Like many veterans of many wars, I have seldom told of my combat/overseas encounters. I did write a novel, Rainbow, No End, which contains some of my experiences in Korea and Japan in 1953. However, most of that story is a blend of real and imaginary events.
I served with the Royal Australian Air Force, No. 9 Squadron, at Vung Tau in South Vietnam in 1969. We operated Bell UH-1H Iroquois, Huey helicopters in support of Australian and New Zealand Army units, from their forward base at Nui Dat, which means, small hill. This base was located in Phuoc Tuy Province, to the east of the Capital, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). The squadron’s main mission was troop-carrying sorties of various types. These included; the insertion and extraction of recce and fighting patrols, SAS operations, MedEvac and general troop movement. The squadron also had a gunship flight.
The habitat in the province was a mixture of tall tropical forest, tall bamboo, and areas of long grass. There were cleared sections, some used for agriculture, and others made with bulldozers and defoliant for military purposes. Rubber plantations and rice paddies interspersed the whole area.
In the east there was a low range of mountains we called the Long Hais. The shoreline of the South China Sea stretched from Vung Tau north past the village of Long Hai. The area had been a pseudo Riviera in French Colonial times.
This stretch of coast is today, redeveloped as a resort area.
In the early days of the squadron’s involvement, the officers occupied one of the old French villas, Villa Anna, with its slightly dilapidated, old-world charm, overlooking the back beach on the south western side of the peninsula. Non-commissioned ranks occupied two others.
Before my memory goes, or starts to play tricks on me, I thought that I should put ‘pen to paper’ and jot down a few short stories that I recall from those hectic times. I was personally involved in each event. There is a little ‘filling in of colours’, probably a few errors, and of course, any dialogue is only approximate.
Except for one ‘Acknowledgement’, I have purposely not identified any person in these anecdotes, for we were all equal in our determination and zeal, to get the job done. No doubt some of my colleagues from those days will identify with most of the content.
Please refer to the glossary as you come across terms requiring explanation. These are indicated by the use of italics. It also contains some anecdotal material.
If you are unaccustomed to military or aviation terminology, you may find it advantageous to read through the glossary first.
Lloyd D Knight
The MP and the VC
Some will have seen it in American movies; ‘Blue Thunder’ and ‘Apocalypse Now’ come to mind. Some will have heard tales of it in bars and military messes. I am referring to the story of the alleged practice of prisoners being thrown from helicopters, as an interrogation technique. The theory goes that, if two or more prisoners are being transported, blindfolded and bound, in the back of a helicopter, and one is thrown out, then the others will spill the beans when they hear the screams of their compatriot, as he exits the helicopter.
No doubt the Viet Cong and NVA would have heard the same story.
It is possible that some overzealous soldiers have done this, particularly if it was accomplished at a low hover. The prisoners would not know that the aircraft was not cruising at height. So the effect would be real for the victim, as well as the remainder. The plus side to this case would be that the exercise had no fatal outcome. Even so, it would be a despicable act of torture, and would certainly not be condoned by the Australian forces.
I was tasked to fly two Australian Army Military Police, a staff sergeant and a corporal, out to a recent battle site. They were to collect two Viet Cong prisoners and escort them back to Nui Dat for interrogation.
Some questioning would have already been accomplished. A prisoner is more likely to give information while he is in a traumatised state, immediately after capture.
We landed at the forward location and the MPs went off to collect the captives. I shut down the engine while we waited. The co-pilot and crewman did the walk around checks in preparation for the return flight. This was now a secure area, and it had been a busy day so far. So we took the opportunity to rest up while we waited for them.
After about half an hour we saw the MPs returning with their prisoners. Next to the burley Aussies, they looked diminutive. They wore the black pyjama outfits that were typical VC dress. Both had sacks over their heads, and presumably were blindfolded. Their hands were ‘cuffed in front, and they were shackled with ties that allowed them to walk fairly normally. However, they would not have been able to run.
The corporal’s charge was the shorter of the two, of extremely slight build, and appeared to be a female. She allowed her escort to steer her around the front of the helicopter and up into the left side of the cabin. The other was limping badly and needed to be supported by the six foot four staff sergeant. As they approached my side of the chopper I could see that this prisoner was shaking terribly.
He cried out in pain as the MP pushed him up, albeit gently, into the cabin. He sat on the bench seat against the rear bulkhead as the staff sergeant climbed in. Then, as we started the engine, I heard him crying. He was scared almost out of his wits.
I remember wondering at the time if he had heard ‘the story’, and thought that he was about to meet a sticky end. We were soon up and on our way back to the army base.
About halfway to Nui Dat, I looked around and saw that the staff sergeant had his arm around his prisoner’s shoulder. He had his mouth close to the VC’s ear and seemed to be speaking to him above the noise. We normally flew with the doors open, so the crewman and left hand door gunner had ready access to their M60 machine guns. The big burly soldier appeared to be comforting this poor soul. That sent a little tingle up my spine as I identified with his apparent kindness.
We landed about fifteen minutes later. With the rotors still turning, the corporal and his prisoner exited the left side of the chopper and went off towards the HQ building. The staff sergeant tapped me on the shoulder. As I turned, he gave me a thumbs up and mouthed, ‘Thank you.’ Then he turned to unload his sorry charge.
As I spooled up the engine for take-off, to relocate to our pad, I turned to check that the passengers were clear.
There, out to my right, walking towards the HQ was the staff sergeant. He was carrying his prisoner in his big gentle arms, as if caring for a sick child.
I felt very proud to be an Aussie that day, and I still get a tear in my eye (it’s there now), and a lump in my throat, whenever I recall that experience.
It had been a very long day. Dusk descended as we made our final approach to the helicopter landing area at Nui Dat. We terminated in the hover and taxied over to the fuelling area to gas up, preparatory to returning to our base at Vung Tau, about a half-hour flight to the south. A delay on our final mission for the day had made us late, so all the other squadron aircraft had returned to base.
I was riding left seat. This is normally the co-pilot’s position in the Huey. Because I was the Squadron Training Officer, I often occupied this seat while the young pilot I was checking, flew from the command, right hand seat.
As the crewman was completing his hot refuel, a call came through from the Command and Control Centre, to which I answered, ‘Albatross zero two, go ahead’.
The controller responded, ‘A platoon has come under heavy fire, twenty minutes from your position. One soldier critically injured. Require immediate Dustoff. Both Medical Core units (US Army) are presently deployed and cannot respond. Are you able to accept this task?’
I answered, ‘Albatross zero two, affirmative, go ahead with location and details’.
The other pilot called to the crewman, ‘Dustoff!’ and told the door gunner to grab the spare stokes litter that was located near the fuelling plant for just such an exigency. I copied down the details, which were in code: the location grid reference, call sign and FM channel, and the nature of injuries. He had four gunshot wounds in the thorax. We were also instructed to take the casualty direct to the military hospital in Saigon.
I advised the crewman and door gunner to wear their bulletproof plates under their flack jackets because we could come under attack. They often placed them under their seats, to protect their important parts from rounds fired from directly below the aircraft. I exchanged seats with the other pilot and he took over the co-pilot duties.
With all checks completed, we took off into the now black night, and headed west at a couple of thousand feet to our task site. The co-pilot established coms with the platoon. The officer in charge advised us that the potentially hot area was several hundred metres to their south. They were fairly sure that the enemy had either succumbed to the return fire, or had quit the area. He had called in the gunnies in case they went hot again.
Because they were located in tall timber, he warned that we would need to perform a hundred-foot winch lift. The casualty wasn’t really stable. He had lost a lot of blood, and there was nothing more they could do for him, except get him to hospital. He was already strapped into a fold-up stretcher and ready to be lifted. I advised that we would terminate in the treetops using the landing light.
We would use no other lights so as to make the aircraft as inconspicuous as possible.
The patrol had floated a balloon light, which was attached to a string, up through the trees to mark their position. They also flashed a Morse code letter with a shielded torch, which we read back to confirm their identification. I made our approach to the balloon, heading west to place the left hand gunner facing the previously hot area. I turned the landing light on at the last minute and gave the crewman the con.
He gave me the last few corrections to our position, to place the aircraft over the casualty. I descended until the skids were at treetop level, having ensured that the tail rotor was in a clear area. The crewman started the cable on its way to the wounded man below.
When the hook was about half way down, all hell broke loose to our left. Heavy fire came up through the trees and, our door gunner started pounding away with his M60 machine gun. The Aussie troops below also returned heavy fire and another fight was on.
The man on the ground yelled over the radio, ‘Get that chopper out of there!’ I had already switched off the light and was pulling pitch, climbing vertically so that the hook wouldn’t snag in the trees. I applied maximum transient power and we climbed at about four thousand feet per minute. The winch operator was madly reeling in the cable, and the gunner continued letting them have it to our left.
As we went through a one hundred foot increase in altitude, I nosed over and high-tailed it out of there, into the safety of the big black sky. As we climbed rapidly to the west, two gunnies rolled into an attack on a reciprocal course out to our left. We turned right to the east and set up an orbit at a couple of thousand feet and three clicks from the firefight.
After about twenty minutes I advised the Platoon that we would need to refuel if we were going to take the casualty to Saigon. He replied that they would need at least half an hour to subdue this new threat so we scurried back to Nui Dat to refuel.
Arriving back on station after another forty minutes, we could see that the fight was still going on. We commenced orbiting again and waited to be called back down there to make another attempt.
During this period of relative respite, the crew started to lighten up on the intercom. We discussed the pros and cons of risking being shot down.
I have never felt ‘scared’ during combat operations. That seems to come later when you are safe, and have time to ponder the ‘what ifs’. However, I recall vividly that throughout that half hour wait, I certainly felt apprehensive about returning to such a potentially dangerous situation.
Decisions, decisions! It would not be smart to place the aircraft and crew, and the troops underneath, in a position where we could all be wiped out by being shot down. On the other hand, our duty was to rescue the person down there, who was obviously in a life-threatened state.
On that occasion I didn’t have to make the decision.
After about another twenty minutes, the shooting had ceased, and the gunnies said they were returning to base. The bloke on the radio called us saying, ‘Thanks for your help Dustoff, the battle’s over, come back in the morning.’
The young door gunner, who had just experienced his first fire-fight said, ‘Thank Goodness, he must be alright now.’
There was a moment’s silence before the older, experienced crewman said, ‘Yeah, I suppose so. We don’t recover body bags at night.’
The young man sobbed into his microphone, ‘I didn’t know that’s what he meant – but I didn’t want to go back down there again.’
Over the years I have often wondered what a difference another couple of minutes would have made.
If we’d managed to get him on the hook before they started shooting; maybe we could have towered out and saved him.
Then I think about the other possible outcomes. He may have been snagged in the trees and brought us all down. He may have been shot again! And of course, with such severe injuries his chances of surviving such an ordeal would have been extremely slim.
You may not be familiar with helicopter boarding procedures. However, you will at least have seen on the screen, the way people approach, or depart from a helicopter while the rotors are turning. Usually they are at a low crouch, head uncovered or with secured headgear, and normally in the sector between ten and two o’clock.
Visualise the aircraft sitting at the centre of a clock face with the nose pointing to twelve o’clock. The sector referred to is the area in front of the helicopter.
Some rotor systems dip to head height at the front, so they are approached from the side. Helicopters are never approached from the rear, unless they are rear-loaders and a trained person directs the boarders. This is because most tail rotors are extremely dangerous. Of course, loose objects, like headdress, can fly up into the rotors and cause serious damage, or be thrown down again and cause injury.
One day I was tasked to pick up a bunch of about six senior officers and bring them back to base. As we sat with rotors turning, they all ran in from about two o’clock with their service caps removed, except for one. He was holding the brim of his cap, which he let go a couple of times as he stumbled on the rough terrain. Even though one of his companions pointed to his cap as they ran, he stubbornly kept it on his head.
As they approached the helicopter, I saw that the recalcitrant one was wearing a white back-to-front collar under his service jacket. He was a chaplain.
They boarded, secured their seat belts and the crewman advised that we were clear to take off. Once we were up and settled in the cruise, I called to the crewman on the intercom. When he answered, I said, ‘John, would you give the padre my compliments, and ask him to please remove his cap when he departs the aircraft?’
John acknowledged, and after about five minutes came back with, ‘The padre has a problem.’
‘That’s unusual,’ I replied. ‘It’s usually us who approach him with our problems. What’s the padre’s quandary?’
John answered, with a little snicker in his voice, ‘He’s wearing a toupee, and said he thought it would blow off if he took his hat off. He’s asking for permission to leave it on.’
After a moments consideration I said, ‘Tell the padre he can keep his cap on, but to place one hand firmly on top ‘til he’s clear of the rotor down-wash.’
When we landed, the padre trotted away from the aircraft, one hand dutifully planted on top of his head.
The crew found the incident had lightened their day, and we all wondered why a chaplain, especially in a war zone, would be so vain. But, who are we to judge? Actually, I felt a bit sorry for him.
Tail Rotor Tales
In ‘The Padre’, you may recall my pointing out that helicopter tail rotors are extremely dangerous things to be near. They pose the same sort of hazard as a propeller on an aeroplane. They just happen to be on the other end. This was probably a significant factor in these two anecdotes about tail rotors.
I was shut down at a New Zealand Fire Support Base (FSB), somewhere in the Province, waiting for my passengers to complete their business before transporting them back to base. While we waited I was enjoying a mug of tea, supplied by a young Australian lieutenant who was attached to the battery. I think he was a liaison/operations officer. The tea was, like the coffee consumed by the troops, black and sugarless. I still drink those beverages the same way after thirty seven years. Saves a lot of hassles.
While I was talking to the lieutenant, a flight of four or five USAF, C123 transports roared directly overhead spraying their ‘Agent Orange’ defoliant. The lieutenant went ‘ape’. He raced into his HQ tent and got on the line to Saigon to register a strong complaint. When he came out he had calmed down a little.
‘That’s the third time this week,’ he almost yelled. ‘They are going to make us all sick if they keep that up.’
We all now know how right he was.
Well may you say, ‘What’s that got to do with tail rotors?’
‘Well, absolutely nothing.’ I would reply.
I just threw that one in for the record.
While we were discussing the poor coordination applied to such spraying operations, another Huey arrived to pick up a different party of senior officers. It landed about a hundred metres away and the officers, about six in number, started out from the tree line to cover the fifty metres from their waiting area to the chopper. Perhaps that is an apt slang term in this instance.
As has always been my habit since that event, I observed their boarding procedure, as an added safety precaution.
This was just as well, because, as the first five headed for the right hand door, number six, who was in fact a non-combatant major, broke off from the group and ran head down, straight for the tail rotor. The crewman was fixing the seat belts or something, and the pilot wasn’t looking towards them.
I took off at full pace after him, yelling my head off. I couldn’t be heard above the engine and rotor noise.
I screamed, ‘Stop! Stop! Hey! Stop!’ It was to no avail. The major kept doggedly on his course to certain destruction. I ran even faster, the adrenaline really pumping now, and continued to yell at the top of my voice. Over my shoulder I saw the lieutenant running even faster than I, and also yelling. None of the party could hear us and the helicopter crew just weren’t looking our way.
We had almost caught up to him when suddenly, not more than three metres from the whirling disc, he looked up and stopped dead in his tracks.
The crewman, who was now organising the boarding of the rest of the group, saw what was occurring and came running back towards the major. We all got to him at the same time. He turned his bloodless face towards us and mouthed a big ‘Thanks.’ Then he almost fainted ⎯ and so did I. The crewman bundled him aboard and they went on their way.
I could hardly talk for a week after the screaming. I think I was transformed from a tenor, to a Johnny Cash for a further two weeks.
I never heard of, or from the major. However, he did ask the pilot of his ship to convey his heartfelt gratitude. He had heard our cries just in time.
He also told the pilot he had received some induction training in helicopter procedures back home. But he had never boarded a running helo before. He had flown in a few single engine aeroplanes though. That’s where he had received his conditioning to, ‘go round the back’.
Lack of experience cannot be cited as a cause for the next event. Maybe, recent aeroplane exposure was a factor. I must caution you that the outcome was not as successful.
One day I landed at an Aeroplane Landing Area, the name of which I forget. It was in the northeast of our operational area, out past Dat Do. The area was quite attractive, with tall green trees on both sides of the short runway. There was a gentle breeze wafting through the tall grass in front of the trees. The whole atmosphere, away from the usual hustle and bustle of most airfields, was a pleasant change. We had to shut down, with the inevitable wait for our passengers.
Some US Army personnel were in the process of wheeling an OH-6 Cayuse (Hughes 500) helicopter off the edge of the PSP pad. I could see that it had a badly damaged tail rotor. I strolled over to see what had happened.
As I approached the area, I was disturbed to see a large amount of fresh blood, and other little bits, on the steel covered landing zone. The soldiers completed their task of securing the aircraft and I asked them what had happened.
They told me that a Special Forces (US) major had alighted from a passenger seat, grabbed his kit, and walked straight back into the tail rotor. The medics had removed his body, and they now had the unpleasant task of cleaning up the rest.
This very experienced soldier had done the inconceivable. Maybe he had been somewhat preconditioned by the fact that he had recently been conducting his observation duties from an O-1 Birddog aeroplane. A moment’s lack of awareness had led to a horrible outcome.
I have included this story to amplify the fact that, when operating near running engines, rotors and propellers, folks have to be extra careful. Of course the same principle applies to jet engine intakes and exhausts.
If you have looked up Thumbs Up in the Glossary, you will be aware, if not already so, that some gestures and body language can mean different things to different people. Of course, some may also be unintentionally offensive.
I can remember in school during Shakespeare studies, that back in his day, the holding up of the end of the thumb meant “fig-o to thee”, a gesture of contempt.
You may also be aware that in a Buddhist society, the head is considered a sacred place. No doubt many Westerners, who are used to patting children on the head in an affectionate manner, have offended custom by doing the same to a Buddhist child.
My crew and I were tasked to convey an infantry major out to an ARVN base. The object of the exercise was, with our help, and the use of our aircraft, to school inexperienced Vietnamese soldiers in helicopter emplaning and deplaning procedures.
The Vietnamese officers gave us a quite formal welcome by showing us how well the new recruits drilled. This was followed by a few short speeches, which were not translated. I felt that they were of a salutary nature.
Then we got down to business. The ARVN supplied an interpreter, and our crewman and door gunner were used to demonstrate how to approach, board, operate seat belts, disembark and depart the aircraft. This all went along swimmingly.
Next it came to the turn of the recruits to have a go. The major pointed to one of the troops and beckoned, in normal western fashion with his index finger. The soldier looked a little shocked and didn’t move. The interpreter said something to him, and he came over to the aircraft. Through the interpreter, the major proceeded to run him through the drill.
He repeated this procedure about three more times, selecting different members of the squad. The soldiers seemed to be coming increasingly uneasy, with each repeated gesture. When this practice was completed, the major advised that a squad of six were now going to board, three each side.
I moved up beside him and suggested a short break while the crew rearranged the seat belts. He agreed and the interpreter told the troops to, ‘Take five’, or however they say it.
During the break I ushered the major around the other side of the helicopter. Out of sight of the troops, I undertook the unenviable task of explaining to him that his beckoning gesture was if fact, locally, a rude sign equivalent to the finger.
He was most embarrassed. I said that it wasn’t his fault; his unit should have better briefed him. I showed him how to beckon, Vietnam style, with the palm down, fingers together, and making a sort of scraping motion towards oneself. He thanked me, and we returned to the job in hand.
Now I have to give that major full credit. He explained his faux pas to the interpreter. Then he addressed the soldiers, through the interpreter, with a full apology and an explanation of how our hand signalling systems differed.
Then he really surprised me. He obviously had some Vietnamese expertise, because he gave them a little burst, which went right over my head. It drew a good laugh from the troops though. So, that which had started off with a stiff and embarrassing episode, ended up as a friendly and effective exercise.
I never did get the chance to ask him what he had said. Perhaps it was some joke about ‘dumb foreigners’.
It must have been about twenty one hundred hours, that’s 9PM to the uninitiated. I was sitting in the bar of the RAAF Officer’s Mess at Vung Tau. I was at that time, teetotal, so I was probably sipping on a Coke and thinking that I may turn in shortly.
The CO entered the room, looking around with a concerned look on his face. As soon as he spotted me, he hurried over and said, ‘I’m glad you’re still up, we have an emergency situation that we need to respond to.’ He continued, ‘A platoon is trapped in a minefield near Long Dien, and HQ want them lifted out ASAP. They have casualties, two serious.’
I said, ‘What about the night standby crew?’
‘We’ll need two aircraft’. He replied. ‘I want you to lead the push. I’ve got the Orderly Officer rustling up two crewmen, and the MO will go too. Find a co-pilot who hasn’t been drinking and head down to the operations room for briefing.’
I found an experienced candidate in the lounge, catching up on the latest television news. I quickly explained the situation and dragged him off to the ops room.
The brief was that this nine-man platoon had, in the dark, stumbled into a new and unexpected minefield. One soldier had a foot blown off, and several close by were also seriously wounded. At almost the same time another mine had exploded, probably triggered by the blast of the first, causing more injuries.
The platoon commander decided to not try backtracking in the dark, and had called for an extraction.
The CO was adamant that we must go in separately, landing on a marshaller defined spot, so as not to risk triggering any more explosions. We studied the map and the weather brief and filed our flight plan with ATC. Then we headed out the door and into the jeeps to take us to the helicopter lines.
Just as we were about to go, the CO came rushing out the door to stop us. He said the command centre had called to say that the Task Force Commander had put a hold on the operation. We were to wait until first light.
I protested, and was backed by the other captain. I said that we were quite capable of completing the job in the dark. We didn’t want the diggers to suffer any more.
The boss said he understood completely, and agreed with us. However, he had spoken to the Brigadier personally and tried to assure him that we could do the job just as efficiently at night. The troops were all trained in helicopter night operations and would be able to guide us in safely. The Brigadier was adamant that he would not approve the mission until daylight.
I later realised; he probably thought that at night, with our bright lights, we would make good targets for any enemy in the area.
So, we went off to bed and attempted sleeping for a few hours.
We departed Vung Tau in the dark, planning to arrive at the pick-up area just before first light. The flight was uneventful in the clear, black night. We flew in trail formation and number two was briefed to hold at three thousand feet until we had completed our lift.
Coms were established with the platoon. The platoon commander advised that they had only been able to clear a small area, which was marked in standard fashion. There was no wind and he expected that we would come in from the east. They had cleared the area back that way for about fifty metres so that the downwash wouldn’t set off any mines.
He had assessed correctly, we would land, facing away from the rising sun.
As we approached slowly, following carefully the directions of the marshaller, I could see the group of sorry figures, huddled together just to the west of the landing site. Those poor b…s had been waiting since about eight o’clock – nine hellish hours.
Luckily, none had succumbed to his injuries.
We landed. The MO did a quick triage assessment. He ordered the four most serious cases to be loaded into our aircraft for transporting direct to Saigon. Number two would pick up the remainder and take them to Vung Tau.
The rest of the mission was completed without incident.
The irony of this story is that, Australian mines blew up these brave soldiers.
A couple of years earlier, during operations to clear NVA and Viet Cong from the Long Hais, the army had laid a substantial mine field to the southeast of Nui Dat.
Now, a couple of the rules about mine fields are that; they must be patrolled regularly, and they must be covered by artillery.
Well, once this field had served its purpose, it was abandoned, and not cleared of mines. No patrols, no fire cover. So the Viet Cong were handed a free source of hundreds of mines, which were in turn used against our troops. This was one of those costly mistakes that occur during war.
It also draws attention to the diabolical nature of land mines, and the reason why so much effort now goes into attempting to rid the world of this scourge.
The Chinook and the Centurion
Let’s move forward about thirty years. I was talking to a colleague in Canberra by phone. Bill, himself an experienced helicopter and aeroplane pilot, and I, were discussing a helicopter accident that involved a major component failure. I started to tell him about the most catastrophic failure that I had ever witnessed.
After all this time, what follows is naturally not a verbatim account, especially the dialogue.
I told him that I was flying up Route One, on the western side of our operational area, at about three thousand feet. Out to my right was a CH-47 Chinook helicopter with a Howitzer slung load.
The Chinook is a large twin rotor helicopter. It has two main (horizontal) rotors in tandem, and no tail (vertical) rotor. It was on descent, delivering the cannon to an Australian Fire Support Base.
As we overtook it on our right side, the crewman suddenly yelled, ‘Look at that! Three o’clock low.’
We all looked around and saw the large machine slowly pitching up to a high nose attitude, and descending rapidly. Its rear rotor, a sixty-foot disc, had become detached and was flying off to the right like some giant Frisbee.
The helicopter, supported only by its front rotor, continued to pitch up. The unsupported rear end swung down, the howitzer swinging with it.
As it reached the fully inverted attitude, it crashed into the jungle in a giant fireball. The howitzer came down on top of it. The US Army crew had no chance of survival.
(If a single main rotor helicopter loses its tail rotor, the pilot enters autorotation immediately. If the longitudinal trim is still within limits, it is probable that it would make a relatively successful forced landing. Of course, the pilot would need to release the slung load on the way down.)
Bill exclaimed, ‘That’s amazing I was watching the same event!’
I said, ‘Wow! What a coincidence, what were you flying, a Sioux?’ Because I knew he was a pilot, I had always assumed that he came from an Army Aviation background.
‘No,’ he replied. ‘I was a tankie at that time. I was standing by my Centurion watching the gun delivery, and saw the whole thing.’
We marvelled over the coincidence. Then I said something like, ‘I always said that two things I could not be, were a submariner or a tankie. The thought of being hit by a torpedo, or an RPG would scare me half to death.’
Then I told him about the time I was flying past the village of Bin Bah in mid ’69. I saw a column of Centurion tanks moving through the rubber plantation towards the village. Or perhaps they were stationary, I couldn’t remember.
As we watched we saw one of the tanks take a hit, probably from an RPG. Smoke issued from the turret and we assumed that the occupants had bought it.
Guess what! Bill was about two tanks back and watched yet another nasty event, while I was viewing the same thing from the air. He told me that although the tank commander was seriously wounded, they all survived.
Now that’s what I call an uncanny coincidence. Especially as our discovering the quirk was also a fluke.
The Whisky Flask
Actually, the closest I ever came to crashing in Vietnam was not because of enemy action. Neither was it because of equipment failure or even crew error per se. It was one of those little, unforseen events that do not have the usual checks and balances one finds when applying the Reason Model to accident prevention. It was one of those occasions when a bit of luck, and some coarse handling overcame the problem.
A four-ship formation was flying into a fire support base in the tall timber. We were number three. Space was restricted and the approach area tricky. So I took over from the young pilot in the right seat and flew the approach myself.
Number one had terminated in the middle of the landing area and taxied forward to park near the edge of the pad. Number two was about fifty feet up and just about to terminate. He would then move forward and set down next to number one. I was about fifty metres behind him and was just starting to increase power to complete the approach.
Unlike an aeroplane, in which the pilot takes off all power (closes the throttle/s), as it touches down, a helicopter gradually increases power as it terminates in a hover. The power required is approximately the same as that used for take-off, and is often higher, depending on the type of approach and the termination area. The pilot increases the power by pulling up on the collective pitch lever. That’s the one in his left hand.
As I raised the lever to about half travel, it jammed. I lowered it slightly then raised it again with the same result.
I yelled out, ‘Collective jamming,’ and looked for somewhere to put down with a run-on landing. This requires less power. There was nowhere to go and we were coming down on top of number two.
I hit the radio button and called something like, ‘Numbers two and four go around (climb out again), number three has jammed collective.’
I think number four behind me got the message and went around. However, number two just continued with his termination. He hadn’t heard my call, or was slow to respond.
I pumped the lever one more time as I tried to steer clear of the helicopter beneath me. I pulled up real hard and something gave as the obstruction was overcome, and I had full control again.
We were descending quite rapidly now so I just about stood the bird on its tail and pulled maximum power to terminate in a high hover. Number two taxied off, and I descended to a respectable height, moved to our pre-planned parking area at the back of the pad and landed.
I wiped the sweat from my brow and said, ‘What the hell was that!’
I looked over at my co-pilot, as he sheepishly held up a rather mangled silver whisky hip flask. I think it may have been a family heirloom that he used as a water bottle.
We probably all could have done with a swig of the real stuff.
He had carried it in the left hand thigh pocket of his flying suit. This normally sits on top of the leg in the seated position. During the flight, the weight of the flask had caused the pocket on the baggy overall, to slip down the outside of his leg. This placed the flask just in front of the armour plate extension on the side of his seat, and directly above his collective lever. When I raised my lever his followed and jammed the flask against the armour.
That was a lucky escape from what would have been a nasty accident.
For aviators, it’s a timely warning to always be aware of the possible outcomes, when non-standard practices are adopted. Nothing should be placed so that it can become an obstruction to the flight controls, given that in flight, things can move about.
I suppose the same principle can be applied to handbags and briefcases, placed between a car driver’s legs. They could slip forward on braking and obstruct the foot pedals. I know someone who had that happen to them.
Sometimes an embarrassing happening can turn out for the best.
Because of the nature of that war, there were no fixed front lines, except for the DMZ between North and South Vietnam. Therefore, the accurate deployment of troops was of paramount importance. You couldn’t afford to deliver them directly into the hands of the enemy. So navigation and map reading had to be really on the ball. There was no GPS in those days. For this reason, each crew closely watched the progress of the flight. It wasn’t just a case of ‘follow my leader’.
Which was just as well.
I was captain of the lead ship on one of these occasions, again flying left seat as I checked out a young pilot. We had to descend along a land-cleared area, and then make a hard right turn through a gap in the trees. The landing area was a clearing just beyond that gap. Only the immediate area had been secured, so, as I mentioned, accuracy was most important.
I advised the pilot when we had about two hundred metres to go, and told him to slow down. He didn’t respond as rapidly as I expected, and before I could react we were overshooting the entrance.
I took over control and called number two to turn right and lead the other two into the landing zone.
Number two responded, ‘I’m already doing it!’ There was a decided note of sarcasm in his voice.
I commenced a two hundred and seventy degree turn to the left to follow them in. I remember thinking, ‘Here comes a Court Martial!’
Slow reactions on the part of the instructor, is a common phrase used in applying blame to the aircraft captain in such a circumstance.
Two, three and four all went in nicely and we brought up the rear. We had the troop commander, a major, on board. As all the diggers deplaned, he climbed up on the skid next to me. I removed my helmet and waited for the string of abuse that I was sure would be forthcoming.
As I started to apologise he said, with a grin, ‘What happened! Did you read my mind?
‘What do you mean?’ I replied.
He said, ‘On the way here I was going to ask you to deliver me last, so that I could observe the rest of the platoon disembarking, but I thought that might confuse the issue and disrupt the landings.’
I mentioned in the Foreword, the insertion and extraction of patrols. These were usually made into areas not previously secured. Intelligence was relied on to establish if it was safe to be dropped into a particular place. Special procedures had been developed to achieve secrecy.
I won’t go into the details of how that was done, except to say that, up to six aircraft could be used, and often only one of those aircraft actually did the insertion. As the Squadron Training Officer, I copped more of those than the rest of the blokes because I was checking out other pilots. It was a little eerie flying into a hole in the jungle and not being certain what you might meet.
Sometimes the patrol would run into enemy soon after landing. If they were a recce patrol, requiring secrecy, and they ‘went hot’; they wanted to be pulled out again.
So after we delivered them, we hung around for a little while until they checked out the vicinity. If they ran into trouble they activated an EPIRB. This came up on guard frequency as a beeper sound. So if you were waiting and the beeper went off, someone had to duck back in there, with a good chance of taking fire, to pull them out. Guess who got that job? The one who put them in there of course!
One day the CO advised us that the Air Commodore from Saigon wanted to go on one of these missions as the co-pilot. He had completed a basic conversion onto the Huey. However, he had no operational training and no experience in helicopter battle operations. I think that the CO tried to talk him out of it. Anyway, he ‘pulled rank’ and had his way.
There was quite a safety concern, because it is a two-pilot operation.
On this type of flight the co-pilot didn’t have any navigation or communication duties. However, he did need to be able to take over if the pilot was incapacitated. The Air Commodore insisted that he could fulfil that function, and I think the CO may have given him a check ride.
So, we did the insertion and flew out to wait in the usual fashion. Then, five minutes max, off went the beeper. They had run into a troop of VC right on the edge of the two hundred-metre clearing.
I zotted back down there, having briefed the Air Commodore to hunch down behind the armour plate as low as possible. The ‘clearing’ was actually young bamboo. It was like very tall grass, about five metres high. This opened up as the rotor downwash hit it. Then, as the machine descended into the opening, it came back over the ends of the blades, making fairly loud swishing sounds, and turning into confetti. This provided good cover for the retreating patrol, and we also were well hidden.
As soon as the patrol was on board, sitting in the doorway and adding to our gunner’s fire with some heavy stuff of their own; we high-tailed it, low in the grass, until we reached the end of the clearing. Then up, up and away went the Huey, like a dun coloured superman.
The big boss really got his money’s worth that day.
Another type of operation was the insertion and extraction of four or six-man SAS patrols. Sometimes they rappelled through the forest canopy. The helicopter hovered in the treetops as described in ‘DUSTOFF’. Four or six ropes were attached by a loop at one end, to a retaining device secured to the floor. The ropes were rolled around small logs so that when tossed out, two each side, they fell rapidly and accurately to the ground. Then the troops rappelled down them.
Extraction from a similar area firstly necessitated the deployment of the ropes to the SAS patrol. They had to be careful not to be hit on the head by the logs. After attaching their karabiners, they were pulled out in a vertical climb. Once clear of the trees they formed a huddle, arms linked, with their weapons facing outwards so they could use them if they came under fire.
Then they had what must have been an exciting ride, dangling a hundred feet or so beneath the speeding helicopter, to a secure area, where they were lowered to the ground. Sometimes this ride would cover quite a few miles.
When the helicopter landed, they boarded in normal fashion, and were flown back to base.
As I described earlier, several aircraft were used in this type of operation. The mission leader directed the operation from above, and the other aircraft supplied redundancy, and fire support if necessary.
We were tasked to extract a six-man New Zealand SAS team from an area of one hundred foot trees. They were then to be flown, beneath the helicopter to a secure area, a large clearing, about five miles away.
I was flying leader on this occasion. The pick-up Huey, I’ll call him number two, descended to the treetops, the ropes were dropped and the SAS troops hooked up. They were hauled out of the forest and slung across to the safe area.
Everything was copybook until number two was low and slow on his final approach. I was at three thousand feet observing the operation in case help was needed. The other slick and the gunship aircraft were close by.
As he approached his hover position, number two suddenly started to ‘wobble’ about. Then he started to move forward slowly and descend. The soldiers hit the ground, not overly hard. However, the ropes were not released from the aircraft and started dragging them along the ground at about fifteen knots. That’s nearly thirty kilometres per hour.
I called out on the radio, ‘Release, Release!’ and commenced descending towards the clearing. Two SAS managed to free themselves from their ropes. Then a few seconds later, the ropes were released from the aircraft.
By now the helicopter was descending into the treetops at the end of the clearing. The pilot was calling, ‘Hydraulic failure.’
In a flash the SAS were on their feet running after the stricken machine. The Huey looked as though it would come to rest on the edge of the next clearing.
I instructed number three to land as near as was safe to the now downed aircraft, to rescue the crew, and two of the SAS guys.
The helicopter was badly damaged, lying on its side. The four crewmembers managed to extricate themselves from the wreckage. Luckily, the aircraft did not catch fire. They headed for the rescue ship.
As they neared number three, the first two SAS soldiers came running through the trees and stood guard, weapons trained on this non-secured area. The pilot of the rescue aircraft told them get on board. They told him that they had to secure the area and wait for their comrades.
The pilot radioed this information to me and I instructed him to fly the crew out, and to tell the troops that I would come down and pick them up. So the aircrew, who were fairly shaken up, and with minor injuries, climbed aboard and were lifted out.
As I landed, the other four soldiers joined the first pair. They came over to the aircraft and the leader, I don’t know what his rank was, climbed up on the skid. He asked if I wanted them to stand guard on the downed ship until help came.
These men had just been dragged at breakneck speed through scrub and rocks for at least one hundred metres. They had cuts and bruises virtually all over them. Blood was running from their heads and arms. Their kit and uniforms were all ripped and bloodied.
Through all that had happened to them, they were still holding their weapons, and still maintained their professionalism.
We didn’t know how secure this unplanned site was. For all we knew, they might have met superior force. (I reckon it would take at least fifty VC to beat those guys). There was no way I could leave them there, so they boarded three each side, sitting in the doorways with their guns at the ready.
They were six big Maori warriors, acting in the true spirit of ANZAC. Nothing fazed them. They certainly would have made their ancestors proud that day.
Shortly after we arrived at base, I picked up an Engineering Officer and we flew back to the wreck. With a couple of gunnies flying CAP, we waited while he recovered a couple of black boxes, including the IFF and set some charges to blow it to pieces. After we took off, he remotely detonated the explosives. It certainly was a big bang.
A brief explanation: a Huey with no hydraulic power cannot hover successfully. The pilot lowered the troops to the ground at a slow forward speed and called the co-pilot to release the ropes. The release lever jammed. By the time it was finally freed, and activated, the aircraft was too low and too slow to recover.
What a Pity
It wasn’t all war stuff. There was a social life as well. This mainly centred on the messes. Visiting the Army units or the Yanks was also on the agenda. There was the odd concert party. Remember Johnny O’Keefe? I’m not sure if there was much in the way of social activity in the local community. There were nasty tales of crime and unsavoury behaviour down town. I recall a story about several of the black marketeers in Vung Tau who traded in Scrip. Some of them committed suicide when the authorities suddenly issued new, differently formatted bills, leaving them holding millions in now worthless money.
Before I left the Canberra based No. 5, Helicopter Squadron, I had been involved as a local Boy Scouts leader. I thought that I could make contact with a local troop, to facilitate a means of international cooperation. I wrote to the Scouting Headquarters in Australia to get their permission/approval. They did not grant it, so that avenue for social contact was closed.
While strolling around the maintenance areas one day, I came across a very interesting American civilian. I’ll call him Joe. He ran a private business that was contracted to Bell Textron Helicopters. He was involved in salvaging serviceable parts from crashed or damaged aircraft. He also rebuilt wrecks. I used to visit his workshop from time to time, for a chat and a mug of very nice coffee.
When we got to know each other a little, he invited me to visit his home in Vung Tau for dinner. So one night, I borrowed a jeep and went to his house. He was married to a Vietnamese lady. I’ll call her Madam Dinh. The emphasis was definitely on ‘lady’. His wife was one of the most elegant, intelligent and attractive women I have ever met.
She came from Hanoi, and I presumed that she left for the South when the communists took over. She was obviously wealthy. I spent a very pleasant evening with them.
A few weeks later, they invited me to come over for Sunday lunch. I think he picked me up this time. When we arrived at their place, I was surprised to see that they had just one other person there.
Madam Dinh said, ‘Here is someone I want you to meet.’ Then she introduced an Australian Red Cross officer. I’ll call her Helen.
We had a very pleasant afternoon, chatting and eating. Helen was a most delightful person, bright and friendly. She was well educated and most interesting to converse with.
I must have met her at their place on about two more occasions, and we developed quite a good rapport. It was a strictly platonic affair.
Another couple of weeks went by before Joe asked me if I would come to a farewell party for Helen. She was posted home. He said the party would probably go past our curfew of 11 PM and wondered if I could get permission to sleep over. I checked with the CO and he gave his approval.
Well, it was a great party. All enjoyed themselves, and spirits were high. For me it was a reviving break from the everyday routine, and the extremes of combat operations.
I thought it strange that there were none of Helen’s colleagues there. Madam Dinh explained that it was just for her own friends to say goodbye. This was because they had been most impressed with Helen, who obviously had come to know them well during her twelve-month posting.
I also wondered why I was the only other Aussie there. It became clearer, later in the night when all the other guests had departed.
The four of us were sitting in the lounge drinking coffee and chatting. Madam Dinh looked at me, with a little smile, and told me that Helen was also sleeping over because it was past her curfew. Then she quite openly proposed that we were welcome to share the same room.
I found it quite difficult to hide my embarrassment. Helen maintained her dignity and made no comment. I explained that I was a married man and could not do such a thing. Joe and she obviously were very easy going where such matters were concerned. Madam Dinh said that she didn’t really think that mattered; I was a long way from home. She said that we were after all in a war zone, and there would be no permanent repercussions. I thanked her for the suggestion and reiterated that I couldn’t get involved like that. The moment passed and we all made our way to bed.
The next morning at breakfast, everything was back to normal. I drove Helen back to the army base where she was billeted. She told me that tomorrow was her last night, and wondered if I’d like to go out to dinner with her, at a little French restaurant down by the beach.
I said that would be great.
I picked her up early because we both had to be back on base by curfew. We had a most enjoyable dinner. The French menu was authentic and the atmosphere was very relaxing. The lighting was dimmed and there were candles on the tables. The waiters were very attentive and were French speaking. Although we made no contact, and only talked of mundane matters, it was quite romantic.
I drove Helen back to her base, parked, and walked her to her billet. As we turned the corner of the building, we saw that a young couple, in a passionate embrace, were blocking the doorway. We stopped and backtracked around the corner so as not to invade their privacy.
We said good night with a sort of double handshake and I wished her bon voyage. In the dim light with her face turned up and a little smile playing around the corners of her mouth, she looked extremely attractive. I bent down and gave her a light kiss on the lips.
As I straightened up again, she said, ‘What a pity.’
I instantly felt ashamed that I had messed up a beautiful relationship that was just about to end on a pleasant note.
I said, ‘I am so sorry Helen, I didn’t mean to spoil things.’
She replied, ‘You didn’t spoil anything Lloyd. I meant, what a pity we didn’t get to know each other better.’
I must say; that was quite an ego boost.
Over the years I have sometimes wondered how that lovely lady fared. I imagine that she would have had a happy and fruitful life.
I’ll add a couple of anecdotes about C130A Hercules transport operations, to illustrate what a hectic place Tan Son Nhut (Saigon) Air Base was in those days.
It was in the mid 60s and I was flying with No. 36 Squadron. We had come via the RAAF base at Butterworth, near Penang, in Malaysia, and made a supply run to Vung Tau.
On the return journey we had to drop into Saigon to deliver or uplift cargo and personnel. On long sectors the ‘A’ model needed to carry maximum fuel, so we ‘filled her up’ again.
Our departure from Tan Son Nhut was delayed by unbelievable traffic. When we taxied off the ramp, we were about number twelve in line for take-off from the only available runway.
Everything imaginable was landing there, C47s, C46s, C54s, as well as Hercs and C141s. There were all manner of fighters. Air America ships with their no livery, livery; that is, dull metal with no visible markings, also filled a few of the arrival slots. There were a few types I had never seen before, and none of the flight deck crew could identify.
All of this military traffic was interspersed with civilian international flights.
After about an hour, we had progressed to number six for take-off. The ‘A’ model’s Alison T56 engines run at 97 percent RPM on the ground and burn ‘heaps’ of fuel. I was beginning to wonder how viable our reserves were, when the navigator said we’d have to go back and refuel.
We cancelled our flight plan and requested taxy instructions to return to the ramp.
There were aircraft in the queue behind us. So ATC advised that we would have to wait, enter the runway in turn, and taxy to the first exit. That took about another hour.
It turned out to be a very long day.
He’ll Miss You
Sometimes, because of traffic, there was no hope of receiving an Instrument Flight clearance to fly from Tan Son Nhut to Vung Tau, a sector of less than 30 nautical miles. You had to go Visual Flight Rules. That means, clear of cloud and navigating with visual reference to the ground. If there was a lot of cloud, which most often was the case, you had to throw the big bird around like a helicopter, weaving about to remain in visual conditions. You still had to accept vectoring from the radar controller to miss other traffic, and stay clear of no-go areas. Sometimes this would all be accomplished at 1500 to 2000 feet, over areas where you were sure someone could take a pot shot at you. I know of at least one occasion where an aircraft took a hit, in the vertical stabiliser (fin). It was small arms fire and wasn’t even discovered until the aircraft returned home.
On one trip to Tan Son Nhut, in rotten weather, we had been in a holding pattern for a while before we were cleared to make an ILS approach.
We intercepted the approach course; this is called the localiser, at about fifteen miles. Then, as we passed over the outer locator beacon at ten miles, we intercepted the glide slope and commenced descent.
We were about half way down the glide path when the controller called, ‘Fast moving target in your one o’clock, on reciprocal course.’ Someone on the flight deck let a crude expletive pass his lips, with sufficient volume for it to be heard without the intercom.
I didn’t know if the controller expected us to break off the approach. We hadn’t enough information to initiate manoeuvring, so I called and asked him to provide collision avoidance instructions.
He replied blandly, ‘He’ll Miss You.’
A moment later we all jumped as a substantial ‘ROAR’ went right by our starboard wing.
Considering the high noise levels generated inside a Hercules and the fact that the crew normally wore full helmets in that area, this was quite remarkable.
I don’t believe that I have ever heard another aircraft in the air, except maybe when flying the old, open cockpit Tiger Moth.
We couldn’t see him in the dark cloud.
But he was C.L.O.S.E!
Air Commodore – Air Force rank equivalent to Brigadier (One Star)
Aircraft – People often equate the term ‘aircraft’, with ‘aeroplane’. Aeroplanes, helicopters, balloons etc are all types of ‘aircraft’.
ANZAC – Australian and New Zealand Army Corps –
WW 1. The term is still applied to troops of both forces.
APC – Armoured Personnel Carrier.
ARVN – Army of the Republic of Vietnam (South)
ATC – Air Traffic Control.
Autorotation – Procedure that allows a helicopter to glide to a possible safe landing.
ASAP – As Soon As Possible.
Black box – Generic term for secret, or electronic aircraft equipment. Also describes a Flight Data Recorder or Cockpit Voice Recorder (which are actually coloured red or orange).
Centurion – Remarkable British tank that served with the Australian Army from 1952 to 1977. It was used in both the Korean War (though not by Australia) and the Vietnam War.
Click – Military slang for kilometre, derived from an artillery term.
CO – Commanding Officer
Coms – Communications.
Con – Control. During winching (hoist) operations, the pilot hands over the directing of the aircraft’s position to the crewman/winch operator. He then coaches the pilot into the final position and keeps him informed as to the progress of the deployment of the winching cable, the hook-up, the instruction to, ‘Take the weight’, and the progress of the winching up. He also keeps a check on the tail rotor’s clearance from obstacles. It’s a highly responsible job.
DMZ – Demilitarised Zone.
DUSTOFF – Acronym for the motto of the US Army Medical Corps. ‘Dedicated Unhesitating Service To Our Friendly Forces’. The term was used to describe a helicopter operation that provided the MedEvac of wounded troops.
EPIRB – Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon.
ETD – Estimated Time of Departure.
Feet – Aircraft altitude is measured in feet. 1000 feet equals about 300 metres.
FM – Most air-to-air and air-to-ground communications were conducted using Very High Frequency and Ultra High Frequency AM radios. However, coms with army ground units in the field were on Frequency Modulated channels.
Gas Up – Colloquial term (US) for refuelling. Hueys burn Aviation Turbine Kerosene, although they may use other petroleum fuels as alternatives.
GPS – Global Positioning System, satellite navigation system.
Guard – Guard frequency. Universal emergency radio channel monitored by ATC, 243 MHz.
Gunnies – Gun-ships. Helicopters specifically equipped to attack ground targets with a variety of armaments. In our area the US Army mainly used C model Hueys. Nine squadron had it’s own gunship flight, ‘Bushrangers’. In 1969 they flew the same H model as the slicks. They were extensively modified, armed with forward firing Mini-guns, M60s and rocket launchers, as well as the M60 door guns.
Hot Refuel – For tactical expediency, helicopters were usually refuelled with engines running. This was potentially dangerous because of fire risk. The pilot’s seatbelts were undone, and seat armour retracted to allow rapid egress in the event of a mishap. The crewman conducted the fuelling operation with the door gunner manning the fire extinguisher.
Howitzer – 105 mm artillery piece used by Australian and New Zealand armies.
Huey – Nickname for Bell UH-1, Iroquois helicopter, derived from its original designation, HU-1 (Helicopter, Utility-1)
HQ – Headquarters
IFF – Military version of a transponder. Acronym for Identification, Friend or Foe.
ILS – Instrument Landing System. Method of guiding aircraft to the runway threshold, when landing in conditions of low cloud/poor visibility.
Knot – Nautical mile per hour.
Land Clearing – Armoured bulldozers cleared long tracts of land to deny the enemy hidden transit through the jungle. These were usually covered by artillery, and patrolled. Sometimes they were also mined
Landing Light – The Huey is equipped with two powerful, controllable lights. The landing light, under the belly, can be rotated from vertically down to straight ahead. The searchlight is located under the nose and can be swivelled in all directions. Either pilot can control the lights, and the winch operator, on the right side of the aircraft, can switch the landing light on and off.
MedEvac – Medical Evacuation.
Miles – In normal navigation, aircraft use
nautical miles (NM). 1 NM equals 1.85 Km.
MO – Medical Officer.
MP – Military Police. RAAF equivalent is SP, Service Police. USAF term is AP, Air Police.
NVA – North Vietnamese Army (Regular)
Orderly Officer (OO) – Duty officer responsible for out of hours and off-base matters.
POW or PW – Prisoner of war.
PSP – Perforated Steel Planking. Interlocking steel plates used to construct tactical runways and landing areas. I have landed C130s on this type of runway; it’s great stuff dating back to WW 2.
Pull Pitch – Helicopter control term – to initiate lift off.
RAAF – Royal Australian Air Force.
Reason Model – Dr James Reason, of Manchester University, presents an accident causation model, which contains layers (defences) that should mitigate the results of an unsafe act. In aviation, there are usually four or five layers, each with possible flaws. If flaws in each layer ‘line up’, then you have an accident.
Recce or Recon – Reconnaissance mission.
RPG – Rocket Propelled Grenade (launcher). Hand-held, shoulder-launched, antitank weapon capable of firing an unguided rocket containing an explosive warhead.
SAR – Search And Rescue.
SAS – Special Air Services (Australian and New Zealand).
Scrip – Common name for US Military Payment Certificate, MPC.
Slicks – Army slang term for the lightly armed helicopters used to insert combat troops into battle areas. They were called slicks because of their relatively smooth sides, compared to gun-ships. Another explanation is that, often no seats were fitted and the expression referred to the unbroken floor line, which facilitated rapid egress.
SOP – Standard Operating Procedure.
Starboard – Aviators use this nautical term for right side. Left is Port.
Stokes Litter – Seven-foot long stainless steel stretcher fitted with straps. Used to lift casualties, or cargo.
‘Take the Weight’ – Instruction given by winch operator when the load is ready to be brought up. The pilot actually initiates the lift using engine power, before the operator starts to winch in. This ensures that the aircraft is capable of lifting the additional load. Otherwise you may risk winching the aircraft down!
Tankie – Nickname for an armoured (tank or APC) crewmember.
Terminate – Complete the final approach to a hover.
Thumbs Up – Visual signal, usually with one thumb, to indicate that all is OK. Not to be confused with a rude sign in some cultures.
Transponder – Aircraft device that transmits ATC information when interrogated by the controller.
USAF – United States Air Force.
VC – Viet Cong. Peoples Liberation Armed Forces (Communist) in South Vietnam.
Walk Around – Supplementary pre-flight inspection between flights. This is not as thorough as the Daily Inspection conducted before the first flight of the day.
I thank Bill McIntyre for agreeing to my relating the remarkable coincidence in ‘The Chinook and the Centurion’. Bill served in Vietnam as a Corporal with the 1st Armoured Regiment, Light Aid Detachment. We met thirty years later as employees of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).
I also thank those colleagues, too numerous to mention individually, who have offered suggestions and corrections to the script. It is turning out to be a living document.
About the author
Lloyd Duncan Knight
I was born in Sydney, Australia in 1932. Leaving high school at a pre-matriculation level, I joined the Royal Australian Air Force in 1951. My flying career spanned an unbroken period to my retirement in 2003. It comprised three approximately equal phases, as an air force pilot, commercial pilot and examiner of airmen.
In addition to an operational tour as a fighter pilot in Korea, I also served in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot. During more than two thousand hours flying Hercules, C130A transport planes, I also made many flights to Saigon, Vung Tau and RAAF bases in Thailand and Malaysia. I accrued more that five thousand hours in aeroplanes and eleven thousand hours in helicopters.
Previous publications are; a home study course in Instrument Flying, (1980), and a novel, Rainbow, No End, (2005). I live in Melbourne with my wife, Bonnie.