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Under Pressure

Under Pressure

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CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 3 JULIAN CAICEDO
1-6 CAV
Fort Riley, Kansas


Unlike our manned aviation brethren, who may operate their aircraft outside an air traffic controlled environment, unmanned aircraft system operators can typically only fly in restricted airspace and, depending on local procedures, under ATC oversight. Thus, UAS operators can be subjected to additional pressures from ATC to “get it done,” even when it is not particularly safe to do so.

On a windy night at Fort Riley, Kansas, an RQ-7Bv2 Shadow crew consisting of two junior enlisted Soldiers and a sergeant were conducting readiness level progression training over the installation’s training area. The aircraft was to be recovered 30 minutes prior to ATC discontinuing their services for the night. However, the recovery timeline had to be pushed to the right about 10 minutes because another UAS unit was recovering their aircraft and ATC would not allow multiple UASs in the same chunk of airspace. By the time the crew attempted to land for the first time, ATC had already articulated they would be closing soon. Unfortunately, the winds were not permissive for a landing and the crew had to abort.

The aircraft had to be flown back to a point where the Tactical Automatic Landing System could acquire and guide it to the runway. The crew attempted to land for a second time about 10 minutes after the first attempt, but the crew chief called for a go-around because the landing profile didn’t appear to be within safe parameters. By now, ATC was upset and applying pressure to the crew so they could close shop. Fortunately, there were two UAS platoon leaders monitoring the situation who communicated with, and supported, the aircraft commander’s decision to prioritize safety over the alternative.

In the end, the aircraft was recovered safely, but not before phone calls were made to the ATC office and chain of command. It is possible a similar crew under the same conditions may have felt intimidated into attempting an unsafe landing. The results could have been catastrophic had the aircraft crashed and hurt someone due to the vicinity of the landing area to other activities.

What can we do about this?
• Very much like pilots in command, ACs have an inherent responsibility for the safe operation of their aircraft. Thus, UAS leaders should train and mentor their ACs to make sound decisions, even when confronted with third-party pressures. Their confidence and proficiency levels should allow them to feel comfortable acting in accordance with Army Regulation 95-23 and applicable publications.

• Many, if not most, ATC facilities at Army installations are manned by civilian employees who are bound by contracts and budgetary constraints. Therefore, reworking these contracts or paying for additional coverage may eliminate the time constraints.

• Combat aviation brigades have air support battalions/airfield operations battalions in their formations. These units have Soldiers with ATC skillsets that can supplement current ATC coverage. While this is a great opportunity to train these Soldiers and satisfy a need, existing contracts and unions will play a factor.

• Create a semi-permanent field site in the restricted area where UAS and ATC Soldiers can rotate in and train around the clock. Unfortunately, this setup implies that units may be away from their higher headquarters for long periods at a time depending on variables such as the field location and rotation interval.

  • 11 June 2017
  • Author: Army Safety
  • Number of views: 842
  • Comments: 0
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