Taxiing Toward Trouble
CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 3 CODY T. SCHOONOVER
A Company, 1-3rd Attack Reconnaissance Battalion
It was a bitterly cold evening in Ansbach, Germany. We were conducting local area orientations (LAO) for one of our newly progressed Readiness Level 2 aviators and the training was going well. His control touch was great and I had no issues with his decision-making and radio calls. This allowed me to get comfortable, or complacent, with him during the LAO and increasingly difficult traffic patterns. As we progressed, I slowly let him take over conducting more and more of the decision-making for our flight.
As part of his LAO, we decided to get a hot refuel before shutting down for the evening. We called in-bound from the visual flight rules reporting point. When we completed our call to the tower, I overheard another Apache asking for main engine starts on Charlie row. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but I would later realize that this one radio call would become a teaching point for the young front-seater and me.
We continued downwind and called our before-landing checks just like we always did. We turned toward base for final and he started his descent to the runway. As the descent began, I saw the blades had begun turning on an aircraft that was parked on Charlie row. It didn’t register in my head that the front-seater was focused on just landing the aircraft and did not have the situational awareness about anything else going on outside of that specific task. He landed toward the end of the runway and began taxiing off West taxiway.
I began doing an after-landing check and was head-down for a brief second. As I did this, I heard a brief radio call from tower approving taxi for what I thought was for us; actually, it was the other aircraft parked on Charlie row. I didn’t hear it all because the front-seater began to ask me a question during the transmission.
I was distracted and let down my guard as we were on the ground. By being head-down, I didn’t realize my pilot had taxied past the hold-short line on West taxiway. When I looked up, I realized we were taxiing right to the same point as the other Apache, but we weren’t cleared for it. I don’t believe they realized we were encroaching on their taxi line either.
I saw the moment of doom and could feel my body physiologically change, knowing something wasn’t right. As I finally got a full picture, I grabbed the controls and applied a significant amount of power to not only stop us instantly, but to back-taxi so we didn’t intrude on the other aircraft. If I remember correctly, I may have even done a bit of a wheelie to get us back rapidly enough to avoid this collision.
When the Apache started passing by us, the crew looked over. I realized we were within 10 feet of their blades. Once they passed, I sat there and took in the situation. Such a mundane task as taxiing in for a hot refuel at a well-lit airfield almost led to a collision that could have killed someone — and it would have been my fault.
I asked my front-seater if he saw that aircraft or knew they were taxiing out. He said he was unaware of the other aircraft even being there. We spent a pretty good amount of time conducting an after-action review of the situation and I even talked about the event at one of our pilot briefs the following Friday.
Inattention and a skill-based error almost led to a catastrophic event that would have been completely avoidable in 99.99 percent of instances. I almost let that .01 percent get me and my front-seater — and possibly the other crew. Now, when I am finishing a flight, I always pay very close attention. No more head-down during taxiing and no more pilots taxiing past the hold-short line without getting an earful from me about it.