Why I hate Helicopters!
In Vietnam, the only way we could get from our base camp to most of the fire bases was by helicopter. For the most part, these were administrative trips and they were boring. There was always the occasional trip into places where the enemy had been and there was reported anti aircraft guns but that wasn't the reason I hated helicopters. Being shot at by the enemy was a part of war that I accepted. It was the occasional idiot I had problems with. Here is my version of the first of them. I'll post part two tomorrow.
The class "A" agent in our unit went from fire base to fire base to pay people that basically had no place to spend money. I was assigned to pay three forward bases and was given about two hundred thousand in Military script and the actual Vietnam currency. Time after time guys would report to me and want only a partial pay if any. There was one firing battery that always had a big poker game going on and they all wanted at least $100 in the Military script.
After spending the better part of three days going from base camp to forward area to rear staging area and back, I was pretty much helicoptered out. We were as far north in the II Corps area as we could get and headed back to Pleiku. As an officer I always got a headset to listen in to what the fly boys were saying. That particular day I had over $100,000 left in my briefcase and I heard one pilot say to the other, "Just how fast do you think this thing will go?"
For those of you that haven't flown in a helicopter, think of the blades on the roof as being a big propeller and the more they are pointed forward the faster you go. If you are sitting in the back seat, and the ground is visible through the windscreen, you are in the "Go Fast Mode". What should have been a leisurely trip back to our unit on Artillery Hill turned out to be one of those moments in time that the pucker factor gets high for little reason.
We just happened to be flying along the river between Kontum and Pleiku as fast as that little whirlybird could fly. I could see the airspeed and it was wound up over 100. I could see it but because I was about 15 feet from it I couldn't see it clearly. The vibrations also hindered my 20/10 vision from reading it. Until....... All of a sudden there was a vibration throughout the helicopter and the dash of that bird lit up like a Las Vegas night on the strip. I mean there was a chip indicator light, high temperature indicator and the most amazing to me was the master caution indicator that I had never seen flashing it's little butt off... The most amazing thing was the sound of silence when the turbine just stopped. Remembering that helicopters fly like rocks when the blades stop turning, my individual pucker factor reached an all time high.
The crew chief tapped me on the shoulder and said, "No sweat, but we might crash". Holy Shit Batman! those words still to this day get my tongue tied when I try to tell this story. The pilots immediately pulled the nose of the helicopter up and I watched as the ground seemed to be rushing at me a lot faster than I wanted. I am not sure how far above the ground we were but those two did an auto rotation in and the blades were still turning as the bird fell the last three or four feet. There was a village nearby and we managed to find a corn field and not the 40 foot trees every where else along the river. 100 yards either direction and they could have picked up the mess with a shovel. Adrenalin does funny things to people and for me they spark the fight or flight response big time. I got out of that bird and was 50 feet away so quick that I am sure I could have set an Olympic record for the 50 feet, adrenalin sponsored stagger. As I stood there, my knees were shaking and I was amped up with nervous energy.
One of the two idiots that had been called pilots earlier in this story came up to me and said that it would probably take an hour to get the Chinook out there to take us back. Now, I wasn't so worried about Mrs Petty's boy as I was the money I had and how long it would take her to pay it back if some enterprising VC or NVA trooper wanted some. I told idiot number one to get idiot number two over to where I was standing and do it damned quick.
I told them that I was listening to the headset and got a front row seat to the speed contest and the resulting failure of the bird. I wanted a ride out of there right now or I would have a talk with their commanding officer about the danger they had exposed me to. In fact, I wanted them to use their little portable handy talkies to flag down the next passing by helicopter and ask him to land to get me and my two armed guards. Did I mention that I had armed guards with M-16's that were locked and loaded? Oh well. Ace the sky pilot was on his little handy talkie and we were on a helicopter very soon. They had called out a mayday and several came to the area.
True to my word, I didn't turn those two idiots in. Mostly because I had about half of my tour left and I needed their damned helicopters to get around. I still wake up from time to time hearing the words, "No Sweat, but we might crash!" End of round one.