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Breaking routine.

My student and I walked toward our Orion for preflight on a beautiful, partly cloudy afternoon at NAS Jacksonville. Every FRS instructor knows the difficulty of simultaneously keeping inexperienced students safe on the flight line, teaching them something valuable and ensuring mission accomplishment. I felt confident in my abilities because, as I recently had bragged to a counterpart, I had more than 2,000 flight hours and was at the pinnacle of my career. In other words, a perfect time to be humbled.

During preflight, my student and I noticed the port landing light on our P-3C completely was shattered, so I told the flight engineer about it. He said maintenance control already had been notified, and the AEs were on their way. My student and I continued our preflight and completed all of the steps except the coordinated checks. These checks require hand signals from an outside observer (my student) to a qualified person in the flight station. This step verifies the operation of various outside lights, flight controls, and brakes. The observer also makes sure all danger areas are clear of personnel and obstructions.

Once we were ready for the checks, the flight engineer reminded me to skip the landing-light portion, because the AEs now were fixing the light. I did not want to extend down the landing light on the maintainers or electrocute them if the light inadvertently was turned on. However, I noticed they were not below the flaps, so I thought the flaps could be extended, and the check could be accomplished.

We walked to the front of the aircraft. I again reminded my student to make sure he did not give the signal to check landing-light operation. I positioned myself behind the student to make sure his signals were correct and to verify everything was working.

We proceeded with the checklist.

"Taxi lights."


"Top and bottom strobe lights."



We skipped the next step, which was the landinglights check. The flaps were next. The proper procedure for the check is to lower the flaps to the land position and then back up to the requested position, which would have been "takeoff." My student correctly gave the hand signal to lower the flaps, but the flaps began moving up. I quickly shifted my scan to the port flap and saw the AE supervisor pull the other maintainer from the ladder and out of the flap-well area. I immediately held up a closed fist; the flight engineer secured hydraulic power to stop flap movement. I was shocked--I couldn't believe what just had happened.

After a discussion with the startled maintainers, I found out they were not just replacing a light bulb; they were replacing the entire landing-light assembly, which required them to have their hands inside the flap well. When the flaps finally stopped moving, they were about six inches from the maintainer's wrists before his boss pulled him out of the flap area. I was so fixated on the landing lights, I hadn't noticed the flaps already were down when the check started. I was worried about downward-moving flaps hitting the maintainers, not upward-moving flaps taking off someone's hands.

In retrospect, a few things could have prevented these events from happening. First, we should have waited to do the checks until the maintainers were done fixing the light; we had plenty of time to complete the event. My rush was self-imposed. Alternatively, I could have briefed the maintainers to remain clear of the area until the checks were done. Second, I should not have fixated on the landing lights. The hazard was real, but by focusing on one danger, I overlooked another. Last, I should not have let my experience lull me into overconfidence. Despite my 2,000-plus hours, I cannot afford to let things become so routine I fail to see something out of place. Are the flaps really down?

AWO1 Hamby flies with VP-30.

by AW01 Fred Hamby
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Title Annotation:pre-takeoff safety checks
Author:Hamby, Fred
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2009
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