"Asshole" I muttered under my breath. "Who are you calling an Asshole?" My peter pilot/student, a new El Tee to the 187th Assault Helicopter Company quickly responded.
I mashed the floor button with my foot. "Let's try something else, it is obvious you and autorotations are strangers to each other." I had just taken over control of the aircraft seconds before the autorotation became unsalvageable and this asshole thinks I am over reacting.
After ten minutes of his in country check ride, this guy had fucked up everything I had asked him to do.
I did not ask for the unit Instructor Pilot job, Major Bauman ask if I would fill the slot and I was honored that he thought me good enough to do the job. Most of the time check rides were a chance to go show off with the aircraft, flying with one of my brothers. Today it was becoming a chore.
"OK El Tee, one more time, show me a steep approach." I waited for him to get rotor RPM back, and just as he started to pick the aircraft up to a hover, I looked over and could see he was sweating bullets just trying to hover without me climbing all over his ass. I knew he had not been in a cockpit for two months while enroute to Viet Nam.
"Blackhawk 54, Blackhawk 6" the gravel voice of Major Bauman came over the radio. "Blackhawk 54 land on the Blackhawk pad I have something for you." I thought great; I have had about enough of this check ride for one day. "I've got it" and I picked up to a high hover and headed off for the dusty red pad in front of operations.
Major Bauman was standing on the pad waiting for us to land, clipboard in hand. As soon as I touched down, Major Bauman was on the step yelling into my ear. "Manchu needs a helicopter, fly down to Cu Chi and find out what Manchu 6 wants. This will be good experience for our new Lieutenant. It will give him a chance to look around the AO."
I loved to fly for Manchu and this mission sounded like an add on courier mission.
After a short flight south, Cu Chi tower cleared us straight in to the Manchu pad, and I shut down and walked inside to see what they had for me to do.
As soon as I walked in the door, I could see this was not going to be a courier mission. The four men waiting for the helicopter were lugging big cameras, and they all had 'Army Intelligence' written all over them. Clean new uniforms, no rank or insignias, they had that scared REMF look that comes from living in Saigon, and realizing they were in Cu Chi.
The man in charge of the detail spread a map out on the counter and started showing me where he wanted to take pictures. I knew all of the areas well, as they were the hot spots we had been making combat assaults into for the last few months.
The photo team leader started by telling me, that he wanted to make a pass over the area at about 100 feet, then another at 500 feet, then a final pass at 1000 feet. We would like you to keep the airspeed under 50 knots so the wind will not buffet the cameras. I started to laugh, but noticed that I was the only one laughing. "You guys have a choice," I said "1500 feet or low level. No one in his right mind would fly over
those areas and present himself as a target with out massive gunship support."
I stood by the counter while they discussed the mission. They came back and ask if I would fly over the target areas at 1000 feet, and then low level after they had identified the area they needed close up pictures of.
I agreed to their plan, and we loaded and departed Cu Chi to the North. The first area was at the base of Nui Ba Dinh. I knew the area they wanted to see and it was easy to get them the pictures they wanted. Then out to the Parrots Beak on the Cambodian border, a super hot area, but we got our pictures with no problem. Next was the area to the North of Tay Ninh where the highway goes into Cambodia. They wanted pictures of the road and surrounding area. I felt like a sitting duck at 1000 feet over the thick jungle. When I dropped down for the low-level pass over the road, all hell broke loose.
We were taking hits and the tracer volume was off the scale. My controls started to freeze up and I knew instantly I had been hit in the hydraulics.
"OK El Tee, get on the controls with me, and lets muscle this lady back to Tay Ninh." There was so much feed back in the controls I could not tell if the El Tee was helping or not.
One of the large frame cameras had been hit and blown apart sending fragments into the man holding it and the man beside him. My crew went to work on the two wounded cameramen by putting pressure on their wounds to stem the bleeding. I got a report from the crew chief, "Sir, they are not hit bad they could both walk home if they had to, we are leaking fuel out of fuel cell at a pretty good rate, so keep your eyes on the
gauge." I was still twenty minutes out of Tay Ninh with no hydraulics, two wounded men, with fuel running out of the bottom of the aircraft.
I switched up to guard and keyed the mike, "Mayday, Mayday, Mayday, Blackhawk 54 is twenty minutes North of Tay Ninh, I have lost my hydraulics, leaking fuel with two wounded on board." Blackhawk 54 Paris radar, can you make Tay Ninh over?" the booming voice of the radar hits my earphones like a hammer. It took me a minute to see how much fuel I still had." Paris, I think I can make it to the runway at Tay Ninh but it will be close."
The El Tee and I were trying to get all the airspeed we could control. As we got a little altitude I could hear other aircraft from my company being vectored to intersect my path to the runway in Tay Ninh.
First it looks like a little dot on the horizon and then very rapidly it turns into a helicopter, I had a chase plane looking me over from the outside. As soon as he keys the mike I can tell it is Warrant Officer Bill Britt. His deep southern voice on our company freq., "54 it looks like only a couple of holes are running fuel, when your 20 minute light comes on land on the road and I will pick you up." My helicopter is shaking so badly I can only key the mike twice to let him know I understood his transmission. Next thing that starts to take shape on the horizon is the light fire team scrambled off the ready pad. "Blackhawk 54, Rat Pack 18 Tally ho, we have you in sight." CW2 Art "Killer" Cline, just the man you would want if you went down in a hostile area. When Killer was sure it was I both gunships did 180's and dove back to the low-level cruise they were used to.
The first thing I could see of Tay Ninh was the red dust cloud with streaks of black smoke from the shit burners all around the base camp. Soon I could make out the runway and then I could see the fire trucks. It was getting to be show time.
I was still several clicks from the end of the runway when the 20-minute fuel light came on. Every noise and vibration seemed to get louder and more violent the longer we flew. I made the decision to go for the runway. I kept my altitude up as long as I could and then with our combined force we started down on the collective.
Everything was going just fine until we slowed to under 30 knots. Our old D model was just not going to let us pull her nose up. We hit the runway and bounced into the air a couple of times finally grinding to a halt just about mid field.
Mr. Britt's crew had our wounded cameramen off our aircraft and over to the hospital pad before we had a chance to shut the engine down. The Rat Pack gun team makes a slow hover down the runway on their way to POL. They had to have one last look at my shot to shit D model leaking its final few gallons of JP4 on to the PSP runway.
Major Stewart and Sp7 Pops Wilson show up in a small truck with ground handling wheels and a pair of tow bars before the blades had coasted to a stop.
I looked over at the El Tee and he had that look on his face that comes from a close encounter with death and having been delivered home to fly another day.
There was blood every where in the back and the bullets had found more than the hydraulic system, it would be some time before this D model would fly again.
I got in the back of the truck for the ride back to RoadRunner Maintenance. It was hot and dusty and the walk across the base camp seemed like a long one.
After completing the necessary paperwork at the operations tent, I took a shower and checked my mail. When it got to be late enough to serve dinner I made the short walk to the mess tent.
As usual I was just getting there when the line was the longest. I waited my turn and while figuring what was for dinner from long distance, I heard a voice close behind me say "Asshole." I spun around to the big wide smile of the new El Tee. He stuck out his hand and said, "remember this morning when you called me an asshole?", I shook my head affirmative; "well it seems like a life time ago."
We laughed and talked about our close brush with death like the brothers we had become.
"Crash" Coe Blackhawk 54
©1999 Wayne R. "Crash" Coe.
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