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The Human Factor

The Human Factor
8/229th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion
Fort Knox, Kentucky

(Author’s note: The names used in this article have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved in this incident.)

“Beat the heat” — those three words used to remind me of my early days in the military. Beating the heat could be the difference between life and death at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. However, this historic motivational quote took on a whole new meaning following what I consider to be the scariest moments of my deployment.

It all began in late February 2010 when I reported to the Apache Longbow course at Fort Rucker, Alabama. Before we even began classes, we had to prove we were ready. Each of us had to demonstrate an emergency procedures and limitations test to the instructor pilots. They didn’t even want to know our names until we proved to them we had learned Chapters 5 and 9 of the - 10. This was the importance placed on those two chapters of the Longbow’s manual. I was prepared and scored 100 out of 100. The training never slacked, and the IPs challenged us daily. I had received word my unit was scheduled for deployment immediately following my graduation and that was all the motivation I needed.

As scheduled, we deployed a month after I completed the training and returned to my unit. There was no fear. Chapters 5 and 9 were ingrained in my mind and I had all the confidence in the world. Little did I know that heat would cause the electrical systems of the aircraft to respond in ways not covered in the manual.

We were on a routine night mission over the friendly skies of Baghdad. I was the co-pilot gunner in the front seat and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Smith was the pilot in command in the back seat. Our company commander was the CPG in the trail aircraft.

Our aircraft unexpectedly bucked, the rotor spooled up and the audio warning system sounded off with, “Rotor RPM High, Rotor RPM High.” Smith and I knew from Chapter 9 that these were indications of an engine overspeed. He adjusted the collective and reduced the indicated power lever as directed by Chapter 9. This should have solved the problem, but it didn’t.

Instead, our “RPM High” was replaced with the dreaded “RPM Low.” We quickly brought the power lever back to fly as we entered an autorotational decent. “RPM Low” went away and was immediately followed by “Engine One Out.” Next, we received a call from our wingman asking why we had entered an unannounced rapid descent from 1,200 feet altitude. I quickly replied, “We’ve lost an engine and we’re turning back for base.” We called back to base, declared an emergency and cautiously flew the Longbow home.

This was by far the scariest 10 minutes of my life. This series of events wasn’t covered in school. No instructor had sat me down and said, “James, when it hits the fan, be ready to use your engineering mind. Things are going to happen that can’t be explained in Chapter 9.” Fear of the unknown was what worried me the most.

After hours of research and troubleshooting, we were told the heat made the electrical components do crazy things. My life changed that night. I lost faith in my aircraft. It was a strong reminder that it doesn’t matter how advanced they get because at the end of the day, it’s the human factor that keeps them in the air.

  • 1 September 2014
  • Author: Army Safety
  • Number of views: 10696
  • Comments: 0
Categories: On-DutyAviation
Tags: aviation