My father, Louis Croisetiere, was a Marine in World War II, serving with the 6th Marine Division in the Invasion of Okinawa and the occupation of Japan . . . I think one of the reasons I did join the Corps (with the other obvious service selection option being the Navy) was that I might have had to spend the rest of my life engaged in our own father-son inter-service rivalry.  I did not want any part of that.”

More important, Naval Academy faculty made a lasting impression.  “One of the common realities in the Marine Corps and rotary wing aviation is that they are both relatively small communities.  My economics professor at the Academy was then-Major Jefferson D. “Beak” Howell, who would later be my Commanding General when I was flying CH-53E helicopters in the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing . . .  While we did learn a lot about economics in Lt. Gen.  Howell’s class, we also learned a lot about Marine Aviation.  It was inspirational Marines like Lt. Gen. Howell who ultimately influenced my decision to get into Marine Aviation.”

Col. Croisetiere became a naval aviator in 1979 and earned his rotary wing qualification on TH-57s and TH-1Ls.  “I chose rotary wing because I found the prospective missions of rotary-wing aircraft to be very attractive.  And I also thought it would give me the best opportunity to work closely with our infantry Marines.  That said, one of the enduring memories I have from flight school is the first time I lifted into a vertical hover in a helicopter.  As the instructor raised the collective and we moved away from the ground in a slow, controlled manner, I remember thinking, “WOW, this is incredible!”

In the fleet, helicopter pilot Croisetiere initially flew CH-53Ds in Marine squadrons HMM-162 and HMH-461.  He went on to the three-engined CH-53E with HMH-464 in 1984 and served as the Squadron Weapons and Tactics Instructor and Aircraft Maintenance Officer.  He observes, “It was my experience in the fleet that some squadron pilots would excel as maintenance pilots.  These would be the ones who knew the aircraft systems cold and could execute the maintenance procedures with precision . . .  Other pilots might gravitate toward mission planning and tactical operations. 

“In the end, what separates pilots is decision making and managing risk, not superior mastery of flight skills.  Our best pilots are the ones who can make the right decisions when the plan needs to change due to changes in the tactical scenario, environment, or mission.”

Col. Croisetiere went to the Naval Test Pilot School (TPS) in 1989.  “TPS changed my perspective on flying in many ways,” he explains.  “While attention to detail is important in everything you do in aviation, it is particularly important in flight test, especially preparing for a flight test.”

He adds, “Probably the starkest difference between the fleet and flight test, is that in flight test they hand you the manual and expect you to be able to start any aircraft and safely operate it – without formal training . . .  In the fleet, pilots go through extensive ground school and flight syllabus events before they are allowed to ‘sign’ for the aircraft.  So while today’s test pilot is expected to be an above-average pilot, the very best have a mature and strategic perspective on their place within the acquisition life-cycle.  The very best test pilots learn to be very effective communicators, either with their flying qualities engineer, or with the program manager who is responsible for program execution.”

Test Pilot School had other rewards.  “While at TPS, my most fun day was the day I soloed in a glider,” recalls Colonel Croisetiere, “. . .  However, my truly favorite aircraft to fly was the CH-54 Skycrane that I was assigned for my graduation exercise or project.  While it was made up of 1950s technology, it was still a tremendous performer.”

As a TPS graduate, Col. Croisetiere joined the V-22 Integrated Test Team (ITT) and served as a developmental test pilot during tilt-rotor Full Scale Development.  “TPS taught me basic flight test skills and knowledge.  In my opinion, the reality for test pilots right out of Test Pilot School is that they have just been given their ‘learner’s permit.’  The real learning about what makes a good flight test team came from Navy and contractor flight test engineers and seasoned test pilots when I got to what was then the Rotary Wing Aircraft Test Directorate -- it is now called HX-21.  These individuals had decades of experience in development, execution, and reporting of flight tests.”

On the V-22 ITT, Col. Croisetiere served as the project officer for Osprey initial shipboard tests and flying qualities.  “The big issue at the time I was in the V-22 flight test program was about the choice of a throttle instead of a conventional collective.  After a few hours of simulator flights, the control strategy for the throttle and nacelle control became intuitive.  In fact, the early cadre of V-22 test pilots recognized nacelle control as the most powerful control available to the pilot.”

Returning to H-53 fleet assignments, Col. Croisetiere served as the operations officer and executive officer in both HMM-264 and HMH-461 with the 2nd Marine Air Wing.  In 1996, he was reassigned to the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing and served as the commanding officer of HMH-466 from 1997 to 1999.  He recalls, “When I was a squadron commander, the H-53E fleet was just emerging from a major grounding because of problems with our swashplate bearing.  HMH-466 ended up at the very end of the queue for improved swashplate bearings.  When I took command, only three of our 16 aircraft were up.  This was arguably, one of the darker periods in the history of the H-53E.”

Under Col. Croistetiere’s command, the squadron won Heavy Lift Squadron of the Year honors in 1999 from the Marine Corps Aviation Association.  He notes, “I was blessed to have some great Marines, and they aggressively took on the challenge to ‘rebuild’ a stable of aircraft that had been down for an extraordinarily long period of time.  Most importantly, those Marines accomplished that feat while maintaining the highest standards for quality aircraft maintenance.”

After a tour as Inspector General of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, Col. Croisetiere went back to graduate school to earn a Masters of Science degree in National Resource Strategy from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces in 2000.  “The Industrial College of the Armed Forces is one of the great gems among all of our senior service colleges,” he says.  “While its students learn about industry, they also spend a great deal of time studying everything from national strategy, to economics, to strategic leadership.  . . .  Every industry had its own unique set of challenges.  For the US strategic materials industry (titanium, steel, aluminum, composites, etc.), it was trying to stay competitive with foreign competitors who either had significant subsidies from their governments, lower energy costs, or any number of other competitive advantages.”

Col. Croisetiere went from the ICAF to NAVAIR to serve initially as the H-53 deputy program manager in Program Office PMA-261.  He left to be the V-22 deputy program manager for Weapons System Integration from April 2002 to September 2003 and recalls, “I think one of the greatest test reforms put in place for the V-22 program by Lt. Gen. Michael Hough was the establishment of VMX-22 as the operational test squadron for the MV-22.”

As H-53 program manager, Col. Croisetiere and his staff are now working with Marine headquarters to expand the VMX-22 mission to include CH-53K operational flight test.  He says, “We are all very optimistic about the benefits that will bring to our test program.  Those benefits include experienced operational test directors and great familiarity with operational testing planning, execution of flight tests and the reporting of flight test results.  Moreover, we want to take the concept of the Integrated Test Team to the next level, looking at every opportunity to consolidate common test requirements with the ultimate goal of significantly reducing program risk and cost.”

Development of a new conventional helicopter with off-the-shelf avionics and engines should be less risky than development of the tiltrotor, but the CH-53K still poses integration challenges.  “This will be a state-of-the-art heavy lift helicopter with a new engine, fly-by-wire flight controls, designed for survivability, with internal and external cargo systems that are state of the art, modern survivability systems . . . While I think this will be our greatest technical challenge, Sikorsky has the tools and skilled workforce in place to make this happen.  Sikorsky is using the most capable design tools available and have made Earned Value Management part of their program management culture.  We are also working very closely with Sikorsky to ensure that the entire team can operate in an integrated digital environment and share knowledge as efficiently and effectively as possible.” 

Colonel Croisetiere considers the lessons he learned in the Industrial College of the Armed Forces especially relevant to the CH-53K program.  “Because I work within the aircraft industry today and remain directly connected to the strategic materials industry (Sikorsky is selecting the subcontractors for the CH-53K engine and airframe composites), it is apparent that some of those same advantages and disadvantages exist today.  The US rotary wing market is clearly open to European and Asian suppliers, when their markets may not necessarily be as open to prospective US suppliers. 

“In the end, competitiveness requires a technically compliant solution that is affordable.  I believe our acquisition strategy for the CH-53K will provide an affordable technical solution that may be a perfect fit for other nations with a heavy lift requirement.” 

What does the US rotorcraft industry need to remain competitive?  Col. Croisetiere says, “For starters, much more investment needs to be made in our engineering universities and rotorcraft centers of excellence.  While we need more investment in rotary wing engineering in general, it is my sense that we have acute needs for more gearbox and drivetrain engineers.  We also seem to have an enduring shortage of experienced helicopter structural engineers.

“If I can steal a metaphor from Field of Dreams, I believe that for whoever builds an affordable helicopter, the world will come.  While there is real appeal in having an affordable unit cost, industry really needs to take on reducing life cycle cost.  Performance-based logistics strategies must be matured to incentivize the contractor to achieve the greatest time on wing possible. 

“I think the rotorcraft industry needs to reassess its research and development investments.  I personally think we need much more investment in reliability and maintainability to include processes and strategies that will truly allow us to achieve cost-wise readiness.   

“I also believe the United States must carefully assess our warfighting requirements for the next two decades.  One could easily make the case that the history of the last two decades, to include our current operations in support of the Global War on Terror, have demonstrated that we did not make the proper investments in rotary wing aviation.  With the H-53 program as an example, we have had more investment for capability and reliability improvements in that last three years than we had in the prior 20 years altogether.  We must ensure that we continue to make the proper investments in rotary wing aviation to ensure that we remain relevant and effective against the threats that will be present in 2015 and beyond.”

Leadership Profile: Vertiflite Winter 2006