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Crime and Punishment

Crime and Punishment
Company B, 3rd Battalion,
238th Aviation Regiment General Support Aviation Battalion
Ohio Army National Guard
Green, Ohio

I think every pilot has a story to share about something foolish they did as a young aviator. Most of us are now older and wiser and might not want to mention some of the things we did in the past. I, however, see value in sharing these mistakes in hopes of preventing it from happening to another aviator. Here’s one of those stories.

The first time I went to the field as an aviator, the commander assigned me a convoy cover mission. I had maybe five hours of pilot in command time in an OH-58. Back then, you were the only pilot in the aircraft, and an enlisted observer — who may or may not have had formal training — went with you.

The morning started off well. I hit the first forward arming and refueling point, refueled, departed and was eagerly scanning the convoy for any problems. My relief was supposed to be on station soon, but I hadn’t heard from him. I noted my fuel and calculated the time to the next FARP. On paper everything looked good. That’s when Murphy started to show up. I was supposed to have a face-to-face with my relief, but I’d reached my low fuel status and headed north. I was able to reach my relief on the radio and thought I had done my job well.
As I was heading north, I computed groundspeed (no GPS) and calculated fuel, time and distance to the FARP. The wind direction and speed had changed and the numbers weren’t looking good. To compound matters, ceilings and visibilities were dropping. You’ve got to love Murphy.

As my 20-minute (fuel remaining) warning light came on, I had a sinking feeling. I was in an unfamiliar aerodrome, inexperienced and not sure what to do. Twelve minutes into my 20-minute warning, I asked for special visual flight rule clearance into the aerodrome. I landed and completed the shutdown without incident.

When petroleum, oil and lubricant personnel refueled the aircraft, it took 68 gallons. In an OH-58, the fuel capacity is 71.5 gallons, of which, only 70.5 is usable. Basically, I landed with three to five minutes of fuel. Was it legal? Yes. Was it smart? Not at all. The POL crew recorded that I had taken 65 gallons of fuel and warned me not to tell anyone how close I had come to running out.  

Being the honest warrant officer that I was, I confessed my sin to the company commander. I am not sure what I thought was going to happen, but this was the result — I lost my PC orders for a year and was labeled a high-risk aviator. Needless to say, I was upset. As a result of my punishment, other young aviators committed a variety of rule violations but never said a word to anyone.

Here is my beef with the whole situation. I had sat around flight planning operations for a year or so listening to aviators tell their war stories. Many of these stories included details that could have easily resulted in an aircraft accident. One of the biggest offenders happened to be none other than my company commander, who had disciplined me for my actions. He regaled us with his stories, such as being at 14,000 feet and, for no reason, deciding to change seats. He was also the only person in the unit to have had an accident, a blade strike.

So, should have I been punished for my indiscretion? Absolutely — but let’s look at the command climate. It was obvious a cowboy mentality existed. Those who took risks and survived were hailed as heroes and were expected to share their stories with all.

Fortunately, in my 20 years of aviation without an accident, a lot has changed. I recently heard about a young aviator doing high-speed low approaches. He was flying down runways at 20 feet altitude at 140 knots. When I got the chance, I talked to him about his actions. I explained that while what he was doing was legal, it was not very bright. I asked him what would have happened if he’d had a hydraulic failure or any other problem while in that position. He hadn’t really thought about it, and I saw a light bulb come on.

As aviators, we are exposed to risk almost every day. What we do to mitigate those risks is what makes us old aviators.

  • 1 December 2014
  • Author: Army Safety
  • Number of views: 10445
  • Comments: 0