If You Aren't Sure, Ask
CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 3 FERNAND MUFFOLETTO
Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia
Every year, the 10th Mountain Division celebrates its history and heritage with an event called Mountain Fest. The event features organized sports and a division run and culminates with a festival with games, food and a live concert. The military portion of the festival is a salute to the nation, followed by a mock tactical assault. The assault is our way of showing the 10th Mountain’s ability at conducting asymmetrical operations and the division’s ability to perform ground and air integration to fight our nation’s wars.
Before this assault took place, part of the risk mitigation was to conduct several rehearsals. Kiowa Warriors conducted close-combat attack in support of two Chinooks delivering two howitzers to support four Black Hawks as they inserted a platoon of infantry to raid a mock village. My part of this operation was being the pilot in command of the lead Kiowa. We conducted the first of two rehearsals with no issues and departed the objective for refueling. As flight lead, we called tower and requested a right base for Buffalo (which was our hot refuel location). We landed at Hot Pad 1 and conducted our after-landing checks and then hot refuel checks. When the checks were complete, I gave the petroleum supply specialists the go-ahead to start refueling.
As they connected the nozzle to our fuel port, I gave the hand and arm signal that we were taking fuel, and the petroleum supply specialist acknowledged. Shortly after, I looked over my right shoulder and saw fuel spraying from the area where the nozzle would be connected to the fuel port, so I immediately conducted an emergency shutdown. When the emergency procedure was complete, I told the co-pilot I was getting out of the Kiowa to see how much fuel sprayed on the aircraft. After assessing the situation, I then asked the petroleum supply specialist to get the spill kit so we could wipe down the aircraft.
Knowing that we still had one more rehearsal to complete, I helped the petroleum supply specialist wipe down the aircraft. After the specialist gave me the thumbs up and we couldn’t do any more cleanup at the refuel point, I decided to start the aircraft and continue the mission. Following engine start, I called the air mission commander and rejoined them for the second iteration of the rehearsal. It went off with no issues and we landed when the mission was complete.
Back at the hangar, our company maintenance test pilot asked me if I received clearance to take off after the aircraft was splashed with fuel. I said I had not, but I made the call as the PC to finish the mission. We then conducted a hot wash to talk about what we could have done better.
The battalion safety officer told me there was no standard operating procedure explaining follow-up actions for fuel splashes. He said the smart thing to do would have been to contact a safety officer and ask for guidance. As the PC, I should have called and talked to my company safety representative about the who, what, when, where and why of the incident.
Upon being further educated on why we need to get the aircraft back to the hangar immediately after an incident involving spilled fuel, it was brought to my attention that the fuel will corrode the fiberglass and sheet metal of the aircraft, weakening it. The aircraft needs to be washed as soon as possible following the incident. I learned an important lesson that day: If you aren’t sure about something, ask.