You Have the Controls
NAME WITHHELD BY REQUEST
“You have the controls.” How many times have you heard that? How often do aviators pay attention to it, and under what conditions would it mean something to you? I’d challenge that statement should always mean something — no matter when it’s made. And it shouldn’t be made as a question, but rather a statement, as it is intended. So how do you respond when someone says, “You have the controls?” Here’s what happened to me.
I was a pilot in the front seat (you can guess in which aircraft) when the ol’ you-have-the-controls thing came up. Now, of course, hearing this should not have been much of an alarm because I had heard it so many times before. This time, however, was slightly different.
Here’s the scenario: I was participating as the gunner in a qualification range. I had made a few mistakes that evening but felt pretty good about my overall performance. The entire range normally lasts about 30 minutes and we were at the end. I was head down, looking at my next engagement, my helmet display unit not on my eye and my cyclic stowed. As I was typing in grid coordinates for a remote engagement, I hear the pilot in command say, “You have the controls!” At first, I was alarmed at the tone of his voice. I then realized I needed to do something, like take the controls!
Imagine it’s dark and you’re inside, looking at something not even close to aircraft flight symbology. So I did what I was told. I tried to take the controls and realized they weren’t where they were supposed to be. They were stowed! I didn’t have any flight symbology because my HDU was swung out of the way and my cockpit lighting was too high. I took the controls anyway — after locking up my cyclic — and tried to fly with the HDU swung out. I had to correct that situation fast. I let go of the collective, swung my HDU down and adjusted it the best I could with the limited amount of time I thought I had. My next mistake was I had turned the hold modes off because I was told by the PC to get forward airspeed. I was trying to make sense of what was going on while flying around when I was not prepared to do so.
We were in a small situation, and if one were to refer to Chapter 9 of the -10, it would be listed under emergencies. The PC had a pilot night vision system failure. To lose symbology in the blink of an eye can be pretty stressful, and the emergency procedure was not accomplished. Instead, the controls were handed over. To make matters worse, neither one of us noticed the weather (actually, more like fog) rolling in.
As I took the controls, turned off the hold modes and got forward airspeed, I became extremely disoriented. I did what I could to keep level and maintain altitude. I then brought up a flight page for better reference because the HDU was really disorienting me at this point. Then, wouldn’t you know it, my target acquisition and designation sight washed out completely white! Now I couldn’t see anything but flight symbology. I told the PC I was going instrument meteorological conditions, but he said to look for the ground lights of the tower and aim for them. I did, but all I saw was a glow through the fog. I started a climb to commit to IMC, leveled the wings and told the PC we were IMC.
It was a pretty bad situation to be in; backseat PNVS out, front seat disoriented from being inside for so long, cockpit lighting bright, HDU not on correctly — all while IMC. Well, as I was climbing to avoid contact with anything, the PC told me to stop, even though I was the one on the controls. I thought, “What? You have to be kidding! The ground is down there!” Since I wasn’t the PC and it wasn’t my call, I didn‘t climb anymore, nor did I commit to IMC. I was wrong on both occasions. For several minutes, we were flying in disarray when — POOF! — we broke out of the fog. We landed safely and never really discussed in great length what had just transpired.
I tell this story in hopes you will gain a little insight. First, there were several things that went wrong. The PC was wrong for not responding to the emergency properly, and I was pretty much wrong on everything else I had control over. Second, just because a PC tells you to do something doesn’t mean it’s the safest or smartest decision. Go with your training; do what you need to do to survive and keep your controls and your situation in the forefront of your mind. Finally, if you’re IMC — or even think you’re IMC — commit! Do yourself and your stick buddy a favor and live long enough to argue about what happened after you’ve landed safely.