CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 2 DAVID BEAUMONT
All of us, at one time or another, have experienced driving down the road with a dirty windshield. A quick stop at a gas station to clean it and then we’re back on our way. If only it were that simple in aviation. Here is my story about a painful lesson in making sure (or not) my canopy is clean before takeoff.
It was another mission in Iraq in which we departed early in the morning, before sunrise, and returned later in the day. On preflight I noticed the canopy had not been cleaned from the previous mission. I notified the crew chief and finished my preflight preparations. The crew chief went back to get some window-cleaning supplies and, while he was gone, ran into the oncoming shift. The oncoming crew chief returned as we were preparing our final walk-around. The dirty canopy was forgotten in shift change and, by this time, my mind was on other things.
Run-up was completed, my FLIR was optimized and we were ready to go. Neither I nor my co-pilot/gunner realized the canopy was still dirty. I’m sure the crew chief who knew it needed cleaning was back in his room by now. I might have caught the situation had I adjusted my night vision goggles inside the cockpit, but I had donned them after preflight and adjusted them before setting up my cockpit.
We took off and completed the first half of our mission. During the second half, the horizon began to get lighter. Before the sun actually broke over the horizon, the ambient light was sufficient for me to turn off the night system. It is at that moment I realized I had not ensured the canopy was cleaned. It was difficult to see through all the splattered bugs, dirt and grime that coated it. I knew the flight was only going to get worse when the sun became visible.
We were flying in spread formation at this point, so keeping my wingman in sight wasn’t a problem. Looking for traffic over congested Baghdad airspace was more difficult. Every turn that pointed us to the east was painful. I found myself putting the aircraft out of trim to avoid needing to look straight forward. After more than an hour of squinting and struggling to see what was out there and where we were going, the mission was finally completed.
This flight ended without incident and, while the story might seem anticlimactic, an important lesson was learned. A simple dirty canopy increased pilot workload exponentially. Concentration was stripped away from flying and the mission at hand to try and make out what was on the other side of that canopy. An obstacle could have been easily missed and caused an accident. Free lesson: Ensure canopies are clean, both inside and outside. It is a simple task that isn’t really given much thought, but it will be a big stressor the day it’s forgotten.