CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 3 STEPHEN GONIFAS
A Company, 1/376 AVN
Army Aviation Support Facility #1
Nebraska Army National Guard
Shortly after graduating flight school, I was tasked with assisting in ferrying two of our OH-58As from Nebraska to Fort Rucker, Ala. I was excited by the prospect of a cross-country flight with a pilot in command who was not an instructor pilot. I had recently made Readiness Level 2 and was eager to prove myself to the PCs in the unit.
To prepare for the trip, I brushed up on my emergency procedures, limits, airspace and aerodynamics, including dynamic rollover. The crew brief was as normal. I was paired with a PC who was one of the lowest-time PCs in the company, but I knew he was a safe pilot and looked forward to learning from him. I let him know this was one of my first flights without an IP. This did not seem to bother him, and I was encouraged by his faith in my abilities.
The first leg went by without any problems. I flew most of the way while the PC handled the navigation and radio calls. After getting a good lunch and stretching our legs, we headed out to the aircraft. The other crew had already untied their blade and was getting strapped in by the time we got out to our aircraft. I began to hurry so we would not be too far behind them after we cranked. I didn’t want the other more experienced pilots to think the warrant officer junior grade was holding them back.
We went through the checklist quickly, but did not rush it. By the time we were at 100 percent rotor revolutions per minute, the other crew was already hovering out to the runway. The PC did the before-takeoff check and made the radio calls while I started to pick up the aircraft.
At this point, I began to move more quickly than normal. Instead of taking my time, letting the aircraft get light on the skids and smoothly picking it up, I pulled in an armful of collective. I did not anticipate the change in center of gravity from the fuel we had brought on. The right skid picked up before the left and the aircraft surged to the left. I managed to get the aircraft airborne under control at a hover. The PC simply and calmly said, “Let’s not do that again!”
Although this incident did not end as a mishap, it very easily could have. We were on a pad at an airport with no other aircraft around us. Had there been another aircraft close to us, we could easily have run into it. Also, because we were on flat terrain, the left skid did not get stuck. The wind was relatively calm and from the 12 o’clock position. Had any of these conditions been different, we could have easily rolled over and destroyed the aircraft and possibly lost our lives.
I learned some valuable lessons from this experience. I never pick up an aircraft faster than I feel comfortable. This is especially true if the CG has changed for any reason such as taking on fuel or a passenger. As an infantryman, we had a saying that was drummed into our heads during Expert Infantry Badge testing: “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.” I would rather be embarrassed by taking too long than because I destroyed an aircraft. I do not go into any flight believing the IP or PC will bail me out if I can’t handle something. When I am at the controls, the aircraft is my responsibility. If I don’t feel comfortable, I go around or set the aircraft back down.