Risk Management Magazine

Search for Articles

Time Well Spent

Time Well Spent


Prior to deployment, our unit practiced the power management issues we expected to encounter in Afghanistan. It paid off.

The mission started on a good day for flying: clear skies, plenty of visibility and a high in the 90s. Transporting a general officer to meetings throughout RC-East was the order of the day, but then things changed. Early in the mission, the general started monitoring a joint operation that was in contact with very unfriendly people. Apparently this was expected, so we continued with our mission.

During the general’s planned meeting, our flight of two UH-60 Black Hawks were fully refueled in anticipation of the long return trip to Bagram with minimal passengers on board. Our quick lunch break was interrupted by a call from the general’s staff. The unit in contact was in immediate need of ammunition and water. Our mission now was to transport “speedballs” (body bags full of supplies such as ammunition and water) to the troops in contact. The speedballs were being loaded as we took the power control levers to fly.

The speedballs looked very heavy, so we asked for an estimate of the weight from the crew loading them. They estimated the speedballs weighed 2,000 pounds total. That number was going to work out fine, even with the full tanks on a hot day with the landing zone’s estimated altitude being 7,000 feet. But we discovered a problem when our hover power check and tabular data said our internal load was just over 3,000 pounds. Doing the math, we projected we would burn off enough fuel and get the weight down to a safe number to land on the LZ at 7,000 feet.

During our 15-minute flight to the LZ, we made radio contact with a pair of Apaches that were providing close air support to the troops in contact. The Apaches informed us to slow our approach because the LZ was still cherry (hot, under fire). “No problem,” we thought, as we needed the time to burn off more fuel.  However, another problem made itself known.

The Apaches stated the altitude of the LZ was actually 8,500 feet. This made our power margin next to nothing. We needed to lose weight if we were going to land safely. We activated the engine anti-ice and started the auxiliary power unit in an attempt to burn more fuel. The crew also discussed the possibility of throwing out one of the speedballs to lighten the aircraft.

While we maintained an orbit waiting for the ice (safe to land) call, we had the opportunity to note the wind direction in regard to the landing axis at the LZ. Good news — it appeared our approach direction would be into the wind. The LZ had a slight nose and right wheel upslope, which did not seem to present any further issue to overcome. Another computation with tabular data showed we should have just enough power to safely land the Black Hawk.

We got the ice call and it was time to resupply the troops. The pilot in command had the controls. I split my attention between scanning the instruments and a continuous scan of the hasty LZ.  We entered our approach at a reasonable airspeed and altitude. As the PC started to slow our rate of closure, I noted our rotor RPM started to decrease. With every percent loss I would make a quick glance outside as I made my callout. My concern increased as the rotor RPM decreased. The ground was getting very close, very fast.

The low-rotor audio sounded at about 100 feet above ground level and we were still coming in hot. I braced for what I thought would be a very hard landing. As the PC reduced collective to get back the rotor, the aircraft entered IGE (in ground effect). The last-second cushion made for one of the best landings I have ever experienced in a Black Hawk. The slight slope of the terrain and our landing profile merged for a perfect simultaneous three-wheeled landing. We were down and safe. We waved over the troops to unload the speedballs. Fortunately, our takeoff was far less eventful since we were now 3,000 pounds lighter.

The training we had invested prior to deployment for the power management issues we expected to encounter in Afghanistan was time well spent. We practiced how to calculate zero-fuel weight and use tabular data on every training mission. Being proficient in recognizing the limitations to performance at high altitudes and high temperatures was and is the difference between a good landing or a bad day.

  • 1 June 2016
  • Author: Army Safety
  • Number of views: 1216
  • Comments: 0
Categories: On-DutyAviation