NAME WITHHELD BY REQUEST
Flying in a multiship formation into inadvertent instrument meteorological conditions can be a wakeup call to revisit tactics, techniques and procedures for your unit. The following incident led my unit to update its procedures.
Our troop planned a cross-country flight visit to the Barrett Factory in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, during a troop organization day and coordinated it with our S-3 operations office for clearance and approval. Most of us were former ground guys, so we were looking forward to touring the factory. We were especially excited to meet the legendary Ronnie Barrett, who designed the .50-caliber rifle used in the Army today.
The day before the flight, the pilots gathered to get together the mission products. Each of us had specific responsibilities we all rehearsed and briefed. The air mission commander was updated the next morning with the pertinent information needed for a standard cross-country flight. We had six aircraft for a one-hour, 10-minute flight. The crew chiefs would then ground convoy to the factory.
The crews received an updated weather brief, flew to an airport near our destination and shuttled over to the factory. All of us enjoyed the tour, which was followed by a meal at a great restaurant. When we headed back to the airport and prepared for the return flight, however, we received a report alerting us to inclement weather that would prevent our departure. The AMC made the proper coordination and we remained overnight.
The weather briefing the next morning showed things were still pretty marginal for our standards. We conducted a thorough air mission brief and reviewed our inadvertent instrument procedures. We departed the airport and contacted Nashville approach control. They advised us we were clear all the way to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, with a few clouds at 1,000 feet altitude. As the flight continued, we started encountering scattered clouds at about 800 feet.
At this point, the crews were more active on the radios. At a few points heading back, the aircraft in front of you would disappear and reappear. It was a very eerie feeling. The AMC with whom I was flying asked if I felt comfortable with the weather. I was a younger pilot, so, of course, I didn’t feel that comfortable with any of it! But I refused to admit that to him.
We continued the flight and determined it was not possible to head back. The lead aircraft recommended to the AMC that we should do something. The AMC told the flight to execute for IIMC.
Our IIMC tactical standard operating plan called for the lead aircraft to climb to the highest altitude posted and for each subsequent aircraft to stack down, with each aircraft turning right or left 10 degrees away from each chalk. However, the trail aircraft pilot in command said he was going to take his aircraft down to an open field west of our current position. This sounded like a great idea, so we all came around and landed in an open farmer’s field. We waited for the weather to dissipate and contacted ATC to advise them of our position relative to the airfield. Once the weather passed, we returned to base.
Our after-action review was the longest any of us had been through. Ultimately, with all the information discussed, we collectively came up with new tactics, techniques and procedures for our unit. It called for us to land if we have the option rather than conduct an IIMC break-up. We learned a lot following the incident that will serve our unit well in the future. Some of it was learned sitting in a farmer’s field.