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Light the Way

Light the Way

B Company, 5th Aviation Battalion (P)
Fort Polk, Louisiana

In January 2014, 6-17 Cavalry deployed to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin to conduct a force-on-force training exercise. When we arrived, and before the rotation started, my troop received all required training such as environmental and dust qualification. Since this NTC rotation was a force-on-force exercise, it would require our squadron/troop to operate in tactical assembly areas out in the field rather than AT hard-stand structures normally found in the asymmetrical warfare rotations.

When we prepared to move to a new TAA, all the right procedures seemed to be in place. We performed a map and photo recon of the new area. Quartering parties also went ahead of the main body to confirm the suitability and surface conditions of the new TAA to facilitate operations of a squadron of Kiowa Warriors.

During the daytime, everything from the parking plan to the forward area refueling point was sufficient, but the real learning point was during night operations. Throughout our rotation, we were operating under low illumination conditions. Anyone who has flown in these conditions at NTC knows there are areas of low contrast that make it hard to distinguish reference points during takeoffs and landings due to that low illumination, NVG scintillation, instrumentation glare on the windscreen and brownouts.

During the first few night operations, we quickly learned that since we were not landing on an improved surface, we needed to put chem lights on each landing point for aircraft parking and for using the FARP. We ensured the chem lights were secured to a fixed object or the ground so they could not roll under rotor wash and give the illusion that the helicopter was drifting, possibly causing the pilot to fixate on the rolling chem light and follow it into an obstacle.

It was important to coordinate with FARP personnel to establish predetermined spots on the FARP pad to place the chem lights. During dust landings, this allowed the aircrew to maintain situation awareness of all obstacles within the FARP such as grounding rods and drip pans. If there is no standard for a reference light placement within parking areas or FARPs, the pilots could possibly mistake one landing light array for another and become spatially disoriented under brownout conditions, resulting in personal injury/death or damage/destruction of equipment.

Based on our experiences, I suggest, when possible, the use of infrared beanbag lights or secured IR chem lights within the TAA when operating in areas of low contrast and low illumination. The light is visible through the dust cloud under NVGs and allows the aircrew to keep a good reference throughout the landing when other references are temporarily lost.

  • 25 April 2016
  • Author: Army Safety
  • Number of views: 1181
  • Comments: 0