War Story 2

There I was…after a long day of desert qualification flights in Kuwait.  We were working on the docks reassembling aircraft, test flying them, and then instructor pilots were taking them out to qualify all the pilots in dessert operations.

Dock operations are the safety officer’s nightmare.  Hundreds of soldiers are working to restore dozens of aircraft packed for ocean travel to flyable condition.  The aircraft are shrink wrapped with cellophane for transport.  Once these aircraft are reassembled, test pilots taxi out and fly off the edge of the dock over the water to complete their evaluations.  There was a control tower on a narrow strip of land that ran out into the water.  Next to the control tower was a helipad where the typical procedure was for aircraft to air taxi from the dock across the water to the helipad and receive clearance from there for takeoff.  Conversely, returned aircraft would land on the helipad and receive clearance to air taxi across the water for parking and gas. 

As I recall, it was my first day to fly in the Middle East.  I had no idea what the real desert looked like until I was flying over it.  I could literally see puddles of oil seeping out of the ground.  The coast of Kuwait had the potential to be incredibly beautiful; however, was a paradise of trash…everywhere.  Kuwait could have benefitted from borrowing the ‘Don’t Mess with Texas’ slogan.  The message would have likely been lost in the translation.  The coastal waters consisted of floating oil and trash.  This is the stuff environmentalists’ nightmares were made of.  

It was late in the day and we were returning on bingo fuel.  The instructor pilot had pushed the typical fuel reserves to squeeze one more set of qualifications in for the day.  We were cleared to land to the pad next to the tower and were anxiously requesting clearance to taxi across the water to parking since our fuel was extremely low.  The tower controllers would not have been happy if we had to shut down on the approach helipad and wait for a fuel truck.  

As the seconds are ticking by and tower continues the instructions to hold, we insisted on clearance to move to parking and was denied.  Seconds later, a pilot from our unit called us on another radio to inform us that an “incident” had taken place on the dock, outside of our view.  We were told to shut down the aircraft and wait.  Bored and unaware of the true nature of the incident, I pulled out the Blackhawk manual and reviewed the fuel flow charts based on the amount of fuel left in our tanks.  Sitting there on the ground, I discovered that we had not had enough fuel on board required to cross the water.  Based on the charts and the gas gauge, our flight would have ended in the disgusting Kuwaiti water. And we would only have lived by God’s grace.  

The incident prevented us from a water landing.  A test pilot and co-pilot had not cleared the rotor blades thoroughly during ground taxi and taxied the aircraft into a robust light pole.  The pole was only scuffed.  In fact, two years later when I returned to that very dock, the scar was still there.  The aircraft sustained almost a million dollars’ worth of damage as well as damaging many other aircraft around it.  Despite the hundreds of soldiers on the dock that day and the material damage, not one soldier was injured in the incident.  Without which, I may not be here to share this story.  

Written By: Katie Bigelow
Courtesy Photo