A Minor Event?
CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 4 AARON T. KELLNER
Headquarters and Headquarters Company,
1/135th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion
Missouri Army National Guard
Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri
A while ago, while flying night vision systems (NVS), I did something that made me quite unhappy. I had recently completed the AH-64A Instructor Pilot (IP) Course at the Western Army Aviation Training Site outside of Tucson, Arizona, and was eager to get in a couple of additional flight training periods before heading off to a long, nonflying course. It had been almost two months since I’d flown at my home station and about that long since I had a backseat flight at night. In the Apache IP Course, most of the flying was performed from the front crew station.
That afternoon entailed a joint air attack training mission with local Air National Guard assets. I was crewed with a pilot in command during the afternoon, allowing me to reorient myself to the local area and the backseat. The plan was to turn around and fly with a junior pilot that evening on a day out/night return mission that would involve a standard local area flight scenario. We would next hit the local tactical training area, followed by one of our commonly used local airports, and then reverse our route and perform our tasks at night.
We departed our airfield after changing aircraft due to a maintenance issue and flew the route as intended with no issues. We hit the training area for some confined area approaches and low-level flight. Then we flew over to the airport, performing standard airfield maneuvers. We then “systemed up” and performed a few more approaches and landings.
NVS flying isn’t quite like riding a bicycle to me. Generally, when I haven’t flown under NVS for more than a week or two, I need a little time to warm up. That was the purpose of the airfield work. I could get my crosscheck going under NVS and gain my feel for the aircraft before heading out to the training area at night.
We flew the pattern for a while and decided, due to time considerations, that heading to the tactical training area was the best idea. My front-seater had the controls as we approached the tactical training area. Flying at about 1,200 feet above ground level (AGL) and 110 knots, I took the flight controls to facilitate a front-seat frequency change and radio call required upon entry into the training area.
After the radio call was complete, I initiated a slow descent to training area altitude. I reached down to change the UHF from an air traffic information service frequency back to a unit internal frequency. The cockpit lighting was inadequate and I fumbled for the preset switch, eventually having to look down to find it. I then looked to the other side of the cockpit for the lighting rheostat and back to the UHF preset after adjusting the lighting to make the frequency change.
At this time, I heard my front-seater say with a sense of urgency, “Do you have that rate of descent?” I brought my head to the 12 o’clock position and saw a rate of descent well over 1,000 feet per minute and an AGL altitude of less than 400 feet. “Yeah, I’ve got it,” I responded, keeping an even tone, trying to sound like I meant to induce the descent. I pulled out of the descent with plenty of altitude and no erratic control application and we continued the mission with no issues.
From the time of this minor event until this day, I have to wonder what could have happened. What if this wasn’t the first time we flew together and we were comfortable with each other’s flying? What if my front-seater was a little more timid and didn’t speak up, believing more in my abilities and judgment than her own? What if we didn’t do a full mission brief, emphasizing the free flow of aircraft and mission information? Perhaps I would have caught the descent in plenty of time. I probably would have … but maybe not. This very minor event could have turned into something much worse.