CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 4 CHAD KOHRS
1-1 Attack Reconnaissance Battalion
Fort Riley, Kansas
The first 90 days of a deployment, especially a first-time deployment, is statistically one of the most dangerous times an aviator can face in his or her Army career. The challenges include an uncertain environment, increased duty days and more flight time than ever. These strains are just a few things every pilot faces in a combat environment. The Army, knowing these factors, trains aviators to specific standards and mitigates risk using risk management tools. However, when these standards begin to break down, risks increase exponentially.
Earlier in the day during our team brief, our instructor pilot (IP) said he was going to conduct continuation training of aircrew training manual (ATM) maneuvers with a new crewmember during our mission. We acknowledged and had no further questions. This vague statement was only one example of the breakdown in crew coordination.
There we were, about two weeks into our rotation with local orientations complete, prepared to conduct a full mission set. On this routine mission in northern Iraq, I was training for pilot in command in the trail position. Flying in the lead position was a very experienced IP with a new pilot. Near the end of the mission, everyone was tired at the 12-hour point of the duty day.
On short final and trail position, I was eager to be done for the night. Expecting the same type of aggressive tactical approach we performed the previous few weeks with tight formations and expedited transitions, I “set right” about five to seven rotor disks separation and above lead’s rotor wash. That’s when it happened — a collapse in crew coordination.
The lead aircraft unexpectedly performed a slower-than-normal approach without announcing their actions. Not knowing or expecting this type of maneuver was almost a fatal error. I was expecting the typical approach we’d been conducting and set my airspeed accordingly.
Simultaneously going through infrared crossover, a phenomenon occurred in my AH-64 while flying pilot night vision systems: the lead aircraft disappeared. Within a few seconds, I pulled aft cyclic, causing an increase in altitude and changing my visual aspect of the lead aircraft, which was now within a few feet of a mid-air collision! A little shaken up, I continued the approach and proceeded to parking.
After shutdown, I went to the IP of the lead aircraft, dissatisfied with his uncharacteristic approach and the fact he did not announce his actions, which almost caused a collision. His response was that during the team brief, he stated he was going to perform ATM maneuvers with his student and that if I lost visual contact with his aircraft, I needed to announce it. So, there it was. All elements of crew coordination went out the window and almost cost everyone their lives. To make matters worse, the most senior guy didn’t realize it. Lessons learned
Within a matter of a few seconds, both flight crews had become complacent with ATM standards. I learned some valuable lessons that day: Standards are there for a reason, anyone can make a mistake, and the potential to save lives can only be fully realized if everyone enforces standards and works as a team.