A Simple Mission
CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 3 JASON GREENE
601st Aviation Support Battalion, 1st Combat Aviation Brigade
Fort Riley, Kansas
It was another hot afternoon in the eastern part of Afghanistan known to many as RC-East, where the temperature can exceed 120 F in the summer. My unit was tasked with providing two CH-47D Chinook helicopters to transport 40 personnel from Kabul to Bagram Airfield. This was supposed to be a simple mission, but as everyone knows, there is no such thing.
Crew mixes were selected based on flight hours. I was the most junior pilot on the flight with about 400 hours. My pilot in command/air mission commander, who was a major, had more than 1,500 hours. The crewmembers in Chalk 2 were all experienced on the aircraft, one being the platoon sergeant/flight engineer, a squad leader/flight engineer, a very seasoned crew chief and the battalion flight surgeon, who was riding in the jump seat.
At about 1230, we headed to the aircraft to perform our pre-mission checks so we could accomplish a 1330 departure. At 1325, I gave Chalk 1 a radio call, and he called the tower for departure. Ten minutes into the flight and after frequency changing with tower, I announced to the crew I’d be inside performing a cruise check. We were flying at about 1,000 feet above ground level at 110 knots indicated airspeed.
One minute into my check, I felt the aircraft vibrating excessively. I immediately looked up and saw we were flying directly behind and a little bit lower than Chalk 1. Every pilot knows this is a big no-no when flying formation in any helicopter. Needless to say, I looked at the major and then the other aircraft two or three times. Then, as soon as I was about to ask him if he could go left or right, same level or higher, he made an input and the aft end of the Chinook swung around past the front.
I reached for the flight controls and tried to get the aircraft back under control. The aft end then went vertical where I could actually see the ground through the greenhouse windows. The inertia reels locked, preventing us from getting to the advanced flight control system control switch. We both fought on the controls for what seemed like minutes, but actually only about 15-20 seconds. When all was said and done, we’d managed to get the aircraft under control where we were facing the opposite direction of flight. I was then told to call Chalk 1 and inform them that we were returning to base because of possible flight control malfunction.
During the incident, the crew chief on the ramp was tossed out the back but managed to pull himself back in with his monkey tail. The FE at the right door — who wasn’t wearing his seat belt but had his monkey harness connected — was tossed into the heater closet, while the other FE on the left gun stayed restrained in his seat. One of the craziest things about this event was that Chalk 1 had a passenger onboard who was actually recording us but had turned off the camera just prior to the incident.
After we returned to Bagram, we had the maintenance test pilot check out the aircraft and he could not find anything wrong. There were no injuries, but because of this event, everyone onboard, including the flight surgeon, was done flying for the rotation. The incident was also reported up the chain, where some speculated that it was the winds off the mountains or just problems with the AFCS.
A couple of weeks after the investigation, a report came out stating that the integrated lower control arms weren’t getting enough voltage, which caused the system to perform erratically. To this day, I still think our position in reference to Chalk 1 played a part in the incident.