The great American mathematician John Tukey said, “The greatest value of a picture is when it forces us to notice what we never expected to see.” True to these words, one new graph is all it took for the Naval Aviation Enterprise (NAE) to grasp a crucial detail previously buried in reams of reports: the number of in-reporting aircraft that should have been flying but weren’t was shockingly high.
NAE leadership routinely follows out-of-reporting aircraft because those planes can’t fly and need to be quantified. Leadership also knows that a certain number of in-reporting aircraft still don’t fly, but the extent of the issue was hazy. As part of our support to the NAE, Veracity Senior Analyst Frank Tseng collaborated with Defense Data Specialist Laura Kelley by wondering which data, of everything available to them, would illuminate the issue most usefully. They decided to compare and graph data from two authoritative sources not normally combined, sensing that an interesting picture might emerge.
Laura used the Navy’s AIRRS X-RAY reports, which list an aircraft’s status, and set them against the DECKPLATE DP-0041, which shows the date of an aircraft’s last flight. Frank then graphed the data concisely in panes of timeframes showing aircraft not flown, depicted by circles that scaled to the number of planes, for several types of aircraft (bubble charts). He produced an initial version using R, but switched to the superior code-writing ability of Python for the final view.
The result provided a data-rich visualization over time and genuinely surprised Navy leadership. Veracity VP Rebecca Kirk briefed the customer and said “the Captain’s jaw hit the floor when he saw how many in-reporting planes hadn’t been flying.” Our analysts’ willingness to wonder “what if?” had created an important new view of aviation readiness.
Given this connection and visualization, the Navy is targeting down aircraft far more precisely now. For example, the new graph prompted NAE leadership to reinvigorate their use of Last Date Flown information in the T/M/S IDB, the major quarterly readiness brief. Turning data into pictures into decisions that help a large community––it doesn’t get much better than that.