We had just finished an uneventful night and night vision goggle (NVG) back-in-the-saddle (BITS) flight flying around San Diego. After shutting down the SH-60B and completing the requisite engine wash, I hopped out and used the flashlight from my survival vest to conduct a post-flight inspection of the aircraft. I noticed that the light was dim so as I walked to the paraloft, I put the flashlight into my helmet bag intending to give it to maintenance to have the batteries changed. Had I actually turned the light in, my troubles would never have happened and this would have been a very short story. The problem was that I did not turn it in and instead it remained in my bag.“No big deal,” you may say. “It’s just a flashlight and you know where it is, right? It’s not like you lost a tool or something.”
Fast forward three flights later and I have just completed hot seating my helicopter after a day flight. As I walk in to the hangar I remember that my flashlight was still in my helmet bag and still needed new batteries. I turn it in to the paraloft and as I complete my post-flight paperwork, the PR asks if I had the green lens from my flashlight. A quick inventory of my helmet bag reveals that I did not. Now, it’s a big deal because I have lost a tool. Even worse, because it was in my helmet bag and not on my vest I did not properly preflight the light so I could not be sure when I lost the lens. It could have happened at any point between the night BITS and this last flight. Consequently, three aircraft required foreign object debris (FOD) checks.
A basic tenant of aviation maintenance is that whatever goes out to the aircraft must come back to the shop; from the smallest chunk of safety-wire to the largest piece of survival equipment (SE) gear. Tools are etched for a reason, so we know where they belong. However, this only works if the tools are properly inventoried and controlled. More to the point, flight equipment, like a flashlight, is considered a tool. That is why we preflight (read “inventory”) our gear before each flight, sign it out before we fly and do the same when we return; just like the maintenance personnel who work on the aircraft do with tools. As aircrew we would never dream of allowing a Trouble Shooter to come off the aircraft without checking his tool pouch, but do we hold ourselves to the same standard?
An additional problem is that besides our flight gear we also bring many other items to the bird that must also be controlled. Whether it is a navigation bag (NAVBAG), helmet bag, camel-back or backpack, we have to know what is taken in to the aircraft to know if it has come out.
The question then is, when was the last time you checked the contents of your helmet bag? Do you have random pieces of paper, power bars for those in flight munchies or, like me, a flashlight in there? Would you know if it fell out while you were in the aircraft?
The concept of tool control does not just apply to maintenance personnel. We are all responsible for ensuring what we take to the aircraft comes back with us. I was fortunate that the aircraft I had flown in had all gone straight into maintenance periods and not flown since my hops. However, this situation could have been infinitely worse. Since this incident, I have purged my flight bag of all extraneous gear and make it a point to inventory my bag before and after my flight. That is the only way to be sure you have it all.
LCDR. Oseland flies with HSL-43.