CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 3 NICHOLAS C. FELIX
It was the beginning of another routine daytime mission. Get some gas and bullets and go fly around for four hours. I was the pilot in command of the lead OH-58D that day. Being fairly new at the PC thing, I preferred to do things a bit slowly. All (some) factors considered, I chose to depart with a right quartering headwind. We were set-right-stack-left and ready to roll, but, as expected, a Black Hawk at my 5 o’clock exercised its liberty and took off from its position at the fuel point.
Operating an OH-58D on an airfield is a little like driving a motorcycle in traffic. You have to understand the other operators won’t see you and are always trying to kill you. So, I knew this. Instead of taking off immediately, I set down to let the Black Hawk take off. It did the usual vertical takeoff with a pedal turn into the wind. No big deal. I called tower and requested takeoff clearance while I watched the Black Hawk fly up, up and away to the right. Now cleared for takeoff with trail set to my left, it was time to go.
As the Black Hawk climbed away, I braced for the rotor wash. A little breeze went by, so, figuring the threat had passed, I pulled some pitch. Keeping an eye on the Black Hawk, it turned again, nearly reversing course. No worries; our flight paths were well separated, so I continued. Just as the skids got light, the full brunt of the Black Hawk’s rotor wash hit on my right side, along with the right quartering head wind. There was a pivot point — the left skid — and a rolling motion. But, luckily, at some point prior to the critical angle, we became airborne. Still, this was not a good situation. I pegged the cyclic into my right leg, but the world was sideways and my trail aircraft was getting closer, fast. The left-seater was braced for the crash.
I’ve been blown around by Black Hawks and Chinooks, and when you run out of cyclic there is one other control to which you can turn. So, like I’d done before, when the cyclic wasn’t quite cutting it, I pulled a bunch of collective. That worked quite well. We rolled back to the right real fast, which was just fine with me. The swinging soon stopped, but the shaking continued. That was a close call! What started as a routine day turned into anything but, and it proved to me once again that when you’re flying a helicopter, always be ready for the unexpected.