08-30-96

SPLETSTOSER

“Hits Through The Chin Bubble!”

CHAPTER 10 – BDR

A typical written description that went with one of my Battle Damage photo layouts.

JUST ONE ROUND

UH-1H   67-17591 – 23 June 1969
162nd AHCo.  (Tail#591) – Dong Tam, RVN
Pilot: not recorded? – APO 96370 SF – Peter Pilot: ?
Callsign: the Vultures

Photo #1 shows:

A 7.62 mm Chicom ball round perforated the right hand cockpit windshield at approximately sta. 32 and wl 65 at a relative azimuth angle of 0 deg, a vertical angle of 93 deg, and a 43 deg angle of obliquity.

The round continued across the cockpit where it perforated the right side of the “Peter Pilot’s” neck.

After passing through the Pete’s neck, the round entered the cargo compartment where it perforated one of the Grunts, not exiting.

(1A) Photo shows: The Peter Pilot’s seat in the reclining position. (After he was hit, this was done in order to try to get him away from the controls and to give him first aid. The shock of the bullet through his neck caused him to unconsciously fight the flight controls. The AC pilot just barely saved it. They had been at a four foot hover when the `P pilot was hit.

(1B) Photo shows: A Peter Pilot’s view of the bullet hole in the windshield.     (2A) photo shows: The path of a 7.62 Chicom ball round that perforated the tail pipe cowling on the right hand side at approximately sta. 222 and wl 85 at a relative azimuth angle of 090 deg, a vertical angle of 90 deg, and a 0 deg angle of obliq­uity.  As you can see, the notes for my narrative tend to run to the impersonal cold hard facts.

The above is a short example of the kind of paperwork that I had to make out for the reports and photos.  My narratives that were written were derived from interviews of the crew recorded on audio cassette tapes.  The accounts that follows originated from such a tape.  Aircraft tail no. 171 and no. 591 were hit in the same PZ.

UP and CLEAN

UH-1H   s/n 67-17171 – 23 June 1969
162nd A.H.Co. – Dong Tam, RAN
Pilot: W/O Curry – APO 96370 SF
Callsign: Vultures

Another day in the Mekong Delta for the n Assault Helicopter Company, courtesy of U.S. Army Aviation.  DONG TAM was the location of the U S Army’s 9th Div.”The Old Reliable”.

The 162nd and the 91st AHC were part of the 214th Combat Aviation Battalion which supported 9th Did.  They carried out operations “Ball Games” with troop lifts and close air support with the Gunship platoons of these Companies.

Today’s troop insertion had gone smoothly, no one had taken any ground fire going in or lifting out. It was to be a different story on the return trip for the outbound lift.

Aircraft #171 was part of a Eagle flight that was involved in a troop extraction of a company of 9th Did Grunts.

The helicopter lift had landed into the PZ without incident and were holding their aircraft at a flight-idle until all the troops were on board.

Lt. Foerste, the AC pilot of the Trail aircraft, had just called, “Two-Five, you’re up, the PZ appears clean.”  `Two-five’, being the Lead aircraft’s call sign.  This advised the flight that all the Grunts were out of the PZ and on the choppers, “you’re up” meant that Lead could lift off.

W/O Curry’s Peter pilot started pulling pitch and had picked up 171 to a four foot hover as soon as he heard “Up and clean.”

Then all hell broke loose.  All up and down the line the whole flight began receiving automatic weapons fire.

Their Crew chief had been wounded during the first few seconds of the shooting. Any left side LZ suppression after that was carried on by a couple of the Grunts and their M-16s’.

Huey #171 had gotten back up to a hover but hadn’t started moving forward yet.  Puzzled, Curry looked over at his the Peter pilot who appeared to be just sitting there.

The AC says, “What the f#*k’s wrong with you?  We’re taking fire!  Let’s get the flock out of here!”  Then the AC grabbed the controls.  But nothing would move, the control stick was so stiff that it took all the strength of both pilots to push forward on the cyclic even a little.  The cyclic control hydraulic boost system was out and they had to get the chopper’s nose down in order to start moving forward from the hover.

The AC, with the Peter pilot’s help, made what we call a “hydraulics out” take off.  There was no way that they wanted to stay very long in a PZ that was that hot.  Together they managed to manhandle the chopper into the air and out of the PZ.

Once up, Warrant Officer Curry began looking for a nice open area at least a Klick away from the hot PZ.   He wanted one that was without tree lines to hide any surprises, because he was prepared to make an emergency landing.  The pilot had started to get some cyclic feedback but he felt he had a serious problem.

Curry called his `Lead’ advising him “I’ve got a hydraulic failure and I’m going down”.  He had no Master Caution or Christ­mas tree lights, in other words, there were no indicators to tell of a problem, just an educated guess (`WAG’).

A medic that was with the Grunts attended to the wounded Crew chief. They had pulled him out of his gunners position and laid him out on the cargo deck.  He had been hit in his right arm twice by the same round.  (The door gunner had been holding the M60s’ spade handles returning fire, his arm bent at the elbow approximately 90′ when he was hit.)

The Medic got the bleeding stopped, immobilized the arm, and gave the Crew chief a ampoule of the “good stuff”, then checked out the other guys.  The same projectile had passed through his forearm, his upper arm, the bulkhead of the transmission compart­ment behind him and had finally impacted on the valve-body of one of the flight control hydraulic irreversible valves (cyclic system).

It was this inoperative hydraulic valve that had made the Huey such a bear to fly after initial hover.  Similar failures have made Huey’s impossible to control.  This leads to having someone writing a “crash and burn” report.

Hydraulic boost and control valves can fail for reasons other than battle damage. They are made to very close tolerances like a Swiss watch.  The least bit of dust or micro trash can lock up a control system.

The 162nd’s leader put in a call to the 147th ASHC a CH-47 Chinook outfit out of Can Tho, to come and hook the 171 aircraft out.

When the Hook arrived, the CH47 loaded the chopper crew, the 9th’s Grunts, rigged a sling for #171 and flew them all back to Dong Tam.

At the 162nds’ ramp a ambulance from the Dong Tam MASH unit was waiting to pick up the Crew chief, beginning a ride that ended in Japan. The 9th grunts made it back to their area of the base camp. What was left of the chopper crew took care of the paperwork, headed for the showers, then to the chow hall. It had been a long day.

The story continues with the adventures of the pilots, crew an the Grunts on board Huey #591.

THIS IS A REALLY BAD PZ

UH-1H 67-17591 – 23 June 1969
162nd AHCo. (Tail No. 591) – Dong Tam, RVN
Pilot: Lt. Foerste – APO 96370 SF
Callsign: Vultures

Lt. Foerste was the pilot of #591 Huey, the trail trail ship in the same flight as W.O. Curry that day.  As AC pilot, he had given the word to the Lead that the PZ was clean.  His Peter Pilot picked the chopper up to a five foot hover and was waiting for the leading aircraft in the Eagle flight to move out.  Two seconds later the hovering chopper flight started receiving automatic weapons fire all up and down the line.

Almost immediately the Peter pilot was hit.  A round came through the right windshield striking the pilot in the neck. [1]

The co-pilots wound later proved not be serious, but for now it put him out of business. He let go of the controls and the AC pilot  managed to grab them just in time.  The aircraft turned to the left and pitched nose up as Foerste fought to regain control.

The pilot gave a quick look to the peter pilot and saw that his legs were sticking out straight and then begin kicking.  The pitch and cyclic controls seemed to get stiff as if they were experiencing a hydraulics failure.  Everything appeared to be going wrong at the same time.

Now in spite of the pilot’s efforts, the power was bleeding off.   He just couldn’t keep it up.  Normally a pilot can pull 40 lds of torque before the power starts to bleed  Since there were only seven troops on board it shouldn’t have that heavy.

The root cause may have been the result of the Peter Pilot’s reaction when he was hit, snatching the controls could have loaded the hydraulic system.

The only thing that the pilot was trying to do now, was to get the nose around so that he could land straight.  No such luck, because during this time the tail-rotor had been stuck in the ground. (rotor blades broken off and the tail rotor drive shaft broken in two places.) This had all the makings of what is known as a “controlled crash”.

From the five or six foot hover the aircraft dropped in hard enough to kink the tail boom and spread the skids.

The AC switched off the battery and fuel and got his crew and the troops out.  The firing was coming from a tree-line that  was only about 75 meters away. Too Close!

Recovering from the hard landing, the door gunners gathered up their M-60s, belts of ammo and took it along with them. Together with men of the Grunts, they set up a defensive position around the aircraft.  They kept low while firing at muzzle flashes in the tree-lines and waited for relief, support, and rescue.  The accompanying Charlie Model Gunships roared in to give them as much close air support as possible.  After the Viet Cong began firing at the troop insertion, it was a easy thing to locate the enemy targets.

The 147th Chinook outfit was kept busy that afternoon.  With the gunships flying close air support and the Dust Off ship picking up the wounded, the CH-47 Chinooks hooked out the damaged Hueys.  The Chinooks usually took the crew and Grunts with them.

Back at Dong Tam after the Peter Pilot and the wounded Grunts were transported to local MASH unit, the AC pilot and I were checking notes on the action.  Only two rounds actually struck the aircraft, the one through the windshield that wounded the co-pilot and another hit the exhaust pipe rim, the punching showing left to right. this may have part of the burst  that passed through the cargo compartment wounding several Grunts.

We took our showers, put on fresh “Green Jeans” and had our usual fine dinner at the 162nd’s mess hall. Just another day in the Delta.  After chow, I went over to 162nd area, met the pilots at their O’Club [2], and recorded my after-action interviews while we all sipped on a cold can of Bud.

Later after dark, we’d have a movie in our open air theater, break for a few mortar rounds and then come back to watch the rest of the movie. In the morning after good breakfast, I’d shoot the  photos of both aircraft, for Aberdeen’s BDR survey. Some­times I wondered how I could be so lucky.

[1] The 162nd AHC flew with their Aircraft Commanders in the left seat the same as civilian aircraft, other units had their ACs on the right.  This sometimes makes reporting confusing when trying to form a mental picture from an interview.

[2] The safest Officers Club in the Delta. It was built inside sand bagged bunker.  It could have taken a hit from anything except one of those 122 m/m rockets.