Knee-Knockin Scared

Discussion in 'Vietnam Memories Forum' started by Guest, Mar 8, 2003.

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    dap22
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    (5/30/01 3:39:32 pm)
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    Knee-Knockin Scared
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    In Vietnam I was known as Dustoff 22. As I’ve stated on other occasions, it was often the elements that caused us more harm than did the VC or NVA. Case in point, two of our aircraft crashed into the mountain adjacent to Tay Ninh, called Nui Ba Den. Both crashes (all fatal) were weather related, one at night and one during the day, both weather related.

    Nearly 50% of my flight time was at night. Actually I preferred night flying because I felt less obvious than during the day. Our night landings were often to a strobe light, a zippo lighter, a flashlight, a smudge pot, a flare, and even tracers. You’d never know til you got there what to expect. What made me worry the most, though, was landing to an area where the RTO was whispering into the mic and the sound of M16 & machine gun fire could be heard. Our procedure, upon approaching a LZ was to go in blackout, turning off all lights. Usually, the slicks would not fly at night and seldom would gunships. Even though our SOP called for gunship support going into “insecure” areas, we were seldom able to get gunships to go out at night and never when the weather was marginal. We seldom turned a mission down because of weather, instead using “Paris Control” which was a radar facility located at Ton Son Nhut air base in Saigon. We’d have to climb to at least 2000 feet, call Paris Control and ask for radar vectors to 6 digit coordinates. Once near the destination, the tricky part came. It was very dangerous letting down through the clouds, fog, and rain and stopping the descent appropriately above the ground. More than one of our aircraft crashed using that procedure. While the radar facility could give us vectors to an area, it was incapable of determining our altitude. When near the LZ, radio contact would be established and we would “FM Home” to the area. The signal from the PRC 25 or whatever FM radio the ground person had would emit a signal which we could home to. When visual contact was established with the ground, we’d generally circle the area and attempt to recon the landing site as best we could and establish an approach into the area, of course dependent upon the tactical situation. We’d be lights out until the last minute and then put on the belly light which would illuminate directly below. At some point the nose mounted searchlight would be put on to find the casualties and adequate landing spot. Often, at the point of putting on a light the tracers would start coming at us…….not always, but often. After landing, our medic and crew chief would load the casualties on litters or load in the ambulatories and we’d get the hell out of there turning off all lights as soon as the LZ was cleared. The procedure was again to contact Paris Control for vectors back to Bien Hoa which was the closest instrument equipped locale close enough to the 93rd Evac Hospital or the 24th Surgical Hospital located in Long Binh. Once back near Bien Hoa we’d either execute a VOR approach, a DECCA approach or in the worst of weather a ground controlled approach call a GCA. At that point we’d either basically hover over to Long Binh or have an ambulance meet us at Bien Hoa to transport the casualties to Long Binh. Again based upon the severity of the weather.

    Some of the night missions were so scary that my knees would literally knock against one another. They scared me more than going into an area and taking fire during the daytime. As I said, more helicopters crashed due to either pilot error and weather than from hostile fire. Of course, the Army didn’t bless us with the most sophisticated instruments either. The UH-1 “huey” is a very fine helicopter. Very reliable. It would have helped if we’d had some better weather instruments though.

    One of the popular misconceptions is that you could hover down through the clouds etc. (with visual reference, yes) Such was not the case in instrument conditions. A helicopter is a very unstable flying platform. Instrument flying in a helicopter is far more difficult than a fixed-wing airplane. Plus, a UH-1 has only about a 1 hour and 45 minute usable fuel load. At an average speed of 90-100 knots, that doesn't take you very far!



    Edited by: dap22 at: 5/30/01 4:46:08 pm

    nighthawk
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    (5/30/01 3:59:26 pm)
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    The first two things I noticed upon stepping off the aircraft at Bien Hoa was the smell of VN, and the fear in my gut. Neither has completely left me.

    LarryJK
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    (5/30/01 5:04:01 pm)
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    10-fo on the knee-knocking scared!! I've been there on more than one occasion...trying to stand up!

    homer4
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    (5/30/01 8:50:30 pm)
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    A great story Dave.We're all learning alot about choppers and the Dust-off end of them.Certainly appreciate the dangers alot better now that we are getting a look see.Good job!
    ...and two hard boiled eggs.

    hope6970
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    (5/30/01 11:37:43 pm)
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    Dave, enjoyed your post very much. I can see where that would be one knee-kockin job. I believe everyone there was flying on a wing (rotor) and a prayer. I really don't know how you managed to do it. On just my little jaunts, I thought every bone in my body was clanking together from the fear. The main thing was trying to keep your wits about you at the time.




    nighthawk
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    (5/31/01 4:59:29 pm)
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    Dave, I had not been in country more than 3 or 4 days, when I saw a dust-off trying to get to the hospital at Tan Son Nhut. Not sure what happened, but they went down right on the traffic circle just outside of the base (between the air base and MAVC). Sadly, the whole crew, plus the grunts were killed upon impact. I feel the dust-off crews were some of the real heros in that war. You saved a lot of lives that otherwise would not have made it. You all deserve much more recognition than you received. JOB WELL DONE!!!!

    homer4
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    (5/31/01 7:14:53 pm)
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    I know that feeling Dave and also remember afterwards of being so tired...I mean to the point of closing my eyes and curling up...totally exhausted and soaked.

    Had to fight against it and stay busy.
    ...and two hard boiled eggs.

    dap22
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    (5/31/01 8:44:05 pm)
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    You're absolutely correct, Homer. When we'd get a day off, it was often we'd sleep most of the day until the heat got to you. Of course the 12 pack of Rheingold of whatever that flat crap we used to get helped a little!

    gorourke
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    (5/31/01 10:57:43 pm)
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    Dave,

    Good post. I never had a bad weather ride, you guys did not have that option. Thanks for flying when common sense says stay on the ground.

    P. Gary




    Tac401
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    (5/31/01 11:13:14 pm)
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    Thumbs up to you Dave!

    JD