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Continuing To Expose E-Mail to the Light of Day

"I'm not surprised they are good pilots...they just flew in an air force owned by an a$$hole."

[Dusty said that, in response to Bill's email-turned-into-a-post below. It's kind of how I have viewed the French Army in my interactions with them - they really are good soldiers, and a pretty good Army, operationally. They've just been cursed with lousy ownership when it comes to the highest levels of management. I'll step aside and let Bill tell his story. - the Armorer]

Some of you may recall I mentioned this incident last month after John smacked me on the ass engaged me in some light-hearted electronic badinage. That item remained as sort of a subthread in subsequent e-mails -- background info only, because, like all aircraft accident investigations, the Investigating Board goes over all the evidence (wreckage, witness statements, the whole ball of wax) until they produce the final report.

In this case, mechanical failure and enemy action were pretty much non-starters -- no evidence, It looked like a simple case of spatial misorientation in a sandstorm -- the question was, *why* did it happen? Lotsa theories, but humor me and keep reading.

I sent this to John yesternight and he though it needed saying.

Too bad that story can't be told. It should be. All of it. Sigh. And that's not because *we* can't run it, it's because, well, it's a good story about *them* and they can use 'em.

I've OPSECed the daylights out of it, but you'll get the picture...

Continued in Flash Traffic...

I just blessed off on the four Iraqi stick-jockeys who came here to have their Instrument Instructor skills honed and evaluated. [names, ranks and squadrons redacted] all of them smacked their simulated birds into the simulated ground the first time I put them IMC, but they were "flying" an unfamiliar airframe. By the second hour, they were over being sim-sick and ready to go. No problem with their basic flying skills -- all were at least as good as the US helicopter pilots with the same flying hour level, and they all have multiple-thousand hours of stick time.

After the second sim period, I briefed them on attitude indicator failure and how to keep right-side up using only the non-electric instruments -- basically, the same things the pioneer mail pilots used in the 'Thirties. For the first two minutes, they were a bit shaky, but after they got their scan adjusted, they were good -- *very* good, in fact. After they landed, I got everybody outside for a break and one of them said, "Now I know why the Mi-17 crashed." He was on the IqAF investigation board.

Originally, everybody I talked to said all the IqAF pilots had zero instrument skills, but what I saw makes me call bullshit on that. These four were just plain *good* at instruments.

The Iraqi pilot continued, "When you started talking about the attitude indicator, I didn't realize you meant the artificial horizon, then when you failed it, I suddenly realized. And then I realized what killed the Mi-17 crew. I *knew*.

"In American helicopters, the little airplane stays still and the artificial horizon moves up and down and sideways. It is opposite with Russian artificial horizon -- the horizon stays still and the little airplane moves up and down and sideways.

"The Mi-17 has *Russian* artificial horizon."

The Iraqi Mi-17 pilots got their instrument training in the Huey. When they took off, they were nose-low -- *all* helicopters take off nose-low, it's the only way to get the beasts in the air, The little airplane on the artificial horizon went to the bottom of the gauge, as it was designed to do, and when they went IMC, the frikkin' Russian attitude indicator made them believe they were still straight and level for the first couple of seconds. By the time they got their scan going, they were still in a dive, probably only fifty feet above the ground.


I sent each one of the students off with a packet of instrument training pubs and slides. Got a couple of squadron patches in return -- [redacted] flies the Mi-17.

On a related note (related to oft-cited US opinion of Iraqi flying skills based on Gulf I and OIF), I think we might be painting with too broad a brush. [names and units redacted] flew fighter-bombers in Iran-v-Iraq and both had their bacon saved by the US Navy. The Aegis picket ships (who painted everything within 500 miles or so) would often give egressing Iraqi aircraft notice of bandits closing on their locations. When DS kicked off, most of the Iran-v-Iraq vets decided they weren't going to shoot up people who'd previously saved their asses -- but if they'd flat out refused to fly, they would have been shot; if they flew to Syria, they thought they'd be shot down by the Iraqi ADA ring oriented on Israel; they couldn't go to Turkey because Turkey was a Coalition partner. So, they went to Iran, got thrown in jail and beaten up for a while, and then were released at the end of hostilities. Most of the non-flying done in OIF was due to the Saddam's Got Control of the Situation Syndrome, but a bit of it was Iran-v-Iraq vets -- fixed- and rotary-wing -- hot-starting engines on purpose and frying them to ground the aircraft.

How much is true and how much is eyewash for the old gringo? Dunno, but both Su-7s on display here have slag for engine guts.

Now, before you lump me for telling tales out of school, consider the following:

1. The Iraqi board *knew* that spatial misorientation killed the Mi-17 crew, but they couldn't figure out *why* -- all the instruments were working normally and the crew, although inexperienced, had instrument training. Knowing the *why* won't change the causal findings, but it'll take a smidgeon of the onus off the dead pilots.

2. That's not the first time I've heard stories about what went on in the Gulf during Iran-v-Iraq -- just the first time I've heard them from the ones who were warned.

And now Dusty provides the coda:

"He's right about the Russian ADIs...they are the reverse of our design and VERY difficult to use the first time you try (given my MiG-23 sim experience in Hungary)...check that--it's impossible the first time. Everything is exactly backwards in the fixed-wing aircraft, i.e., what looks like a right bank in a US attitude indicator is a left bank in a Russian one, etc. If the little airplane moved as they say, that would be OK, but the ones I saw were out-and-out nauseatingly difficult to decipher.

As far as foreign pilot skills go, every fight I've ever been associated with assumes every SOB on the other side is an Eric Hartmann about to be unleashed. If they turn out to be less-than, so much the better. Then again, ask Randy Cunningham (on visitors' day) about Major Tomb.

I'm not surprised they are good pilots...they just flew in an air force owned by an a$$hole."

And to top it off - this might be the first "Marquee Post" where all the headliners of this space contributed something!


Wow. That is some fascinating stuff. Thanks so much for sharing it! A question: So the Iraqis are training on one style of artificial horizon, then using another style for operations? Was that something that nobody had picked up on?! If so, is anything going to be done to align the training and operational equipment?
Wow... talk about a lightbulb moment. You're right: It makes perfect sense now. Damn.
I think that goes along with Iraq now purchasing american weapons, etc.
I wonder how difficult it is, institutionally speaking, to overcome problems like the one you described? Up in the snowy, white north, we get people arguing all the time that we should be buying relatively cheap Russian or even more expensive European kit (especially aircraft). The example usually cited is the Indian military, which buys from whomever they can. I wonder what a hodgepodge of equipment like that does to your safety, interoperability, orphan stock costs, and training costs?
Damian, This story is EXACTLY what happens when you get a hodgepodge of equipment. Tragic.
Well, it's what happens if you can't maintain some structural separation. Back when I weont on my final trip to the Sandbox for saber rattling, Operation Desert Thunder, the Kuwaiti Army had a brigade each of Pact gear, French gear, and US gear, and kept track of it that way. They didn't swap people out from unit to unit willy-nilly. But it certainly complicates things, no matter how you manage it.
This also brings up an interesting additional facet concerning when people accuse the US of aiding Iraq against Iran back in the day. In real life, actions have both negative and positive consequences. People who either focus all on the negative or the positives, to the exclusion of the real deal, are bombs waiting to go off if you strap them to your mission payload. And they're not going to go off when you think they are going to go off either. Such people make an extreme disaster of operations, precisely because they either look at America's support of Iraq and try to use it to destroy America's support of Iraq in the here and now by overplaying the negatives, or they look at the so called "positives" of cheap, inaccurate, "better" Russian hardware for the Iraqis in order to discount the advantage of interoperability and training which would come from getting the Iraqis the M-16 family of armaments. Russia's quality control seems to be rather weirdly different to AMerica's, if not in the suckage compartment. Their industrial or technological base isn't the problem, it's the way they do quality control. Take a look at how they maintain, or rather don't maintain, their nuclear armaments. Which is probably why their most popular armaments like the Ak 47 don't need quality control because they have low tolerances. The popular refrain seems to be that you could bury an AK 47 underground for years, dig it back up rusted and gunky, then fire it off. It won't be very accurate though... Little things like making the artificial horizon more intuitive, doesn't really seem to factor in for the Russians compared to the American or Western obsession with making things more streamlined and intuitive. Different philosophies, different methodologies. For people, whether Leftists or not, just interested in the minor tactical advantages of Russian arms and their lack of a need for maintenance, are ignoring the logistical question. It's one thing if it is a tactical choice between more firepowr and less firepower. It is one thing if it is a tactical choice between weapons that work and weapons that just don't work even if you did everything you could to clean them, sort of like VIetnam plastic rifles. But this is a difference between solidifying American and Iraqi logistics by cutting out foreign equipment, or stay as we are while we try to get the Iraqis logistically independent of us. Better logistics in the lnog run is always better than any slight improvements in tactics that could be effected, in my view. On another note, it is always fascinating to see the perspective from another party in a warfare, rather than your own. Makes learning things faster.
Damien wrote:
wonder how difficult it is, institutionally speaking, to overcome problems like the one you described? Up in the snowy, white north, we get people arguing all the time that we should be buying relatively cheap Russian or even more expensive European kit (especially aircraft). The example usually cited is the Indian military, which buys from whomever they can.
You could go with the Israeli model and buy the A/C w/o instruments, and install your own
This is the first I’ve written about the Iraqi Air Force Mi-17 Crash last month. I didn’t personally know Staff Sergeant Chris Frost, the US Air Force Gunner who was killed in the crash, but do I remember seeing him whenever I was up at Taji. I had the highest respect for the USAF gunners and pilots who flew with and trained the Iraqi Airmen. Those men and women are the unsung heroes of the US effort to rebuild the Iraqi Air Force. I worked with several Iraqi Air Force Mi-17 crewmen, so odds are I knew some of those who were lost in the crash. I wanted to wait until the official report was released before discussed the situation. After reading the comments to this post regarding the after action report, I couldn’t remain silent. I’m very proud of the Iraqi Air Force, and proud of the Airmen of the United States Air Force who are training their fellow Iraqi Airmen. The Iraqi Air Force does not have a 'hodgepodge' of equipment as is assumed by many. Their Mi-17 fleet, though currently small, will triple in size over the next couple of years. The Iraqi leadership chose to purchase more Mi-17s because they're good at flying them, and their maintainers are very experienced working on them. We pushed the Hueys on them because the Huey II is an excellent helicopter and we could bring them in faster than the Mi-17s. We almost convinced the Iraqis to purchase another 30+ Huey II’s last fall, but the Iraqi Air Force rightfully decided they should stick with what they're good at and purchased more Mi-17s. Ironically last August when I was ordering the Mi-17s for the IqAF I was asked by the Iraqi Air Staff time after time to make sure the helicopters had two modern radar altimeters, something not standard on the Mi-17. I was told that during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, 80+ helicopters crashed in the early morning darkness enroute to Kuwait because their altimeters were sub-par. The Iraqi leadership still remembers that lesson, and they stressed the importance of ordering only the best altimeters for their helicopters. I did just that. The new fleet that is inbound this year will be modified immediately after they leave the Russian assembly line by a US company. They will all have the appropriate altimeters, and hopefully a tragedy like this won’t happen again. As for the transition from Hueys to Mi-17s being a contributing factor in the accident, what else could the Iraqi Air Force do? The Hueys were the only operational helicopters available to the Iraqi pilots first, so most pilots trained on them. The ones who transitioned to the Mi-17 were limited to flying inside the perimeter of their base because of a lack of defensive systems and trained gunners. Once those limitations were overcome, the Iraqis began flying operational Mi-17 missions outside the wire with great success. Their first missions were to Basra last fall. They did an outstanding job and the crews quickly learned to adapt. The flight that crashed this March was flying north of Mosul, something the Iraqis haven't done in years, but they had to fly up there to provide the support their nation is asking of them. The Iraqi Air Force sortie rate increased from 30 per week in January 2007 to 300 per week in December 2007 because the Iraqi government desperately needs organic air power in the Counter-insurgency war they are fighting. This ‘surge’ in air power will most likely double throughout 2008, so the pressure is on for the US and Iraqi Airmen to train, equip, and join the fight. Are the pilots inexperienced? Some of them. Are they learning and adapting quickly? Absolutely. Are our US Air Force pilots training the Iraqi pilots to the same standards as we train our own. You bet. Still, it's a new, young Air Force. No matter how many obstacles you overcome in your training and maintenance, mistakes will still happen and lives will tragically be lost. And remember, the Iraqi Pilots and Crewmen are all learning how to operate in a combat environment, which makes this entire enterprise even more difficult and costly. They’re dodging small arms, missile fire, sand storms, and a “quazi-free for all” VFR combat air space while they’re learning how to fly in an operational capacity. Yet they're still flying, and we're still training them. Why? Because no nation can be secure without Airpower, and the Iraqis have always known this. It's just taken us 4 years to finally do something about it. I worked directly for the Iraqi Air Force for 6 months, and I'd do it again if called upon. Our Air Force is doing an outstanding job growing and developing what once was, and soon will be again, one of the most respected Air Forces in the region.
Just to be clear, El Capitan, Bill, Dusty and I were being *supportive* of the Iraqis, and not critical. That said... Your information is illuminating. Thanks!
El Capitan, no disrespect was intended in my remarks. Canadian Forces aircraft are currently all American in pedigree, but we are constantly being pushed to buy something other than U.S. designs. I have concerns about mixing and matching, and was honestly asking for feedback, given that this post made me reflect on an issue that touches my military, but also quite a number of others.
Same here. The point is that training on American helicopters and then flying Russian helicopters seems to be an issue due to the instrument panel differences. That's what was meant by hodgpodge- not that they have shoddy equipment, or that they're trying to put Russian parts in American copters or visa versa. And no one is saying that the IrAF pilots are incompetent- quite the opposite. After you read Bill's AAR, you understand exactly how this kind of thing could easily happen. It's like driving in America your whole life, and then renting a car in England for a week's vacation- you're bound to screw up the right-sided steering, or at least struggle with it. Being in the air has far more dire consequences though.
This is why I am a landlubber and don't like heights and don't like to fly and and and...WOW. I am impressed. This is Good Stuff.
Damian The Forces may purchase American sourced equipment, but it is not USAF or USN standard. Back in the 80's we lost three Hercs and were offered replacements by Lockheed at a must-buy price. The aircraft were sitting unsold at the factory; the price to be charged was for the bare airframe. Unfortunately, the aircraft would have required partial stripping to remove the wiring/electronics and install the RCAF standard kit. The rebuild would have brought the acquisition cost up to the price of a Herc purchased the 'normal' way, which the Air Force could not afford. There's a company in Kelowna which tries to sell Russian hels to the Air Force, but their aircraft are fitted with Canadian standard avionics, not Russian. Cheers
The Forces may purchase American sourced equipment, but it is not USAF or USN standard. Uh...yeah...which is why I purposely used the phrase "American pedigree." Are you forgetting I've actually flown in most of them?
Here's where I get to live down to the name of my site. Bill, Bill, Bill... you and John threw a party and you didn't even invite me? A** smacking, light hearted electronic bondage... err... badinage...???? Great goodly moogly! A girl could really get her pert little nose out of joint :p /flouncing off
SCOOOORE!!!! Cricket, Ymar and Cassie in the same thread!
Heh. Given what Cassie came here for... I doubt it was a pert *nose*...
They’re dodging small arms, missile fire, sand storms, and a “quazi-free for all” VFR combat air space while they’re learning how to fly in an operational capacity. Substitute "torrential rain" for "sandstorms" and you've got Vietnam. We lost a lot of helicopters *there* due to weather-related accidents before we taught ourselves how to survive. That lesson wasn't lost on the Iraqi Air Force, either -- which is why they insisted that us rotary wing instructors have an Army Aviation background, rather than a USAF one. When the Flight School Commander found out that two of us *were* Vietnam helicopter vets, he was ecstatic...
John, Damian, AFSister... my apologies if I sounded a little gruff on that comment. Guess I'm still a little emotionally attached to the folks out there, as well as their mission. Hard to leave for home when you're so attached to the mission. Thanks for putting the good word out on this situation and the many others out there that go unreported. Cheers! EC