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Saved by the Safety

Saved by the Safety


In 2023, I served as a member of a unit that was engaged in a significant multi-day cross-country movement for an upcoming rotation at the National Training Center (NTC) in Fort Irwin, California. Specifically, I was part of the UH-60M assault company assigned to this training. During our cross-country journey from Fort Cavazos, Texas, to NTC, I owe a debt of gratitude to our company safety officer, who prevented me from making a potentially disastrous mistake.

The first day of our trip proceeded smoothly, and we stopped overnight in El Paso, Texas, to get some rest for the following day’s flight. The next morning, the crew and I arrived at the airfield two hours before departure and initiated our preflight procedures. Midway through our preflight, however, I was called over for the serial update brief. In my absence, the rest of the crew completed the remaining preflight tasks.

During the update brief, the air mission commander proposed leaving 30 minutes earlier than our originally planned departure time. All the pilots in command (PCs), including myself, agreed to this adjustment and deemed it feasible. Due to the now-condensed timeline, I returned to my aircraft, quickly conducted our crew brief and walk-around, and hopped in to prepare for departure.

The crew and I diligently worked through all the steps in the checklist, stopping at "before starting engines" to wait for the communications check. Everything proceeded smoothly until I noticed Chalk 1’s crew chief waving his arms and running toward us. He approached my side of the aircraft, pointing up at the engine. Wondering what was happening, my crew chief quickly jumped up, removed the large, red inlet plug for the No. 1 engine and held it for me to see through the cockpit window.

Overwhelmed with embarrassment, I realized the crew and I not only missed the inlet plug on preflight, but we also failed to catch it on our final walk-around. I’m not sure how it happened, but the blame fell solely on me since I was the PC. I undoubtedly would have attempted to start the engine with the inlet plug installed. My only saving grace would have been my crew chief catching it prior to when I requested, “Clear to start one.”

We corrected the issue, continued with the run-up and departed for our next location without any further problems. After we took off and got settled into the flight, I had time to reflect on the mistake I could have potentially made. The first section in the pre-flight checklist is labeled “Before Exterior Check.” The second sub-step is to remove helicopter covers. Knowing this let me know my crew was messed up from the start. It also had me wondering if we had overlooked anything else. Thankfully, the remainder of the flight went great.

Upon reaching our next stop in Safford, Arizona, the whole flight shut down for refueling and took a short break. While waiting for refueling, our company safety officer, who was the PC in Chalk 1, asked me about the incident. I explained that, in my rush, the entire crew and I overlooked the still-installed engine inlet plug. He said he noticed it when he looked over at my aircraft while waiting for the communications check to start. He didn’t want to call me out over the radio (even though he probably should have), so he sent one of his crew chiefs over to let us know to correct the issue. I thanked him for looking out for us. He then emphasized the importance of slowing down and following procedures in the checklist, stressing that there's no need to rush toward failure.

Lessons learned

Our company safety officer’s vigilance helped us avert a dangerous situation due to a critical issue the crew and I overlooked. His timely intervention highlighted the importance of being aware of your surroundings. I learned to always adhere to the checklists and procedures. Taking the necessary time to ensure everything is done properly and avoiding haste can help prevent potential failures and mistakes.


  • 12 May 2024
  • Author: USACRC Editor
  • Number of views: 198
  • Comments: 0
Categories: On-DutyAviation