A Price Too Great to Pay
October 31, 2012
My unit was in the fifth month of a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan and I had started to become complacent about the pre-flight checklist. It was about 2 a.m. and I was sitting in the right seat of the trail OH-58D. Both we and the lead Kiowa had just finished our test fire at the range and were heading out to conduct a security mission.
About two minutes after calling ourselves off the range with air traffic control, I switched from the .50-caliber machine gun to rockets. I immediately got a "WEAPON NOT ARMED" advisory message on my multifunction display. I said to the other crewmember, "What the !@#$?" and looked down at the armament control panel. As I did, the aircraft -- without any input from me -- fired a rocket. I looked up just in time to see it pass under the lead Kiowa, impacting the ground about 50 meters ahead and to the left if it. I immediately safed the system and we began to troubleshoot.
We discovered that the weapons fire switch had stuck in the down position, so I transferred the controls and pried the switch into the up position. We then returned to the airfield and got another aircraft. In the following weeks, I learned that six other crews had experienced the same malfunction. Fortunately, none of these resulted in anyone being killed or injured. For me, however, this was a valuable opportunity to gain some important lessons learned.
First, if you don't check something during preflight, you can expect it to fail at some point. I'd never bothered to look at the weapons fire switch prior to flying. We routinely flew with the system armed -- the only safety being the pilot's thumb. However, one of the first things in the preflight checklist is to make sure the weapon systems are safe. While not necessarily spelled out, it is obvious making sure the trigger isn't pulled should be high on the list of things checked. As I discovered from experience, you want to make sure your weapons systems are properly safed.
The second -- and perhaps the most critical -- factor was that I'd become complacent. We'd been doing the same things for the past five months, so I was basically on autopilot. I'd become used to a routine of showing up at the same time, doing the same things and going home at the same time. Because nothing bad or out of the ordinary had happened up to that point, I'd assumed nothing would. As a result, I let down my guard.
Finally -- and I think this is related to complacency -- I'd become overconfident. I was sure I could handle anything that might happen.
As you can see, not following procedures, coupled with complacency and overconfidence, almost led me to kill two of my co-workers and friends. That's a price I couldn't live with -- a price too great to pay.