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War Stories

My Favorite Maneuver

Williams, Patterson, Eastes, Burgess, T Vaughn, Halliday, Fleming, Clark, Dooling


This page contains some short and very short stories recalled by various Centaurs - Began collecting in October 2009

Rick Williams: Taking off after refueling and reloading a C-model gunship doesn’t sound like much of a “maneuver” unless you’ve tried it in RVN especially on a hot, humid day. Basically, we could never fill up on fuel due to weight, so the trick was to figure out how much fuel to take that would allow take off after rockets and minigun linked ammo was replaced. Often, you’d bring the aircraft up to a 3’ hover to see the RPMs go down and then aircraft return to the ground. In other words, it was too heavy to hover, but we had to figure out how to take off. So, the next “maneuver” was to lift the aircraft just barely off the ground and start bounding and bouncing the aircraft along the ground (not a smooth concrete surface) hopefully to gain enough forward speed to hit transition lift (a term of art which essentially means you’ve flown out of the inefficient turbulent air created at a standstill hover and hit the cleaner air which provides enough lift to actually fly). The tricky part of bounding/bouncing takeoff was trying not to catch a skid and turn the aircraft on its side and this became even scarier because as the aircraft was losing RPMs (which it would because of too much weight), it would start to yaw to the right, thus increasing the chances of flipping on its side before achieving transition lift. Such a takeoff was always tense and sometimes borderline scary. I don’t recall anyone losing an aircraft on such a takeoff, but I suspect it happened.

Larry Patterson
While taking our dog for her daily constitutional today...I watched as one of the helicopters from the VERY nearby Univ. of Mississippi Medical Center was approaching to deliver someone that needed their help. I got to thinking.....what was MY favorite maneuver as a helicopter pilot????

To me, it was landing........picking the right spot (although sometimes there was only ONE spot, right?) ha! making the approach, lowering the collective, pulling back on the cyclic.......nursing that baby down until the skids just kissed the ground and the person(s) in the back asking..."Are we on the ground?" - Larry D. Patterson

Pat Eastes
Rolling in on a gun run, punching off a bunch of rockets, and hearing those mini-guns roar. - Charles "Juaquin' Eastes

Smokey Burgess
Mine was taking off from a hot LZ and I wasn't even the pilot. Bill Gold had that role. It was the day I got the crap blown out of us in my OH-23 and crashed right in the middle of what we had been shooting at all morning. There were three of us on board and this was to have been our last pass. I took a round that shattered the bone in my upper right arm. Knighton had taken a round through the knee and had passed out. Swienski was unhurt.

After getting out of the a/c we had to do some E&E (Escape and Evasion) down a trail and out into an old abandoned rice field. We had exchanged fire with troops on the ground. It didn't look like we were going to get out of there. We had said the Lord's Prayer and settled down to wait the final verdict. Just when about all hope was gone someone spotted us and reported our position which was a good distance from the shot up helicopter. I was told that the OIC (Officer In Charge) had given orders that no one was to land as he had already lost one aircraft and didn't want to lose another.

Then, out of the blue comes Bill Gold. He landed his a/c between us and the tree line we had left. The crew jumped out and dragged us on board. Gold pulled pitch and made a hard left turn out of that LZ (Landing Zone) en route to 12th Evac Hospital.

Absolutely my favorite maneuver in a helicopter. Bill Gold will always be my hero...always. - Leland H. Burgess, Jr.

Terry Vaughn

I think the most interesting maneuver I was involved in was as follows....

1st Lt Joe Bridges was the AC (Aircraft Commander), WO Mike Siegel was the Peter Pilot, Buzz was the Doorgunner and I was the CE (Crew Chief) on my slick. We had been flying ash and trash missions all day and were headed back to Cu Chi, when we were diverted. Seems that someone in the radio unit on top of Nui Ba Dinh was going home and needed a ride to Cu Chi.

We made the approach and settled on the pad then five guys came running to my side of the helicopter, loaded a 1.5 kw generator, a 2ft tall stone Budda statue into the cargo area then they jumped in with duffle bags. I told Lt Bridges we were ready to go and felt him pulling pitch....and heard the blades biting into the air...and we started lifting, but slowly...we started moving forward...but WAY too slow...then I heard the rotor rpm warning going off in my headset.....and was thinking "this isn’t good" when all of a sudden....the AC (Bridges) rolled the helicopter to the right....then he kicked the nose right....and we went right down the side of Nui Ba Dinh at tree top level.....It was like a roller-coaster ride....when we hit about 70 knots he pulled out and left my stomach back on the mountain.....WHAT A RIDE....would LOVE to do it again! - Terry Vaughn

Pat Eastes
Terry, if you like roller coaster rides, you would have loved taking off in a loaded gunship from Dau Tieng. It was quite an adventure, trying to get over the rubber plantation at the end of the runway.

Speaking of Vindicators, (John) Kelly used to fly with me on occasion as a door gunner and as I recall he actually hit a target now and then. He might have even called in some accurate artillery from time to time. - Charles "Juaquin' Eastes

Jeffrey 'Doc' Halliday
I remember a lot of us, me included, would ride the hoist, drink Coke that we purchased from Toe, our pet Gook at CP 178, when we pulled Highway 1 standby. Eat too many C rations and heat the Ham & Beans with JP4....

I am proud to have been there and know each and every one of you. - Jeffrey D. Halliday - Centaur 23 ('Doc')

Terry Vaughn
Some more random memories....Cooking the c-rats...with C4, Who was the FIRST idiot that thought of THAT?

Using a can of Ham n Lima beans on the side of the M-60 as a feeder instead of that aluminum feed you were shooting...when you started smelling the ham was time to change cans!

Losing an M-16 coming out of a MedEvac....and being grilled by Army CID.....

Flying with "Slick" the pooch in my fatigue pocket (was just a small pup at that point) - Terry Vaughn

Tom Fleming
Re the story about John Kelly being dragged through the trees.

Bill Wilde was the pilot and I was over head in my perch. When you wandered off into the bush tethered to the UH-1 there were a few tense moments during which there was a dialogue on the radio about the mental state of the guy who wandered off into the bush picking up papers. - Thomas Fleming - Centaur 6

Larry Patterson
Here's a memory I could well forget.....when one of the LRRPs would say on the radio..."our position has been compromised"...knowing that meant that 'Crazy Bruce' Powell would be firing off some rockets to help with the hot extraction. - Larry D. Patterson

Norm Clark
I have a good story to tell about Doug Olsen, Crew Chief of HOG #513, during the 1968 Tet Offensive. We were flying at night probably Feb. 1st or 2nd, 1968 in the Cu Chi area when everything on the ground was a target and every known and unknown gunship was swarming and the radio chatter was mostly unintelligible with its urgency. We received heavy auto weapons fire from a brick building that had a tall smokestack. We made a few gun runs trying to lob rockets into the window openings, with little success. This is where Doug came to the rescue when he told the pilot (Lt. Johnson?) that he had one of his homebrew bombs on board and would like to try it out.

You see, Doug liked to take a 7.62 ammo can, drill a hole in the side, then fill it with C4 and screw in the cap from a hand grenade. He asked the pilot to hover just to the right of the factory smokestack and the first reply was, "Olsen, we will be sitting ducks!" Didn't matter to Doug; the pilot finally agreed (took about 2 seconds because of the tracers streaming up all around us) maneuvered #513 into position, and Doug pulled the grenade pin, dropped the bomb down the stack and hollered, "Let's get the hell out of here!"

There was a huge explosion as we circled back around and this time there was no more enemy fire coming from that building, and all was quiet for a few moments...then, it was on to the next target, which wasn't far away and seemed to pick us rather than the other way around! - Norm Clark - Door Gunner HOG #513

Tom Fleming
Does anyone remember the story of the door gunner Christianson(?) who took a round in his helmet that entered the visor, exited the back and knocked him out. Maj Vinson (then Cpt Vinson, Scout Plt. Ldr.) saw him slumped over, saw the entrance and exit holes and presumed he was KIA. Vinson continued the gun runs on a target in the Ho Bo north of the Saigon River in support of the Aero Rifle Platoon. On his next pass he looked back and Christianson was up and firing. He had a gash on his scalp and a headache.

Needless to say he got to keep the helmet as a souvenir. If you remember this and can write the full story we all would enjoy seeing it. - Thomas Fleming - Centaur 6

Tom Fleming
Another story that needs to be told is about the Light Scout team that passed over the Free Fire Zone North East of Trang Bang at low level on its return from scouting the area and got zapped by an emplaced .30 cal MG (Machine Gun) in a hedge row bunker. The door gunner was shot in the bicep and the pilot lost a thumb on one finger. The OH-23G took it in the bubble, belly and fuel tank and went up in flames, A courier UH-1 from the 3/17th was traversing the Route 1 corridor and saw the OH-23 go down in flames.

The 3/17th Huey pilot landed nearby and the Chew Chief from the far side got out and ran to the burning OH-23 while the UH-1door gunner suppressed the .30 cal. Our pilot and the OH-23 Crew Chief scooted to the UH-I and hopped in. The pilot asked “Do we have every one” and our guys nodded Yes. He took off and left the UH-1 Crew Chief on the ground. The second OH-23 of our Light Scout team saw what was happening, landed and picked up the Crew Chief. He had no one to suppress the .30 cal and it hammered away at him while the extraction was going on, putting holes in the blades and amazingly, putting a round through the tail rotor one inch drive. The OH-23 made it out of the PZ and back to Cu Chi. A noisy ride though. - Thomas Fleming - Centaur 6

Pat Eastes
Talking about -23s, remember the infamous flight of one of my classmates in WORWAC 67-11. He had, I believe, the Squadron XO on board when he had a frozen throttle on his OH-23?

He planted it on the runway at Cu Chi, and the passenger exited quickly, shouting "Good landing, Good landing!" Don't remember what happened to the pilot, and I don't know if the passenger ever flew again. - Charles "Juaquin' Eastes

Larry Patterson
And then, almost immediately after that, my ship ran out of fuel on final to Cu Chi. After my ship was was placed beside Festus’s wrecked OH-23......!!!! - Larry D. Patterson

Mike Vaughn
I will always remember this funny story about Mike Young.

He was one of the gunners on a helicopter that landed to allow a small group of Infantrymen to check out a small hooch for VC and/or weapons. As soon as the Infantrymen approached the hooch they began to receive fire from inside the hooch. All the action was on Mike’s side of the chopper so he began to return fire on the VC inside the hooch. One of the infantrymen had been wounded in the early moments of the firefight & was quickly returned to the chopper for Medivac back to base camp.

After the mission I ask Mike if he had hit any of the VC he was firing at. He said he wasn’t sure about the VC… but he definitely killed their dog. There had been a large dog just outside of the hooch during the firefight. We all got a huge laugh out of his story.

Some of the gunship crews would paint small coolie hats on the side of their choppers to signify a confirmed kill for each VC they were credited with. I painted a small figure of a dog on the side of Mike’s ship. He thought that was so funny. It was meant as a joke…so I was going to remove it after he saw it. He wouldn’t let me…he said that was his first confirmed kill. When other people would see that little dog figure on the side of his chopper they would have to ask what it was about. And Mike would get to tell the story in his usual humorous way. We had a lot of fun out of it. - Mike Vaughn

Tom Dooling
I narrowed my many favorite maneuvers down to two: (1) Low Level 180 autorotation in a Cobra; and (2) Out of Ground Effect (OGE) hovering autorotation in a Cobra.

A little background – after being in the unit for about five months, the Cobra Section Leader Mike Joest asked me if I’d like to go the Vung Tau for a couple of weeks and become the unit Cobra Instructor Pilot (IP) (Ted Pitcher the current IP was DEROSing). I suspect that he had asked a number of the other pilots and they said no, so he looked at the bottom of the barrel and there I was. So off to Vung Tau I went.

Being an IP in Viet Nam was different than being an IP stateside. The stateside Instructor Pilots were there to teach you how to fly and to evaluate your skills during a fairly structured annual check ride – using maneuvers found in the flight manual.

In Vietnam, the IP was not there to teach you how to fly – rather he was there to evaluate your flying abilities under high stress situations as well as to demonstrate some of the capabilities of the aircraft not normally encountered in stateside flying.

Amongst the maneuvers demonstrated in Viet Nam outside the stateside syllabus were the Low-Level 180-degree touch-down autorotation and the Out of Ground Effect Hovering Autorotation.

For the Low Lever 180, you would run the aircraft up to around 120-130 knots parallel to a road or field, chop the throttle, slight aft cyclic to load the rotor and then lay the aircraft into about a 90-degree (or more) bank bringing it around to be facing in the opposite direction generally about 100-150 meters offset from the inbound track, level the wings, and complete the touch-down. It was by far the best maneuver to get your blood pumping – it was especially fun from the front seat. Generally, when I was doing the maneuver from the front seat, about half-way through I would glance at the guy in the rear seat (via the mirror) and see their eyes very wide open.

For the Out of Ground Effect (OGE) hovering autorotation, you’d bring the aircraft to a stable hover at about 75 feet, chop the throttle, make some minor adjustments to the collective (lowering it slightly) to maintain rotor RPM and then cushion it onto the ground. There were two versions – one where you had an area to the front of the aircraft so you could slide the aircraft forward, helping to maintain some rotor inertia, or the more difficult one, where you would descend vertically (through your own rotor wash – think settling with power) and pull a lot of pitch at the bottom. We would demonstrate these with a fully loaded Cobra occasionally, but usually we did it without a full load.

Note that both of these maneuvers were demonstration only – we didn’t want pilots going out and trying these on their own. The purpose was to help instill confidence in the capabilities of the aircraft for when you got into a situation requiring flying close to the edge of the envelope. There were other maneuvers demoed like wing-over split S and return to target, but the Low-level 180 and the OGE hovering autorotation were always my favorites.