RETIRED CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 3 WILLIAM L. DELAIGLE JR.
When my unit was deployed to Iraq, we stayed busy maintaining the flying tempo to meet mission requirements. Looking back, danger was lurking behind every corner. We faced the threat of being shot down, dust storms, fatigue and, of course, our own Type A personalities. Crew mix, we knew, could also be a problem.
At that point in the war, we were thrilled to finally have control of all our aircraft, and everyone was present for duty. I flew with a pilot I had known in training and we had about 1,100 hours between us, if you counted our simulator time. I suppose we were already pushing the envelope a little with the crew mix of the entire flight, coupled with the fact that we were in a country where we were the target. However, the mission I’m talking about seemed easy enough. We were to just pick up pallets of wood and transport them farther north.
We started mid-morning but were hampered by a dust storm farther north. Finally, later that afternoon, we proceeded. Our first five attempts to pick up the load from different directions were unsuccessful. But we eventually made the pickup and proceeded to the holding area, where Chalk 2 joined us about 15 minutes later. We conducted a fuel check and moved on with the mission.
My co-pilot and I had about 50 combat hours in Iraq by now, and we had learned it wasn’t unusual to fly in dust storms — especially the ones where the visibility was supposed to be good. We discovered, however, that visibility of 500 feet vertical and two miles horizontal can quickly become 0/0 in the desert. Add a slingload swinging 40 feet below us and you get the picture of what we faced.
Slingloads don’t land well in the desert, but we did get it on the ground safely with some forward speed, which flipped the cargo. We are lucky it was just wood and sand bags. As a crew, we learned how more variables coming into a situation make it harder for everyone. My stick buddy and I had performed several missions in-country together before that day, and we worked well together as a team during this incident. Crew mix is a critical component of mission planning.
Looking back on the events, we not only had the envelope loaded, but the adhesive was wet. It was only by the grace of God we didn’t seal it. Remember that all missions are different, no matter how similar they may seem, and variables only add to the situation.