No Place for Shortcuts
STAFF SGT. CARLOS J. OLIVARES
B Company, 122nd Aviation Support Battalion
82nd Combat Aviation Brigade
Fort Bragg, North Carolina
As a young Soldier, I was attached to an OH-58D unit, the old Kiowa Warrior Air Cavalry. We used to move those helicopters with hydraulic ground handling wheels, pushing them in and out of the hangar multiple times a day. It was hard, physical work and we were very good mechanics. Our team cohesion was recognized by leadership, which named us best troop in the squadron. This boosted our confidence. In fact, I would say we became overconfident — maybe even a little cocky.
The unit had 10 aircraft and flew them constantly as part of exercises or missions, so we were very busy. Because of that, we started taking shortcuts and ignoring some safety measures we were supposed to check before work started. We justified this by saying things such as, “We don’t have time to do that.” That’s an extremely dangerous attitude to have in an aviation unit, where we work on very expensive machines. More importantly, we hold people’s lives in our hands.
Since the Kiowa did not have traditional landing gear, a crew chief would install the ground handling wheels on the left and right skids every time we needed to move an aircraft. Once the “up” command was given, the crew chiefs on each side jacked up the wheels, lifting the aircraft off the ground. A team of three to four crew chiefs then pushed the aircraft to wherever it needed to be moved while another person posted at the rear held and maneuvered the tail stinger. A total of six to seven crew chiefs were needed to complete the task.
Before installation, the person in charge, in this case the squad leader, was supposed to inspect the wheels to ensure they worked properly and that load tests were conducted. On this day, however, the squad leader did not properly inspect the wheels. With everything seemingly in place, we jacked up the aircraft and started moving it. As we pushed, the crew chief on the right realized his side was lowering slowly. The squad leader was unaware of the situation, and the crew chief was not loud enough to stop the movement before the right side of the aircraft went down. Unfortunately, one of the crew chiefs on the right side that was helping push got tangled and fell to the ground, breaking his left ankle. The injured crew chief spent more than three months in a cast followed by multiple physical therapy sessions.
Perhaps the only good news in this story is the crew chief was eventually able to return to work with no restrictions, but this mishap didn’t have to happen. It could have been avoided had the squad leader inspected the wheels before installation. Following this incident, the unit implemented an inspection system so somebody was always in charge of those wheels to ensure they were 100 percent good to go at all times. However, individuals are always the last line of defense and should conduct a visual inspection as well. We all learned an important lesson that day: Confidence in your team’s abilities is good, but too much can lead to a preventable accident.