Know it or blow it - Aviation Safety
April 18, 2013
- This story and more in the April online edition of Knowledge Magazine - the Official Safety Magazine of the U.S. Army.
FORT RUCKER, Ala. - Going through flight school, we all hated Chapters 5 and 9 of the - 10. We asked ourselves, "Why do we have to know all this crap? What does it matter if I know all these steps verbatim, with every underlined sentence memorized and every airspeed on the tip of my tongue?" Well, about a year and a half ago, I learned why this is.
In October 2011, I was on a training mission to Ramstein, Germany, flying 750 feet above ground level at 100 knots indicated airspeed. At the time, I only had 70 hours of pilot in command time in the Apache and I had yet to have my first real emergency. My co-pilot gunner was flying and we were about five minutes from entering Ramstein's airspace from the east. I looked inside to check the visual flight rules arrival/departure charts one last time when my CPG asked if I smelled something. I did and, noticing we were near an industrial area, told him it was coming from the smoke stacks. I made contact with tower and let them know I was three miles from the first reporting point.
As I focused my attention back at the arrival charts, something caught my eye. I thought I saw a small bit of smoke. As I lowered the chart, a steady stream of smoke started ascending from the console where the windshield wiper knob was located between my legs. I quickly threw the chart out of the way. All I could think of was, "I've got an electrical fire!"
I immediately let my front-seater know I had smoke coming into my crew station. He started an emergency descent, and I started making mayday calls. After I made contact with tower, the radios went eerily quiet. I then started to initiate the emergency procedure - but couldn't remember it. After two or three seconds went by (which seemed like two or three minutes), I assumed the controls and instructed my CPG to turn off both generators. At the same time, I identified a "Y" in a farm road about 200 meters south of a small town at our 3 o'clock and told him we needed to land there. As we approached on final, my CPG backed me up with obstacles and apparent AGL altitude. On short final, we discussed actions upon landing. He would get out as I was shutting down the engines and guarding the controls. As he was exiting the aircraft, I turned to my checklist to read the EPs aloud. It read, "Gen 1 and Gen 2 - Off" and "Land as soon as possible."
Hindsight being 20/20, I remember the smoke stopped as soon as we turned off both generators. In fact, there was no real threat once the first step of the EP had been completed. We made a safe landing. After the downed aircraft recovery team arrived, we found out the windshield wiper motor had arched. From the time I actually saw smoke to the time we were on the ground shutting off engines was less than 45 seconds.
I now understand why it is so important for us PCs to not just know Chapters 5 and 9, but to have them ingrained into our souls. And not only should we have these procedures burned into our consciousness, we need to stress the importance of them to those who will follow in our path. In most cases, these procedures were written in blood. That's a price we don't need to pay twice.