Mid-Air Collison Course
CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 3 WESLEY HOLT
2nd Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment
Fort Hood, Texas
Being involved in direct-support air assaults brings its own hazards that we plan for and work out in every detail. We know where we are going and what time we are going to be there. We know how much weight is onboard, what assets we have for the actual landing and where they will be. All participants know what frequencies to be on and how to contact each other. Unfortunately, no matter how well prepared we are, unexpected events can arise, like crossing paths with two aircraft flying their own mission.
We were working as a dual pilot in command cockpit as a risk mitigation for this type of mission due to the high-profile attention they would get and because of the use of night vision goggles. I was flying as the pilot in the right seat. We had just completed a simple infil that went well for the conditions. We were all feeling relaxed now that we were headed back to the house and pretty much out of enemy range.
I was on the controls and watching our flight path, making sure I was on course by bouncing it off what my multifunction display was showing. We were well south of the airfield and our sister ship was making common traffic advisory frequency calls on the common frequency. The night was clear and we could see for a substantial distance in front of us. Suddenly, we saw the flashing of a top anti-collision light of an aircraft in the distance. As a crew, we focused on this blinking light on the horizon, trying to figure out which way it was headed. Eventually, we saw the light was coming toward us, so we adjusted our altitude to ensure we didn’t end up on a collision course.
We called back to our second aircraft and gave them a heads-up. They acknowledged they saw it and made a call on the common frequency to make sure the other crew saw us. Up front we continued to look for the second aircraft we knew should either be in front or behind the one we could see. All eyes in our aircraft were focused in front and down, searching for the other aircraft, all the while never hearing any kind of response that they even knew we were in the area. As the other aircraft was close to passing below us on our left (about 500 feet below and almost a half-mile out), we were still searching for its sister aircraft. I decided to stop focusing on them and looked out front.
To my surprise, I spotted the second aircraft coming straight at us. I announced what I saw and broke left to try and escape a head-on collision with an aircraft that shouldn’t be there. As we leveled out, each aircraft passed the other with no contact. I looked in the other cockpit and saw that none of that crew was even looking at us. They had no idea how close we came to running into each other.
We calmed down, continued to home station, parked and shut down. As a crew, we talked about what we all thought happened from our own view. We decided we needed to report what happened to our tactical operations center. We were told the other aircraft were a flight of two from a different forward operating base. A couple of days later, we got an update that the other crew never even saw us during the entire event. Lessons learned
We learned that no matter how much planning you do, you still must always expect the unexpected. As a unit, we started tracking when other flights would be in our area of operation and made them aware of missions. As a crew, we found that no matter how much experience you put in the cockpit, it is only as good as the crew coordination being used. I never scanned where I should have and briefed that I would be looking. We became focused on the first aircraft and got lost in the fact that just because we fly a certain way, not all flights fly the same. That second aircraft may not be where we think it should be. The main thing I took was brief what you want, but do what you brief.