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Gaining Experience


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They call it gaining experience. It can and does build firm convictions when you survive. I was about to get one. Anyhow I was a fng brand new wojg fresh out of Army Flight School in the Republic of South Korea.


I was assigned as co-pilot flying with the operations officer, a seasoned Vietnam vet, on a special two aircraft mission. This wasn't my first flight in country, but I still had a ways to go before I could be considered for PIC.


The typical practice was to meet at the aircraft one hour before launch to preflight, so I asked my PIC when he wanted to meet at the aircraft. He said, "We'll get around to it, just relax." So I did.


Thirty minutes before launch I asked my PIC if we were going to preflight. He said, "For these missions maintenance is required to do a special inspection on the aircraft, so we don't have to preflight. Just meet me at the aircraft 10 minutes before launch."


I was the fng and co-pilot, so who was I to argue? I said, "OK with me". (Note: this would be the only time in my aviation career that a preflight was neglected regardless of who was supposed to do what.)


Well we climbed in without preflighting and cranked. The fuel gauge indicated zero. My PIC took a quick look in the log book and sure enough it was written up as inop, but didn't ground the aircraft. The assumption was that maintenance had everything taken care of with their special inspection, so surely the fuel tank was topped off.


We took off to make a 45 minute flight across the mountains from Uijongbu to Chuncheon where we were to refuel before continuing the mission.


Once landing on the tarmac and shutting down all the pilots headed to the snack bar while the crewchiefs remained with the aircraft while they were refueled.


The four pilots sat comfortably in the snack bar with our coffee or whatever we ordered that day waiting for the crewchiefs to arrive.


When the crewchiefs finally arrived they looked directly at me and my PIC with the strangest "you're never gonna believe this" look.


Then they said, "You know what?"


We all said, "What?"


The crewchiefs looked at the other crew and said, "Their aircraft took 40 gallons."


Then they looked at us and said, "Your aircraft took 140 gallons!"


My PIC just shrugged his shoulders and gave a grin portraying what assumptions can do when they don't hold up.


Hmmm, my nascent flying career could have easily came to a premature end due to fuel starvation over the mountains in South Korea and an operations officer too lazy to preflight. We didn't get there, but the assumption is surely my PIC would have believed the 20 minute light and realized maintenance had let us down where fuel was concerned regarding their special inspection... right?


How inconvenient to find out the fuel gauge is inop after you are already cranked and expected to launch. But then of course those who had done the special inspection surely would have taken care of the fuel too. So, no reason to delay the flight... right?


Lesson learned and conviction gained; probably not a good idea to trust your preflight to others and if you do, at the least better personally check and know your fuel status regardless of who you're flying with.


ps Including this ops officer with his preflight indiscretion, I found the majority of Vietnam Vets to be excellent pilots and mentors.

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  • 2 weeks later...

First time I heard a story from this point of view from a military pilot. Not saying it didn't, but did the debrief depict the same story as what was posted? In my experience it is always the maintainers fault... he should have fueled the ACFT, he should have fixed the gauge, ect. Yes he probably should have, but the pilot would know he didn't had the forms been reviewed and the ACFT pre-flighted correctly right?


Either way, it was a great read, and a good reminder for all. I commend you for posting this great story. I must say that, the pilots I most respected throughout my career were the ones that had the balls to say, "I f@cked up, this is what I did_______, and this is what happened". Them pilots have been few and far between, but I still remember and respect them above the rest.


My Point: be straight forward and honest, it will earn you great respect, with maintenance, and your employer. Besides some more advanced aircraft will tell exactly what happened whether, you do or not.

Edited by gary-mike
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DeltaBravo- your pilot was an idiot and so were you. I respect your willingness to share an embarrassing story, it soundly demonstrates that you're not a suicidal idiot at this point, and probably not an FNG regardless of experience level...


A long time ago before GPS and even LORAN, I was flying a 206B3 as 'field ship' in the Gulf of Mexico. This required an average: 4.2 hours daily; 100+ landings; 2-3 external loads; and a trip to the 'beach' (18 minutes each way, barely out of visual range), and 10-15 engine starts. Mostly the job stayed within 4 miles of quarters. One day I went to next field and visited while my single pax evaluated the job I'd taken him there to do. Mid visit, I got a call from the field dispatcher telling me to bring my happy self back quick-quick. Which I did, or thought I was doing.

ETA come and gone and no home field structures in sight. Then my radio failed. Instantly (more or less, about 2 minutes) diagnosing the problem as a generator switch actuator failure (me) I brought the generator on-line, to observe the whiskey compass heading change by approximately 45 degrees. Oh. Now I know where I am, lost being a state of mind that a single verified fact can change.


Probably all maintenance's fault.

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I think deltabravo was more naive, and ignorant, being a newbie, and being a good military man following direct orders. Doing something you know to be stupid makes you an idiot. Being the new guy in a warzone not knowing which way is up doesn't. I always wonder about the intelligence level of people who casually throw the idiot word around so nonchalantly.

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Lot's of story's like this while about newbies in Country. Part of dealing with war, IMHO.


- My buddy who just arrived in Nam started to pick up his Huey and was redlining. He stated they had to throw off some ammo. Seasoned pilot takes controls, picks it up, dives off the plateau all while in the red. Says, :" we'll burn off enough fuel fast before we hurt the engine. Plus it gives a tiny bit of reserve and more bullets to come home on. This is how we do it here. "

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I hear Aeroscout's point, I am wrong. I unreservedly apologize for calling Deltabravo an idiot.


For those who've never done it, being second pilot is the toughest assignment there is- one has a full share of responsibility (the source of my exasperation and excuse for loss of temper) and a lesser amount of authority. It's an especially challenging job for a newly rated aviator and "FNG". Crews live and die with how well that job is done.

Edited by Wally
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Should I pre-flight it myself even though it "supposedly" has already been done?


This question has crossed my mind many times over the years when flying with other, more experienced, pilots, who have said, "...its already been pre-flighted".


There are things I like to be sure of myself (especially after reading stories like this (and the one they have us read at Robinson, about the mechanic, the pilot, and the "Jesus nut" on a 206)),...but I don't want to insult the guy by insisting on checking it out when he's insisting its ok!


What to do...?


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if you need to be sure of it yourself then by all means do the preflight for yourself. I to this very day still preflight and I don't care if someone is offended or not. Two sets of eyes is better than oops I missed that and then something bad happens. I just let the other pilot know that regardless I like to preflight any aircraft I fly in or that I'm flying.

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After a few years of disliking preflights, I came to wonder while flying if I had checked this or that item on prefilght. I used to chalk it up to short term memory. Now when I preflight, I know myself well enough to know that if I don't check something on the preflight checklist, it will bother me all during the flight. So for me it's not only safer, but, a little pain now during preflight will save me a lot of mental anguish during the flight.

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