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Having a Plan

Having a Plan

Alpha Company, 2-158th Assault Helicopter Battalion
Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington

A fellow Army aviator once told me that after making pilot in command, it’s only a matter of time until a pilot scares you more than you’d like. For me, it was about four months after getting my PC orders. It came in the form of a near-miss with another aircraft in our formation. Like many events in aviation, you look back and learn many valuable lessons.

The event in question took place during a rotation at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California. My pilot and I were Chalk 2 in a flight of two conducting battlefield circulation for the brigade commander. I had a junior pilot in the left seat on the controls. We had just left a forward operating base with VIPs onboard and, as Chalk 2, I was in charge of radio calls for crossing phase lines and flight following while my PI was tasked with internal flight calls. I was also communicating with the ground unit from which we had just departed and had placed the pin for that radio in the down position to reduce some of my already heavy workload.

While my pin switch was down, the lead aircraft crew announced they had been directed to turn around to check a convoy we had just passed. I didn’t hear that call and there was never a discussion about the change over the internal communications system. The lead aircraft began a very slow left-hand turn as announced, and I had assumed they were just changing heading, not changing direction by 180 degrees.

We were staggered left off the lead though the PI on the controls had little experience in multiship flights. As a result, he was following at a larger than normal distance and stayed on the inside of the turn as the lead turned. The lead had nearly completed their course reversal by the time we were halfway through our turn. This put us into a converging flight path. The PI started to lose the lead aircraft under the nose and announced, “You have the controls.” I still had sight of the lead aircraft and immediately took the controls. Since we had closed so much ground between the two aircraft, it caused me to make an aggressive nose-up and right turn to avoid the lead aircraft. It was much closer than I had liked.

Looking back, there were a few things that we could have done differently as a crew and I could have done as a PC that would have prevented the situation. To me, it mostly came back to crew coordination and communication. After the mission, the crew discussed what had happened, hoping to learn from this situation. My PI learned to announce all actions to the crew and, when possible, move to the outside of a turn, especially a large turn. I now ensure my crew knows which radios I am monitoring, and if someone is not monitoring one, then ensure they know what I heard that may affect us. These are all things we brief; however, when the situation occurs, a crew needs to have a plan of action.

  • 1 July 2015
  • Author: Army Safety
  • Number of views: 9957
  • Comments: 0
Categories: On-DutyAviation