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Rushing Toward Disaster

Rushing Toward Disaster

CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 3 BILL SUTHERLAND
Detachment 4, Operational Support Airlift Command
District of Columbia Army National Guard
Fort Belvoir, Virginia

Army aviation is a demanding profession. You quickly learn how important it is to recognize and control situations that can cause problems, like being in a hurry. My story happened during routine flight operations.

I was a pilot in command of a CH-47D, and we were waiting our turn to refuel as we transited from Simmons Army Airfield at Fort Liberty, North Carolina. We were a flight of three CH-47s from Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Georgia, on our way to Fort Drum, New York. It was a busy day at Simmons and we wanted to take on our fuel quickly and get down the road to Fort Drum before dark. Even though we had another refueling stop planned between Fort Liberty and Fort Drum, a quick turn now was essential to keeping our planned schedule.

After waiting for 15 minutes, we were able to taxi our Chinook into the hot refuel pit. The other two Chinooks in our flight had already refueled 15 minutes prior, repositioned and were burning fuel at ground idle while waiting on us. Once we taxied into the refuel pit, the POL handlers needed another 15 minutes to work through a maintenance issue with their pumping station. When that was resolved, we began to take on fuel. By the time we finished, our two sister Chinooks had been parked at flight idle for 30-plus minutes. With an hour-and-a-half flight ahead, fuel started to become an issue with them and they were letting us know we needed to get going.

Just as we were completing the refuel, the tower radioed us that three other aircraft were waiting for our spot. As I was head down and reading the checklist to get us back to a hover, my flying pilot snatched the fully fueled, 30,000-pound aircraft into the air to quickly back out of our refuel pad. As we broke ground, an awful sensation took hold. We were 10 feet off the ground over the refuel pit, riding a CH-47D that was oscillating rapidly between nose high and nose low. This lasted for about 10 seconds, but it seemed like forever. It was one of those everything-slows-way-down moments.

Once we realized the aircraft’s stabilization system was not engaged, we instantly brought the angry beast under control and completed the checklist. We then very slowly repositioned to join our other two Chinooks. The tower asked if everything was OK as we embarrassingly air taxied to our takeoff area.

This could have been a catastrophic loss of life and a Class A mishap. Rushing to go somewhere or through procedures is a recipe for disaster. As a community, we have learned too many hard lessons about rushing or acting in an unnecessarily quick manner. It is my experience after 30 years of flying that very few events in our occupation require instantaneous action. Those that do are exceptionally rare. The message is clear: Slow down before a disaster or potential disastrous event sequence does it for you.

  • 10 March 2024
  • Author: USACRC Editor
  • Number of views: 233
  • Comments: 0
Categories: On-DutyAviation
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