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January 27, 2005

Fireflys, Nighthawks, Cobras - Oh my!

Okay, as promised, here's Bill the Rotorhead's technical discussion of the Nighthawk and Firefly aircraft - 'specially useful to any modelers out there.

Have no idea of what I'm talking about? Well, either start here, at this post of a Nighthawk mission - or read this then go to that post!

Better put on another pot of coffee and have Beth crank out some brownies--this is gonna be a l-o-n-g one, cuz the pics need a suitable intro.

Gratuitous disclaimer fer-real: This will send some of the Active types into catatonia, but nothing with regards to Nighthawk and Firefly Hueys was (gasp) standardized--nomenclature, armament configuration, lighting, crew size-- nothing.

That chorus of dull thuds you just heard was the entire Directorate of Evaluation
and Standardization (that word!) at Fort Rucker fainting dead away. Oh, the heresy!

Well, tough. We were writing the book on helicopter utilization in Vietnam; it took lots of editing. When one unit found something that worked, they spread the word and the others either copied it or figured out a variation that fit their circumstances. [N.B. a process now formalized in the Army with the Center for Army Lessons Learned at Fort Leavenworth. ed.] Plus we improvised a lot, both with what we had on hand--which usually wasn't much, other than people, helicopters and guns (LOTS of guns, John…LOTS)--and what we could trade (or steal) from the Air Force or the Navy. Trading worked best--we always had the toys the other guys wanted for souvenirs and we would be welcomed when we returned; if we stole, we couldn't go back for more.

Do the math.

To begin. In the Stateside Sojer Schoolhouses, the credo was, "We own the day,
but Charlie owns the night." Some unsung aviation genius said, "Bullshit" and
started flying around at night flicking his landing light on over the woods then
shooting back at whatever shot at him. The idea caught on--Firefly and Nighthawk became a real-live mission.

1. Mission nomenclature: Surprise--lots of units used the terms Firefly and
Nighthawk interchangeably (thuds from the DES early-risers).

a. A Firefly mission, very generally, was a Hunter mission; flying around annoying the neighbors with noise and lights--you'd fly blackout into a known or
suspected staging area, rest halt or whatever and turn the night into day with
searchlight(s) and/or flares and see what scurried. If there was enough scurrying, call in the Killers (UH-1Cs or AH-1Gs) loitering about a mile behind and keep the area lit up until one or both sides ran out of ammo or you got shot down. Sometimes a Firefly mission was nothing more than a perimeter sweep at random intervals, checking the wire and dodging cattle egrets (aka “buffalo birds”--didn’t fly worth a hoot when your rotor wash hit them). Bottom line--a Firefly mission was primarily an illumination mission, although the gunners would sometimes get to do a bit of suppressive fire to cover the gun-bunnies in the break.

b. A Nighthawk mission was just the reverse. You were the Hunter-as-Killer; snoop around, light up the area with the xenon and then light up whoever was being naughty with the ordnance. In our outfit, we usually paired with a dedicated Firefly ship, just in case we either needed a lot of light fast, e.g., breaking up an assault on a friendly position, or needed a ride home after an “eventful” mission turned sour. Lotta fun when one of the Guys In Back was using a Starlight scope--ooooh. Bottom line--a Nighthawk mission was primarily an attack mission, although on some nights all you did was bore holes in the sky and provide the VC/NVA with a practical exercise in sleep deprivation.

2. Armament configuration: Surprise--no standardization here, either (more thuds). Good news for model makers wanting to create your own Nighthawk UH-1H: put any freakin’ thing you want on it (within reason--a 4.2” mortar in a Huey is just plain silly), anywhere you want to put it, and SOMEBODY, somewhere, flew that exact configuration. Honest-fer-real.

a. Firefly lighting and armament: the original “spotlight” was a cluster of C-130
landing lights stol--uhhhhhh--obtained from the Air Force and pintle-mounted
immediately behind the right-side pilot’s seat; the lights were adjustable to give
wide-area or narrow beam illumination (see pic 1-Firefly C130 Cluster).

Hi-res for you modelers here.

Got a bit more fun later when we discovered that the xenon searchlight on the
M48s and M60s playing Mobile-Bunker-In-The-Weeds were more compact, brighter and had a (range-limited) IR capability (see pic 1-Firefly Variant). Armament varied, too--we used mounted single M-60Ds, mounted dual M-60Ds and “free” guns hung on a bungee cord from the roof; other outfits stuck a mini next to the light and single or dual M-60Ds on the non-lighted side. Ya pays yer money and ya takes yer choice.

b. Nighthawk lighting and armament: xenon light and mini standard equipment, with anything and everything else you could fit into the cargo bay as options. Where they were placed was pretty much at the discretion of the Aircraft Commander--this one was flown by Mike Austin (see pic 1-Nighthawk Variant) of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade and all the auxiliary goodies are on the left side of the ship. The idea was to throw Edgewood Arsenal in the back and still remain within fore-and-aft CG limits (bumping the cyclic against the stops without having the desired result of slowing the aircraft down made for a very memorable--and sparky--landing). And, of course, all those goodies were totally useless without crew and ammo; crew was either five or six, depending on configuration and ammo was inevitably as much as you could throw on board and still be able to climb to a six-inch hover without overtorquing the bejaysus out of the tranny.

Again, hi-res for your modelers.

Any modelers wishing to make the definitive, official Vulture 16 Nighthawk, here’s how: left side, from front-to-rear, immediately behind the armored seat --Honeywell pintle-mounted 40mm grenade launcher bolted to the floor, twin M-60Ds mounted on the doorgunner’s gun post; right side, from front-to-rear, immediately behind the armored seat--xenon light from an M60 tank, M-134 mini offset attached to the right side of the light, M-2 pintle-mounted to the floor in the crew well. Paint scheme: standard Hubert interior, flat black exterior, upper portion of the synch elevators International orange, one small green equilateral triangle on each side of the tailboom (outlined in flat white--the
triangle, not the tailboom), centered forward of the synch elevator on that side, flat white skid toes, unit patch (see on the nose battery access cover. Crew of six--the usual suspects up front and three gunners and a light operator (oh, okay--he shot the mini, so make it four gunners) with one bench-seat on the forward portion of the transmission and one in each of the crew wells.

Jealous? Heh…

John | Permalink | Comments (21) | Observations on things Military
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