Inside the Vultures nest – Extortion 17 and the paper airplane.

The following was written originally for a military community so I will try to add as much context as possible.

I have been listening to the Extortion 17 audiobook and it really hits me hard. I was on my third deployment in Afghanistan when they were shot down. 2011 was a pretty hard damn year for aviation in Afghanistan, suffering the largest loss of life from a fallen angel. The Chinook (CH-47) in the Extortion 17 event was shot down and killed 38 people. There is a lot of conspiracy around the event and I tend to believe the conspiracy side of this.

My unit was suffering from severe maintainer problems. An Apache crashed on the airfield in Mazar-E-Sharif because the tail rotor drive shaft (T/R D/S for 15’s) was improperly installed. Both pilots survived. The upper pilot canopy was torn off by the main rotor blades and the upper seater had his scalp peeled back. Our Command Sergeant Major, the senior old person in the unit with a serious attitude and an overworked existence, yelled at the soldier with his jacket off to use as a dressing for the scalp. In the First Cavalry Division, you never take the top off. Ever. Not even to sleep. Don’t let the CSM catch you shitting without a top on. Our Battalion Surgeon had no idea what to do, stood there frozen by the sight of the wreckage. Some of us threw rocks at each other while we were waiting. Normal stuff. A question was asked as to whether it was disrespectful to pee next to the downed aircraft.

A horrible trend that was happening in our unit and no one was doing anything about it. They actively fought any attempt to improve. Moral was in the dumps. We had a crew chief fall out of a CH-47 over the active. She fell through the hellhole (I don’t know how so I won’t comment) and fell 20 feet. She survived but was severely injured. And the Battalion staff was on that flight. One CH-47 dropped a shipping container connex. Another a satellite trailer. Our sister Apaches had that god awful crash from the hot dogging.

I was on my third deployment in Afghanistan when they were shot down. 2011 was a pretty hard damn year for aviation in Afghanistan, suffering the largest loss of life from a fallen angel, the radio call we assign when an aviation asset falls out of the sky. We were also suffering huge problems with maintainers. An Apache crashed on the airfield because the tail rotor drive shaft (T/R D/S for 15’s) was improperly installed. A horrible trend that was happening in our unit and no one was doing anything about it. They actively fought any attempt to improve. Moral was in the dumps. We had a crew chief fall out of a Chinook over the active. She fell through the hellhole (I don’t know how so I won’t comment) and fell 20 feet. She survived but was severely injured. And the Battalion staff was on that flight. One CH-47 dropped a connex. Another a satellite trailer. Our sister Apaches had that god awful crash from the hot dogging.

My unit was suffering with problems with . An Apache crashed on the airfield because the tail rotor drive shaft (T/R D/S for 15’s) was improperly installed. A horrible trend that was happening in our unit and no one was doing anything about it. They actively fought any attempt to improve. Moral was in the dumps. We had a crew chief fall out of a CH-47 over the active. She fell through the hellhole (I don’t know how so I won’t comment) and fell 20 feet. She survived but was severely injured. And the Battalion staff was on that flight. One CH-47 dropped a connex. Another a satellite trailer. Our sister Apaches had that god awful crash from the hot dogging.

There are also good stories in the book, so I wanted to tell a positive story about pilots.

You aviation and flying type probably know what I am talking about. The maintenance test flight that turns into an impromptu 3 hours long junior pilot progression because you have one of those freaks Maintenance Test Pilot / Instructor Pilot types. The Black hawk Whisper tells me to stow the M-240. Oh god, one of those days.

Were we on traffic pattern circuit number 30, maybe more? I turned into that POS. I like to think we all have a breaking point under the monotony. I just zoned out humming some stupid ass song in my head. I heard that a UAV was on approach and about 6 miles out. That was on turn three. Right before turn 4, they report 5 miles out. Plenty of time for us to make this turn. music music music… When will this goddamn flight be over? The usual stuff.

We start that left turn and all of a sudden. I guess… The pilot on the stick has decided now is the time to practice an autorotation. The engines sound normal. No blown shafts. No flood of oil in the cabin. As I go to swing my head to look at the instruments, I see a glint.

Oh a gull, no big deal. Wait. That is not a gull, it is a paper airplane battleship thing. A UAV. The same UAV that is supposed to be 5 miles away. I would have to guess that the pilot might be drunk. I do not drunk fly, so I am not sure what it is like. No judgies. I am pretty sure I could read a tail number if I was walking up to it because that or taxiing is the only goddamn reason that I should be that close to something else in the air. Especially when it is being flown by what is supposed to be a competent human processor.

This junior pilot saved our bacon. The incident never seemed to ruffle any feathers. I walked away from it and did the standard combat soldier practice of burying that shit deep inside and sealing it up. It scares the doodly squat out of me now.

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