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Fat, Dumb and Happy

Fat, Dumb and Happy

CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 4 STEVEN T. SUND
C Company, 4th Battalion,
2nd Aviation Regiment
Camp Humphreys, Korea

There I was on a multiship day visual flight rules cross-country mission somewhere over the middle of North Carolina. I was a company maintenance test pilot flying an AH-64A on my second tour at Fort Bragg, and I felt comfortable flying in the local area. We were positioned in the middle of the formation, the weather was fine and my co-pilot gunner had the controls in the front seat. We were flying along fat, dumb and happy.

As I performed Task 1026, Maintain Airspace Surveillance, from Training Circular 1-238, I noticed the aircraft had suddenly developed a one-to-one vertical bounce, accompanied by the CPG saying, “What the hell was that?” I looked out the window and saw one rotor blade flying about four inches below the others.

The aircraft then started vibrating severely up and down. I took the controls from the CPG and quickly checked controllability. All the controls seemed to be working normally and the vibration levels hadn’t changed. I announced to the flight I was having a problem and told my CPG to find the nearest airport.

Just as the CPG pulled the map out, another aircraft in the flight said, “There’s an airport at three o’clock, about four miles away.”

I called, “Roger, turning right,” and almost immediately sighted the airfield.

Now, I know you’re probably wondering why I didn’t put it down right there. Well, I strongly considered it. There were plenty of open fields between the airfield and me. I guess it was the MTP in me thinking that if the aircraft needed a new blade, I had to make sure our maintainers could get a truck to the aircraft. I also discounted the possibility of a flight control malfunction since the controls still worked normally. I decided to continue to the airfield with the option of landing immediately if the vibration level increased.  

On final approach, I saw a National Guard maintenance facility adjacent to the runway, so I landed directly to their taxiway. As soon as I brought the power levers back, the CPG said, “Something just came off one of the blades!”

After finishing our shutdown, we recovered half of a main rotor tip cap that had landed about 50 feet in front of the aircraft. As we looked at it, we noticed the metal on the leading edge was paper thin. Evidently, it had eroded enough that the air could enter and strip the top and bottom off like a banana peel.

Lessons learned

The important question is, “What have I taken away from this experience?” Obviously, I pay a lot closer attention to main rotor tip caps on preflight than I did before. I also try to consider how being a maintainer influences my decision-making process. Figuring out how to recover a downed aircraft is something a maintenance officer does on a regular basis, but choosing a landing site during an emergency based on ease of access for repairs wasn’t the smartest thing to do. I should have landed immediately — preferably straight ahead into the first open area we saw.

We were lucky. Accidents often begin with a common-error chain of events. Should you need to make an off-airport landing, be extremely cautious and ensure no obstacles such as poles, wires, trees, low-level brush and buildings are in your path. The best way to handle these obstacles is to remember slow is good and slower is better. Going slow gives you the ability to see what you’re flying into in case you need to abort or alter the landing.

Never be so committed to a planned flight that you refuse to alter it when an emergency happens. The next time you’re flying along fat, dumb and happy, remind yourself that good judgment will keep you alive.

  • 1 October 2016
  • Author: Army Safety
  • Number of views: 1220
  • Comments: 0
Categories: On-DutyAviation
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