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Announce Your Actions

Announce Your Actions

Fort Irwin, California

The mission for the night, just like every night before, was to conduct security in and around the Baghdad airport. The airport was a busy place because of the number of aviation units departing and arriving in country. We had conducted this mission countless times with the same crews at the same time of night, so we were generally familiar with the area of operation and the mission.

I was a CW2 instructor pilot with 1,200 total flight hours and pilot in command of the lead aircraft in a two-formation flight. In the left seat was a warrant officer with almost 300 hours of total flight time. Seated in the right seat of the trail aircraft was another CW2 with about the same amount of flight hours I had. In the left seat was the company commander, who had about 900 flight hours.

Our team had been out about an hour and a half and was running low on fuel. We were on the west side of the airport and decided to return for fuel by intercepting the checkpoint on the southwest side, entering the traffic pattern and then landing at the forward arming and refueling point. It was the standard entry procedure at that time. I monitored the tower frequency as we turned toward the airfield, awaiting the opportunity to contact the tower and let them know we were inbound for the FARP.

It was a busy night. We attempted to contact the tower several times but were interrupted by other aircraft. We were about 1 km from the CP and had reduced airspeed from 90 knots to about 60 knots, but we could not get through to the tower that we were about to enter their airspace. Due to the massive amount of radio traffic from other aircraft, the tower never heard our calls.

To avoid entering their airspace, we elected to make a 360-degree turn. I told my left-seater I was going to make the turn to the right. What I did not know was the trail aircraft, in a free cruise formation, had lost sight of our aircraft in the lights of the airfield and couldn’t see we had reduced our airspeed. The trail aircraft had continued at 90 knots and caught up to our aircraft. Trail ended up on the right side of the lead aircraft at the same altitude and at a distance of about two rotor disks.

A split second before beginning my right-hand turn, I switched radios to tell my wingman I was turning right while simultaneously looking out my right door to make sure I was clear. As I looked right, I saw another aircraft at our 2:30, passing us and starting a left-hand turn.

My first thought was there’s another aircraft I had not heard on the radio. However, then I recognized the pilot in the left seat and knew he was my wingman. I made a hard left turn and said something over the radio to our wingman that I don’t remember, but I know it was not in keeping with proper phraseology. We linked back up with each other and finally landed at the FARP without further incident.

Lessons learned

Crewmembers are always briefed on crew coordination, specifically “announce actions,” before every mission; however, it isn’t always briefed from aircraft to aircraft. I made the mistake of not communicating with my wingman that I was reducing airspeed, and our wingman made the mistake of not informing us when they lost sight of the lead aircraft. Had I not looked to the right before starting my turn to clear the aircraft, I have no doubt we would’ve had a midair collision and killed all four crewmembers that night.

This incident served as a wake-up call. From that night on, when one of our aircraft did something that was either not briefed or out of the norm for the situation, we made sure we announced our actions first to the entire flight and not just the crewmember sitting next to us.

  • 9 October 2016
  • Author: Army Safety
  • Number of views: 893
  • Comments: 0