One is Better than None
NAME WITHHELD BY REQUEST
It was summer and I was flying a typical readiness level progression flight in a King Air 350 with one of our newest pilots. We’d accomplished the tasks outlined in that day’s syllabus, and the flight was coming to an end. My co-pilot exceeded all standards while performing multiple area navigation (RNAV), instrument landing system (ILS) and VHF omni-directional range (VOR) approaches within the northeastern region. I was flying in the left seat, and my co-pilot was setting up the flight management system (FMS) for an RNAV approach into Teterboro Airport. We were nearly four hours into the flight when I looked over at my co-pilot, who appeared sick. I asked if he was feeling OK and he told me he was nauseated. The situation quickly turned from a normal instrument approach to an emergency in one of the country’s busiest airspaces.
Shortly after the co-pilot told me he sometimes got airsick, he went from bad to worse. He had to vomit, so I told him to go to the back of the airplane. After throwing up, he said he felt better and tried to come back up to the cockpit. This was short-lived, though, as he banged his head on the overhead switch panel, which made the motion sickness rush back. For the remainder of the flight, he stayed in the cabin, vomiting and feeling miserable.
As I entered the airport’s busy terminal area, I handled the radios, switching from one approach controller to another and, inevitably, with ground to park. I managed the FMS and ensured the approach was loaded and sequencing correctly. Finally, I ensured the aircraft’s checklisted items were accomplished. This single-pilot arrival, approach and landing was a non-event because I had training and experience flying the King Air solo. This wasn’t an industry deviation, as the majority of King Airs flown around the world are done single pilot. The Army and most insurance providers recognize the value of two pilots; however, with proper training and experience it can be done just as safely with one.
Differing from most Army flying units, my organization has a single-pilot program. We abide by the standard operating procedure (SOP), all applicable regulations, approved risk assessment worksheets and currency requirements, and meet the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) single-pilot certification requirement. This provides flexibility and ensures the aircraft and crew land safely no matter the situation. This is exactly why I am an advocate that Army units incorporate single-pilot training within their aircrew training program (ATP). It doesn’t have to be formal, and can be as informal as an instructor pilot passing the controls to his co-pilot and telling that person the entire aircraft is theirs. Over the years, I’ve challenged many of my colleagues to take on this additional workload with favorable results. Some benefits to this training are task and time management, task shedding, attention to detail and getting far ahead of the aircraft.
It’s important for the instructor to be vigilant during this time to catch any mistakes and to highlight the good and bad for the flight debrief. With an understanding of individual skill level and experience, their training is tailored respectively. For instance, a competent pilot with years of experience will take the aircraft from startup to shutdown while I sit quietly in the right seat, observing and offering assistance when needed. Conversely, I may challenge a more junior pilot by taking just the radios while performing flying duties. A task normally accomplished by the pilot not flying, it gives the individual flying more of a workload that is not unsafe. In addition, Army aviators are required to attend recurrent training on a schedule in accordance with their aircrew training manual (ATM) or SOP. Within this safe training environment, I challenge aviators to request single-pilot to increase their skillsets and operate outside of their comfort zones.
By no means am I advocating that the Army ditches a fully crewed construct. There are many benefits to having two pilots. The most obvious is sharing the considerable workload in situations such as busy terminal areas, emergency procedures and inclement weather. However, in the event of an unforeseen hazard, such as adverse aero med factors, laser strikes or worse, one crewmember can safely accomplish the flight when the other cannot.
In the end, I am grateful to be part of an organization that values training and safety. I understand that a vomiting co-pilot probably cannot bring down an aircraft; however, an ill-equipped crewmember can. Had I not been familiar with managing the flight deck single pilot, I feel the flight debrief could have gone much different. Luckily, the main topic on this flight was Dramamine and smart waste receptacle choices.