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Weathering the Storm

Weathering the Storm
B Company, 2-3 GSAB, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade
Hunter Army Airfield, Ga.

Day of Notification
On July 26, 2012, I received a call from the commander and was informed I had been tasked to be the pilot in command to assist 2-6 Cavalry in completing their requirement to move seven M113 armored personnel carriers into the Fort Stewart artillery impact area. Two days prior, I had completed the CH-47F transition. One would think I would have been a little nervous so soon after being introduced to a new aircraft, but I had done this type of mission many times. Additionally, my crew consisted of my standards pilot with 2,500 hours of flight time, a standards instructor with 3,000 hours and a 1,000-hour flight examiner. I was one of the low-time guys with 1,100 hours. I was notified on Friday that the mission would take place the following Monday.

Mission Day
I arrived to the hangar that Monday to prep for the flight. I checked the aircraft status, NOTAMS, flight plan, preflight time and weather. Everything was OK, except for the weather (strike one). It was 5:30 a.m., and the ceiling was forecasted broken at 600 feet at our departure/destination location and was scheduled to lift about 11 a.m. I called the unit we were supporting to tell them about the delay and that we would not arrive there at 9 a.m. as originally planned.

At this time, there was another bird/crew scheduled to fly a training flight, but they canceled due to the weather. We decided we would crank at 9:45 a.m. and take off as soon as the weather conditions improved. During the startup, we ran into some maintenance issues and had to jump another aircraft (strike two).

After moving to the other aircraft, we started engines and waited for Metro and tower to report favorable conditions. At 10:30 a.m., we received a call from Metro informing us the weather was broken at 1,200 and at 2,300 feet altitude, with rain showers forecast to arrive about 3 p.m. We were OK with that because we knew we would be back before then, so we took off.

Upon arrival at the pickup site, the weather was beautiful, not a cloud in the sky. We completed the work and the customer was pleased. After takeoff to return to base, it began to rain. Flying in rain isn’t a big issue. In Savannah, it rains quite often, so we were accustomed to flying in this type of weather.

As we flew farther east toward Hunter, I noticed the raindrops had become progressively larger, about the size of grapes (strike three). As the drops grew larger, the ceiling became lower. Weather that was 1000/3 quickly became 500/1. We immediately set up for an inadvertent instrument meteorological conditions scenario. Shortly afterward, the ceiling went to 200/½. I was familiar with the area and remembered there was a tower in our flight path ahead. Then the ceiling and visibility went to zero. We punched in. I told the other pilot to start climbing to avoid the tower. I immediately called Marne radio, then Hunter GCA to setup for a PAR.

I told GCA that I wanted to do the PAR into Hunter. GCA asked me if I saw my forward path. Confused, I realized why he asked the question. He thought I was a special ops aircraft and had weather radar onboard. I told him again my aircraft type and that I needed radar vectors for the PAR. He guided us around the storm and handed us off to the final controller whose voice I recognized. I’d trained with her many times, and her voice calmed the storm that had been building inside of me since we punched in.

On short final, she called us with, “On glide slope, on course, three miles from touchdown.” I controlled our heading while the other pilot controlled our rate of descent. Our radar altimeter read 500, 400 and then 380 feet when we punched out. Suddenly, the combining transmission caution light illuminated. We remained calm and continued down to decision height and called to say that we had the runway in sight. We thanked her, changed frequencies to Hunter tower and landed the aircraft.

Lessons Learned
The outcome of this flight could have been different had there been a different crew. It was a good thing that we had the SP and the SI on the mission. Additionally, we were forced to rely on the CAAS system of the CH-47F, which allowed me to see how well the system works in a real-life scenario. On a different note, I’ll think twice about trying to push into weather, especially when there isn’t a real need to do so. We could have pushed the mission to the next day, or the supported unit could have found another way to get the M113s moved. In all, I am glad to have experienced flying in that type of situation, but I hope to never have to go through it again.

  • 1 March 2014
  • Author: Army Safety
  • Number of views: 1458
  • Comments: 0