Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Vulnerable Close Call

When we are young or new to any endeavor we are most vulnerable. We are often at the mercy of those who are more experienced and whom we count on as role models and authority figures. We can only hope that these will be good people.

During the early days of my arrival in South Korea after completing Army Flight School I was assigned to a special mission that consisted of a flight of two Hueys.

I was assigned to fly as co-pilot with the Operation's Officer who was a CW2 Vietnam Veteran. The normal practice was for both pilots to meet at the aircraft one hour before scheduled takeoff to preflight.

I asked my PIC (Pilot in Command) what time he wanted to meet at the aircraft to preflight. The reason I asked was because the one hour before was the standard practice, but the PIC had the option of changing it. Depending on who his co-pilot was he could also delegate the whole responsibility to the co-pilot if he so wished. I was pretty green in country, so this was unlikely for this mission.

Anyhow, after asking he said, "We'll get around to it".

I think I asked him again at thirty minutes before takeoff when he wanted to preflight. He told me again that we'll get around to it. Finally ten minutes before takeoff we walked out to the aircraft. There was no longer sufficient time to complete a thorough preflight, so this time I asked him, "Are we going to preflight?"

He said, "For this kind of mission maintenance is required to perform a special inspection on the aircraft, so we don't have to preflight."

I accepted this answer and we climbed into the aircraft to preform our run-up procedures.

After cranking we noticed that the fuel gauge was inop (inoperative). We then checked the aircraft logbook for the first time. The fuel gauge was written up as being inop, but it was not red X'd which would have prevented the aircraft from being used. The operations officer just shrugged his shoulders, noted where maintenance had signed off their inspection, and then signed off the preflight as if we had done one.

We soon lifted from our base as a flight of two and flew 45 minutes across the mountains to another base. After landing on the tarmac and shutting down, the four pilots headed to the snack bar to wait for the crew chiefs to refuel the aircraft.

When the two crew chiefs walked into the snackbar they gave us the strangest look as they asked, "Do you know what?"

In unison we said, "What?"

They looked at the other crew and said, "They took 40 gallons." Then they looked back at myself and the ops officer and said, "You two took 140!"

The operations officer just shrugged his shoulders again and shrugged it off, but that experience made a lasting impression on me. We could have very easily and stupidly had fuel exhaustion over the mountains. If I didn't do anything else regardless of who I was flying with I would always check the fuel from then on after prior to takeoff.

My aviation career could have easily ended on that flight while only just beginning...

If something is going to go wrong it will most likely happen when you are doing something you have no business doing. In this case that would be flying without preflighting the aircraft.

That's my tall tale for today... ciao!

I expect to have more Tall Tales from Korea posted sometime in the future, but I wanted to say since I opened my Korean experience with this story that my aviation experience in Korea was exceptional. I am a Vietnam ERA veteran, but I am not a Vietnam Veteran. The difference is that one served during a piece of the time period the Vietnam war took place and the other actually served in Vietnam. The unit I was assigned to in Korea was heavy with Vietnam Veterans. Except for one, Berle the Squirrel, all of these men were excellent role models regarding flying. One of them told me one day, "Dave, flying in Korea is just as good as in Vietnam except you don't have to get shot at." I thought, "Works for me." I have the highest regard and respect for the Vietnam Veterans I served with in Korea. While skills varied, the majority were excellent pilots that helped shape me into the pilot I became. Even the operations officer I flew with on this day.


  1. Psalm 116:6 comes to mind. :-) Thank God!

  2. Amen to that! So many times...