My tour as a Helicopter crew chief in South Vietnam was not one to be remembered by anyone other than myself, certainly not a tour that made me a hero in anyones eyes nor my own eyes.
It was an interesting experience, one marked by extreme excitement at times and one also marked by extreme boredom and tedious monotony.
The exciting times were the ones where we would use the UH-1H for what it was designed to be used for in Vietnam, as an assault ship carrying the infantry into battle or to be extracting them from a battle.
It was during these times that the pilots and the back seater crews would not think about the ships maintenance but completely relied on the helicopter to do what it was told to do when it was told it.
No sudden vibrations, no power fluctuations. It had to work flawlessly every time. It was the back seat crewmembers, the crew chief and the gunners responsibility to ensure that the pilots had a ship that would handle and perform the way they needed it to perform. This was an assumption.
The job was not without its rewards. For a pilot to like the ship he was assigned to was a big reward. That meant you were doing your job and that also meant that perhaps, the pilot liked you too.
The monotony was sitting in the back watching the world go by at 80 knots en-route to a large base camp to pick up supplies for our little home away from home and our own makeshift PX. There were times when we would supply and re-supply and supply and re-supply again and again all day long. I can remember fighting the urge to close my eyes and sneak a nap, although I never fell asleep, it was a temptation.
Even when we were flying the most boring of boring missions, we back seaters still had a job to do, at least we felt that was the case. I would sit back there and watch for other air traffic for instance. Most of all, it was tedious.
Another reward I like to remember was getting the stick time in the helicopter. At first it was a very scary ordeal for me, probably for the pilot too, but most definitely for my gunner sitting back there with his rosary clasped tightly in his hands as I would unskillfully guide the bird through the air. I truly loved that reward. After many hours of being instructed by the pilot I began to feel as though I was a part of the bird and it would go wherever I wished it to go, what a grand feeling it was.
The assaults were exciting and at times scary too. With guns firing as we entered into the short final approach, our job was to ensure that the enemy was either dug in deep or dead, if they were there at all. Most of the time we would not see anyone as the gun ships had already cleared the area for us, but it was always a concern and precaution that was standard operating procedure for us in the back seats. I must say, shooting a "belt fed machine gun" was pure pleasure for me. The sound and feel of it still lingers in my mind.
Tedium was a common occurrence for the back seater's after the flight was over and we were back at our own company area. During the flight of the day, at times little things would pop up that needed attention and after the flight, the gunner and I would spend the time to repair and adjust whatever was needed.
The helicopter required non-stop, never ending maintenance also. There were inspections to be performed all the time and were also standard operating procedures for the crew.
These inspections were always done after hours and the ship had to be completed and ready for the next day. There was no such thing as "putting it off until tomorrow".
If something happened and it was due to a missed inspection or negligence on the part of the crew chief, there would be hell to pay for it, possibly a life. I blew it once and paid for it with a severe chewing out by my aircraft commander. I didnt do that again, and that chewing out has served me well to this day. Thanks Captain.
The big inspections were done in the hangar by a crew of men who knew the ship better than most, theirs was the most thankless job in the company.
Our maintenance crew had two shifts I think and many times, I would see lights on in the hangar or a lone light out on the active where a maintenance technician was working, many times alone. I never had a problem getting them to look at my ship. They always did a good job and they preferred to do it without us and I was grateful to be in the EM club during the night and not out on the active. Thank you Lancelots.
All in all, my tour was un-eventful in the world of war stories and heroes, but it was a time in my life that I will never forget, a time in my life that has set me up to succeed, and a time in my life I am grateful to have had.
187th AHC Tay Ninh RVN 9-70 9-71
©1997 - Frank Drinkwine
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© 1997 2001 WMH