Grace Under Pressure
I had arrived in country fresh out of flight school and this was my 12th mission. I was very green at Readiness Level 2 and still having to fly with an instructor pilot while learning the mission as fast as possible. This flight was a night mission in direct support of a security force patrolling Khan Bani Saad, Iraq, a small town just north of Baghdad that had flared up in recent weeks with heavy fighting and violence.
Everything was going as planned the first couple of hours of the mission. It was a quiet night. We were going to return to base in about 30 minutes when our AH-64A began to have violent, uncommanded control inputs. My pilot in command performed the emergency procedure as published, releasing the digital automatic stabilization equipment. However, the violent control inputs did not stop. Without hesitation, my PC decided to land the aircraft in the first suitable landing area, a big field just below us. The only problem was it was in the middle of Khan Bani Saad.
At this point, my heart was racing. Here I was, a new warrant officer, about to make a precautionary landing outside the wire. I thought this was it. I just knew that as soon as we touched down, the bad guys would come rushing us. My PC was as cool as a cucumber the whole time; me, not so much. When he got the aircraft on the ground, he said, “What I want you to do is take your M4 and lock and load.” Little did he know I was already there. While he was remaining calm and landing the aircraft, I was grabbing my M4 and getting ready for battle. I was fired up and prepared for whatever. I said, “I’ve got the left side, you take the right!”
We were in constant communication with our wingman, and they were in communication with the security force on the ground. Luckily, we landed pretty close to the ground unit on patrol. Our wingman immediately began talking them to our location. They were on their way, but in the meantime, we were by ourselves on the ground, in a populated and hot area outside the wire. I was on pins and needles; my PC, still super cool. At least we had our wingman watching us from above.
What seemed like an eternity was probably about 15 minutes when the ground forces arrived and set up a perimeter. We were still in the aircraft and I wanted to stay on the 30 mm just in case. Two ground guys walked up as if nothing was wrong. They were talking and smoking as if it was OK to be on the ground outside the wire. I quickly told them to keep it down. They thought it was funny. I couldn’t understand how they could be so calm because for an aviator like me, the only time I wanted to be on the ground was inside the wire.
We finally got out of the aircraft to wait on the downed aircraft recovery team. The two ground guys and my PC were talking and hanging out while I was pulling security. I still had my helmet and night vision goggles on, waiting for the enemy. I finally settled down after a couple hours. That’s right, hours. It took the DART team four hours to come and get us. But that is a story for another time.
Thankfully, we made it home safely that night. At first, I wasn’t so sure. Thanks goes to my outstanding PC for staying cool under pressure and making good decisions as well as our wingman for staying with us to coordinate relief on station while they went to refuel and then returning to cover us until we were picked up. All aviators appreciate ground units who arrive quickly to provide aid. My hat goes off to all the Soldiers who served or serve on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan.