CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 2 KEVIN HARMS
1-1 Attack Reconnaissance Battalion
Fort Riley, Kansas
While assigned to a 12-hour quick-reaction force shift in RC-South, Afghanistan, my team prepped their assigned AH-64D as part of the attack weapons team. I was assigned run-up duty for the backup aircraft, which included preflight, run-up, communications and mission equipment checks to ensure they were fully mission capable.
Run-up went as usual; all of the aircraft were FMC and ready for the day. During the team brief, the crews went over a training mission that was to be conducted with a ground force commander to practice joint tactical controller techniques. It was a senior crew mix for the day. Lead would have a senior field grade and CW3 AMSO, while trail would have a CW2 instructor pilot and a CW2 who was a pilot in command candidate. Each pilot had a minimum of 700 hours, as well as gunnery and previous live engagements during the deployment.
Our battalion assigned the company the task of completing aerial gunnery during the deployment to alleviate the requirement of having to complete aerial gunnery qualifications within six months of returning to home station. The task force was more than five months into a nine-month rotation. The lead aircraft was not combat crewed for gunnery and was not participating in a graded capacity. The trail aircraft was combat crewed, so it was decided that they would complete some day engagements during the training event. The AWT launched as normal and set off on their training mission.
Upon return from their mission, the company commander and I were watching the AWT roll back into the parking area. We noticed the trail aircraft was missing a missile from the standard two-missile configuration. My commander was curious and went straight to the trail aircraft after shutdown. Apparently, they had accidentally fired a missile during their simulated remote Hellfire engagement.
Trail had the IP flying from the co-pilot-gunner station while the junior CW2 PC candidate was flying from the pilot station. Everything was going as usual, practicing good techniques and placing effective rounds on target. Then came time for the simulated remote Hellfire engagement.
As any Apache pilot knows, remote Hellfire engagements involve a long and cumbersome script. Lead had the script for the engagement on board and was responsible for acting as the ground force commander for this particular engagement. Lead was reading it slower than anticipated, which caused the trail CPG, who was also the PC, to become more focused on ensuring the aircraft was in a good position. Overloaded when it came time to simulate firing the missile, natural instinct took over and his left hand went directly for the trigger. The missile left the rail and headed straight for the mountain ahead.
Luckily, they had a few things going for them that day. Their preplanned training area had been chosen on the side of an unpopulated mountain within 10 miles of the forward operations base. The ground force would be located about 2-3 miles to the south of the impact area. Also, the mountain that was planned as a back stop for all fires worked perfectly in catching the errant missile.
The IP was grounded until completion of the investigation. He was back up about a month later. He has shared his lessons learned with the fellow pilots in our battalion and served as an example that even an experienced instructor can make mistakes. As an old instructor once told me, “We are in a mistake-making business,” which still rings in my heart today. We must remember that people before us made mistakes to help us be the aviators we are today. That mountain I may never see again will always be a lesson for me and all members of my unit.