Risk Management Magazine

Search for Articles

Rest for the Weary

Rest for the Weary




It was a routine mission taking personnel to a camp about 45 minutes away and then returning. We had been deployed for over a year, and all of our missions were becoming repetitive. I was flying trail in a flight of two UH-60s. We made the drop-off with no problem and were on our return trip. Everyone was in good spirits, but after a while, we ran out of things to talk about.

The cockpit became quiet for several minutes as we flew about 30 feet above ground level. It was a boring route with a lot of open desert, and my pilot was on the controls as I looked outside. With visors down, I couldn’t tell if my PI was getting tired. As I was looking out my side, I noticed the aircraft make a sudden pitch change downward. With only 30 feet between us and the ground, I quickly grabbed the controls and applied power and leveled the aircraft. The tail wheel had to have missed the ground by no more than 1 or 2 feet. If I’d been a fraction of a second later, we would have been part of the desert floor. I managed to calm down the crew (although my heart was trying to beat out of my chest). It appeared my PI had fallen asleep while on the controls.

There could be several lessons learned from this event; for example, complacency, low altitude, poor crew coordination, etc. However, this article will focus on crew endurance policies. Prior to deploying, we had a 12-hour crew endurance policy in the unit. That policy was quickly changed to 14-hour duty days without waiver upon arrival to Iraq. Lieutenants were told crew rest didn’t apply to them. Platoon sergeants and first sergeants didn’t feel the 12 hours applied after the crew chief was done flying for the day. In addition, there was an unusual attitude throughout the unit that crew rest was just for the lazy.

This is a problem that plagues aviation as a whole. The term crew endurance has become a four-letter word. The biggest offenders of these policies are the enlisted personnel and the platoon leaders. After a full 12- to 14-hour day of missions, it’s not a good time to come back to the unit and work 5 to 6 hours longer on maintenance or personnel issues. Supervisors of these personnel need to ensure they are getting enough rest to complete the next day’s missions without struggling through it. The PI that I was flying with on this day had been working long days on various projects, often on and off late-night guard checkpoint, and was only averaging 3 to 4 hours of sleep a night.

In summary, crew rest policies are in effect for a reason. They’re not there to get out of work or be lazy. In this example, lack of proper crew endurance enforcement in the unit could have cost the lives of four crewmembers and a multi-million dollar aircraft, reducing the combat power of this unit. Safety officers, instructor pilots, pilots in command and each individual crewmember have a responsibility to their Soldiers and their families to ensure those policies are followed. Watch your Soldiers and ensure they are using their downtime wisely.

  • 1 June 2017
  • Author: Army Safety
  • Number of views: 1123
  • Comments: 0
Categories: On-DutyAviation