The Vietnam Army Helicopter Pilot

Posted on February 16, 2012


When the Army decided to use helicopters as the “Eyes”, “Protection” and “Horses” of the 1st Cavalry Division, men both young and older were chosen to become pilots. Many of these brave men went from “High School to Flight School”. Others flew fixed wing and some were already in the Army but applied for and were chosen to attend flight school. I cannot talk about how tough flight school was, nor can I state what the washout rate was because I did not go myself.  I can tell you what in my opinion made the best pilots.

Most 18 year olds only think about girls and what they can get from them. Drinking and how not to get caught. How to get a day off of work or which college offers the best ability to party. However, these same 18-year-old young men attended flight school and were given responsibility to operate a multi million dollar helicopter. The biggest responsibility of a helicopter pilot was to fly that helicopter in such a manner as  to provide support for the men on the ground. Whether their responsibility was to fly the troops into and out of battle, become the Medical Evacuation bird when required, be the forward eyes of the ground troopers or provide them fire support when needed.

Maturity, self-confident, bravery, willing to take chances, courageous, and yes fun-loving are the attributes that make a great pilot. In other words, it took a man with a huge pair of Brass Balls but with the ability to know when to use them but with the brains to know when to hold them.  The Pilots of Charlie Troop 1st Squadron 9th Cavalry Regiment 1st Cavalry Division (AM) were the best Pilots of the Vietnam War and today they are the best men America has to offer.

The Lift Pilot

In the movie “We Were Soldiers and Young” the Lift Pilot was portrayed by “Snake” and “To Tall”. They were the ones who flew the troops into and out of battle. They also acted as the means of supply of ammunitions, equipment and food. They also acted as medical evacuation helicopter pilots when needed. Many times these brave men had to deliver or retrieve the troopers into or out of  areas where enemy fire was heavy.  These men never refused to fly into harms way. As one of those troopers on the ground, I can honestly say how proud I am to have served with Brave men.

The Scout Pilot. It was a rare breed of man who became a Scout Pilot. A Scout team consisted of a pilot, a Door Gunner and an observer. It was the Pilot’s mission to fly as low and as slow as he could allowing the observer and the Door Gunner to watch for signs of the enemy or to allow the enemy to fire at them. More Scout Teams were lost because of this than any other helicopter team. The Scout Team would search for the enemy and then have the Weapons Team come in and destroy the enemy.

The Weapons Team. The early (65-68) Weapons Team was made up of two pilots, crew chief and a door gunner. Later, the crew became a two-man pilot team. No matter what the make up of the team was they flew in helicopters that were made with the intention of dispensing a superior amount of fire power on the enemy. Many times when either our troopers on the ground or another unit was facing enemy fire these brave men would come in with weapons blazing either destroying the enemy or allowing the ground troops to attain and then maintain superior fire power.

I can personally remember one time when we were pinned down due to superior enemy fire from a tree line and a weapons platoon helicopter (Cobra) sat just off to our right and lit up the tree line with such superior fire that the enemy was destroyed.

To all of the brave Pilots and their crews, I can say but three things.

You were and still are the best.

You were way more mature for your age than 99% of the young men today.

I and many more just like me can only say “Thank You” for all that you did.

From Walker Jones Pilot 1970-1971


a.. Once you are in the fight, it is way too late to wonder if this is a good idea.

b.. It is a fact that helicopter tail rotors are instinctively drawn toward trees, stumps, rocks, etc. While it may be possible to ward off this natural event some of the time, it cannot, despite the best efforts of the crew, always be prevented. It’s just what they do.

c.. NEVER get into a fight without more ammunition than the other guy.

d.. The engine RPM and the rotor RPM must BOTH be kept in the GREEN. Failure to heed this commandment can affect the morale of the crew.

e.. Cover your Buddy, so he can be around to cover for you.

f.. Decisions made by someone above you in the chain-of-command will seldom be in your best interest.

g.. The terms Protective Armor and Helicopter are mutually exclusive.

h.. Sometimes, being good and lucky still is not enough.

i.. “Chicken Plates” are not something you order in a restaurant

.j.. If everything is as clear as a bell, and everything is going exactly as planned, you’re about to be surprised.

k.. Loud, sudden noises in a helicopter WILL get your undivided attention.

l.. The BSR (Bang Stare Red) Theory states that the louder the sudden bang in the helicopter, the quicker your eyes will be drawn to the gauges. The longer you stare at the gauges the less time it takes them to move from green to red.

m.. No matter what you do, the bullet with your name on it will get you. So, too, can the ones addressed “To Whom It May Concern”.

n.. If the rear echelon troops are really happy, the front line troops probably do not have what they need.

o.. If you are wearing body armor, they will probably miss that part.

p.. Happiness is a belt-fed weapon.

q.. Having all your body parts intact and functioning at the end of the day beats the alternative.

r.. If you are allergic to lead, it is best to avoid a war zone.

s.. It is a bad thing to run out of airspeed, altitude, and ideas all at the same time.

t.. Hot garrison chow is better than hot C-rations which, in turn, is better than cold C-rations which, in turn, is better than no food at all. All of these, however, are preferable to cold rice balls, even if they do have the little pieces of fish in them.

u.. Everybody’s a hero … on the ground … in the club … after the fourth drink.

v.. A free fire zone has nothing to do with economics.

w.. The further you fly into the mountains, the louder the strange engine noises become.

x.. Medals are OK, but having your body and all your friends in one piece at the end of the day is better.

y.. Being shot hurts.

z.. “Pucker Factor” is the formal name of the equation that states the more hairy the situation is, the more of the seat cushion will be sucked up your ass.

It can be expressed in its mathematical formula of S (suction) + H (height) above ground) + I (interest in staying alive) + T (# of tracers coming your way)

aa..Thus the term ‘SHIT!’ can also be used to denote a situation where high Pucker Factor is being encountered.

ab.. Thousands of Vietnam Veterans earned medals for bravery every day. A few were even awarded.

ac.. Running out of pedal, fore or aft cyclic, or collective are all bad ideas. Any combination of these can be deadly.

ad.. There is only one rule in war: When you win, you get to make up the

ae.. C-4 can make a dull day fun.

af.. There is no such thing as a fair fight-only ones where you win or lose.

ag.. If you win the battle you are entitled to the spoils. If you lose you
don’t care.

ah.. Nobody cares what you did yesterday or what you are going to do tomorrow. What is important is what you are doing-NOW-to solve our problem.

ai.. Always make sure someone has a P-38. Uh, that’s a can opener for those of you who aren’t military.

aj.. Prayer may not help . . . but it can’t hurt.

ak.. Flying is better than walking. Walking is better than running. Running is better than crawling. All of these, however, are better than extraction by Medavac, even if it is technically, a form of flying.

al.. If everyone does not come home, none of the rest of us can ever fully come home either.

am.. Do not fear the enemy, for your enemy can only take your life. It is far better that you fear the media, for they will steal your HONOR.

an.. A grunt is the true reason for the existence of the helicopter. Every helicopter flying in Vietnam had one real purpose: To help the grunt. It is unfortunate that many helicopters never had the opportunity to fulfill their one true mission in life, simply because someone forgot this fact.

ao.. If you have not been there and done that you probably will not understand most of this.

Big Stick           Gurls      Old Trooper_edited-2