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Look Out for the Other Guy

Look Out for the Other Guy


B Troop, 1st Squadron,
6th Cavalry Regiment, Task Force Gunfighter
Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan

Spatial disorientation combined with a degraded visual environment has been a killer of civilian and Army aviators since the advent of manned flight. We must always stay vigilant to recognize the situations that can lead to spatial disorientation, lest we become victims of gravity’s unforgiving pull and the sudden, violent stop that has taken so many pilots before us.

It was month five of a nine-month tour in southern Afghanistan. My OH-58 Scout Weapons Team was tasked for the night with security and reconnaissance of Kandahar Airfield’s ground defense zone. We were all very familiar with the area and the mission for this clear, zero-illumination night. Our assigned area was mostly flat, rural farmland and the expansive, featureless Registan Desert. I was a 500-hour pilot in the right (pilot’s) seat; my co-pilot/observer in the left seat was a more experienced pilot with about 1,000 hours.

Three hours of our five-hour mission had gone by without an issue. There were no ground forces in the zone and zero enemy activity — a recipe for a calm, uneventful night. After a quick refuel, we headed south of the airfield for some continuation gunnery and instrument training at the Texas Helo test fire area. We practiced our attack patterns and engagement techniques and felt very confident in our ability to make precision rocket and gun attacks.

After firing, my flight climbed out over the dunes of the Registan Desert to practice our inadvertent instrument meteorological conditions procedure. The desert’s uninhabited, zero-contrast terrain makes it easy to lose your visual references. I transitioned to instrument flight, separated from my wingman and began a climb to 2,000 feet above ground level. After leveling off, I passed off the controls to my co-pilot so he could execute the practice approach.

Everything was going just fine at this point. We had almost intercepted the glideslope when my co-pilot became quiet and began to execute a left turn. (Mind you, this left turn was not part of the approach.)

I asked, “What are you doing?”

He didn’t respond.

I asked again, “You OK, bro?”

Still nothing — and he started to steepen the turn even faster!

We had gone past 30 degrees of bank and started to dive sharply by the time I took the controls and said, “I have the controls.”

We leveled off and I asked again, “You OK, bro?”

“Dude, I’m really messed up,” he replied.

He told me he had experienced an overwhelming episode of the leans, lost his orientation while under simulated instrument conditions and couldn’t recover on his own. Not even a year earlier, another flight played out like this in the same location and ended with a crash and the loss of all five crewmembers. Our night could have ended similarly. We were both thankful we were looking out for each other.

We are taught to refer to our instruments, delay intuitive actions and transfer the controls to treat spatial disorientation. It’s even more critical to look out for your crewmembers, say something and, most importantly, do something to avoid an unrecoverable situation that could lead to an accident. Always look out for your buddies. Trust their experience, but never hesitate to offer assistance when it’s needed.

  • 21 May 2017
  • Author: Army Safety
  • Number of views: 1116
  • Comments: 0