Include Your Crewmembers
CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 2 JOSIAH A. JOHN
A Company, 2nd Battalion, 158th Assault Helicopter Regiment,
16th Combat Aviation Brigade
Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington
It was a fairly routine flight. The crew, besides me as pilot in command, included a senior chief warrant officer as the pilot and a specialist and sergeant as the crew chief and gunner in the back of our UH-60. It was getting late in the evening and we were on the last leg of our combat circulation flight over Iraq. The weather reports showed conditions deteriorating slightly, but it was still within our briefed minimums and the unit command had approved the flight.
We were flying just north of Ramadi en route to our home base of Taji when we came into an organized ambush. It seemed like our aircraft was subject to the “golden bullet” rule because the first rounds went up into our hydraulic deck and disabled the pilot assist module. The next rounds impacted somewhere in the transmission section, knocking out our stabilator automatic control. Luckily, we still had manual control of the stabilator.
We managed to get out of the ambush, but not until another chain of rounds went through the cockpit, taking out my pilot. I immediately took the controls, got on the radio and declared an emergency, and notified my trail aircraft of the situation. I looked up just as the weather we had anticipated would remain legal worsened dramatically. Before we knew it, we were in inadvertent instrument meteorological conditions.
Luckily for me and the crew, this was just a simulation performed as a part of my PC evaluation. I learned an important lesson about flying as a crew — that it is important to get the backseaters involved in the flight. As pilots, sometimes we fail to integrate our crews fully into the mission. As much as feasible, they need to be involved in every aspect of the mission from the train-up and planning phases through the post-mission after-action review (AAR). This training should include at least a basic understanding of the operation of the avionics we use up front.
In the situation I described, I had one crewmember on a restraint harness across the center console trying to program the GPS for an approach into Taji. I was flying the aircraft boost off while, at the same time, trying to explain to him how to program the approach we wanted into the GPS. Had I trained him on the ground before the mission, it would have only taken a few minutes. Under much less stressful conditions, he’d have had a better chance of retaining the training.
Including crewmembers in the required pilot training classes we conduct on a regular basis would also be valuable. While crewmembers are involved in the general courses, when the subject turns to a pilot-specific topic — such as aerodynamics or emergency procedures — too often they’re released to their own duties without the option of remaining behind to learn more.
Planning and briefing missions are also a phase of operations where, more often than not, crewmembers are left out. The result is crewmembers are unfamiliar with the mission route and unaware of any anticipated threats they need to be watching for. Because they are able to see beside and behind the aircraft in ways we pilots cannot, crews are critical to mission safety. By including crewmembers in mission briefings, they can be more effective at identifying potential threats.
Regardless of how you do it, make sure you include your crewmembers as active participants in the flight. From pre-mission planning to post-mission AAR, your crewmembers are a vital part of your team.