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War Stories

Xenon Light - First Test - 1967

Bruce Powell, Tom Fleming, Adolfo Eschenwald, Garrett Marcinkowski

see Nighthawk Stories: Minigun 69, Twin 60's 70-71, 1971, Aug 71, Allen Video, Bored Crew, Avn Digest Article, Marcinkowski Video


Bruce Powell: We had a Hog Gunship that was messed up and could no longer haul all of its necessary weaponry. Someone higher up had been wanting to try out the idea of mounting a big Xenon light from a tank onto a UH-1 for night recon. So they rigged this aircraft up. The idea was to fly at night mostly blacked out and use the infrared capabilities of the Xenon light to find the enemy. A Heavy Weapons Gunship would fly high cover close behind us. When the enemy is spotted the infrared would be turned into 50 million candlepower of white light. The cover gunship would roll in a blow up where ever the white light shown. That was the plan anyway.

It was early 1967 and I was beginning my transition from Light Scouts to Heavy Scouts. I flew a lot with CPT Adolfo Eschenwald for training whenever I got the chance. The fearless CPT Eschenwald volunteered to do the night test and asked if I wanted to copilot. I jumped at the chance.

There were some big problems. None of us had ever done this. We didn't have Night vision goggles in those days. The crew chief, operating the infrared light on the left side of the aircraft, couldn't see anything. Same with the right seat pilot. The left seat copilot would use infrared binoculars and direct the others accordingly. You can probably imagine how much training it might take a crew to get all that all organized. Just looking through the binoculars in that bumpy situation required higher level skills then I had. A daunting and unnerving job.

I don't remember if we found anything or not, but we were all bored to death with this ridiculous mission. We were flying over the Horseshoe of the Oriental River near Duc Hoa. A known hot bed of VC activity.

Eschenwald finally had us all lean to the right side and turn on the white light to get it shot out. Gusty move. It happened quickly. Upon return he reported that the light was a bad idea. Forget about it.

Tom Fleming: I seem to remember 468 as the tail number. It was formerly a hog that cracked in half at the South POL. We sent it to depot maintenance and came back with the caveat that it could no longer be a Hog (40mm) equipped ship. Apparently it did not have the electrical wiring and or hard points for the XM21 minigun system. The fire wall was strong enough to support mounting the Xenon search lite. I know it was not popular with the pilots and there wasn’t much the Service Plat Ldr could do about its demise. Later, when I was the Troop Commander, I used it as a C&C. It had 7round rocket pods as well as two VRC 46?47 FM radios with antennas mounted under the cargo doors. I think Woody Gardner was the crew chief

Moose Marcinkowski: To me the light mounted in a Huey thing was a one night mission. A hairy one at that. But apparently there is a lot of history to using the light in this mannar. Apparently other units used it with success. Might not have been the same setup we had. Our light, our guns and our infrared binoculars were totally seperate. Imagine trying to coordinate with a crewmember operating the light, one pilot flying, the other pilot looking through the binoculars and guiding both pilot and crewmembers.

Whatever you guys did early on was a big help when we finally got it pretty much perfected. There is an article in the Aviation Digest from Nov 1969 which lays it all out so I'm not going to get into a great deal of detail. In essence we mounted a xenon searchlight coaxially with a night vision device next to a mini-gun. Using infra-red the slick would traverse an area blacked out. When a target was spotted the searchlight operator would switch to white light and the mini-gun gunner would engage the target. Very effective made all the more so by the efforts of those in previous years.