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The Difference Between Success and Failure

The Difference Between Success and Failure


“This is it,” the other pilot said, putting his hands into the air as I took the flight controls and entered an autorotation to the best landing spot — a 2,000-foot rock cliff! I knew if we continued this autorotation, we were going to crash.

The night before had been a restless one and I didn’t know why I was feeling so uneasy. Because of that uneasiness, I looked over the UH-60A Black Hawk extra carefully on preflight. Before the large, six-ship air mission briefing, I gathered the crew, read through the preflight checklist a second time and then we briefed as a crew. Shortly later, we departed Dubrovnik, Croatia, as Chalk 5.

Everything was going fine until our flight path crossed a large cliff and then over the Adriatic Sea. That’s when it happened. We suddenly lost power on the No. 1 engine. I attempted to put the aircraft over land as fast as possible; however, we dropped the rotor while in a sharp left-hand turn. I entered autorotation to restore the rotor RPM, but also feared we had lost power on the No. 2 engine.

Once the low rotor horn stopped blaring, I checked to see if the aircraft could still fly. I slowly pulled in the collective, slowing our rate of descent, and realized we still had power to fly. We flew at single-engine airspeed, making slow, shallow turns up the side of the cliff and climbing to about 1,000 feet above ground level. With the aircraft stabilized, we started looking for open fields to make a forced landing.

On this day, we had a third pilot riding in the back. He had a headset, so I decided to let him and the other pilot run the checklist and handle the emergency. I observed the senior crew chief advise the other crew chief to continue to look for open fields and other traffic. I continued to fly the aircraft and adjusted my flight path to set us up nicely if I were forced to autorotate to the open fields below. I was also aware of the 30-knot crosswind and was mentally trying to calm myself before making the radio call.

I declared an emergency with Dubrovnik tower and requested fire and rescue. I felt comfortable when I observed the pilot in the back reading the checklist and continuing to communicate in a positive, calm manner to my co-pilot. Although I was listening to the crew handle the emergency, the radio calls from the tower and other aircraft, my main focus was flying and evaluating if we were still safe to fly.

The crew determined the No. 1 engine failed to the low side. After reading the checklist and verifying the proper engine power control lever by all three pilots, power was restored. We conducted a roll-on landing and returned to parking without further incident. The main body, after a short delay, later continued into Kosovo. Despite a thorough inspection, ground runs, hover checks and test flights, the maintainer was not able to duplicate the problem; therefore, the helicopter was returned to service. After many hours of reflection, I realized some of the things we did poorly and other elements where we excelled.


  • The pilot in the back was the first person to observe, diagnose and communicate the problem with the No. 1 engine.
  • Our crew had established a good team relationship, open and positive communications, a set a practice of using the checklist and good working habits before we needed them in the emergency.
  • Prioritizing tasks and dividing workloads. Flying the aircraft is number one; all other things are subordinate. Because we trained and practiced dividing workloads in the past, crewmembers picked up workloads and sequenced their words and actions into group problem-solving.
  • Declaring an emergency. This freed up a lot of decision-making and workload for us.


  • Instead of establishing single-engine airspeed and taking a moment to evaluate the situation, we tried to maintain altitude, 120 knots indicated airspeed, and turned to the left aggressively, resulting in main rotor droop. My lesson learned: Never make a bad situation worse!

Getting back on the horse early helped me deal with the fear of losing an engine in flight while overwater. For me, I know the habits, standards and decisions I make on every flight, no matter how exciting or boring the flights may be, largely determine my success or failure when an emergency occurs.

  • 9 July 2023
  • Author: USACRC Editor
  • Number of views: 254
  • Comments: 0
Categories: On-DutyAviation