Charlie Troop 1/9th Cavalry A War Story by Vaughn Lane Cavalier 28.

Posted on March 21, 2017

7


HELICOPTER PILOT PLANNING

Or…

IT TAKES FOUR PILOTS TO MAKE ONE PLAN WORK

Written by:

Vaughn Lane Cavalier 28

 

The ending was near magic.  The plan showed the heart of Army aviation…very little thought and a lot of luck.  Kind of like the Marines, actually.  You know, just keep going, defer to bravery over judgment, throw in a few bad decisions, and concentrate like hell on the resulting situation.  It was one of those “pay close attention, because if you f— up you’re going to die,” must see it through to end kind of things.  Guys do it that way all the time. 

 

The Cobra was heavy with fuel for the last flight of the day.  The mission was appropriately written on the X-Ray canopy, right side high, Grover’s organization applied.  As usual, the take off was delicate, nurse it along, slowly forward, take your time, it will fly…touch the ground; pull it all, there she goes.  Then the blazing acceleration passing 20k then ten seconds, no altitude, 30k and hang on to your hat, another 10 seconds and 40k, climb now to 50 ft. and away we go.  After five minutes, Song Be became a distant sight.  If only the F-4 pilots knew what they were missing.  In ten minutes we were 1,000 feet and ten miles southwest.  Time to start work.  Slow to 60k, direct the little bird to the start grid.  Radios set with FM on, UHF busy with the LOH, intercom chatter as usual, and music on the ADF.

 

We had been here and about here before.  Nothing exciting expected.  A nice day to fly with plenty enough clouds, not a lot of ceiling, visibility OK for late afternoon.  I liked left circles.  We held our position, a few calls from the LOH, strictly routine.  Gauges OK, then look back.

 

A little bird gets lost easily.  Never quite knew why that was.  But, never were they lost more than a few seconds.  First, look where he is supposed to be.  If not there, he couldn’t have gone far, ask the X-Ray.  Most of the time he was on, a few words of direction, and there, in sight again.  So it went as a routine.  Sometimes the X-Ray was bluffing.  Even Grover occasionally bluffed.  I guess (actually, I know from experience) if the X-Ray didn’t have the little bird, he would know where to shoot once the rocket dive was lined up. 

 

This flight is slow.  Nothing is happening.  Good.  Fine-tune the music.  Well, to do that you have to look at the damn radio.  Then, you have to fiddle with it.  And, guess what?  When you look back outside for the LOH, he’s gone.  Happens every time.  So, just ask Grover.  “Where’s the little bird?”  Then, the great response, “I don’t see him.”  Still looking, looking, …nothing.  Time to call, “17 I lost you.”  (At this point in the story I can’t remember today who the little bird really was.) Then, again, “Cavalier 17, 28.”  No answer.  I’m encouraged, now Grover is getting concerned and so states, “Where is he?”  All X-Rays think the AC keeps such things a big secret. “I don’t see him” is the reply as a fast descending turn starts, down to tree top level.  The turn continues now on the trees.  No little bird.  More calls, “17, 28”.  “Cavalier 17, Cavalier 28”.  No answer.  But, the intercom works.  Now you have two Cobra pilots cussing. “Crap, he’s down.”  “Where is he?”  We slowly climb back up, 600 feet now, still in the left turn.  Nothing.  Seems like hours have gone by. 

 

We were flying over a good-sized patch of bamboo, the tall stuff.  There were no indications of a crash.  No bent bamboo, no fire, no smoke, no call…nothing.  This ain’t right.  More minutes go by.  Then, at the same time, we see it.  A flood of emotions – mostly I’m pissed.  Green smoke, just the slightest, coming out of the thick bamboo.  Right where the LOH was supposed to be when all this started.  Damn.  Well, get the grid.  Now the call to base.

 

“Cavalier, we’ve got a down bird, grid 694378, stand-by and I’ll tell you what we need.”  Now, as soon as you transmit something like that, all the radios go crazy.  I had to turn off the music.  The X-Ray is talking to the little bird.  Great.  All are OK, on the ground, and out of the LOH.  That’s a good thing; we can’t even see the LOH.  Another call to base.  “Cavalier, listen close – this is all we want. Send ONE, JUST ONE, lift bird, with a McGuire Rig, JUST ONE!”  “Roger” was the reply.  On intercom, “We can have them out in no time, tell them the lift is coming”.  The ever sharp and astute X-Ray responds to the ground.  Everybody is under control, everybody is happy.  I knew by default another team would be on the way.  Just guard duty now for a few minutes until they get here.  We still have 2 hours of fuel.  Good shape.

 

But NOOOO.  It never works like that.  In just a few minutes, I look back to the east and here comes at least 50 helicopters.  What in the hell am I going to do with that?  And, of course, no McGuire rig anywhere.  Now everybody wants to talk.  The radio is flooded. My hand doesn’t leave the selector switch.  It constantly moves from one radio to another, now with VHF alive.  Holding patterns are set up.  Another little bird comes in over the crash with me, that makes me feel better.  More requests to base for the McGuire rig. After 30 minutes now, darkness is happening.  Ceilings are coming down.  Visibility is coming down.  No problem.  Pile it on. 

 

Time to reassess the situation, more particularly, the Cavalier 28 situation. We’re flying a dog Cobra.  All the temperatures run hot. All of them.  In this one, all of them show hotter than normal.  And, there is no attitude indicator – it has been taken out.  But, as well as I can use one, the hole is just as good.  The thought goes in back of my head, the weather continues to drop.

 

I feel the need to line up artillery.  No, not for rounds.  I remembered somewhere they could shoot flares.  I’m busy now lining that up. The artillery guys are enthusiastic about the mission.  They quickly take it.  By the time it’s lined up, good news!  A McGuire rig is a few minutes out.  I begin the brief with him.

 

“We’ll have flares, come in on a 300 degree heading, you’ll have cover.  Three to pick up.”  A happy “roger” is the reply.  This guy is casual.  I needed that.  Something is beginning to go right.  About 40 minutes of fuel left now.  That’s OK.  It’s raining, with ceilings about 400 feet.  It’s going to work.

 

Artillery is called again.  “Fire, and keep them coming.”

 

I never shot much artillery; there were too many special things to say like “fire mission, over” and “fire for effect” and other stuff that sounded real official.  Plus, they couldn’t shoot any better than me and it seemed a lot of work if that’s all they could do.  But, THIS TIME, “rounds away” and poof…a flare exactly on target.  That was a sight.  I was some kind of proud.  The lift bird was on short final, then lots of light.  Just like in the movies.  Damn, this is good.  It’s going to work.

 

But, NOOOOO.  Artillery calls immediately after the first round, “Cavalier 28, we can’t fire anymore.  We’ve been told to cancel the mission and shut down.”  The radio’s heat up again.  The lift bird begins his hover, squawking about light and going around, I’m yelling at the pussy artillery guys about people on the ground and I need light NOW, and Grover advises Song Be generators are shutting down, no more communication there and the little bird says something but I don’t know what.  Well, this is a fine fix.  Fuel is 25 minutes now.  Ceiling at 250 feet, raining, and 6 or 8 helicopters flying in circles, low level in the dark.  Not good anymore.   Time to quit.

 

I call the guys on the ground and tell them the story.  Their reply “Get out of here, we’ll be all right until tomorrow morning.”  I immediately release all the ‘choppers and they are some kind of happy, too.  They quickly head toward Song Be.  A few more circles, last transmissions to the guys on the ground.  I hated that.  Now, time for us to head back.  Twenty minute fuel light – not yet.

 

I could just imagine going back following all the LOHs and Hueys.  I could see mid-air real easy.  Well, not me.  Climb up, 2,000 feet. The plan…fly northeast until 10 or 12 minutes of fuel remain, if no Song Be, then due south at max speed for about 8 or ten minutes and land straight ahead.  Sounded good to me.

 

Coming up on 2,000 feet now, flying partial panel.  Not bad so far.  Bing.  Twenty minute fuel.  Well, just a few more minutes, keep going.

 

My lucky day.  Cliff Lee calls on FM.  I asked him how he was doing that, all the radios at Song Be were supposed to be down.  He had a field portable FM.  Good. Damn good.  “19 hold the mike, we’re going to home to you, give me ten seconds.”  And, Wrong Way Lee did.  This was going well.  Instrument flying at it’s best.  Cliff kept talking, helping with the homing signal, said he could hear us now, getting closer.  I slowed to 60k.  Cliff again, “You’re close to overhead.”

 

The pitch goes down… significantly.  On a 040 heading, I figured to miss the mountain just east of Song Be if we were directly over the field.  Homing was indicating good, we’re about 1,200 feet.  And then, pow… right outside the left canopy, a damn flare on a parachute.  It was magical! We found out later that Vince Nelson found a box of flares and had joined Cliff.  Bank left now.  Crap, no attitude indicator and I need one bad.  “Grover, tell me if the bank exceeds 60 degrees.”  I checked the descent to follow the flare down.  Grover provides the attitude indicator “you’re over 60!”, I correct back, hold the turn, more power, slower on the descent.  I wish Grover wouldn’t say it so loudly.  We’re coming down, another flare – up and above us now.  Slow the descent more, the first flare is out.  Continue the turn.  Grover saves us again on the bank, watch the speed – 40k now, about 600 feet, coming on down. Another thought comes to me, “Grover, keep an eye out for the ground, tell me when you see it.”  You see, a good plan allows you to add to it as you go along.  Particularly if you’re going along in deep cocca.

 

I’m intent on this flare business.  Cliff keeps talking, advising we are getting lower.  At least we sounded OK from the ground.  Grover is hanging in there.  That man doesn’t have good sense.  He helps with bank angle, speed and altitude read outs.  We’re doing OK. Hope the son-of-a-bitch doesn’t quit.  Coming around, coming down, steady.  Again, “Grover, watch for the ground.”  Grover, again, “Your bank is too much”.  Correcting.  Landing and search light on.  No ground… just clouds and rain and a flare.  Then Grover, “OH SHIT, THERES THE GROUND!”  Hell, I saw it out of the left side, too!  Pucker big time.  Those big blades were still at 60 degrees bank, the landing lights reflecting now; we’re out at 50 feet.  Quick, level and decelerate.  Cliff  and Vince are running from beneath. We’re near the middle of the landing area at Song Be.  Don’t hit the stinger, and down we come to a hover.  Just like we planned it that way.  I think, “Quick, park this thing before it quits.”  We slide into a parking area, pitch down, and we’re here. 

 

Cliff and Vince come running up, with very big smiles, and soaking wet.  I know I was smiling bigger than they were, my face was hurting.  I couldn’t see Grover’s smile, but he sure was talking fast.  As was required, the whole thing was quickly relived while we waited for shutdown – I guess I ran it 2 minutes.  It didn’t quit.  Neither did Cliff, Vince, and Grover.  A fellow just couldn’t ask for better than that to make a plan work.  Good guys and luck; that’s all it takes.

 

 

For those who were there, I know it wasn’t exactly like that.  You should hear the version I give the young, new college grads at the airport going into Air Force or Navy flight schools.  F-16’s and such just can’t be real flying, but I will grant it would be the ultimate kick in the ass.

 

The hero’s in the real life story were Cliff, Vince, and Grover.  Because of them, I am here and have fun with the new aviation people – who think I’m certified crazy.  A serious problem, though, comes about when I recount Grover and Steve got shot down twice by the same 51 on the same day.  See, there’s always a better story.

 

A humble request, just for fun… Would Grover and Cliff tell the story from their participation and recall?  Could be an interesting human study.  Well, we’re human sometimes.  And, for more help for the feeble minded, who were the LOH crew?  And what was the damn call sign for Cavalier operations?  I’ve said all kinds of numbers in my head to make a recall…no bells went off up there.

 

Vaughn Lane            Cavalier 28

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