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Low-level locusts: Think through the potential on sequences of any plan.

Back in the summer of 1986, I was in a B-52G that was flying at 0.8 Mach, 400 feet off the deck through a winding low-level route over portions of Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota. The Director of Operations for the 319th Bomb Wing was the pilot and our non-integral crew had just finished a tactical run against the Forsyth, Mont., bomb plot, which we now call electronic combat ranges.

With absolutely no warning, we flew into a giant cloud of locusts. The cockpit windows were rapidly coated with locust guts -- the window wipers were useless. We quickly reviewed our options and aborted low-level flight, climbing to instrument flight rules. It did not help -- we were still getting hit and the brown slime was getting thicker and drier on the windows. We used the radar to look for some rain, but found none. Squawking emergency, we coordinated with center and aborted the low-level route, climbing to a higher en route altitude using our instruments.

When the locusts first started hitting, we closed the Electro-optical Viewing System (EVS) turrets. As soon as we were clear, we used the wash function to regain some forward vision. We flew straight back to Grand Forks AFB, N.D., and got ready to land, but not before some inadvisable experimentation. The aircraft commander decided to open his window while we were in the pattern. Our speed was about 150 knots indicated air speed. His attempt to clear the window just smeared the bug guts around and almost broke his arm. Thankfully, he was a pretty tough guy after all those years of wrestling with Buffs.

This happened years before the advent of Crew Resource Management (CRM) and Operational Risk Management (ORM). Had we stopped just a moment more to reflect, our zeal to regain better forward visibility would have been tempered with an analysis of the risks and benefits. In this case, it probably was not worth the risk of injury to our best pilot to try and clear the windshield since we had regained some forward visibility.

Finally, we set up for an instrument landing system approach on instruments and looked out to either side through the aircraft commander and pilot's windows. The navigator called out altitude, the radar navigator confirmed line-up with the runway, the electronic warfare officer contacted the command post, and the pilots used the instruments and the EVS to bring us safely down.

We learned several things. One, have an abort plan (we did). Two think through the potential consequences of any plan you hatch, applying CRM and ORM methodologies. Three, use everything available to build and keep your situational awareness. If you keep in mind and follow these three lessons learned, you'll come through your unexpected encounters as safe as possible.
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Author:Turek, Raymond
Publication:Combat Edge
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2002
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