Engine Chip Light With Rear Admiral On Board

BY LTJG STEPHEN PEREZ

Refueling

Sailors refuel an MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter assigned to the “Death Howlers” of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 72, Detachment 2. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Ryan U. Kledzik.

When anyone thinks of perfect weather, we had it. Sunny and 75 degrees, with relatively no humidity. As a crew, we could not ask for better conditions to operate in unfamiliar airspaces around the island of Okinawa. We had done our due diligence as Naval Aviators by conducting all our preflight planning of the military and civilian airspaces, filing an international flight plan, and obtaining a Prior Permission Required (PPR) permit for a helicopter pad.
Despite my lack of operational experience as a junior Helicopter 2nd Pilot, I felt ready to assist the crew in our mission: Picking up the Admiral of the Expeditionary Strike Group.
This may sound like a simple task for an H-60, but keep in mind that we were flying an MH-60R.
With the Airborne Low Frequency SONAR (ALFS) on board we can only carry one passenger, so usually an MH-60S handles passenger transfers. This day however, we switched to our other embarked aircraft, which only has the sonobuoy launcher, giving us the capability to carry two passengers.
We departed our ship and had no issues with the foreign controlling agencies. After gaining clearance to land at the helicopter pad, we flew in on what seemed like an old basketball court. As we were approached the area, we did our proper sweep checks to ensure the area was clear of personnel and rocks prior to landing. We arrived safely on deck to greet the admiral.
Following our landing, I sat at the controls while the helicopter aircraft commander (HAC) and aircrewman got out to locate the admiral. Thirty minutes later, with the help of the port authorities, we found the admiral and his aide. Our aicrewman conducted a standard passenger brief and got them situated in the back, one in the instructor seat and the admiral next to the door.
The LHD where we were taking the admiral was forty miles offshore, so we estimated how long it would take to transit and did our best to hit our overhead time. Fifteen minutes prior to our scheduled land time, and approximately 12 miles from the ship, we noticed something flickering on our display: #1 ENGINE CHIP light. At this point, the HAC announced to the crew, “We have a #1 ENGINE CHIP light.”
I was at the controls while the HAC reached for the pocket checklist. The HAC checked the engine instruments for secondary indications while flipping through the pocket checklist. No secondary indications were noted. After reading through the emergency procedure, we continued to press inbound to the big deck because we had the ship insight. I maintained safe single engine conditions, straight and level at 70 KIAS airspeed and 300 feet for the approach to the LHD. I maintained controls while the HAC called tower and advised them that we had an engine chip light, with the admiral on board. She requested a straight in to the first available spot. Tower told us we were clear for a straight in to spot 7 and asked if we needed any assistance. The HAC advised that we were okay and on final for spot 7.
The HAC was prepared to take the controls to fly the approach in, however both pilots noticed an MV-22 on spot 6 and an CH-53E on spot 9. Due to the position of aircraft, the HAC decided that I, sitting right seat, should take the landing due to the known hazards. As we approached the deck, I was able to conduct a normal landing without any issue, engine instruments remaining normal. It was not until the admiral came on the intercommunication control system to say, “Thanks guys for a safe landing. Good luck with the emergency and fly safe,” that we were reminded that we survived our aircraft emergency with not just any passenger, but the Expeditionary Strike Group Commander in the backseat.
Upon being chocked and chained, the HAC requested the HSC Det officer in charge be available for assistance. After shutting down to inspect the engine, the HSC maintainers found one engine chip in the chip detector. We eventually stuffed the bird to allow for the F-35 cycle to begin and later conducted a 15 minute penalty turn before returning to our home ship.
Thankfully our emergency did not develop into anything life threatening. With constant communication inside the aircraft as well as having studied up on the unfamiliar landing environments, we avoided an exasperating situation by not remaining in flight any longer than we needed to. When we are asked about this incident, our crew simply stated “This is just part of our job.”
We did not think we did anything special, rather we used the training we are taught throughout flight school and the Aircraft Commander process: aviate, navigate, and then communicate, and assess risk using ORM. Reflecting on this event makes me realize how good the Navy and Marine Corps aviation training is. We’ve learned that you never forget the basics.

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