Thursday, October 1, 2015

Not All Good Ideas are Great!

It was a warm spring day here in Northwest Florida.  That day, like most of my days, involved talking with various agencies, reading draft test plans and reports, and doing all the “administriva” necessary to keep a flying test squadron running smoothly.  The sun was shining, the winds were light, and I had ridden my bike the five miles to work.  In the morning briefs my test teams laid out their plans for the day.  There was nothing exceptional and no reason for me to question the teams on the exact details of any of the events.  In fact, we were hosting some Army Aviation personnel who were conducting some tests with the Navy’s Special Boat Squadron and their development folks down in Panama City.  It was not our test, and we had no oversight.  We were there to help coordinate test range issues, base operating issues and otherwise provide administrative support to the Army.

At about 11 am I broke for lunch and went for a bike ride.  I arrived back in the squadron around 12:30 and was met by the team helping coordinate the Army test.  I suspected things would get interesting when they greeted me with “Sir, we need to talk!”  We headed into my office and closed the door.

Tech Sergeant Smith began.  “Sir, we’ve just received reports that the Army and Navy test that was going on today had an accident.” I stop him at this point to ask if there were any injuries or fatalities.  Thankfully the answer was no.  There was some damage to the MH-47, and the sub they were transporting had been dropped into the Gulf.  Sergeant Smith goes on.  “Recovery operations are underway for the sub and the MH-47 has recovered to Hurlburt and their agency leadership has been notified.  We’ve notified our higher headquarters and all necessary reporting has been done.”  At this point I interrupt and realize that since I’d not reviewed the Army’s test plan I didn’t really know what they were doing today so I ask Sergeant Smith to bring me up to speed.

“Well Sir, the plan was to launch from here, fly down to Panama City, meet up with the Navy and do some sling load testing of the new swimmer delivery vehicle they had developed.  Everything was going according to plan until they were out over the Gulf and had the mini-sub slung under the -47.  When the helo began a turn the sub started to put slack into the line and was turning inside the helicopter.  The guy monitoring the line didn’t react quickly enough and the sub hit the helicopter just about the time the helicopter jettisoned the sling.  The sub then fell into the Gulf and we think it’s in about 200’ of water.  They are out looking for it right now.”

Lessons learned:  Subs can fly, perhaps better than helicopters.  If you don’t think something is possible, you’ve probably not thought through all the possibilities.

Post script:  No one was hurt, they found and recovered the swimmer delivery vehicle,  and at least two pilots have the ability to tell people about their mid-air collision with a submarine and how it wasn’t their fault.

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