Cleared for a Near Miss
CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 2 BENJAMINE HAKENSON
Author’s note: It should have been just another traffic pattern entry under night vision goggles to end the mission, but it ended up being a strong lesson for every member of the crew.
Our crew in the UH-60 Black Hawk was a good mix with a 1,100-hour night vision goggle (NVG) pilot in command (PC) in the left seat and myself, a 650-hour day/night PC acting as the pilot in the right seat. In the back-left seat was a fresh-out-of-progression crew chief, and in the back-right was a senior crew chief with more than 700 hours. The flight was the last leg of a combined day and NVG cross-country training mission. My crew was going into the 12th hour of our duty day and ready to be done. The PC tuned up the weather and contacted the tower to report home base was in sight. The flight thus far had been uneventful, but that was about to change.
I was on the controls and approaching our home airfield from the south. While monitoring the tower frequency, we could tell there were two other aircraft working the field as well. Both of them were CH-47 Chinooks doing hover work on opposite ends of the airfield. Air traffic control personnel told us to enter and report the left-midfield downwind leg for the active runway. As soon as I began the turn to enter the downwind, my PC made the entry call. Tower responded by saying, “Extend downwind, cleared to land number 2 following a C-130 on an eight-mile final for the ILS.” That seemed like a pretty standard call to me. The PC directed me to slow from 100 knots to 80, which I did. Both the PC and I had the C-130 in sight and he called tower to announce, “Traffic in sight.”
We were just past the midfield point, not quite abeam the numbers spread about one mile from the runway, when my senior crew chief on the right calmly made a call about a Chinook at our 3 o’clock, same altitude. I looked to my right and saw it. He was slightly to our rear, maybe a half-mile out and paralleling our course. I responded that I had the traffic in sight, refocused on the C-130 ahead and discounted the Chinook since he looked like he was exiting the area on a known route.
Just a few seconds later, my crew chief made another call about the Chinook, but his voice was audibly distressed, which was uncommon for him. The Chinook had turned, overtaken us and started a 90-degree turn directly toward us. It seemed like time started crawling as both my crew chief and I began talking more and more frantically. The Chinook just kept coming straight for us with no intention of altering course.
I announced to my PC my intention to climb and began pulling in collective. We all watched through our chin bubbles as that Chinook passed directly underneath us on some type of modified base leg. I did not have to make an evasive maneuver, but if I had not initiated a climb, this story would have been a Preliminary Loss Report instead of a Risk Management magazine article.
My PC made a call to tower asking about the Chinook. Tower responded that it was supposed to cross behind us and he was cleared for landing. That struck the whole crew as odd because we were No. 2 and the C-130 was still four miles out at this point. We continued behind the C-130. On short final, the tower amended our clearance to land on an abeam taxiway.
We took a few moments on the ground to settle down since both the right-seat crew chief and I were a bit shaken at this near-miss incident. The crew chief and I decided we’d had enough for the night and let the PC know it. The PC elected to continue the flight and this did not sit well with me. I told him again that I was done flying. He stated that the event was over, nothing was wrong and he would take the controls. He completed three more laps in the pattern so we could log our full six hours and reset goggles.
After we landed and shut down, our crew chief was fired up about the event that just occurred. He was also unhappy about the PC choosing to continue the flight after half the crew requested to head to parking and shut down. News of the event got back to the standardization pilot and wisdom was gained by everyone.