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January 26, 2005

War Story Time.

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Bill the Rotorhead told a war story down in a comment stream below. Since I know a lot of people don't read the comments, it's my habit to bring Good Sh*t, especially TINS (war stories - all war stories start out "This Is No Sh*t").

This is Bill's TINS. It sets the hook for you to come back tomorrow - when I'll post the technical side of the story, with pictures. Which is now available here.

So, picture Bill in his leather flight jacket, 'crusher' cap, holding his hands like he was rolling in on a bandit... and instead of "And There I Was" which is Fighter Jock TINS, he says, "...This is no sh*t!"

SangerM - I flew Nighthawk Hueys for five months. TINS (War story), originally printed in FlightFax, March 99, follows; pix available on request.

WARNING: Do not attempt to sip coffee while reading.

The Devil is in the details--

--and sometimes somebody with only your best interests at heart will try to get you killed...

Lord Bulwer-Lytton would have been ecstatic--it really was a dark and stormy night. I won’t bore you with the details of why I was flying a MedEvac scramble in a UH-1H Nighthawk gunship (minigun slaved to a xenon searchlight and a fifty-cal on the right, twin-sixties and a Honeywell grenade launcher on the left, with a crew of six) with my Firefly flareship as Chalk Two, or why we were scudrunning [N.B. - this refers to the meteorological term for clouds - not missiles. ed.] in a monsoon at 500 feet, or why we were flying into “neutral” Cambodia loaded for bear before it was fashionable (or legal) [war criminal!] to do so.

Mere details...

Believe it or not, we actually did manage a flight brief before takeoff and a crew brief enroute--a “sorta-kinda” Jurassic version of AirCrew Coordination, but with a crew of six (four of them heavily armed and unsedated), I didn’t want any solo players. Firefly took up a five-rotor-disk staggered-right after confirming he could see my steady-dims with no problem (no, child, NVG’s hadn’t been invented yet).

Five minutes after Reed Control gave me an initial vector, we were in Lon Nol’s NeverNever Land. I won’t bore you with the details of torrential rain, lightning, turbulence and popping in-and-out of clouds we never did see, or the cheery “Radar contact lost; last observed heading was skrrrk. See you skrrrk you get skrrrk...” call from Reed, or the water leaking from the overhead panel (“It’s okay--it’s only electricity!”), or the intermittent radio contact with our folks on the ground (it made FM-homing a real chore until we finally had visual contact--we could tell where they were by all the green and white tracers converging with all the mortar explosions).

Mere details...

I will, however, bore you with two very important details--my Peter-Pilot’s only previous night flight had been at an Alabama stagefield and his only previous flight in the Land of the Two-Way Gunnery Range had been yesterday’s In-Country Checkout Flight. But earlier in the evening, I observed that he could fly instruments like a ‘Thirties mail pilot. Oh frabjous day!--the Boss had finally paired me up with a copilot who wouldn’t try to kill us in the clouds (the Nighthawker’s equivalent of Br’er Rabbit’s sweetbriar patch).

“Scamper 3, Vulture 16--two inbound, ETA your house in zero-three. Say whiskies (wounded) and how bad. And how close is Chuckie (the bad guys)?” I won’t bore you with the details of how we organized and prioritized the wounded for pickup, or set up our “I’m out, you’re in” racetrack pattern, or our approach crew brief: “Nav lights off, cockpit lights dim; we’re going in full blackout. Stay on the controls with me; if I get capped, you can log AC (Aircraft Commander) for the return trip. You guys in back, negative suppression while we sneak in (hah!--in a Huey?) and full left and right suppression once we’re outbound and clear. The ground-guys are Armored Cav, so keep your eyes peeled for antennas and APC’s!”

As I turned around in my seat to give the lads my trademark boyish grin, I found myself looking at the gunners looking at me looking at them and had a sudden vision of a tree full of owls--and the water leaking from the overhead electrical panel (monsoon, remember?) took a slight detour and began running down the back of my neck.

Mere details...

And now for the part you’ve been so patiently awaiting. At a half-mile out and 200 feet AML (Above Mud Level), the opposition stopped firing into Scamper’s laager and began putting random bursts into the sky. Heh, heh--not even close! One hundred meters out and 75 feet AML and I could see APC’s skulking in the murk. Thirty meters out and 30 feet AML--nice and slow, picking my way through the antennas, raindrops and rice straw beginning to swirl in the rotorwash, the Zippo lighter in the steel pot marking my touchdown spot beginning to flicker...

Question: If you were shooting a night (unaided) approach into an Alabama stagefield, what is the very first thing you would expect your Army aviator copilot to do? Conversely, if you were shooting a night (unaided) approach into the middle of a firefight, what is the very last thing you would expect said Army aviator to do? If you answered, “Turn on the landing light” to both questions, you’re absolutely correct.

Care to guess what my Instrument Ace did?

Unnanounced?

The troops in the laager nipped back inside their APC’s; the raindrops (yep--still monsooning) and rice straw turned into a million points of light swirling in a million different directions; the bad guys (wide awake and ready to rumble!) reoriented their fires with commendable speed and lovely green basketballs now joined the tumbling mirth of rain and straw two feet from my face--my previously-dark-adapted eyeballs uncaged and I got a screaming dose of vertigo.

I won’t bore you with the details of transitioning to instruments, starting a climbout, transferring the controls to my thoroughly-contrite copilot (“But I thought it’d help you see the antennas!”), making calls to Scamper and Firefly and trying to figure out why the direction “up” had suddenly acquired the gift of bilocation. At least I didn’t have to turn the landing light off, since one of the other team’s superstars thoughtfully shot it out for me--along with my chin bubble.

I won’t bore you with the details of what happened when I disgustedly hollered, “Aw, SHOOT!” and the Fearsome Foursome in the back opened up with full left and right suppression. And I certainly won’t bore you with all the details of our second voyage into the laager to pick up those wounded that Firefly couldn’t extract.

Would a really, really thorough crew brief have reduced the Thrill Factor? Kind’a hard to say--I’d been Nighthawking for months; it would never have occurred to me that a pilot would touch the landing light switch, never mind turn the blasted thing on in a hot LZ.

So just where does ACC come into play here? Well, for starters, how ‘bout “situational-awareness-for-two”--the newbie not being fully-aware of just what “combat zone” really meant and the old guy not being fully-aware of just how unaware a newbie could be.

Oh, yeah, the “halo effect,” too: (“Kid’s great on the instruments--this should be a no-sweat mission.”).

“Sudden loss of judgment” leaps out (hmmm--we may be on to something, here!). Did I make his “comfort zone” a wee bit too comfortable with my “piece of cake” briefing? And then there’s...

Details, details, details...

John | Permalink | Comments (6) | This is no Sh*t!
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