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Off topic but still a small game

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08 June 2004, 12:13
Off topic but still a small game
Like the old melody says, "Down collective, pedal right, hope I am alive tonight..."(to the tune of Bye Bye blackbird)........

I always had that thought whilst plying my trade as one of Nixon's Hired Guns. Always wondered who coined that phrase too, since it was the flippin' Dim's that got us all in a wad in Nam. Anyway, When I flew Scouts with the various Cav units across the minor length and breadth of S. Viet Nam, we flew as hunter-killer teams, which is another misnomer because the Cobra Guns did the killing for the most part, I was just bait. Those sick bastards in their air conditioned Snakes would joke about reeling Scouts up every once in awhile to see if they'd had any nibbles...

I was out in the A Shau Valley one day, only a few klicks from Hamburger Hill(Dong Ap Bia) with a heavy pink team, or two Cobras(Red) and myself in an OH-6A(white), doing a visual recon east of THE HILL, and south of Tiger Mountain, a flat top massife that always appeared ominous to me, and one that I never flew over once in 2.5 years. Boogie Men lived there! We flew out at altitude and once in the general area I made a brief look-see for obvious signs of the enemy, like flak, or formations doing close order drill, then hummed my opening line as I started descent in a typically erratic spiral. No, not a Death Spiral, an erratic spiral. Yes, they look alike, that's the idea. The Dead Man Zone for small arms fire against choppers lies between 100' and 1500' AGL, the less time spent there the better.

As the rolling hills rushed up I added power, rolled back to the left, and began ferreting out the small game. Low, slow, cock-eyed out of trim, three shades hotter than Hades, and the smell of green. It was my world. My crewman, a Spec. 4 serving as an armed observer sat beside me in the left seat, M16 laying across his lap, red smoke grenade in his hand that was to be tossed in the event we took fire. That was a highly likely prospect out in the Valley.

Over the river and thru the dale to Uncle Ho's Hoards we flew! Up a hill, negative G push to keep the altitude down, transmission pressure light glowing red as it always did when the oil floated in the casing during those manuevers. Turn left, turn right, up the hill! They were all covered with scattered scrubby trees and lots of elephant grass, which can reach 12' in height and is a wonderful world for hiding things from people like me. Things like 12.7mm guns for one. Whoops! there goes one out the right side, well, not a gun, but the pit they build for them with the little bunker on one side. Freshly dug I might add.

The little vermin are sneaky bastards I give them that. They found out early on that a flight of two Cobras could pretty much tap dance all over one of their 12.7mm positions and never even worry about it. Soooo, they started grouping them in twos and threes. "Okay', sez I, 'hey Mr. Gunfighter, there's a .50 pit 5 o,clock and 100 meters or so, fresh.' In our way, we called that gathering intell back then. Problem was that never did they deploy just one in the A Shau Valley. They had stuff they were proud of, and liked to take pot shots at interlopers. So, if one was on 'Hill A", there was likely to be another on "Hill B". Usually within a couple of hundred meters, terrain permitting, and also at the same elevation. This tactic permits "Mutually supportive fire", and changes the equation greatly in regards to the Cobras. It takes 3 Snakes to deal with 2 guns. I had two Snakes.

Low stayed, slow was out the window. 80-100 knots(that's faster than a buzzard) now, down the hill, up the hill, and about 250 meters away there lies a freshly dug pit for another 12.7mm. Entrenching tool still laying on the bottom of the pit. Whoops again, call the lead Snake and babble about stock picks, real estate, and cat hunting for a few seconds while I think "Whoa" to my trusty steed and get it turned around for another quick pass back to Hill A. Much to my chagrin as I fly over Hill B, the entrenching tool is gone, and I reported that before telling them that there was now a tripod set up at Hill A, in Pit A, and my stuff is getting decidedly weak. Yes, Cobras can duke it out with .50's, the LOH cannot, and .50's will chew a new anal orifice in a chopper...chop chop!

As I went over the position I broke left toward Tiger Mountain and the guns rolled in on Hill A. A tactically awkward situation for me as they were my cover and life line, yet the gun had to be hammered, pure and simple. I knew full well that Hill B probably was set up or very close to it, I was pinned between the Snake's GT line and the mountain, the only path out being over Hill B. Yuckee-poo. The good news was that I had a brand new, never been fired GE Mini-gun hangin' on the left side, and a full load of ammo. I was also below their line of sight for the moment. Any attempt to climb to altitude would have put me in their sights sure as sunrise and voided any advantage I held at the moment. To paraphrase the old indian saying, It was a good day to wet your pants. I had long since learned that the best defense is truly a good offense, and since I was in the Cav, and certifiably insane since I'd volunteered for this crap, I did the only thing I could do. Charge!

Not only can choppers do what planes do, they can do more. And less. A lot of less. Their advantage is that you can literally drag your skids through the grass and even at a leisurely 120 knots you go by pretty quick to a ground based observation. We were almost up to that speed when Hill B reared up a couple of hundred feet above us, a saddle on either side that blocked low level egress. I used one of those "little less" tricks, called a cyclic climb, or simply pulling back on the stick to trade speed for altitude. Zoom Zoom! The Mini-gun on the LOH was flexible in elevation only, azimuth controlled with the foot pedals, and in the circumstance I'd fully depressed it as I expected to be looking at them through the chin bubble when they came into view. Further, I planed to go negative over the top and hopefully keep the gun on target until nearly overhead at which point I woud dive once again for the safety of lower elevations. Up the hill! Time for one of those famous "time standing still" moments.

The gunner was waiting, his azimuth about 20* off to my left, the other varmint was crouched low with an ammo can at the ready. He fired as he began to swing the gun, and as I replied. Couple of points on this: 1) The 12.7 has a cyclic rate of fire in the range of 500-700 rounds per minute, it also has a huge hour glass shaped muzzle flash, visable even on bright sunny days. One in five rounds is a tracer, and if anyone asks what they look like, just give 'em your best steely eyed stare and say "basketballs". Big round red basketballs. Every time one goes by you hear a deep sonic crack, then you get 4 more audibels before the next light show. It is REALLY impressive. Tracers don't seem to move really fast when they are heading right at you BTW. At least not until they go past, ZIP-CRACK! They do not go "whoosh" or "whiz" like in the movies. 2) Mini-guns in US Army versions, have a selective fire rate of 2000 or 4000 RPM. At that time they were noted for jamming often when fired at 2000rpm, so that mode was seldom used. Both rates had a 3 second burst limiter, meaning that you got to shoot for 3 seconds, then your water hose shut down. Again, 1 in 5 was a tracer, crackety-crack, I'm sure it looked impressive from the wrong end too, but I never saw that. Efective range was touted at 1100 meters, mostly because the splash of bullets was visable at that range. Up close they churn the earth, creating a rooster tail effect of earth as the rounds sought their target, usually a serpentine path of mauled dirt, trees, cats, whatever got in it's way. Inside of 100 yards it is impossible to shoot somebody less that 6 times with one that is on low rate fire. God, what a beast!

My first rounds impacted about 20 yards low and left, a bit of back pressure on the stick, a bit of right pedal, and the dirt dragon began it's journey to the pit. Range at this point was about 80 meters. It was the OK Corral. High Noon. I was Matt Dillon, they were the guys in black. And only because the sound of my chopper had distorted in the hills and they didn't know precisely where I was going to show up, my vomit of lead got to them about 1/2 second before theirs got to us. I was able to hold on target for most of the remaining 2 seconds of burst, flew on over them and down the hill as planned.

Though I seldom reconned a .50 position that had been engaged by Snakes, I knew for certain the condition of this one. I went back, did one u-turn overflight then ran back down the hill, built up speed and then climbed out to higher altitude. The gun was mangled almost beyond recognition, and that was enough for me. Enough was enough. Neither of us could hardly talk for about 5 minutes afterward, and when I finally told the team lead I got a bad case of the shakes. Back at the club that night I got a really bad headache with a 6 hour delay fuse. Best thing I know of to cure a hangover is adrenaline. Down collective, pedal right, hope I am alive tonight...


Pres., TYHC

08 June 2004, 13:29
N. S. Sherlock
Thanks for the telling of that time, Dan. It was awesome. Put me on your list for the book. Your story was as well done a combat story as I have ever read from the F&I War to the present. ned
08 June 2004, 18:46
My hat is off to you Dan...We need to find you a good publisher,,Clay
08 June 2004, 20:14
Let me see if I got this straight. An underpowered early OH6, An observer and a gunner/crewchief and a minigun?? Certifiable for sure! Man your stuff was most assuredly weak. I am thinking that someone might have opted for a Scout nosebleed rather than an eyeball to eyeball gunfight with a 12.7.
Dan, I have read everything I can find on the Aeroscout movement and your writing is second to none,not even to Brennens or Hugh Mills. Very well written. Fred
09 June 2004, 04:36
I am unworthy of your accolades but appreciate them nonetheless.

derf, the LOH was not underpowered actually, but it did have a transmission limit for torque that effectively derated the engine to 250 SHP. We didn't carry all that load up in the high country BTW. If there was a mini on board we carried only one other crewman, usually an observer up front, although later on we ditched that and put a gunner in back behind the pilot with an M-60 or M16...and lots of explosives. The other configuration that I actually preferred was without the mini, but with an observer and gunner. It gave us fire suppression to both sides and to the rear which dampened the spirits of hero wannabes on the ground. Heaviest load I ever saw a LOH lift was down in the Delta w/ the 1/9th. Full fuel/ordinance and five people, two needing a ride to the evac hospital in a desperate way. Another 5 pounds would have been too much and Maintenance got to replace some stuff because we pretty much ignored red lines. Never could have done that up in the mountains. It was a hot PZ so we got to unload some ordinance on the way out.



Pres., TYHC

09 June 2004, 04:55
Thanks, Dan. Gotta love that OH-6. All we ever played around with were the underpowered, "can't lift their own empty-weight on a hot day" LadyBird Specials.

Howard might have been a nutcase, but he sure built a good helicopter. When I was in Iraq, I got to see some of the operator's MD500 Defenders. Those things rock.

And so do you, Dan.
09 June 2004, 06:14
Rick Koehler
Dan, it's people like you that have kept this country free and in power as the greatest country on earth. I want you to know that my family and I appreciate what you and all the rest of the U.S. military have done. We can never thank you enough.

09 June 2004, 07:46
Bob Mehaffey
Well Dan, You made my day with this. What a bunch of memories. I was coming out of the A Shau after taking in a bunch of "supplies" when I saw my first Crane. I was flying a 204B for some folks and was flabbergasted to see that his sling was a D-8 Cat. Holy mackeral. Now I just get to run the aerial range for the folks I work for but the Dillon Gatlins are fun. Keep this stuff coming and thanks.
09 June 2004, 10:03
Bob, long time! Good to hear from you. You remember the "wish list" for duty assignment? My first choice was beer resupply at Vung Tau with a Crane. They never got back to me with that one.

120mm, I sure 'nuff had my shorts in a knot about that, but never heard the phrase "LadyBird Specials". ROTF! I DO know that story, and Yeah, Howard was my kind of nut also.


Pres., TYHC

09 June 2004, 11:21
Bob Mehaffey
Thanks Dan, I was lucky enough to RON six days every month in NhaTrang. Got my fill of Lobster. As I said before a lot of good memories. BTW I finished my 527 projects and there's a thread on medium bore forum where we talk about that. I took your suggestion and used the Controel scope mounting system Very nice rifles. Good talking to you again.
09 June 2004, 13:17
Excellent! I'll trot right over there and give it a look!

For those with the time and/or interest:

It is the web site for my unit during my first tour, and a wee bit of the second. They have revamped it a bit since they started, and as soon as the slide scanner arrives I'll be uploading to the site something in the neighborhood of 250 photos.


Pres., TYHC

09 June 2004, 21:24
What was your call sign on the first tour Dan? derf
09 June 2004, 22:14
Dave James
SOOOO! Your one of them FUN LOVE"N FLY BOYS, used to see ya'll skip by just over the trees, used to think boy not me,, just bring me to and back, Did always wonder what it was like from your side,

19 June 2004, 22:52
Dave James
DD, I fully understand, the ole man was Nav Air, his quote to me all the time" I take them up, and bring them down, but never leave them in the air", He thought jumping out of planes was just plain NUTS!
19 June 2004, 13:51
I just read your post and thought that I should tell you what a mini-gun brust looks like from the ground, "I'm Alive!". I had Cobras come in at 50 meters on a well defined area, like a tree line, or main patty dike, 150 meters at night in single canopy jungle.

You can see the tracers at the begining of the burst until the first bullets hit the ground. Then it is just raining green vegetation, billowing red dust, or water raining up! At night it is just a bright stream of red flowing out into a cone of fire.

But it is the sound that I will never forget. The "ripping" is louder than the tips of the blades. If you are in the water you can feel the pressure on you skin from the bullet impacts. With morters and 105's you can feel the concusions, with 155's it will push you up off the ground, and "Arc-light" strikes will make you bounce up and down off the ground.

Two Cobras working the area means that you will be alive for at least another hour! The mini-guns chew up overhead cover on bunkers and turn anyone without it into mush. I love them!

Ric in Yakima, 31st Combat Engineers (Airmobile) III Corps
19 June 2004, 16:00
Dave, I considered the life under the jungle canopy but not for long. I have this thing about booby traps you see. I believe it was in "Catch 22" that Yossarian professed that he "got small" when the Germans were shooting at him. If not that book, well, I read it somewhere before I went west the first time. I developed that art to a degree previously unknown. I was thinking of bailing out one day but I didn't have a chute, and then my feet got tangled up in the nylon mesh that covered our seats. A proctologist would have needed grease and a 5# hammer to start a tour, no joke.

Ricin, better you than me to have that perspective. My hat is off to you bud, thanks for dropping in!


Pres., TYHC

19 June 2004, 17:22
Yep, that is Y's remark from "Catch 22". I said "damn these buttons for holding me off the ground so high!" best wishes, Ric
19 June 2004, 21:26
That is a pretty high pucker factor Dan. Di you ever have the opportunity to autorotate into one of those big effing trees! derf
20 June 2004, 03:11
No derf, I didn't do it the weak kneed way without power. The engine was still running and we took about 30' out of the top of a teak or mahogany tree before flying home. We weren't quite the men of steel we thought ourselves to be. But you know what, the little pests quit shooting at us, and I appreciated that a great deal. Another story for another time.


Pres., TYHC

20 June 2004, 06:20
Always bringing the bird home even somewhat banged up is something to be proud of, although I should imagine the head mechanic wasn't always to thrilled with you guys. derf
07 July 2004, 10:53
My daddy flew goony birds at Ft. Benning during WWII training Airborne. His words were "My son, never leave an airplane in flight while it still works!"
11 July 2004, 16:58
Excellent, Digital. I'll read all the tales you can write, my friend. Keep it up and keep me posted where I can find more.

Your fan,