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A Dangerous Combination

A Dangerous Combination


Fatigue, minor errors and simple miscommunication is a dangerous combination. I know because it happened to me and could have resulted in a midair accident.

It was a relatively calm, near-zero-illumination night over Baghdad. I was an AH-64D pilot working in a team of two aircraft performing a ground over-watch mission. Not much was happening on the ground over the two hours our flight had been operating at 800 feet altitude. The mission was wrapping up and we began discussing our next destination before refueling. I was flying front seat with a medium-time pilot in command. Our wing was a high-time PC with about 4,000 hours who was also our new company commander.

We broke station with the ground element, and our company commander, who was the air mission commander, decided we would head north to Camp Taji to refuel. It was about 2 a.m. and we were heading in the wrong direction when we heard his radio transmission, “Tact turn right,” come across the radio from the lead aircraft. A tact turn, or tactical turn, is a method of turn coordination between two aircraft in flight. When a flight of two aircraft wants a turn in a certain direction — for example, to the right — the aircraft on that side will continue forward. The opposite-side aircraft would begin the turn to the right and, after calling the tail, the aircraft on the right begins his turn.

This maneuver doesn’t require much training and helps aircraft crews develop a sense of the location of the other aircraft. We had practiced and performed this maneuver before and understood how the procedure was supposed to work. Unfortunately, just the opposite happened.

I heard the “tact turn right” call and replied, “Roger, coming right.” I began my turn to the right and, as I looked right, realized my sister ship had started a left turn and was heading directly at us. My initial response was to increase the collective and apply more than a generous amount of aft cyclic. A reminder then came from the backseat — “Watch your torque.”

Our aircraft torque approached 98 percent and I lowered the collective in time to see our sister ship pass below us with little room to spare. We maneuvered to take up a trail position with the standard 200 feet of vertical separation. It was very quiet. After two minutes of radio silence, we heard our wing aircraft’s radio call: “Sorry, guys. I guess what I meant was tact turn left.” We replied, “Roger,” and how, in addition to fuel, we also needed fresh pairs of shorts. We all were able to laugh about it, but this incident could have been much more serious.

Looking back, I realize just how close we came to disaster. Sometimes, fatigue can cause minor errors that can’t be eliminated by training. There is no tactic to combat a simple miscommunication. Our error could have caused a midair accident.

  • 1 August 2015
  • Author: Army Safety
  • Number of views: 10486
  • Comments: 0