Crew rest is sacred, and breaking it or not getting enough rest during it is grounds for taking yourself off of a flight. The term "rest" is not defined, but is understood to mean sleep -- preferably. 8 hours worth of it. The intent is to provide the crews ample time to prepare for the flight and be rested prior to reporting for work. It is designed to ensure the safety of the aircraft and crewmembers.
In the B-52 world, when a crewmember violates crew rest and takes him or herself off of the flight, this usually results in a mission cancelled flight.
That can be avoided if an instructor or additional crewmembers are scheduled to be on-board. If I sound like I know what I'm talking about here, it is because I found myself in this position at a most inopportune time. Problems never crop up when it's convenient: that's probably why they're called problems. Such was my case when I was a B-52 navigator and had to "go DNIF" (Duties Not Including Flying) for 6 months to wait for a medical waiver. It just so happened that my yearly flight check ride expired 2 months into my DNIF period. This meant I had to complete an in-squadron flight re-qualification program and receive a check ride within 3 months. If I didn't receive my check ride within that 3-month period. I would be sent back to the B-52 "school house" for formal re-qualification. This would have delayed my return to flying status indefinitely.
With waiver in hand, I began my requal program. It was going smoothly until the beginning of the third month. That's when weather, maintenance, mission constraints, and instructor availability all combined to make for "slim pickings" when it came to completing the required amount of mission events or "beans."
As luck would have it, the weather cleared and then turned hot by the end of June. In response, my wing had a maximum effort "surge week" scheduled the week before my check ride was due. I completed two flights, and had a third flight scheduled at the end of the week. This meant I would be done with the training requirements I needed to finish the re-qualification program; all with about a week left before I had to take my check ride. It was going to be close, but "do-able."
The day before the third flight, mission planning went well. The weather looked good and the mission brief was completed before starting crew rest. The flight was scheduled for just over 10 hours: We planned to take off as a three-ship formation of B-52s followed by a three-ship of tankers; do a refueling right after takeoff; drive to the low-level route; and drop a 500-pound inert bomb on the range. After the bomb run, we were going to do several high-level bomb runs and then drive back to base for an hour of touch-and-go landings.
In preparation, I went home, had dinner, relaxed around the house, and then went to bed early to make sure I got a good night's sleep before the flight. Just as my wife and I were turning in for the night, our 1-year-old woke up screaming and crying with a fever of 103 degrees. That's when my plan for a good night's sleep began to unravel.
It was hot and we didn't have air conditioning in our base house, so that made our son even more miserable. We gave him something for his fever, turned on a fan, and, after he quieted down, we put him back into his crib. The medicine helped lower the fever, but he still slept fitfully.
He woke up crying several more times over the next 2 to 3 hours. My wife attended to him because I had to fly in the morning; but, as any parent knows, you never really sleep when your children are sick. At about 1:00 a.m., the medicine had worn off and his fever spiked to almost 104 degrees. Now he was screaming, pulling at his ears, and rolling around his crib.
My wife and I guessed that it was probably an ear infection and knew we needed to get his temperature down quickly. Most parents know that means filling the tub with cool water. Because he was so distraught, I ended up going into the tub with him, which was the only thing more chilling than his screams. We gave him some more medicine and realized there was little more we could do until we could get him to the doctor in the morning. If I was sleeping lightly before, I was wide awake after the bath, and my ordeal was just beginning.
After putting our son in the crib, he was still fussy so my wife brought him to sleep with us. He quieted down a bit lying next to mommy, but kept crying and reaching for daddy. I finally acquiesced and laid him face down on top of my stomach. He squirmed, pulled at his ears, whimpered for a few minutes, and then fell asleep.
My wife tried to move him off my stomach so that I could get some sleep, but he resisted her every attempt. We gave up, and I tried to get back to sleep. I soon discovered though that I had difficulty falling asleep on my back. Couple that with a feverish baby sleeping fitfully on my stomach, trying to will myself to sleep (which is impossible), and a house temperature of 80 degrees (even with the fan on) and the sleep probability factor dipped below 10 percent.
I may have taken a few micro-naps, but I heard the downstairs clock strike every hour and half hour until the alarm went off. I shut off the alarm and successfully transferred my son to the bed without waking him, then headed off to the shower. Simply put: I was exhausted.
As I readied for the flight, I began to realize I wasn't going to make it through the 16-hour day (including 10 hours of flying) that lay ahead of me. I decided that the best and safest choice was to show at the squadron and take myself off of the flight.
I met my crew at the squadron prior to the mission brief and explained my sleepless night on the way to the briefing room. My aircraft commander agreed with my assessment. It probably helped that there would be little mission impact as my instructor would fly in my absence, maintaining crew integrity.
I made it through the mass mission brief without completely falling asleep due to a large cup of strong coffee and a radar navigator who kept poking me in the ribs. After the brief, as I was turning over my mission materials to my instructor, I was told that the Squadron Operations Officer (also known as the Sq DO) wanted to talk to me in his office.
I was met by the Sq DO and his deputy in the hallway, and we went into his office and sat down. The Sq DO wanted me to explain why I didn't want to fly, why I hadn't gotten the required crew rest, and what had happened the night prior that kept me from getting enough sleep. I explained that I was following squadron policy, which always stressed the importance, for safety reasons, of taking ourselves off of a flight if we came down sick the morning of the flight or if we didn't get the proper amount of crew rest. The Sq DO then asked if I had been "out drinking late and was hung over?"
I replied, "No, Sir. I'm not hung over, and I haven't been drinking. My 1-year-old came down with a fever last night. My wife and I were up nearly the whole night trying to get his fever down." I then proceeded to explain the details. His first response was "Why weren't you able to get some sleep? Can't your wife handle your kids?" His next comment went something like, "I had fevers over 105 degrees a lot of times when I was a kid, and it was never a big deal."
I explained to him that it's pretty hard to get any sleep when a baby wakes up screaming in the middle of the night and won't stay quiet or sleep unless he's held or attended to. I told him that this had been a worst case scenario event. I also defended my wife's child handling abilities and reiterated the fact that, for whatever reason, I was the only one who was able to comfort my son.
To reassure the Sq DO that the flight was not going to be cancelled because of my actions, I reminded him that my instructor would be taking my place. He replied, "I'm not worried about losing this flight. It's the fact that if you don't get this flight, you won't get another chance to complete the training events and get a check ride completed before the 3-month deadline expires. You need to get this flight. If you don't fly, I don't know if we can extend your re-qualification period or when you'll be back on status. You might also lose your flight pay if you don't get this done in time! Are you sure there isn't any way you can fly today?"
I have no idea how long we talked or how long it took for me to make a decision; it was all a blur then, and -- 13 years later -- it still is. What I do know is that I finally agreed to fly, but I don't know why. It could have been that I didn't want to be seen as a "whiner." It could have been just to get out of the Sq DO's office. It could have been to keep from busting the 3-month re-qualification timeline or losing my flight pay. I might have agreed to fly in order to stay off of the leadership's "radar scope" because the Air Force was about to conduct a Reduction In Force (RIF). It could have been because I was flying with an instructor who would surely keep me from endangering the aircraft and crew. I honestly don't remember why I agreed to fly that day. What I do know is that it wasn't because I was adequately rested or safe to fly, and I was wrong to do it!
I drove to Flight Support, picked up my helmet, and met my crew at Base Ops in time for the weather brief. I grabbed another cup of coffee while there and drank it on the way to the flight line. I finished my own thermos of coffee before refueling and began to take donations, but the caffeine was only going to take me so far.
We completed the refueling rendezvous, and I leaned forward, at a 45-degree angle in my parachute harness, locked the inertial reel, and slept until refueling was over. Off the tanker, I ran all of the applicable checklists and then slept until low level. After the bomb run, we climbed out of route, and I slept until the high bomb runs. Then I slept, hanging from my parachute harness, until the initial approach and touch-and-go. The radar navigator then proceeded to monitor the pilot's touch-and-go landings as I slept in my harness, only waking up momentarily when the gear touched down each time.
By the time we were in the chocks and shutting down engines, I had made up part of my sleep deficit (from exhausted to tired) and was feeling pretty normal. We did a quick maintenance and crew debrief. Then I headed home for some much needed rest. My wife had taken our son to the hospital while I was gone and they were both sleeping by the time I got home. She woke up long enough to ask, "So you went ahead and flew?"
"Yeah, I did," was all I could think of.
"Well, that was pretty stupid ...."
"Yep, it was ..." was all I remember saying before falling asleep.
The next day my flight commander heard about what had happened and wanted to talk to me. After recounting the conversation with the Sq DO, my flight commander said, "He doesn't have children, so he might not understand what it's like to raise kids nor appreciate how a sick child can impact everyone in the house. As for having several 105 degree temperatures as a kid, that might very well explain everything else." He chuckled and added, "But seriously, it's a judgment call. Don't ever let anyone talk you into doing something like that again. We could have worked something out to get you another flight or worked an extension to the 3-month requal period. Granted, you had an instructor watching over you, but he can't watch everything you do and that isn't his job in the first place." He reiterated that what was done was done, but I shouldn't have "given in" and made the decision to fly that day. More importantly, he felt that I should never have been put in that position to begin with.
That was way back when. Fast forward to today where our mishap reduction focus is on the "Wingman Concept." While we place a lot of attention on applying the program to off-duty time, it's important to remember that it extends to on-duty scenarios as well. My incident is a good example of one of these.
I identified the fact that I was not adequately rested for the flight; however, there were several people at the lowest levels of supervision (i.e., my aircraft commander and crew), at the mid-level of supervision (i.e., training flight/schedulers), and, finally, at the upper level of supervision (i.e., the Sq DO and his deputy) who all had opportunities to act as my Wingman and call a "knock-it-off." Wingmen are the critical link to breaking the mishap chain of events when co-workers, like myself, don't stick to our guns and do the right thing.
If you feel like you've been backed into a corner, call a "knock-it-off." Waivers and extensions exist to help us make it through the problem periods. Know your limits and don't push the envelope. Watch out for others and be a Wingman to them.
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|Date:||Dec 1, 2005|
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