RETIRED CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 3 RODNEY KEY
III Corps, B Troop, 158th Aviation
Fort Hood, Texas
It was a standard Wednesday morning training flight. We planned, did the preflight and prepared to fly. After run-up, we took off and rerouted to the training areas where we did some low-level training (i.e., land navigation and tactical landings). We completed the flight without thinking about the risks we felt when we started our flying careers.
While we operate on these ranges to learn how to stay alive on the battlefield, why, as experienced aviators, do we not fear these activities? I recall that I was scared to death the first time I had to fly low level or punch into the clouds at 400 feet. Now, with experience, I have no issues taking the new W1 out on a training flight and showing him these maneuvers. Have the risks really changed?
There is a psychological term called “risk homeostasis,” first researched by Gerald Wilde. Wilde said, “Humans behave in such a way that if risk is identified in a given system, and is reduced by design, then a compensatory increase in risk-taking will occur somewhere else in the system.” I interpret this is as: If we teach aviators to fly to the limits of the aircraft, while staying inside their standards, the aviator will find a way to create the feeling of “that was fun.”
The best example of risk homeostasis is the most risky thing we do every single day — driving. Most people believe they live safe lives and may not worry about getting into a car to drive. In this day and age, we drive everywhere. Unfortunately, many of us are unable to see why it is so dangerous.
The Army has put so many controls on aviators through aircrew training manuals, risk matrixes and briefing procedures that it might give a pilot a false sense of security that this is a low-risk mission or a “I have done this a hundred times, so I will be just fine” mentality. The scared feeling you experience the first time is a natural reaction to a dangerous situation. While we may become desensitized to these situations, the risk is still very real.
As aviators, we need to continue to evaluate our surroundings and look for additional hazards. These hazards can be major changes like thunderstorms approaching or minor and more difficult to see like a new set of wires on the ridge line. While we are very good at most of this, there is one area I believe we need more work — training the up-and-coming aviators to see those changes so they can pass these valuable skills down the line. Real-world operations push the limits of people and equipment. It is a tragedy to lose aviation professionals to needless and preventable accidents.