Helicopter Combat

In Vietnam, the United States relied on the helicopter as never before. With terrain hostile to trucks and armored vehicles, the helicopter became the primary means of moving troops and keeping them supplied with food, water, equipment and ammunition. Rotorcraft designs were invented in order to create efficient and deadly weapons platforms. Helicopters also played vital roles in medical evacuation and in search and rescue operations.

The A Shau Valley ran north-to-south for some 30 miles, just to the east of the Laotian border. It was surrounded east and west by mountains, with a river meandering down the middle. The valley floor was covered with elephant grass and the surrounding hills and mountains were covered in dense jungles and forest. The A Shau Valley was a main route used by the North Vietnamese to infiltrate troops and supplies into South Vietnam and they used it as a staging are for combat operations. That was why Lew Jennings and his unit were gathered in the mess hall that morning for a mission briefing. They were going into the A Shau Valley.

The A Shau Valley ran north-to-south for some 30 miles, just to the east of the Laotian border. It was surrounded east and west by mountains, with a river meandering down the middle. The valley floor was covered with elephant grass and the surrounding hills and mountains were covered in dense jungles and forest. The A Shau Valley was a main route used by the North Vietnamese to infiltrate troops and supplies into South Vietnam and they used it as a staging are for combat operations. That was why Lew Jennings and his unit were gathered in the mess hall that morning for a mission briefing. They were going into the A Shau Valley.

January 23, 1968: He felt like there was going to be a real battle, the largest ever in Vietnam, very soon. It would be in the Khe Sanh area. After what happened to the Black Cats on a simple resupply mission, they were able to see how strong the North Vietnamese were. There were reports of an enormous amount of North Vietnamese troops moving to that area. Even tanks from the North were heading to that area. Secret information! On the evening of January 31, three of Ford's buddies came into the hootch and talked briefly about their day. Flying cover for a convoy between Hue and Dong Ha, one saw about 30 Viet Cong flags flying over villages. He flew low over each one and didn't draw any fire.

January 23, 1968: He felt like there was going to be a real battle, the largest ever in Vietnam, very soon. It would be in the Khe Sanh area. After what happened to the Black Cats on a simple resupply mission, they were able to see how strong the North Vietnamese were. There were reports of an enormous amount of North Vietnamese troops moving to that area. Even tanks from the North were heading to that area. Secret information! On the evening of January 31, three of Ford's buddies came into the hootch and talked briefly about their day. Flying cover for a convoy between Hue and Dong Ha, one saw about 30 Viet Cong flags flying over villages. He flew low over each one and didn't draw any fire.

One evening at Nha Trang on the South China Sea, Mark Garrison sat out by the ramp and watched returning aircraft make their final approaches to the airfield. By far, most of them were Hueys, the aircraft that he was qualified to fly. Then all of a sudden he heard a very familiar sound, unlike a Huey. It was the old girl herself, an OH-23 light observation helicopter. From the sound of the engine, he could tell that she was turbocharged. This was a method of increasing internal combustion engine horsepower, by ramming more fuel down its throat. Garrison understood immediately why they would do that - in the heat of the tropics, the "density altitude" tended to get high and make the aircraft less efficient flyers.

One evening at Nha Trang on the South China Sea, Mark Garrison sat out by the ramp and watched returning aircraft make their final approaches to the airfield. By far, most of them were Hueys, the aircraft that he was qualified to fly. Then all of a sudden he heard a very familiar sound, unlike a Huey. It was the old girl herself, an OH-23 light observation helicopter. From the sound of the engine, he could tell that she was turbocharged. This was a method of increasing internal combustion engine horsepower, by ramming more fuel down its throat. Garrison understood immediately why they would do that - in the heat of the tropics, the "density altitude" tended to get high and make the aircraft less efficient flyers.

Chickenhawk

By Robert Mason

One morning, Mason and his crew drew the assignment of flying to Ia Drang as a courier ship. They carried the courier, who carried a pouch containing important messages sent to various field commanders. It was the kind of job he loved best: No formations, no hot landing zones, no screaming grunts, and no red tracers. After crossing the Mang Yang pass, they flew to a small landing zone somewhere south of Pleiku. They wandered over to a group of brass who were interrogating a North Vietnamese prisoner. The man's arms were bound behind him. He shook his head quickly as the interpreter shouted sharp questions. A major stood behind the prisoner with a .45 pistol drawn but held by his side.

One morning, Mason and his crew drew the assignment of flying to Ia Drang as a courier ship. They carried the courier, who carried a pouch containing important messages sent to various field commanders. It was the kind of job he loved best: No formations, no hot landing zones, no screaming grunts, and no red tracers. After crossing the Mang Yang pass, they flew to a small landing zone somewhere south of Pleiku. They wandered over to a group of brass who were interrogating a North Vietnamese prisoner. The man's arms were bound behind him. He shook his head quickly as the interpreter shouted sharp questions. A major stood behind the prisoner with a .45 pistol drawn but held by his side.

The pilot led the flight north until he intersected Highway 9, then lazily turned west. The were very close to the demilitarized zone. As they paralleled the DMZ, Johnson could effortlessly see North Vietnam. This was the closest that any of them had ever been to it. It occurred to him that a slight screwup in navigation could cause grave consequences. Landing Zone Stud had been hastily tucked into an S-curve on Highway 9. The engineers had stripped the area of all its vegetation. The landing zone featured a long runway and plenty of red dust stirred up by the takeoffs and landings of different helicopters. They went into a trail formation and landed at the northern edge of the runway.

The pilot led the flight north until he intersected Highway 9, then lazily turned west. The were very close to the demilitarized zone. As they paralleled the DMZ, Johnson could effortlessly see North Vietnam. This was the closest that any of them had ever been to it. It occurred to him that a slight screwup in navigation could cause grave consequences. Landing Zone Stud had been hastily tucked into an S-curve on Highway 9. The engineers had stripped the area of all its vegetation. The landing zone featured a long runway and plenty of red dust stirred up by the takeoffs and landings of different helicopters. They went into a trail formation and landed at the northern edge of the runway.

Low Level Hell

By Hugh L. Mills Jr.

Scout helicopters flew without doors, so there was an uninterrupted field of vision. The observer carried a weapon that he could fire out the left side. This was in lieu of miniguns, which were not mounted on the OH-6s. Some left-seaters had a standard M-60 machine gun, but that weapon was less than satisfactory because of its weight and because of the fact that it jammed easily when fired with its casing ejector pointed against the airstream. So, most scout helicopter observers used M-16s or CAR-15 assault carbines, which were shorter and easier to handle. The M-16 and CAR-15 both resisted jamming because they were magazine fed from the bottom and not affected by the airstream.

Scout helicopters flew without doors, so there was an uninterrupted field of vision. The observer carried a weapon that he could fire out the left side. This was in lieu of miniguns, which were not mounted on the OH-6s. Some left-seaters had a standard M-60 machine gun, but that weapon was less than satisfactory because of its weight and because of the fact that it jammed easily when fired with its casing ejector pointed against the airstream. So, most scout helicopter observers used M-16s or CAR-15 assault carbines, which were shorter and easier to handle. The M-16 and CAR-15 both resisted jamming because they were magazine fed from the bottom and not affected by the airstream.

Childers was riding in the cockpit, between the pilot and the copilot. As he looked back out the open rear end of the aircraft, he saw flares being fired and suddenly, right behind the aircraft, he saw an explosion. The enemy missile had apparently impacted a flare. They nervously continued the mission and upon return to base, Childers reported the event up the chain of command. The next day, a Brigadier General came to Can Tho and pinned a Distinguished Flying Cross on the Flight Engineer, crediting him with saving the aircraft and all on board. This was the first documented account of a flare saving a U.S. Army helicopter.

Childers was riding in the cockpit, between the pilot and the copilot. As he looked back out the open rear end of the aircraft, he saw flares being fired and suddenly, right behind the aircraft, he saw an explosion. The enemy missile had apparently impacted a flare. They nervously continued the mission and upon return to base, Childers reported the event up the chain of command. The next day, a Brigadier General came to Can Tho and pinned a Distinguished Flying Cross on the Flight Engineer, crediting him with saving the aircraft and all on board. This was the first documented account of a flare saving a U.S. Army helicopter.