In the UH-60 Black Hawk community, tasks such as rappelling, special patrol infiltration/exfiltration system and fast rope insertion/extraction system operations offer our ground force an incredible tactical advantage — especially while operating in areas unsuitable for landing. However, there are hazards related to these tasks. I’d like to discuss a hazard associated with Task 2056, Perform Rappelling Operations, and how effective crew coordination can mitigate the risks.
There’s no doubt that Task 2056 is a pivotal duty in an air assault crewmember’s repertoire, as it can greatly assist the ground force in expeditiously getting boots on the insertion point when our aircraft cannot set down on the terrain below. While rappelling out of a hovering helicopter presents obvious hazards to the rappellers, aircrew members are at risk as well. This is because of the introduction of the increased potential for foreign object damage as a result of the presence of materials required for rappelling operations with open cargo doors. Perhaps the largest threat is the rappelling ropes themselves.
According to the UH-60 aircrew training manual, the non-rated crewmember will announce, “Ropes clear,” once all rappellers are safely on the insertion point and the ropes have either been released or secured inside the aircraft. The actions of securing the ropes and making the callout are paramount to the safe operation of the aircraft once the insertion is completed. If the pilot were to resume flight with the rappelling ropes still hanging from the aircraft, the potential for them to make their way into and wind their way around the main rotor or tail rotor systems, respectively, or ingested into the engines, becomes a potential hazard. The occurrence of any of these hazards could result in a catastrophic mishap.
Aircrew coordination is vitally important to the safe operation of Army aircraft. Without it, we are setting up ourselves for failure. If essential communication does not take place, catastrophic consequences may occur. This could easily happen with my example involving rappelling ropes. What if one of our crew chiefs called, “Ropes clear,” while they were dangling from the aircraft? What if the pilot on the controls neglected to wait for the call and resumed flight before the ropes are actually clear of or secured inside the aircraft? If we, as crewmembers, are communicating timely and effectively and providing situational aircraft and mission advisories amongst our crew, the potentially devastating outcome should be avoided.
The very nature of what we do as aviators is dangerous. With effective risk management, we drastically reduce the potential for hazards to allow mishaps to occur. In rappelling operations, we have implemented controls to make the task as safe as it can possibly be. Effective crew coordination through the communication of the status of the rappelling ropes and where they are in relation to the aircraft provides us with a strong administrative control. Use of effective crew coordination must be emphasized for all crewmembers during all phases of flight to ensure mission success and safe operation of Army aircraft.