Attention to Detail
GEORGE PHILLIPS III
We were in Iraq and there was a lot going on, to say the least. Everyone in the assault battalion was planning and looking for the next jump to some other dust- and sand-filled landing zone. Everything was fast-paced and very temporary, to include sleeping in the aircraft or on a cot beside it so you did not get run over or landed on in the night.
The dust was like talcum powder and getting into everything. After torching several aircraft engines because of the sand, we did everything we could to keep it out of the engine inlets. We did not have inlet filters installed when we deployed, which would have helped. Every takeoff and landing for three months was in the dust. That meant every time we shut down, we had to immediately install the fly-away gear.
One morning after waking from a nap, we had a mission. Our pilot in command went to get briefed while the crew chief and I started the preflight. We were about halfway finished when the PC arrived and said, “Let’s go! Just do the throughflight since we landed only four hours ago.” I protested to no avail. I was a new pilot still in progression, and he was a senior CW3 and the standardization instructor pilot!
Our problems started the night before when we lost the pitot cover. To keep the sand and dust out of it, the crew chief installed a homemade cover on the right-hand tube. It consisted of the outer wrapper of an MRE and some 100-mph tape. Yes, you can imagine how it looked. At least it was secure enough to resist the 40-knot wind speed. You will hear how next.
Since the MRE wrapper had no streamer and was partially blocked by the hydraulic deck cover, I didn’t notice it when I jumped into my right pilot seat. We completed our checklists and I was on the controls for a dusty takeoff. As we cleared the dust cloud, I pushed forward on the cyclic to transition to forward flight. Just as we were about to reach effective translational lift, there was a miscompare and the stabilator alarm sounded. After a power-on reset, the alarm went off again. It became quickly apparent what the problem was.
The pilot’s airspeed indicator was reading zero knots while the co-pilot’s airspeed indicator was reading 40 knots. About that time, our crew chief realized what had happened. I said we had a problem with the airspeed sensing system, and the crew chief asked me to look up through the green house. I saw the MRE cover on the pitot static tube and said, “Yep, that could be the issue!”
We found a safe place to land and took care of the problem. It became obvious that taping the MRE wrapper to the tube wasn’t a good idea. Had it come off in flight, it could have been pulled into the No. 2 engine inlet. Checklists are great, but attention to detail is just as important.