Something's Wrong

  • Published
  • By Anonymous
Like most pilots in the Air Force, I knew I would not get into an accident. That only happens to the other guy. I had the best training and flew the world's most sophisticated equipment. It can't happen to me, can it? Well every pilot out there has a story to tell about their flying career. It can revolve around something spectacular-saving their plane or lives. But more times than not, they are centered on something they screwed up or (more importantly) something they missed. I'm no different. 

Here's my story: Unfortunately, it's not about something spectacular. The results could have been catastrophic, but I got lucky. 

My flying career started in the pit of an RF-4. I was a back-seater at that time and truly loved flying that plane. I spent three years filling the "clue-bag" with great flying experiences. Any pilot will tell you the importance of filling that clue bag. Talent and equipment are important, but there is nothing more important then good experience. That experience got me out of some challenging situations in the low altitude environment where we flew. Unfortunately, we lost six aircraft to class A accidents during that short period of time. Still, that couldn't happen to me, it only happens to the other guy. Sadly those "other guys" were in my squadron. I lost some good friends and the Air Force lost some good aviators. 

I decided to take that experience and go to UPT, and spent a challenging year at Columbus AFB. I finished the program and was assigned to an F-16 RTU at MacDill AFB. I was sitting on top of the world. I flew on of the best fighters of all time--the Rhino, and now I was moving into what I considered the best fighter of the day. It just couldn't get any better. 

It was two months into the program and things were going great. We were moving into the refueling phase of training. I really enjoyed those missions in the Rhino and I knew it would be a challenging and rewarding mission here as well. It was my first ride in this phase so I had an IP in the back seat. The mission was scheduled as a two-ship BFM ride, refueling, and then return for more BFM. Our briefing covered all refueling specifics and BFM techniques but it went just a little long. I figured that wouldn't be a problem, I'd been late numerous times in my flying career. I'd just hurry through my pre-flight checklist and make up the time. So I did ... I rushed through the checklist and made up the time. Unfortunately I was in such a hurry I missed a critical step. 

It was an uneventful ride out to the working area. We checked in and it was time for the 1V1. I was pumped and ready to go. The first engagements went great. I correctly performed our pre-briefed maneuvers and got into position to take missile shots. They couldn't have gone any better ... and then things started to happen. 

I couldn't put my finger on it, but I just wasn't on my game, like I was before. The following engagements got progressively worse. I went from flying a good plane to getting killed, quickly, in each engagement. 

The next phase of the flight was about to start, refueling at FL280. On the way to the tanker route, things went down hill. I had problems controlling the aircraft; I noticed my fingers tingling and had a total lack of concentration. I couldn't even remember
the IP's name. I remember seeing the tanker and giving control of the aircraft to the IP. The next thing I remember is level flight at 3,000 feet--returning to base and feeling fine. The flight back was an uneventful trip and a normal landing. I was met by the flight surgeon for that long trip to the hospital. 

Looking back on it, it's so easy to see what happened. I had five years experience flying high performance aircraft. I'd been through the altitude chamber numerous times. Still, I missed every one of my hypoxia symptoms. I was concentrating so hard on flying, this experienced pilot let the situation progress from a mild case to a totally incapacitating form of hypoxia. 

How could this have happened? I thought back to my pre-flight and realized that in my rush to complete the checklist, I must have failed to accomplish the PRICE check on the oxygen regulator. And just my luck, this was the day my oxygen regulator wasn't working correctly. In fact, it failed numerous maintenance checks on the ground. 

I always thought I couldn't get into an accident. Plain and simple I got lucky! I made two critical errors that day, and if it weren't for the IP in the back seat I wouldn't be here. Since that day, I have a new appreciation for flying. Unfortunately, accidents do happen. It's just my job to utilize good checklist procedures and make sure I'm ready, mentally and physically, to fly every mission.