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I was a safety hazard.

As we neared the end of our two-week fighter det, completing our scheduled events was a challenge. The urgency to get out the next few events was high, especially when dedicated bandits were a part of the flight schedule. A mass brief covered the admin items. It also covered the sets our section (with me as wing) and the two bandits would see during our initial basic-fighter-maneuvers (BFM) qual.

At this point of the det, the briefed items seemed standard. However, you could sense that everyone was on the verge of mental fatigue. Nonetheless, there were no issues voiced at the brief. Everyone walked to the jets.

During the start-up sequence, I did a lights test and noticed the gear handle remained dark. After a few more tries to check it, I called for an AE to troubleshoot. He came up on the LEX to have a look for himself, and told me that they could quickly change the bulbs. The delay meant we'd probably be the last out of the line.

We waited for a few minutes as a runner came out with a new bulb. The troubleshooter leaned in to start unscrewing the gear-handle cap. He leaned in awkwardly, fumbling with his screw driver to undo the cap. Naturally, once it was unscrewed, it came free and fell onto the floorboard between the seat and console. I knew retrieving it would take a while.

After several fruitless attempts to get the cap, I asked for a switch to the only spare. I hoped to salvage the event and unstrapped. All the players had left the line and were waiting at the holdshort. Time was growing short, and we would have to hustle to complete this event.

I flew down the ladder and over to the next jet, where the book was waiting. I thumbed through the pages looking for any major discrepancies, but I didn't find any. I scribbled my name on the A sheet and hurried through the preflight, I knew the timing was tight. The bandits had already taken off to begin their first series with another section. The EWO and I jumped into our seats, and immediately started through the checks and engine starts. We had no hiccups and everything seemed smooth. We were ready to taxi and signaled for the plane captain (PC) to pull chocks.

As the plane captain started the taxi-forward signal, the EWO asked, "What side number are we?"

I responded, "We're in 5.... "Hmm, I had been too busy with the switch that I hadn't realized what side number I had just signed for.

I stopped the aircraft and mimed to the PC and troubleshooters, asking for the number on the nose. After a few moments, finally someone on the ground figured out our intent and signaled our side number. Off the brakes and forward I went to catch up with everyone else.

The event then went as advertised, and we completed all the sets and learning points. It wasn't until after I had landed that the desk chief told me about an issue. In my trying to figure out our side number after pulling chocks and a taxi-forward sign, I either missed or did not acknowledge the PC efforts to rechock the plane. They thought something was wrong when I had suddenly stopped. Thinking I was still under my own braking power after the side number was sorted out and while trying to start taxing again, I didn't realize someone from the line had gone under the aircraft to pull the chocks as I came up on the power to come forward. I thought about how close a call this was, and how I could have blown someone over, or worse. The individual had quickly recognized the situation and gotten clear of the aircraft.

I was humbled to realize that even in the relative comfort of the line, danger still lurks.

I could have been the cause of hurting someone. It took a close call to learn that there is no need to rush a situation, especially during a training evolution. Had I taken it a little slower, kept a normal pace and noted the side number, I could have avoided this situation.

I gave a couple cases of soda for the shack and offered a sincere apology to the troubleshooter I had put in harm's way.

BY LT. CHRIS RITTER

LT. RITTER FLIES WITH VAQ-139.
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Title Annotation:flight safety
Author:Ritter, Chris
Publication:Approach
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2013
Words:737
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