Recipe for Complacency
May 31, 2012
While Army aviators talk a lot about crew coordination within the cockpit, if they're not flying formation, they often don't say much about other aircraft being a factor. When training, you don't typically have a coordinated plan of maneuver with other aircraft in the area. A radio call here and there typically does the trick.
As we neared the airfield, we made a common traffic advisory frequency call to let the other aircraft know we were heading their way. They responded, advising that they had us in sight and would stay clear of us. We took this as a green light to continue without worrying too much about what the other aircraft were doing. I was watching the CH-47 as it came off the pinnacle, but the halo effect of their lights through my night vision goggles made it difficult to see which direction they were flying. The IP was looking inside, setting up the radios, while the PI was on the controls heading toward the LZ in preparation for landing.
I watched the other Chinook as it gained altitude and turned to the right, appearing to fly away from us. We all know that an aircraft will tend to look stationary in the sky if it's headed for a midair collision. If my memory serves me right, I thought the Chinook appeared to be moving very slowly to the left. Again, I didn't think much of it considering they were going to stay clear of us. I assumed they must be heading away from us as they departed the area.
I was wrong, however, and things suddenly got a bit hairy as, within a second or two, reality set in. As we got closer, the halo in my NVG quickly disappeared and I realized they weren't flying away from us -- they were coming almost directly at us from our 1 o'clock position. I keyed my intercom system and yelled, "Pull up, pull up, pull up!" The IP looked up, took the controls and pulled up and to the right, missing the other Chinook by what appeared to be a disk or two. It all happened so fast that nobody was able to judge the distance accurately. As far as I know, the other crew never even saw us.
This situation reminds me that anything can happen, even when you least expect it. We thought we'd done the right thing by announcing our position to the other aircraft in the vicinity. We thought we mitigated the danger when they told us they had us in sight. We dropped our guard too soon and barely avoided a catastrophic accident. This was a good reminder to me and the other members of my crew to always stay cognizant of the conditions and dangers -- no matter what the situation -- whether training or in combat. Being complacent, even if it's just for a few seconds, can kill you.