Sergeant Major
MI.Net Member
May 31, 2004
February 22, 1967 started out like any other day in Vietnam, the sun came up, we ate a lousy breakfast, preflighted the aircraft, waited for the pilots, they arrived, we started up and took off. On this day we were assigned to hauling supplies for units of the 101st Airborne operating along the coast north of Phan Thiet.

All morning we spent on what we called “ash and trash” missions, hauling supplies to individual companies spread throughout the area of operations. We had our first experience with “elephant rubbers” - heavy rubber containers about three feet long and six or eight inches in diameter filled with water. The idea was that they could be dropped through the jungle canopy without bursting. Whether they were successful or not, I have no idea, I just know we never saw them again.

About mid-morning we landed at an LZ that was in the middle of a harvested cane field and as we took off we got a warning light telling us the engine inlet was plugged and the engine was heating up. We landed in the largest open area we could find, about twenty acres of fields, and I climbed up and scraped the cane trash out of the filters all the while imagining I was too tempting a target to pass up as I climbed up and over the engine cowling. After forever, I was able to slide back into my seat, fasten on my armor and take a deep breath as we hauled out of there.

Our next stop was a “hoverhole” in the canopy - a hole of chopped down trees just large enough for the helicopter to hover down and back up again. This maneuver was very tricky because of the tail rotor. Now there is just something about helicopter tail rotors in that they are instinctively drawn towards trees, stumps, and other hard objects. It's just what they do. However, this time we successfully frustrated it and pulled up out of the hole and nosed over into normal flight. We came out of the hole heading west, turned south, then east gaining altitude over the unit we had just resupplied. At about 500 feet we turned back west and headed for the resupply point. It was here I heard a bang and an ear-shattering hiss coming from the engine just to my left. Loud sudden noises in a helicopter WILL get your undivided attention.

This is also the point in time where I was introduced to the BANG STARE READ theory of helicopter flight. The BSR (Bang Stare Read) Theory states that the louder the sudden bang in the helicopter, the quicker your eyes will be drawn to the gauges. Now this only applies to the pilots and crewchief, they are the ones familiar enough with the helicopter systems to know what’s normal and what’s not. The poor gunner just sat there in terrified ignorance hoping we knew what we were doing. A grunt by trade, it’s about now the doorgunner regreted ever leaving the safety of terra firma where only his buttons kept him off the ground.

True to the theory, three sets of eyes stared at the engine gauges. They were conveniently grouped in the middle of the panel, the safe operating range carefully marked in green and the bad areas marked in red. Now the BSR Theory has a corollary that says the longer you stare at the gauges, the less time it takes them to move from green to red. But move they did. The engine RPM began dropping off and that’s bad. Another old adage in helicopters is that the engine RPM, and the rotor RPM, must both be kept in the green. Ignoring this can affect the morale of the crew. When the RPM drops two other needles are right behind, the percent of power and torque gauges that simply confirm impending doom. When the engine RPM starts dropping something must be done to keep the rotor turning or it will stop of its own accord. Remember, I have mentioned earlier that the purpose of the main rotor was to keep the crew cool because when it stops, the crew starts to sweat. We were just beginning to sweat. Gravity may not be fair, but it is the law.

The aircraft commander, a very competent pilot and a great guy all around, started earning his pay. Either instinctively or from training he knew that it is a bad thing to run out of airspeed, altitude and ideas all at the same time, so he tried something. A slight drop in collective decreased the angle the blades were biting into the air and caused the RPM to stop sliding and hold at the bottom of the green arc. At least we could maintain almost level flight for a while. I know that the aircraft commander (AC) was very concerned about our situation because while we were all in the same predicament, it's almost always his job to arrive at the crash site first.

Now the pilot, usually called the “pilot” (as opposed to AC) to avoid confusion - also a great guy - was on the radio broadcasting a “Mayday” and trying to keep his voice from cracking in an unprofessional and excited fashion. He also spoke with a stutter, just get hold of a mental image of that.

We were currently flying but we all felt that was a temporary condition and a crash was in the cards. All we could see below us was trees, not good for landing. Now, flying is better than walking, and walking is better than running, and running is better than crawling, but all of these are preferable to a ride in a Med-Evac, even if this is, technically, a form of flying.

Like it was written into the script, an old French airfield materialized under the nose and we attacked that sucker. No hover, no flare, no nothing, we just put her on the ground and skidded to a stop in a cloud of dust. Doors flew open and four guys took the shortest route home. After about three steps I remembered we had a passenger, an airborne staff sergeant we picked up at the hoverhole. I turned around and there he was sitting in the aircraft like he was waiting for the stewardess to deliver tea. I reached in, grabbed him by the sleeve and heaved him out of there, not letting go until we were out of the dustcloud.

The AC had sense enough to hit the fuel switch so we all stood there getting our hearts back in place as the engine wound down. Finally, we realized we were alive and started slapping each other on the back and cheering. Then we realized where we were. After a quick conference we concluded that hot chow beat hot C-rations, which beat cold C-rations and which was marginally better than no food at all. All of this beat the socks off of cold rice balls served by guards even if the little pieces of fish were still in them. But our worries were put to rest when a couple of our gunships came whumping over the trees and waved jauntily as they circled.

I walked over to the aircraft and opened the cowling. It was so hot I had to use my gloves. When I got it open I saw a bullet hole in the combustion chamber. I closed the cowl again and looked at my seat. On my seat lay my flight helmet. My white flight helmet. I had picked it up from supply and had not collected enough OD green paint to cover it. Holding the helmet at about the level of where my head was during flight, I looked again at the bullet hole. Same level, about eighteen inches aft. Good thing Charley wasn’t a duck hunter. It’s not always the bullet with your name on it, the ones addressed “to whom it may concern” can be just as deadly.
Holy Jesus, RW! A most scary time, indeed. Glad it had a happy ending. :shock: :shock: :shock: That's one thing I liked about the Bradley; you didn't have to worry about crashing and burning, you just worried about burning.
Another great one

Hi rotowash,
Yet again, another thrilling, pants wetting yarn and you made it appear funny. I still say you should think about publishing a book. I’m sure a lot of the Vietnam Veterans would buy it.
Re: Another great one

John A Silkstone said:
Hi rotowash,
Yet again, another thrilling, pants wetting yarn and you made it appear funny. I still say you should think about publishing a book. I’m sure a lot of the Vietnam Veterans would buy it.

I agree, you have a Thrilling and interseting way of writing sir :mrgreen:
Thanks guys, for the encouragement. I have to tell you though, it is emotionally draining to write these stories. It seems that your body goes back into the same emotional state you were in when the event actually happened. It takes several retellings before those effects die down.

I usually write them on a word processor, sometimes over a period of days. This one, however, I wrote in one sitting, finishing at about 10PM. It took me until 2AM to settle down enough to go to bed. That is probably why I make them humorous, it makes it easier to tell. In Vietnam we made the tragic humorous as a method of dealing with reality.

I want to get them on paper, I want to leave a legacy for my grandkids, but I think I am running out of steam.