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Breaking all the rules.

I was in the backseat of the lead jet in a division of Prowlers. We were on USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) for CompTUEx 2010, preparing for our upcoming deployment. During the preflight brief, our commanding officer said that he didn't want any unnecessary baggage in the cockpit, because we would be completing carrier qualifications (CQ) upon arrival.

The EA-6B is equipped with an aft equipment compartment (nicknamed "the birdcage"), where we can also store a small amount of baggage. The majority of the bags for my crew were placed in the birdcage, but I decided to keep my laptop bag with me in the cockpit for fear it might be damaged. This is a common practice for fly-ons. To minimize the amount of space my gear would take up, I also placed my kneeboard, charts, and flight pubs in it.

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Foreign-object-damage (FOD) prevention is engrained in our heads from the very start of flight training. As the line division officer and FOD-prevention program officer, FOD was a near and dear subject to me. We are taught that FOD is preventable, and that aircrew play a very important role in minimizing FOD damage. Before every flight we sanitize ourselves and our flight gear and make sure our nav bag or helmet bag is only filled with items essential to mission completion. We should be intimately familiar with what we bring into the cockpit, so that we will know immediately if something is missing and possibly left in the jet. My nav bag usually only has things that I need for my flights, and I have the contents of that bag memorized. But because I had my laptop with me, I decided to put my nav bag inside my laptop bag.

When the skipper saw me walk to the jet with my laptop bag, he gave me a surprised and disappointed look. I reassured him that all would be well--I didn't want to risk damaging my laptop by putting it in the birdcage. He proceeded to do his preflight walk-around of the jet. The laptop bag that I used for this flight was the same bag that I had used for college, so it had pens, pencils, markers, scissors and other scholarly materials in it. I had a classic brain fart as it never occurred to me that I should inventory everything in the bag before bringing it into the cockpit. Even worse was that this was not the first time that I had brought this bag into the cockpit. I had flown with this bag on ferry flights during workups and deployment.

The flight from NAS North Island to USS Abraham Lincoln went smoothly. We completed our standard trap, two touch-and-goes, and a trap to complete CQ. After our second trap, we parked the jet, so our maintenance crew could turn it around for night CQ. As I climbed out of the jet, one of the zippers on my bag caught one of the canopy hinges and accidentally opened. Little did I know that as I was climbing out of the jet, I was dropping pens, pencils, and markers all over the flight deck. My skipper witnessed the whole event and frantically yelled at me to secure my gear. It was too late; I had FODed the flight deck. There was no way for me to know which pens, pencils, and markers I had or how many I had lost.

Our skilled Prowler maintainers and troubleshooters were on their "A" game that day. Our line shack LPO quickly rallied the troops and directed them to pick up everything that had fallen out of my bag. They recovered everything on the flight deck, but the big unknown was whether any of my unaccounted for scholarly materials had fallen in the cockpit.

The LPO assured me that nothing was in the cockpit because he saw that the zipper was accidentally opened on my way out of the cockpit. But even with that assurance, the only way to know for sure was to have QA inspect the jet. The last thing we needed was to launch that jet for night CQ with binding flight controls because of one of my pens. I could never forgive myself had we lost aircrew or a jet because of my carelessness.

Nothing from my bag had fallen into the cockpit, and the jet was only down for a few hours while QA did a FOD-free inspection. Like many squadrons, we were operating on a compressed deployment turnaround cycle and could not afford to lose any CQ events.

This incident was embarrassing because of my position as line division and the FOD-prevention-program officer. I had broken all the rules the skipper had entrusted me to enforce throughout the squadron.

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The first lesson learned is to always listen to your skippers because they usually know best. He specifically said in the preflight that he didn't want anything in the cockpit that wasn't necessary for the flight. I completely ignored that order and took my laptop bag with me.

Second, if you are going to ignore an order from the skipper, make sure you don't screw it up because you will most likely end up on the wrong end of a one-way conversation.

Third, make sure that you know exactly what you take in and out of the cockpit with you because you need to account for those items.

Last, sanitize your nav bags and helmet bags and make sure that what you take to the jet is the absolute minimum to complete the mission. I am willing to bet that I am not the first aircrew in the fleet who has brought some sort of backpack or bag with them to the cockpit that they did not sanitize or inventory. This is very common practice for ferry flights. Depending on what your specific mission is, you could be failing to protect your brothers and sisters in arms on the ground.

LT DUMLAO FLIES WITH VAQ-131.
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Title Annotation:FOREIGN OBJECT DAMAGE
Author:Dumlao, Christian
Publication:Approach
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2011
Words:1000
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