CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 2 STEVEN HANNA
Charlie Company, 2916th Aviation Battalion
Fort Irwin, California
My first aviation assignment out of flight school was at Fort Irwin, California, flying the UH-72 Lakota. One night, I was on a night vision goggle training flight with my company instructor pilot and two crew members. The IP was a very experienced NVG aviator who was trained at the High-Altitude Army Aviation Training Site in Gypsum, Colorado, and made it a point to demonstrate mountain flying and pinnacle operations. More so, he was known to be abrasive and temperamental in and out of the cockpit. Truthfully, no one wanted to fly with him.
Combat outposts on mountain pinnacles are used for observation points and located throughout the post’s training area. They usually are comprised of plywood shacks constructed from MRE boxes, sandbags and concertina wire. All of them present the potential for foreign object damage and landing area hazards.
After a low recon and briefing the escape routes, the IP began his visual meteorological conditions approach to demonstrate a pinnacle landing. I saw the usual dust and empty sandbags blowing up in the area at about 50 feet above ground level. Most importantly, I noticed a 4-by-8-foot sheet of plywood that was not secured, and he was intending to land near it. As the aircraft reached about 25 feet AGL, the plywood sheet began to wobble from the rotor wash. From my perspective, it appeared as if it was about to blow up and potentially shoot into the rotor system. I immediately called, “Go around!” but my IP continued his descent. Again, I called out for a go around. The IP acknowledged by saying, “Got it.”
By now, I could see the plywood hovering inches off the ground. Once the aircraft touched down, I tapped the IP on his shoulder and said, “I highly recommend a go around. Do you see that piece of plywood at your 10 o’clock, 20 feet?” He simply assured me that he saw it and not to worry. After calling go around twice, I considered taking over the controls and pulling power to get the aircraft out of that immediate danger, but I didn’t. Luckily, the piece of plywood fell back to the ground and no damage occurred to the aircraft.
Once the flight was over and post-flight complete, I spoke to the IP and made it very clear why I called for a go around and that I was shocked he didn’t react. As a low-time pilot, I understand how different experience levels create different comfort levels when conducting flight maneuvers. However, one thing that was instilled in me from day one was anyone can call a go around. I’ve heard and used the term “most conservative response” countless times. As a new PC flying with a senior aviator, I felt I made the right call and should have been taken seriously.
I’ve heard other pilots explain how dangerous it can be to kick up FOD while landing on hospital helipads and from dust landings. It becomes especially hazardous when operating in a dusty, mountainous environment in a power-limited aircraft in low-illumination conditions under NVG. As a new pilot in command, I stress the importance of safety in my crew briefs. My lesson learned from that experience is when a crew member calls a go around, do it!