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Leaving Footprints in Batticoloa

© Flight Safety

[Vol. LXXVII March 2001]

"Who made his signatures on Batticoloa helipad?" asked Dy Dett Cdr after the completion of the communication task of the day. The Dett Cdr replied, "It never happened and will never happen again in future; you know! I delivered seven tonnes of pay load in one sortie."

It was a bright and sunny day. During the IPKF operations, there were four Mi-17 helicopters in the Indian Air Force's detachment in Trincomalee. A commitment was given to us to deliver 350 boxes of ammunition to a Brigade located near Batti Helipad for forward area requirement. A detailed briefing was conducted. The Dett Cdr decided to take-off first, to be followed by me with the left over load and escort passengers. The good s were to be delivered from Trincomalee to Batticoloa helipad. On the completion of the mission, refueling was planned at Batti airfield.

The Dett Cdr came to the helicopter with his crew members. The load was brought to the helicopter. The flight gunner, asked the army JCO, "What is the weight of each box of ammunition?" The JCO replied, "Sir each box weighs only 15 Kg". The flight gunner told him to load 250 boxes of ammunition in his helicopter. After loading, the Detachment Commander started up the helicopter and proceeded for the take-off. The pilot carried out all the checks for single engine configuration and thereafter tried to pick up the aircraft. Both the engines were at Max power setting but the helicopter refused to life from the runway. The Dett Cdr took it as a matter of prestige. He decided to carry out a roller take-off. He commenced the procedure and built up speed on the R/W itself. The helicopter was seen moving up and away from Trincomalee airfield, though very slowly. The flying time from Trincomalee to Batticoloa helipad is 30 minutes. The weather enroute and destination was fine. The helipad was flown at max rating throughout so as to make ETA at Batti helipad.

On approaching the helipad, the pilot decided to carry out a steep approach and no hover touchdown. The helicopter turned finals and commenced the steep approach procedure. At short finals, when the Captain raised the collective lever, the rate of descent could not be arrested. On short finals, full power was used to arrest the rate of descent. However in the bargain, the main rotor RPM reduced to minimum permissible in flight and the helicopter dropped from a height of approximately two meters. Fortunately, there was no visible damage to the aircraft.

After offloading the ammunition boxes, the Mi-17 helicopter cleared the helipad and proceeded to Batticoloa airfield for refueling. I was now informed to get airborne with the remaining load for the helipad. I asked my flight gunner to give me the manifest of the load and passengers. I noticed that 100 boxes and 20 passengers were planned to be airlifted in my helicopter. On my query, the gunner stated that each ammunition box weighs only 15 Kg. I picked up one box and felt that the weight appeared to be more than that. I called the JCO of the loading party and had one box weighed. To my horror, the box turned out to be 28 Kg. Since the priority was ammunition and not passengers, I decided to airlift all 100 boxes of ammunition and only 10 passengers. I took-off at 1230 and landed at Batti helipad at 1300 Hrs. After landing, I observed three tyre marks at the beginning of the helipad. The O i/c helipad told me that the previous helicopter had left these tyre marks. I was indeed surprised. After unloading the stores, I came back to Trincomalee airfield. I met the Dett Cdr at Trincomalee airfield and enquired about his sortie. He said that there had been a minor problem which was under control. I, then apprised him that he had carried more than 7000 Kg payload instead of 4000 Kg. He narrated the whole incident and said that he had set a record of carrying 7000 Kg payload in the Mi-17 helicopter.

Since the MGB had been loaded beyond its limits 'CHIPS IN MGB' warning light came ON during the next sortie. The helicopter was flown to the mainland from Trincomalee for further investigation. No cracks were found in the MGB. The MGB oil was flushed out and the helicopter was sent for forward area commitments after remedial precautions.

Lesson Learnt. The lesson from this potentially hazardous situation is clear cut. One must pay due regard to weight and balance calculations. Incase of doubt, there should be no hesitation in getting the verification done physically. Any complacency in this regard could cost dear. The underlying tenets of flight safety should not be sacrificed at the altar of 'mission accomplishment'.

An IAF Mi-8 flies over the dense jungles of Sri Lanka during Operation Pawan. The Mi-8/17 was the backbone of the Indian helicopter force in Sri Lanka.

Later the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) also acquired many examples of this helicopter and flies them actively today.

A Mi-35 attack helicopter rests in the Vavuniya. The Sri Lankan conflict saw one of the rare occasions when the IAF has maintained airbases on foreign lands.

Other Ops and Incidents : Pictures from other UN Missions
Other Ops and Incidents : IAF in MONUC, Congo
1980s : Photofeature: Operation Cactus
Other Ops and Incidents : Counter Insurgency operations in Ceylon - 1971

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