Attention to Detail
CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 3 JAY S. BURLESON
C Company, 2-238th General Support Aviation Battalion
As a medevac pilot serving a tour in Iraq, I found myself flying into, around and through some very tight and scary situations. During one of my many flights, and what I thought was a fairly routine patient pickup and drop-off into Baghdad’s combat support hospital (CSH), I had a “there-I-was” moment.
As customary, we must fly any and all hours of the day and night and be prepared for such multi-missions. Departing from our forward operating base at Diwanyah, Iraq, with a routine patient heading to Baghdad CSH, the flight was, for the most part, uneventful. This was a day flight, so we could see the scenery and wave to villagers as we flew by. Making the appropriate air traffic control (ATC) calls and flying in the correct corridors had become second nature to us by now. It was almost like flying back in the states.
As we approached the CSH, now three to five miles away, I, as lead (always in flights of two), called the other aircraft to communicate our initial speed and altitude reduction. Those of you who are pilots will understand that at that time I reduced the collective. To stabilize that initial reduction to the desired speed and altitude, I added a little power (collective) back in. Here is where things began to deteriorate.
I was unable to pull in collective. Not good! I asked my co-pilot, who was navigating and talking on the radios, if he had put the friction on. This stiffens the collective so while flying the vibrations don’t slowly make the collective lower. He said he hadn’t, but proceeded to loosen it anyway, just in case. I again had collective control and all was good.
About one-half mile from the CSH, I called the other aircraft to announce our second and final speed and altitude reduction prior to landing. Again, I lowered the collective to reduce speed and altitude. As before, when the aircraft slowed to the speed and altitude I desired, I began to add the collective back. Once again, though, it would not move! I jiggled and pulled and still nothing.
At this point in the flight, we were committed, less than 100 feet above the ground, which was coming fast! If you’ve seen the CSH pad in Baghdad, you’d know that it is only large enough for four Black Hawks in two rows of two. Oh, and did I mention the pad was surrounded by T-walls? Yes, T-walls!
My aircraft was falling from the sky with no power control and I had no room to roll, which is needed and trained in many Black Hawk emergencies. I notified my crew that we had a problem and they should lock all of their shoulder harnesses and brace for impact. I executed a decel, pulling the nose of the aircraft up using our speed to stop our descent and try to slow down more, only using aircraft inertia. Miraculously, we hit the ground with little downward force, but we were still moving forward. If you remember, that wasn’t a good thing because of the T-walls.
I was practically standing on the brakes when we came to a stop just feet from a T-wall. I immediately looked to my co-pilot’s collective and saw that his night vision goggles had fallen from where he stowed them. They had then become lodged in the collective. We then had an intense discussion as to how we were going to store things more appropriately next time.
One of the first and most stressed things I was taught from day one for training at Fort Rucker was “attention to detail.” That lack of attention to detail could have created a catastrophe that day. Thanks to the great instructors at “Mother Rucker,” I can tell my story.