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TINS! "This ain't Hollywood"

Well, it's been a while since I did a TINS!, and I'd been meaning to write about the sheer, unadulterated terror uneasiness of being trapped in a zero-visibility situation in a part of the world with only the most rudimentary 'lectronic navigation aids.

Oddly enough, one of the guys on our Viet Vet forum wrote just such a tale, thereby sparing me from going through a mind-numbing flashback in order to write it a lotta work.

A quick intro: the author and I worked the same AOs in the Delta, and I worked with his outfit during Twilight VRs around Moc Hoa.

Take it away, Tom...

Meanwhile, back at the "Ranch House" in "Beautiful Downtown Bearcat," I was at last, managing to get in a good bit more flight time. Lord knows I needed all I could get! My good fortune was mainly due to the never ending shortage of pilots. I became somewhat more proficient in the art of flying, almost to the point that it became second nature to me….almost ain’t good enough. Still, every day of flying resulted in learning something new. Even when you thought there was nothing else to learn, some new problem would usually arise, so you found the solution, or you would probably die.

I will be the first to admit that the young Warrant Officer pilots learned faster, and made better pilots than those of us who were in our late twenties. I really envied them and still remember the days when I was their age, single, full of piss and vinegar, infallible, and willing to try ANYTHING once. I believe that having a wife and three young kids made one a bit more cautious. Maybe too cautious for this game.

The monsoon season taught me to appreciate all of that "hood" time that we had put in in flight school. Although I detested flying under the hood, the few skills I developed saved my ass more than once during those sudden afternoon IFR conditions. I am still of the opinion that helicopters, at that period of time, were not safe to fly IFR [what we called IMC in those days: i.e., "in the soup," "stuck in the clag," "in deep kimchi," etc.] unless absolutely necessary.

Sometimes it WAS absolutely necessary, unless you wanted to land alone in a rice paddy, which in most cases would have been more dangerous than the alternative.

My most terrifying IFR experience was during the monsoon season after our move to Dong Tam, Boogaloo (a name I made up, ‘cause I can't remember the newbie’s actual name) and I had been flying an Ash & Trash mission in the area of Chau Duc all day long near the Cambodian border. We had been dodging large anvil head thunderstorms all day long, and were just departing back to Dong Tam soon after dark. Suddenly the whole area became shrouded in thick clouds which seemingly reached from Heaven to the earth. We may as well have had a large black blanket draped over the front windshield of the aircraft. I had never been in soup this bad, and was, to put it mildly getting pretty concerned.

I tuned in the ADF [Automatic Direction Finder] to the NDB [Non-Directional Beacon] at Vinh Long, and we followed the needle. It was a real spooky feeling, to be completely IFR, especially in that area, at night, all alone with your crew. I wasn't instrument rated, and I don't think I knew anyone at that time who was. A fixed wing tends to more or less stabilize itself, and most anyone can just put it on auto pilot and glide on [i.e., follow an electronic glide path]. Unfortunately, it takes skill in a helicopter, and it's all up to the pilot to make the aircraft stay stable.

You must MAKE yourself BELIEVE in the instrument panel, because that is the only way you can tell if you are upside down, sideways, or in the upright position, not to mention airspeed and altitude. Both you and your co-pilot must watch the instrument panel closely, as well as remain alert for signs of vertigo. If the pilot gets vertigo, everything becomes confused as far as up side down from right side up is concerned. You can become inverted, or fly into the ground, unless the other pilot immediately notices, and takes over until the affected one can get squared away.

While I had experienced vertigo once before in flight school, thank God it didn’t happen on this flight. I instructed Boogaloo to monitor all the instruments, and be ready to take over the controls.

As we neared Vinh Long, the Air Traffic Controller there picked us up on radar, and began to try to talk us in to a safe landing. While we could not see anything in front of us, things seemed further complicated when it began to rain heavily. Vinh Long tower said he had us lined up on the runway from about five miles out, and began to talk us down. We began our blind descent as directed by the ATC, still unable to see anything outside the aircraft.

When we were finally informed that we were on short final, and lined up with the runway, ATC told us to let him know when and if we could take over visually. Well as fate would have it, I didn't have quite enough time to let him know.

The first sign of anything I saw as I was on short final, and in a slight flare at about 40 knots, was the control tower's lights. When I saw them, the tower was directly in front of the aircraft, no more than 20 yards and closing! In a split second it appeared we were going to crash into Vinh Long tower, killing everyone in it, as well as my entire crew of four. This was the first thing we had been able to see for the past hour, and it looked like it would be the last.
Everything seemed to be in slow motion then, as we floated toward the air traffic controller’s face in the tower. We seemed to be right in his face and the little tower room he was in was about to have a Huey crash right through it. He had one of the most terrified "kiss my ass goodbye" expressions on his face that I had ever seen. I couldn't see my own face, but I imagine it would be a tight contest to judge which one of us looked the wildest.

Just before impacting with the tower I did a HARD LEFT bank, and we shot by the tower window at 40 knots... sideways, our skids must have missed the tower by only a few feet. I suppose all the ATC could see as we went by, was the belly of our aircraft and our landing lights. A split second later I did a right bank, and THERE were the runway lights out in front of us, and slightly to the left.

We landed, put the aircraft in the revetment, skipped the post flight, and took off to the Vinh Long Club in search of some spirits to help us regain our composure.

I felt as though I had just completed a long marathon run, and was totally drained and exhausted from the experience. I can only imagine what the guys in the tower were feeling.

Boogaloo was mumbling something to himself about deserting the Army, and starting a new life in Australia. I'm sure the controllers in Vinh Long Tower were trying to overcome their part of the experience in their own way.

I never got a chance to thank that Air Traffic Controller for saving our asses. Maybe it was just as well we didn't discuss the situation at that particular time anyway. He probably didn't appreciate our temporary intrusion into his personal air space.

I never got myself in a situation like that again. If the WX looked like it was going bad, I hunted an airfield. I never claimed to be an ace peelot, or a hero.

Tom N.
335th AHC

Heh. Substitute "Moc Hoa" for "Chau Duc" and "Can Tho" for "Vinh Long" and you'd have the exact same story from me, but one year earlier.

For some reason, the controllers always lined us up on the guys in the tower instead of right down the runway...


Ooh. I am reminded again of the sideways ejection seat, the only kind which could possibly work in a hellaflopper. They had one for the bombardier in the B-45 Tornado, but I wonder if

1. anybody ever actually used it and

2. if he lived.

Sideways accelerative forces on the cervical vertebrae...  hey, at at least the body was mostly intact and un-burnt!

WOW!!   I'll have to tell you my OH-6 story sometime.

"I had been flying an Ash & Trash mission"???   I've heard of Ass & Trash missions, but never Ash.....   Something new?
Flying resupply was originally called "hauling hash and trash" -- rations and whatever.

Then it morphed into "hauling ash and trash," and I guess if you were carrying pax, too, it would be "hauling ass and trash."
Glad you clarified that "ash and trash" mission- I thought it was a nice way of saying that we burned the place to the ground.

You are correct.  Besides scouting, we transported people and equipment.  Thanks, hadn't heard that term before.
RE: "if you were carrying pax" it could also be considered the daily "bus run".....a duty that rotated 'mongst the Division's ASH units.

ASH, of course, is not to be confused with ash (and trash)

The term "sucker hole" comes to mind

Likely they forgot that the radar was not mounted at the runway and likely on top of the ATC tower.