| By & Posted in Navigator Series, Uncategorized

A mini war story

It was a winter’s night in January 1996 in the Former Yugoslavian Republic and we were the standby crew based in Split, Croatia.  It was cold, with some snow in the air and about three quarters to seven-eighths cloud cover ‘up country’.

The call came in – a British Army detachment were based in Mrkonic Grad’s old bus factory and there had been a fire.  Much of their kit had gone and they were exposed to the elements with plummeting temperatures below zero by night. A C-130 Hercules had been despatched with emergency supplies.  We were to rendezvous with the Hercules, prioritise kit and cross deck what supplies we could fit into the Chinook’s cabin and then fly up country to deliver the goods.

We managed to find a break in the cloud in order to descend to low level and fly along the valley using NVGs (night vision goggles) up to the drop site.  As we flew, the cloud thickened.  Following the unload we decided to climb through the cloud (the risk of icing was managed) as we knew it was clear skies on top and we could transit back to Split relatively simply…or so we thought.

 

When it all went wrong

We established ourselves above the cloud, straight and level en route back to Split.  It’s always amazing to see a clear star filled sky; and even moreso through NVGs. There was then what I can only describe as a ‘dink’…and all of the electrical systems failed, including the navigation aids.  The aircraft was still flying ok straight and level and we had auxiliary lighting to support the instruments.

But how would we get back to and land at Split?  The only aid available was the E2C compass – a simple magnetic compass positioned on top of the instrument coaming to minimise the effect of the metal aircraft around it.  From the E2C I could get a heading to fly.

 

The Plan

We came up with a plan to fly out over the Adriatic Sea and let down through the cloud (which was now 8/8s i.e. there were no holes in it to fly through). This was an emergency procedure and we would need bearing information from the AWACs (Airborne early Warning And Control aircraft – they perform the command and control of the battle space) we were talking to so that we could follow the E2C compass to a location where we could carry out the procedure on dwindling fuel reserves.

But then…’dink’…all the electrical systems came back on line.  We were able to update our navigation systems and carry out a conventional instrument approach safely into Split.  I was flying with a crew who were extremely experienced and none of us knew what actually happened.  Subsequently, and months later back in the UK we explored what happened in the simulator to see if we could replicate what happened that night…but there still isn’t a complete explanation of why all the systems would drop out like that.

However, we had a small piece of kit that was rarely used during routine missions, that on that night gave us the direction to get back to base.

 

So what?

Much has been written elsewhere about how important it is for leaders to have a compass (often a moral compass). As a leader, what’s the small piece of equipment that you know you can rely on when the unexpected happens? This may be your core values, your purpose, your identity or something else – whatever it is, when adversity strikes can you use it to orientate yourself to get to where you need to?

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