Precision Makes All the Difference in the World When Flying

The C-130H generally flies with a crew of two pilots, a navigator, engineer, and two loadmasters.

The C-130H generally flies with a crew of two pilots, a navigator, engineer, and two loadmasters.

I have been actively flying in the Air Force for only a little over three years which makes me pretty much a baby in so many ways.  For that reason I have decided I need to start analyzing the things that happen on my flights and ensure that I am taking advantage of every opportunity I have to learn.

The reason I am writing these lessons here is that I am hoping to get feedback from others on lessons they may have learned in similar situations or maybe even totally different ones.  I have always thought that part of being an aviator is sharing thoughts and ideas to make us all better.  Conveniently, I had a good learning experience just last night to share.

So as the navigator on the C-130 it is my responsibility to ensure that the pilots take us to the right spot for us to kick a load out the back and fall where I want it on a drop zone.  In the real world this could be anything from heavy vehicles, people, ammunition, water, food, to pretty much anything that a warrior on the ground could need.

As you might imagine, it is critical that the load falls where it is needed so that it can be quickly retrieved and minimize the amount of time that the people on the ground are in danger.  While there are certain aspects of the process that are somewhat scientific, a lot of it is based on the experience and expertise of the navigator directing the plane where it needs to be at the right time.

With all of that being said, the C-130 is a crew aircraft and it takes all of us working together to get that load where it needs to be.

On a crew of 6 we had two females.  We need more of that.

On a crew of 6 we had two females. We need more of that.

So last night we executed a quality route to an airdrop which led to me calling for the drop at just the right time at which point the co-pilot is supposed to flip two switches, releasing the load so that it lands right on the desired point of impact in the center of the drop zone.

What actually happened was that the co-pilot flipped one switch and the load didn’t immediately go out.  As I said before though, I am on a crew aircraft, and the loadmaster did her job and released the load, albeit about 1.5 seconds later.  That may not seem like much, but when we received our score it was 150 yards past the point of impact.

That means that in a real-world situation the people on the ground would have had to travel about a football field and a half to get their supplies while possibly under fire from the enemy.  I think it’s pretty obvious to see why that is not ideal.

As with any time that I don’t get the score I am looking for (perfection) I began to analyze what had happened to correct it for the next drop.  Did the winds change?  Was the plane not in position?  Did I make the call late?  It could be any number of reasons, but in the end I am trying to learn and I really couldn’t come up with anything other than maybe I just called it a couple of seconds late.  So that was the adjustment I decided to make.

Unfortunately, neither the co-pilot nor the load master had told me what had happened so when the next drop came around I ended up dropping almost the same distance from the point of impact, but short instead of long.  It wasn’t until we landed an hour later that I found out what had happened, and it all came together in my mind.

Part of flying is enjoying the scenery, which you can't do if you aren't being precise.

Part of flying is enjoying the scenery, which you can’t do if you aren’t being precise.

So there are really two lessons that came from this experience, one of which I didn’t even think of until I started writing so I guess this whole idea is working for me.  The first lesson is something I have already written about in the past, crew resource management (CRM).  We talk about CRM before every single flight and this just reinforced to me how essential it is at all times.

The second lesson is how important it is to be precise at all times when flying.  In this situation it could mean a really long run for needed supplies.  During takeoff it could mean hitting a fence or tree because you didn’t climb fast enough.  On landing, it could mean you don’t quite make it to the runway which could have terrible results.

The point is not to scare anyone, but to re-emphasize how important it is to be precise in everything that you do as a flyer.  Don’t accept short cuts or a lack of precision from the people you fly with.  Set standards for yourself and when you don’t meet them analyze how you could have done better.  Ask for feedback from other people you fly with and apply it.

Being a true aviator means you never stop learning, and always work at improving yourself.