AoF: Who's the boss?

Today we’re going to look at a really significant aspect of flying in multiplayer, one that can result in horrible, awful, terrible things happening when not understood.

Let’s get right to it. As a transport pilot, you are in command of the helo, and you are responsible for the passengers being transported. You are the ranking person in that aircraft while you’re flying it. Anything that anyone else in the aircraft has to say, be they a squad leader, platoon commander, or whatever - it’s all taken under advisement and only acted on if you agree with them. Your decisions can get people killed - lots of people, in an instant - or cause the loss of an aircraft. If there’s time, you should discuss options with the senior leader onboard - but if there isn’t, you need to be ready and willing to act in the best interests of those onboard.

This final say comes into play with every aspect of transport flight. Everything that can be planned before the flight, should be planned. If you don’t like the LZ, talk it over with the leadership until you’re satisfied. Assess the routes used. Think through everything in advance and know what to do if things are different when you get there. A landing or pickup zone marked by an infantry element is a suggestion - you should know more than them about what does and doesn’t work, and if you need to adjust, do so and communicate it to them. You have the final say as to what happens. Infantry don’t dismount your aircraft until you tell them to. You are in command of your aircraft, and a smart leader will defer to your judgment.

That’s a lot of authority to have, and you need to rate it. If you’re flying people around, you need to know your limitations, be an expert at your craft, and be someone whose judgment can be relied upon. Your self-confidence should be grounded in a realistic assessment of your abilities, and you should not be afraid to make a life-saving decision even when under pressure from people on the aircraft. You should be practicing the hell out of flying, not just until you got something right, but until it’s so ingrained that you can’t get it wrong. Through that practice you’ll be able to develop a trust and confidence in yourself that can’t be shaken by the panicked or hasty words of others, and those who see you fly will come to trust your judgment and gain confidence in your abilities.

Let’s look at a recent incident that illustrates this quite well.

The situation is a platoon needing extraction. A Blackhawk has flown in to pick up a first lift, and now a Chinook is flying in to get the remainder.

They land, troops start boarding, and shortly before preparing to take off, something goes wrong - a bug causes the rear rotor of the aircraft to shear off, producing an audible sound and causing the pilot to inquire as to whether they still had a rear rotor.

Various passengers in the back of the helicopter repeatedly shouted and pressured the pilot to lift off, and so they did, even as someone is saying that the rear rotor is gone.

The rear rotor was indeed gone. The aircraft entered a spin and the pilot attempted to set up for a ‘rock out’ recovery technique by gaining altitude. This technique placed the aircraft in view of enemy armor that had been masked by the hilltop, which in turn caused it to take fire and lose engine while at a near zero airspeed.

After losing engine, the pilot appeared to enter autorotation - either this or the engine failure caused the aircraft to cease spinning, which is what the ‘dead simple’ tail rotor recovery technique is based on.

The nose was pointed towards land, the aircraft descended towards a downward-sloping piece of terrain, flared, impacted said terrain, and exploded catastrophically.

So what all led to this? Part of it was the bug itself, where a person running into the helo via the ramp caused it to glitch out and destroy the tail rotor. Not much to say there aside from "Don’t do that!" to the troops, and "please fix this" to BIS.

Much more significant is the critical decision to lift off. This was done under duress - the pilot had made a request for information that passengers in the back could have ascertained, this was apparently not done (though it sounds like perhaps a door gunner commented that the rear rotor was gone, but was drowned out by others), and with various players and leaders repeatedly urging him to take off, he did so, and everyone died as a result.

The takeaways from this one are simple.

For passengers - if you’re not a leader, stay quiet and let the leaders and crew communicate clearly. There was no need for as much panicky urging as happened here, and it resulted in all of these passengers dying in a preventable fashion. If you’re a crew chief on a helo, don’t be shy about telling the passengers to shut up so that the pilot and crew can talk.

For pilots - if you have a concern that you’ve lost a key part of your aircraft, do not lift unless you are absolutely unshakably confident that you can get them out of the area successfully. You are in command. You have the final say. The survival of the passengers is your responsibility. Don’t let excitable passengers force you to make a hasty decision that you’ll immediately regret.

So that’s the main thrust of this. Pilots are in command on aircraft. Don’t like it, door’s over there, feel free to walk!

As long as we’re here, let’s look at possible recovery methods.

For starters, if you’re trying to determine if your tail rotor is gone, just raise up collective a bit. You don’t even have to get off the ground - just light on the skids or wheels. If you start spinning without pedal input, your tail rotor is damaged. If you can’t arrest the spin at all, it’s destroyed. At that point, simply drop collective, cut the engine, and tell people to dismount.

Pretty simple. It’s akin to doing a hover check in reality - making sure that everything’s operating as expected before committing to full flight.

As to how you could still recover even if you’d leapt into the air unknowingly...

There are some key points to consider. The first is that the LZ is in a sheltered area, masked from the known area of enemy activity. This limits your options - altitude can potentially expose you to enemy that otherwise couldn’t hit you, and in this context there were BMPs known to be in the area. The second is that you have open ocean in a large arc that corresponds to your route of exfiltration.

So let’s say you’re in the air and holy shit you’re spinning. What to do? The main thing at this point is to get away from the enemy. You can achieve this by rocking or rolling gently in the direction of the spin, which is the premise of the ‘rock out’ recovery technique. By doing this, you can gain momentum sufficient to get away from land.

The key thing to remember is that it doesn't matter so much what direction you end up flying - if you’re slipping sideways, whatever, you can control that and then worry about flying nose-forward once you’re a safer distance from potential enemies. This technique can be accomplished from extremely low altitudes when over clear open ocean as in this scenario. Here’s me starting it at 10m alt while spinning.

Once safely away from the enemy, recover into forward flight via the dead-simple recovery method - gain sufficient altitude, drop collective, roll into the direction of forward flight, and you’ll weathervane into it. From there, return to base and execute a no-tailrotor landing.

If you’d like to practice this yourself, I’ve included code that can be used to set you up in the pickup zone with a disabled rear rotor. You can find that in the video description. Create a CH-47, set it to player-piloted, and set it to "Flying" as you see here. Once in-game, paste the code into the debug console, hit "Local Exec", and you’ll be ready.

That concludes this episode of Art of Flight. I hope this has helped to clarify the responsibility of a pilot towards their cargo, as well as the authority a pilot has over what they do with their airframe.