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Kermit the FOD.

An integral component of any flight is the preflight inspection. As familiarity and experience with the aircraft increases, we tend to develop a consistent and methodical flow to identify what is, and what is not, normal with our aircraft. Discrepancies such as low fluid levels, excessive leakage, inoperative lighting, and broken slip marks are easily spotted. Prefights can become routine. As I recently discovered, however, the not-so-obvious or unexpected can occasionally make a preflight far from ordinary.

As a flight student in the advanced rotary syllabus, I was scheduled to fly my fifth flight in the TH-57B. Everything from the brief to aircraft assignment was routine. As my instructor pilot (IP) and I arrived at the aircraft, we divided up the preflight responsibilities as per our brief.

We soon discovered three green tree frogs on the outside of the lower fuselage. Wait a minute! I know my NATOPS manual quite well, and it mentions nothing about checking for frogs. However, it turns out that during the spring and summer months in northwest Florida, small frogs are known for making TW-5 aircraft their temporary home to evade the heat and stay cool. This day offered a particularly good incentive for frogs to hide in the aircraft because it was hot and humid.

We continued our preflight inspection and my instructor noticed another frog between the engine heat shield and air-transfer tube. Not a big deal at this point; the IP simply removed the frog and continued on with his inspection. Taking no chances, my IP told me to check the engine intake to ensure no frogs were hiding in there. I discovered a green, dime-sized head poking out of the compressor-inlet section.

"Sir, you guessed right, there is a frog in here," I yelled. He replied with an expletive.

We called our contract maintenance folks, who quickly came to assist us. When the maintainer asked, "What seems to be the problem?" We stifled a chuckle and said, "Well, we got a frog hiding out in our compressor."

As a look of disbelief set in on the maintainer's face, you could tell that he had to personally verify the claim. "Yep, that's a frog alright," he said.

Having found a frog in the compressor intake, our next task was to remove it. After 10 minutes of trying to pry the little guy out with a rod, we had the frog cornered, but he was still determined to stay. Along with the maintainer's amusing phobia of frogs, the engine-intake screen further prevented our attempts to extricate our friendly amphibian.

Growing desperate, our maintainer said, "I know what to do, I'll spray him with a water hose." Splash!

Along with the torrent of high-pressure water, not one, or two, but three green tree frogs came washing out. I thought, "You have to be kidding me. Three frogs all together, and we barely saw the first frog. What are the odds? Do you think there could be more frogs hiding out?"

We decided to reassess our preflight ORM brief. The increased chances of a compressor stall from a FODed engine could affect our training mission. To cover all of the bases, we decided to invest more time in the preflight and enlist the help of additional maintainers to make sure the aircraft was no longer frog infested. This action reduced the risk of the frog-FOD hazard and made us both comfortable with flying the aircraft. Ultimately, we completed the "hop" (get it?) with no issues.

Every situation or procedure is not covered in a manual or SOP. Personal experience and the shared experiences of others help to fill those gaps that are not covered through text. At that particular time, I had only completed a few preflight inspections, and my familiarization and experience was minimal.

My methodical flow of preflight inspections was still riddled with this question: "Is this normal, sir?"

I learned to take extra time to inspect those smaller and/or harder-to-see areas that could be hiding places for wildlife, leaves or nests Note: No frogs were harmed during the preflight inspection.

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Author:Vlasak, Nicholas
Date:Mar 1, 2014
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