Whos Flying the Aircraft?
CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 2 ADAM EPLEY
1st Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment
Fort Bragg, North Carolina
I showed up at my first assignment as an aviator right as we were headed out the door for a deployment in Regional Command East. I was excited and nervous. My Readiness Level 3 to 2 progression took two flights and suddenly I was flying combat missions with my troop standardization pilot (SP). Flight school had given me just enough experience to make me dangerous, so there were good days where I was nearly competent, and bad days where I was a liability in the cockpit.
Our SP and commander decided the best place for me was on one of our night shifts at a time of day when the enemy was less active, allowing me to get more experience before throwing me into the fray. It was on one of these early morning flights that I nearly killed us.
We were departing a forward arming and refueling point. I was in the left seat, doing my best to run the mast-mounted sight, when appropriate, and trying to change radios when needed. My SP needed to adjust his goggles and transferred the controls. Now I was flying, brand new, almost zero illumination.
Our trail aircraft was talking with our SP about what our plan was for the rest of the mission when his floor mic got stuck. He couldn’t stop transmitting, so he was in the right seat, stomping on the floor and trying to fix the problem. We climbed out of the departure end when trail came over our alternate internal radio frequency, asking if everything was all right. I reached forward to change my radio, but not having much experience flying in a full kit, the body armor and magazines I had strapped to my chest pushed the cyclic forward, so much that I put us in a 500-foot-per-minute rate of descent.
My SP realized what I'd done and yanked back on the cyclic, arresting the descent. I released the controls, thinking he'd taken them back, even though we hadn't positively transferred them. At this point, no one was flying the aircraft. He told me to make a correction, which confused me, since I thought he was flying. We both realized what was going on at the same time, at which point he took the controls and flew us back to the parking area. We were done for the day.
This experience has been shared as part of my crew brief every time I fly with a new pilot. My unfamiliarity with my gear, coupled with my inexperience as a junior aviator put us in a dangerous situation and could have easily killed us. I got a red “U” in my records that day, but, fortunately, we didn't damage the aircraft and lived to fly another day.