BigWindow BackArrow
War Stories

Snake Driver - 1968
Tom Meeks
....................................................................................................... .......................

My story started in 1967 when I arrived in Viet Nam and was assigned to the D Troop 3/4 Cavalry. I was assigned directly to the gun platoon as I had been selected to attend a gunnery course at Ft Rucker instead of going thru the “Tac X” field version at the end of course of flight school. They were following those gunnery students in country to see if the gunnery portion was working as intended. The unit was currently flying UH-1C model helicopters that were configured with different wing mounted configurations. About five months after I arrived, we got word that the AH-1G “Cobra” was being assigned to the 25th Infantry Division. Five of those Cobras were being further assigned to D Troop and four were being assigned to the “Little Bears” of the Division Aviation Battalion. We retained the UH-1C to round out the authorization total of 9 aircraft.

1LT Bruce Powell was selected to attend the first transition course at Bien HOA Air Force base and I was selected to go following his return. I was so excited and thrilled to be going that it seemed like an eternity for Lt Powell to get back. He finally did return and I caught a flight out to Bien HOA. Upon arriving, I discovered they had started a day early and from the get go, I was playing catch up. Academics went well but my first training flight not so. My pedal control; according to my instructor pilot (IP), CW4 “Trim” Johnson, sucked. I got a pink slip for that flight. The next day didn’t seem much better according to “Trim” so I got a second pink slip. Now I was really nervous because three pink slips and you went home. I flew that room “chair helicopter” for hours that night concentrating on pedal control. The next day my IP for the check ride was a newly promoted 2LT Jim Lee. I was so damn nervous during the flight but I managed to make it thru without crashing. At the out brief, Lt Lee told me that I had passed but I needed to start flying the Cobra and forget the Charlie model. Stayed with Lt Lee for the duration of the course and actually did well for the rest of the class. Loved the gunnery phase of the class.

Returned to Cu Chi and started the wait for our aircraft to be assigned. Crew chiefs, mechanics, and armament people begin being assigned and we were all waiting for our aircraft to get there. Memory is fuzzy here on exactly when we got permission to go to Vung Tau to pick our aircraft up but know Lt Powell came flying in one day in a brand new AH-1G. I thought that was the prettiest helicopter I had ever seen. Got word the next one was available and a crew chief (fuzzy memory on his name) and I went down to pick it up. After preflighting that helicopter and acting like we knew what we were doing, we were ready to head back to Cu Chi. Flight home was great and we were amazed at the visibility, and how fast we were cruising. We did some experimenting that day, that I never got to do again.

Back at Cu Chi, we went thru all the armament systems to ensure they all worked. I learned one hell of a lot from those armament guys during those times that served me well the rest of that tour. Our aircraft were all configured with the new XM-28 turret system that had both a mini gun and M40 grenade launcher torrent mounted. The initial wing stores on that aircraft was the small rocket pods and an XM-18 min gun. We didn’t have much good luck with the wing mounted mini gun so we took them off and put large rocket pods on the inboard mounting points. Eventually we put the larger rocket pods on the outboard wing mounts giving us 76 rockets total. Combined with 2000 rounds of 7.62mm rounds in the turret and 600 40mm grenade launcher rounds you had yourself one hell of an attack helicopter.

We hadn’t gotten any new Cobra trained pilots in when we first received them so all our flying was with a crew chief or armament guy. They already knew how the systems worked so it worked out well for us. Few of those guys learned quick and got pretty good with the turret weapons.

We finally started getting trained Cobra pilots about a month later and and using the new Cobras proved to be one heck of an improvement over the older UH-1C Charlie model Huey gunships. Tactics changed in how these new gunships were employed and especially with the ability to stay on target much longer and the amount of ammo we employed before returning to base to rearm and refuel. The more we flew, the more familiar we became which improved our ability to provide ground support to infantry units in contact.

I continued to fly the Cobra for approximately six more months until my time in country was over. I rotated back to the states with an assignment to Cobra Hall, Hunter Army airfield to teach in the Cobra transition course. That’s where I learned even more about this new aircraft and how to employ it in combat. I tried diligently to impart what I had learned along with the school curriculum to all my students during my tenure.