A Torch to Carry
NAME WITHHELD BY REQUEST
“Two to fly. Systems, you good in the back?” As a junior aviator, statements like this were commonplace in my cockpit but never resulted in an incident or mishap. As a unit trainer, I taught this technique without reprisal or correction from my seniors. As a student at the instructor pilot (IP) course, however, I said it for the last time. Here’s what happened.
It was my first flight as an IP course student with about five aviation years under my belt. The standardization instructor pilot (SP) trainer heard me use the statement, along with other technique-laden callouts and abbreviations, as I proceeded to start the Black Hawk with speed and proud precision. He’d had enough.
After a brief professional scolding, I was instructed to shut down the aircraft. I then received another barrage of instruction about how I started the aircraft. I thought to myself, “What is he trying to sell me and why is it more important than flying?” After we got back to the table, I was introduced to a philosophy that fundamentally changed the way I thought about crew coordination. It helped set the foundation for professional discipline in my cockpit.
The SP read Army Regulation 95-1, paragraph 2-5b, which states: “Operator and crewmember checklists will be used for preflight through before-leaving aircraft checks. While airborne, when time does not permit use of the checklist or when its use would cause a safety hazard, required checks may be accomplished from memory.” He then pointed out in Training Circular 3-04.33, Task 1024: “The crewmember reading the checklist will read the complete checklist item.” In the checklist, the correct before- takeoff check reads: “1. ENG POWER CONT levers – FLY. 2. Systems – Check. 3. Avionics - As required. 4. Crew, passengers, and mission equipment – Secure. 5. CMWS Crew Safety pin – Remove as required. 6. Auxillary fuel management panel – Set as required.”
He taught me that because time was not an issue, the aircraft was on the ground and I wasn’t in immediate danger, I should call out from the checklist. Although the discussion was a technical one, the major concern he addressed was not that a before-takeoff check needed to be read and said correctly to fly safely. It pointed to discipline. As fundamental as other Army competencies, the correct use of operator checklists promotes standardization. It demonstrates intrinsic and extrinsic discipline and lays a foundation for instructor credibility that enhances crew coordination.
Sometimes, while we’re under instruction or evaluation, we magically become different aviators. The nervousness, desire to excel, self-doubt and need to complete the task occasionally drives us to demonstrate more professional competence with better crew coordination. However, aviators conduct themselves the way they deem appropriate when unsupervised by an IP. Teaching this philosophy is ineffective unless crewmembers buy into it and change enduring negative behaviors. Trainers must teach and enforce fundamental discipline, and commanders must promote effective, rules-compliant programs.
This philosophy is a torch to carry. Instructors may find an amount of resistance for being too picky, too standardized or too “by the book.” Because learning is a change in behavior as a result of experience, it is a challenge to teach others rooted in primacy.
Many years have passed since I attended the IP course and I’ve grown as a trainer while holding positions of increasing influence. Developing better ways to sell the philosophy through measured persistence, leadership, social awareness and competence has been rewarding. I’ve observed that eventually a majority of personnel under my direction see beyond checklist use instruction, buy in and become more disciplined crewmembers overall.
That SP trainer years ago instilled in me qualities I still bring to trainees to this day. I internalized the philosophy, bought in and have found myself teaching it on nearly every flight since then.