Often times, as aviators, we find ourselves in different mindsets and have different attitudes and opinions about things, depending on how long we’re assigned a particular mission. At first, we’re excited. Things are new, we’ve trained for this operation a long time and we’re eager to accomplish the mission. We execute and strive to be the best. Our focus is solely on the mission, including completing the mission promptly and as safely as possible. We have purpose and are glad to support our fellow ground troops. We feel good about the mission because we’re making a difference.
As time passes, however, rest cycles come into play. After a while, the old adage, “work hard, play hard” comes to mind. Although time off from work is important, our mission takes such high precedence we don’t normally get much time off from work. This often leads to fatigue, which can be even more problematic for aviators. Mental fatigue leads to poor decision-making and impaired problem-solving skills. Physical fatigue affects (slows) our response times when we should always be “ahead of the aircraft.” Even though we’re still focused on our mission, we also realize it’s the “mission” that is keeping us from taking time off from work. And while we think we’re focused totally on the mission; subconsciously, we’re focused on what we’re going to do or where we’re going to be next weekend.
After painstaking months lapse, we can finally begin to see light at the end of the tunnel. Our deployment is ending and we’re soon heading home. Our focus is still on the mission, but our thoughts are on going home to our families. We’ve been flying routine missions repeatedly and become comfortable with our abilities and our aircraft. We are much more confident than when we began the mission several months ago. Just to keep things interesting, we might push our limits or push the envelope of our aircraft. Because of this, we are much more likely to take higher-risk missions due to a false sense of security we have conjured in our minds. The thought, “It won’t happen to me!” emerges; after all, we’ve been there for several months and experienced every action known … or so we thought.
Aviators are confident and don’t let anything stand in their way of accomplishing the mission. A commander might start to believe that he doesn’t need pilots in command who choose not to complete a mission simply because they are not “comfortable.” The climate within the unit is similar to when we began the mission; however, safety now takes a backseat to mission completion. Toward the end of our deployment, we all just want to be heroes and go home. Unfortunately, some have very little or no regard for safety.
The above scenario was based on a true story. Fortunately, the pilot made the appropriate corrections to recover the OH-58 A/C. What happened was the throttle cable became loose and, as a result, the throttle inadvertently rolled down as the pilot made power adjustments with the collective. The pilot was able to recover the aircraft due to his being familiar with the airframe. He knew this was a problem in this airframe and recognized it en route for the mission. The pilot had an observer on board that day with no flight experience.
Why did the crew decide to continue the mission? Why didn’t they abort and get another aircraft? In order to fix a hazardous situation, we must first identify the problem. Once the situation was identified, the pilot took precautionary measures to control the situation. The important things to consider included the following: How many times have we found ourselves in a similar situation? How often do we find ourselves flying around and not even focusing on the mission at hand? How many pilots do we know who have experienced this same type pattern of mission rut? What are some of the things we can do as aviators to fix or mitigate these issues? Do you have the intestinal fortitude to stand up to your superior to tell him or her that you need some time away from the mission? Do you know when to say “when?”