"Brakes! Brakes! Brakes!".
The plan was to land on the Canadian frigate and drop off a couple of much-needed parts for their embarked H-3. To show their appreciation, the Canadians agreed to let us use their accompanying destroyer so we could update our small-deck quals. The skipper decided to ride along in the back and swap out with me so he could get DLQs as well.
In the brief, we dutifully pulled out the HOSTAC, familiarizing ourselves with the layout of both decks. The weather promised some open-ocean swells, so we also checked NATOPS for our pitch and roll landing limits. Satisfied that all the pub-punching they make you do in flight school really does have a use in the fleet, we manned up and launched.
I was in the left seat and had the controls during most of the transit. Once we were in radio comms with the ship, the HAC took the controls so I could do landing checks. During shipboard ops, the checklist says to set parking brakes. I pushed on the pedals, reached cross-cockpit over the center console, and pulled up the handle to set the brakes.
I took the controls back and the HAC copied down the ship's pitch and roll numbers, which were barely in limits. The adrenaline began pumping as I got a green deck and set up for my first approach. Distant winter storms had kicked up the sea state, and we could tell the deck was really moving. We wondered if the pitch and roll numbers were within limits, but decided to press on. The HAC told me to wave off any time I felt uncomfortable. In close, we realized that the deck was moving around much more than we were comfortable with. As briefed, I called a waveoff, taking it around as we double-checked the numbers.
We didn't want to give up that easily. The HAC took the controls and decided to make a low pass so we could get a closer look at exactly how much this unfamiliar deck was pitching. We also wanted the aircrewmen and the skipper, who was tiding in back, to get a look so they could add their two cents to the decision-making process. As we flew our low pass, we could see some swells spilling over the flight deck, coveting it with a slick coat of salt water. The skipper thought getting aboard the wet, pitching deck would be hard but not unsafe, saying we could continue at the HAC's discretion. We checked with the ship one more time, making sure their numbers were still in limits. Satisfied, the HAC set up for an approach. The landing was challenging, but we made it aboard. The Canadian deck crew chocked and chained the helicopter, we transferred the parts, and signaled for breakdown.
While we waited for breakdown, the deck started violently rolling and pitching. We could feel the landing-gear struts compress as the ship hit some heavy swells and pitched wildly. Once the deck crew removed the chains, the deck went amber, and we continued to ride the roller coaster, my comfort level rapidly deteriorating. Again, the ship hit another monster swell, and the nose of the helicopter dipped as we felt the struts compress even more. But this time, the nose kept moving. We were rolling forward! The skipper and the crewmen in the back shouted, "Brakes! Brakes! Brakes!" as the scant margin between our rotor blades and the ship's hangar bay rapidly decreased. With the deck still amber, the HAC stomped on the brakes, added aft cyclic, pulled an armful of collective and lifted off. Our rotor blades came within inches of hitting the hangar.
As we climbed back into the pattern and caught our breath, the Canadians came over the radio and politely asked if our helicopter was equipped with parking brakes. Sheepishly, we replied, "Yes." But clearly those brakes weren't strong enough to keep our 20,000-pound helicopter firmly planted on a wet, wildly pitching deck. The Canadians thanked us for the parts, and we flew to their sister destroyer for some uneventful bounces.
We debriefed the flight back on the beach and discussed what had gone wrong. Maybe setting the brake cross-cockpit kept it from working properly. Maybe the wheels had simply slipped on the wet, slick, pitching deck. Maybe we hadn't communicated clearly with the Canadians about the pitch and roll limits (they kept ending their radio transmissions with "Eh?"). We also discussed how good crew coordination and ORM saved us. We had decided to press ahead with a challenging flight. But every member of the crew--including the skipper, who was "just along for the ride"in back--had a chance to evaluate the situation. And when the situation became dicey, every crewmember's SA was especially high, particularly the HAC's, whose quickness at the controls prevented a certain mishap.
Even when you think you're doing everything right, little things can still reach out and bite you.
Lt. Neuner flies with HS-2
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|Article Type:||Brief Article|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2000|
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