The Importance of Crew Coordination
January 31, 2012
The mission went off without a hitch. We completed the mission and flew directly to the forward arming and refueling point to get fuel before we continued our recon mission. We sat in the FARP for a short time talking about the mission and how well it had gone. After the refuel was complete, we went through the before-takeoff checklist and took off again.
My backseater and I followed Gun One out of the FARP and toward our first objective. We took the left side of the formation, five to seven rotor disks away and at the same altitude. I was flying with my night vision goggles, and the backseater had on his night vision system. About two minutes into the flight, we reached our first checkpoint and Gun One said, "Coming left." My backseater acknowledged by saying, "Roger."
I had been looking in the target acquisition designation sight at the checkpoint and the area around it and noticed we were not immediately turning. I looked up and to the right, where our lead aircraft was, and saw Gun One was now about one to two disks away and turning right into us. I shouted, "Oh, $#@!," and grabbed the controls and rapidly gained altitude while leveling the aircraft. I told the backseater what had happened. After we talked about how close it was, we continued the mission without further incident.
We learned several things from this near miss:
1. Crew coordination needs to exist not only in the aircraft, but also in the flight. Acknowledging the other aircraft verbally is telling the other aircraft you are fully aware of what they are going to do and that you are in a position to react to it. If you do not understand or you're not in that position, do not acknowledge. Standby is an acceptable response.
2. "Oh, $#@!" is not proper terminology. "Emergency, I have the controls," is. Did I have enough time to say all that before I took the controls? At the time, I did not think so. I was a new pilot with less than 700 hours, and the other pilot was a more experienced maintenance pilot with more than 1,000 hours. What do you think went through his head when a junior warrant officer, without any real explanation, rapidly took away the controls?
3. Front seaters need to have good situational awareness. They should not be "seat meat," just there to work the TADS and find targets. They need to pay attention to what is going on, not only on the ground, but also on having a good mental picture of what you and the other aircraft are doing. At the time, I was looking at a road and noticed the aircraft not turning. I had gotten the picture in my head of where Gun One was and where we were. The fact that we had not turned was a big red flag.
While approaching the checkpoint, I think everybody was looking to the left into the turn, front and backseaters of both aircraft. Takeoffs and landings are the most critical times in which both crewmembers need to be "outside" the aircraft. But, what about flying in close formation? Front-seat pilots need to have enough situational awareness to get the "big picture," not just the small world we live in while we are staring at our little screen.
Don't get me wrong, I am not saying if you are not Gun One that you need to always be "outside" while in formation. However, you need to have enough situational awareness to know when something does not sound or feel right and know what you can do to help or fix it. Maybe one day it will save you from an aviation accident. It may even save your life.