By Chief Warrant Officer 2 Frank Kirby, 3-1 AHB, Fort Riley, Kan.October 19, 2016
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (October19, 2016) - It was early 2003 during Operation Iraqi Freedom and I was flying as the tail gunner on a CH-47D Chinook. We were doing a troop movement from Camp Doha, Kuwait, to Balad, Iraq. At the time we were still flying terrain flight altitudes due to radar threats, so the crew had to be proactive in identifying hazards to flight such as power lines and towers.
We had a pretty experienced crew with an instructor pilot, pilot in command, standardization instructor, flight engineer, crew chief and myself. I was in progression training on the tail gun with the flight engineer of the aircraft.
The flight was going as planned until we got over Baghdad. The pilots got into a discussion about where we were on the map because back then we did not have moving maps. The two were disagreeing about our location and both of them were focused inside the aircraft. Luckily for the entire crew and personal onboard, our standardization instructor yelled out, "Wires 12 o'clock 100 meters!" The pilots made a cyclic limb, barely clearing the wires, followed by a cyclic descent to get below 100 feet above the ground.
When the pilots did the cycle climb and descent, those of us in the back of the aircraft experienced negative g's. The flight engineer and I were thrown to the ceiling and watched everything not strapped down - such as a cooler full of ice and drinks, a camera and other items - fly out the back of the aircraft. Then we were slammed to the floor. I hit the ramp pretty hard on my way down and hurt my shoulder.
It took a few moments after we leveled off before I was able to respond to the crew because I was crawling up the ramp and was not sure if I was OK. Everyone onboard was scared but not injured. Fortunately, the rest of the flight was quiet and everyone was alert.
When we landed at Balad and shut down the aircraft, another crewmember kissed the ground. I did the same. We all got up the next day and got back into the aircraft and continued the mission.
This incident proved to me that crew coordination saves lives. Had the pilots announced they were both focused inside, one of them may have stayed outside looking for wires. Also, had they announced it, other crewmembers would have been focused forward and been more alert looking for hazards.
As a pilot now, I talk to my crew about how important each member is and how the most experienced pilots can kill you just as fast as the new ones. Our new aircraft are equipped with equipment that allows a pilot to make calculations and changes to mission planning on the fly. It's great, but you still have to first fly the aircraft.
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