Rush to Failure
CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 2 JUSTICE SMITH
3-1 Assault Helicopter Battalion,
1st Combat Aviation Brigade,
1st Infantry Division
Fort Riley, Kansas
“Go-around! Go-around! Go-around!” Those were the words we wished we heard before our stabilator struck the ground. This mishap could have been prevented, and we’re lucky it didn’t cause severe damage to the aircraft or injuries to the crew. The following is a brief account of what happened and what I learned from it.
Our intentions were to enter one of the nap-of-the-earth (NOE) training areas on Fort Riley to conduct terrain flight, combat maneuvering flight, slope operations, reacting-to-enemy contact and roll-on landings to unimproved surfaces. I went through progression with the pilot in command (PC). This was our first time flying together, so we were excited to finally get out and train as a crew.
Our crew chiefs (CE) for the day consisted of the most senior CE, who also was the company SI, and a brand-new CE fresh out of progression. We conducted our crew brief and had a solid pre-flight inspection with no issues. We took off and headed to the training area when one of the CEs noticed a cargo strap was caught in the door after he’d closed it. The PC landed the aircraft and the CE secured the strap. On the approach, I noticed the PC was flying overaggressively, but I didn’t say anything about it. This was the first weak link in our soon-to-be-broken chain of crew coordination.
We took off again to continue our training mission and conducted a few slope and roll-on landings. Everything was going fine until the last approach. We were performing a right-wheel, high-slope landing. I was sitting in the right seat and the PC was on the controls in the left seat. Before landing checks were completed, he started the approach. We were coming in much faster and steeper than we should, then … BOOM … it happened.
Instead of saying, “Go-around,” which is standard phraseology, the CE was only able to say, “Tail, tail, tail!” The right side of the stabilator smashed into the hillside and bounced twice. I reset the master caution light and noticed the STAB UNLOCKED caution had also appeared. The PC was still in control of the aircraft and we found a suitable place to land, shut down and assess the damage. After shutdown, we called our flight operations center and put the pre-accident plan to work. Luckily, our flight operations center actually new what to do and started calling all of the appropriate people to come get us. Lessons learned
I should have been on the controls for the landing since I was in the right seat and on the up-slope side of the aircraft. This would have given us better visibility to any obstacles. I also should have said something to the PC about his aggressive flying earlier in the flight. That might have been enough for him to realize that it was unnecessary for what we were doing. I also learned that pre-accident plans are in place for a reason and should be rehearsed more often than they probably are across Army aviation.
Crew coordination is an important element in Army aviation. I feel that in many instances, it is overlooked and not as highly regarded as it should be. Using the proper terminology and being explicit when making a call could make enough of a difference to avoid a mishap. If we had heard the term “go-around,” we would have known exactly what to do in that situation. Instead, we heard “tail.” That could have meant a plethora of things, but it wasn’t what we needed to hear to inform us that we were about to make contact with the ground with anything but our landing gear.
Landing zone (LZ) reconassiance also could have helped prevent this mishap by giving us a better look at the hillside before deciding to land on it. If we had only done a slow fly-by and better assessed the LZ, we might have decided to practice slope landings somewhere more suitable. After all, it was just a training flight, and there is never a reason to rush to failure.