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Along for the Ride

Along for the Ride
B Company, 1-171 Aviation Regiment
Wheeler Army Airfield
Schofield Barracks, Hawaii

I was tasked for a mission to insert personnel into a landing zone at 7,000 feet pressure altitude and a temperature of 30 C. We conducted a reconnaissance of the landing zone and determined the size, wind direction and approach path. Everything looked normal. As I started the approach for landing, things were going good until about the last 30 feet.

I knew we were heavy and, as I progressively brought in the power to terminate our approach, we suddenly began to drop. As I applied all power available, the rotor RPM started to droop and nothing was happening. I pushed the cyclic forward in an attempt to shallow out our angle and subsequently bounced the aircraft twice and skidded about 20 feet before coming to a rest. Nobody was hurt and the aircraft made it without a scratch; however, it scared the heck out of all of us. The last stages of this approach and landing were accomplished solely by my aircraft with minimal input from me. My passengers and I were just going along for the ride.

When operating any type of vehicle — whether it be a helicopter, tactical vehicle or even your own private motor vehicle — the term “along for the ride” means just that. You are in a situation where you have little or no control of that vehicle. This condition is most often self-induced or can occasionally be brought on by circumstances beyond your control. It is within our safety culture to identify and eliminate as many hazards as possible within our control, especially ones we create. In vehicle operations, we sometimes choose to ignore or forget that our habits are subject to complacency and can have unintended consequences.

In the incident above, it was subsequently found that we had incorrectly figured our weight, which ultimately affected the performance of the helicopter. I, as the pilot in command, had calculated the total weight of the aircraft and passengers and cargo incorrectly. I also had the co-pilot calculate our total weight but neglected to compare his numbers against mine because we were in a hurry. Besides, both of us had done this a bunch of times before, so it should be OK. Our complacency set us up for a situation we are both not going to easily forget. In this instance, our complacency had set us up to be going along for the ride. Fortunately, nobody was hurt.

Another incident occurred while I was driving home after visiting a friend to help him work on a project. It was a rainy day with a lot of standing water on the road. When I entered a wide turn exiting the freeway off ramp, my car suddenly started to skid and I lost control. Once again, I was only along for the ride and ended up smacking the barrier. I’m a good driver (or so I thought), but why did this happen? I used this ramp many times in both dry and rainy weather and nothing ever happened. Over time, I had neglected the posted speed limit and gradually ignored it, thinking I could handle the situation. This was once again a wakeup call. Getting comfortable and lazy had cost me, again.

Sometimes our habits and attitudes about our vehicles and operating environment lead us to feel we are always in control in any and all situations. We forget that we are all human and subject to making mistakes. Complacency can set in when we choose to ignore or forget the fact that operating any type of vehicle or performing a task can be inherently risky. We should be ever vigilant in the operational environment, whether we are on or off duty, and take steps to reduce or eliminate risk through self-assessment. Ask yourself if you are getting too comfortable with the situation and the vehicle you are operating. By doing this you can help identify a situation where you may be setting up yourself to be complacent.

My experiences have taught me to never take things for granted when operating a vehicle, whether it is a helicopter, boat or PMV. Being aware of complacency will ultimately reduce the chances of you going along for the ride. The payoff is that you will live to fly another day and your co-workers, friends and loved ones will see you again.
  • 1 August 2014
  • Author: Army Safety
  • Number of views: 10547
  • Comments: 0