U.S. Army Aviation: Get Your Act Together
To my fellow U.S. Army pilots, what I am about to tell you is not going to be easy for you to read, but if you want to be successful in any post-Army flying position, I suggest you do. If not, stop right here before I insult You, Mother Rucker, and Army Aviation in general.
Truth: U.S. Army Aviation is forty years behind best practices in the flying business.
Yes - forty years.
I say that because we are! I can say “we” because I flew as an Army helicopter pilot from 1981-1991 and again recently as an Army Contractor flying ISR RC/MC-12 in Afghanistan from 2014 through 2016 with Task Force ODIN.
No successful aircraft operator outside of the U.S. Army still uses “Read and Do Lists” also known as challenge and response check lists. The rest of modern aviation uses real “Check Lists.”
The way real “Check Lists” work is that after you do a flow (sometimes called a procedure), the non-flying pilot then uses the “Check List” to verify everything is done. There is no call out by the non-flying pilot and response by the flying-pilot after each item, especially below 10,000 feet above ground level. Reading and responding twice to the same thing in two separate sections of the “do list” does not make us safer. It only allows the Standards Department to pass the blame when you hit a mountain and die or land gear up.
In an article looking back at Fiscal 2016’s Army Aviation Safety[i] record, BGEN Jeffrey A. Farnsworth points out that we continue to see 80% of U.S. Army manned aviation accidents being caused by human error, and he correctly points out that aircrew coordination is a big part of the problem. The rest of the world has moved forward for over forty years with more efficient ways to operate in the cockpit; we have not. What percentage of those coordination issues are caused by an institutional bias against change, caused by the top down Mother Rucker knows best attitude?
I have close friends, who like me, are either retired Airline Captains, high time corporate or military pilots teaching at the leading training companies, and both regional and major airlines. They are all telling me the same thing. U.S. Army pilots might have good stick and rudder skills, but their situational awareness above 100 knots and their ability to out think the airplane is abysmal.
An old aviation adage is that you should never let an airplane take you somewhere your head did not arrive five minutes earlier. It’s not a joke to those instructors when they have to wash a pilot out of the program because they cannot out-think the airplane.
The fix I am proposing is not hard. A good first step would be to simply adopt the cockpit operating procedures as taught by the major training companies like CAE or Flight Safety for the fixed-wing fleets, then mimic those types of procedures in the rotary wing communities.
It’s time Army Aviation leaves its echo chamber and joins the rest of aviation in the 21st Century before we lose even more pilots to the “way we have always done it.”
You can find Captain Dave’s bio at; https://www.linkedin.com/in/captaindavefunk/