CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 4 TOMMY MCCOIN
B Company, 1st Battalion (General Support),
214th Aviation Regiment
Complacency is one of the most common contributors to aviation accidents and, being a senior aviator, I guess I am as guilty as the next. The following story was, thankfully, my wake-up call.
While prepping for a night vision goggle flight, I was paired with a fairly inexperienced crew. The pilot in command for the mission was recently frocked on goggles and this was to be his first flight as a PC. We were sharing the period with a minimum-time pilot who was Readiness Level 1 in goggles but was considered on the fast track for PC himself.
During planning, the PI requested he be allowed to pilot first so he could work on his start-up procedures. I had more than enough confidence in the new PC that I thought of no reason this should be a problem. Start up and following traffic patterns went smoothly, and soon we transitioned to the local training area. I was in the jump seat and the two younger guys were up front. After a short time working on various aircrew training manual tasks, we decided to practice slingload operations.
We landed near the load and discussed what we wanted to accomplish while we were waiting for the nonrated crewmembers to set up the load. After the flight engineer returned to the aircraft, we conducted the slingload briefing and set up to work it. We were in the summer months and noticed the grass in this particular landing zone was extremely tall due to the wet spring weather.
While positioning for the load, I noticed the new PC was having a little difficulty with his hovering. I made a comment about this and asked if maybe we should do some elevator drills. The PC said he was okay and would work through it. Again, he was a new PC and I did not want to undermine his confidence, so I continued to monitor the situation.
Now we get to the point of my story. During the hook-up phase of the slingload operations, proper checks and aircrew training-enhanced procedures are required. One of the checks is to arm the master hook. Even though this check was verbalized, it was not verified. Normally, the pilot not on the controls is responsible for arming the hook. But the check was called while still on the ground when the PI had the controls briefly as the PC adjusted his goggles. The PC, who was nervous about picking up a load for the first time under NVG conditions, failed to verify the master hook was armed.
We repositioned the aircraft above the load while the flight engineer attempted to secure it with the harness. In a CH-47 Chinook, the FE hangs upside down and uses a Sheppard hook to reach out to the cargo hatch, snag the sling, then bring it up so that he can grab it and connect it to the cargo hook. At this point, I noticed that while the PC was having a rough time hovering, he was still holding within the parameters. After hookup, while trying to bring the slings tight, the FE called out that the aircraft was drifting excessively. While trying to recover and settle down, the PC stated that he had it under control. This lasted just a short time before the aircraft began drifting again.
The PC had enough and pressed the button to release the load. The FE then replied that the load had not released. The PC directed the PI to hit the release button — again without success. The FE was about to pull the emergency release when I called a hold, and, from the jump seat, I reached up and placed the cargo hook switch to the armed position and told the PC to try again. This time we were able to release the load.
So lessons learned: verify, verify, verify. Don’t become complacent, no matter what seat or position you are in the aircraft. Even though this scenario did increase the pucker factor, the aircraft was not in danger. The FE had the option to pull the emergency release if things got out of hand. The requirement to verify the proper switch has been placed into the proper position is critical, especially under NVGs.