By Ken Bording
After the 48th's "Road Trip" all
around I, II, & III Corps in very early '67 we finally got back to Phan Rang
for a short visit. Harry Schuler and I got a cushy mission to Dalat.
He and I and a CE and Gunner (sorry I can't remember their names, it's the least I should be able to do since I almost killed them!) went single ship to the "We won't fight and you can make us" mountain paradise of Dalat without any adult supervision in support of Operation Concern and Dr. Tom Dulley's (probably misspelled) medical clinics spread all over the far reaches of the mountain areas.
We spent numerous, wonder nights in a clean hotel, in civilian clothes, eating at fine restaurants and flying enjoyable, nonviolent missions.
Of course, If you've ever been to Dalat, the airport sat up on a mountain overlooking the beautiful city and had some outrageous DA and corresponding loss of aircraft performance.
Old Harry and I are watching the indigenous labors load up our trust old Delta model with, of all things, sacks of concrete for expansion of a clinic in the mountains. Well, concrete bags are your basic DENSE load and it didn't take too many to start spreading the skids. Not a problem for a couple of expert, mid-tour slick drivers -- high DA be damned!
Well, as we are cranking, along comes a bevy of newly arrived, beauteous, round-eye, skirt-clad nurses asking for a ride to the very same clinic! A match made in heaven, right?
So we both looked at the kazillion concrete bags and the poor damsels in mild distress and, using what the Army now calls Risk Assessment and Risk Management, said "hell yes, girls, get it! Hey, Chief, put
Well, the first real indicator of reduced aircraft performance was the fact that this pig aircraft would not even come close to a hover, so off we slid. As Harry accelerated down the runway towards the drop-off (read cliff) overlooking the City of Dalat, I beeped the N2 like a fool and called out the lack of airspeed (and altitude and ideas). The cat-whisker FM Homing antennas were sounding like curb feelers as we gather momentum and a shower of sparks.
I can't actually claim that we ever really took off -- it's more like the airport just ended and the cliff dropped away. At this point Harry and I are having a little trouble conversing since the LOW ROTOR audio is blaring away. So we just sort a fell off the cliff and towards town.
In an effort to gain RPM (believe me we had plenty of airspace -- more than we needed in the event of impact, for sure)! Harry used whatever elevation the terrain would give us. For the non-technically and aerodynamically inclined passengers -- it appeared to be a most excellent close-up aerial tour of Dalat. For Harry and I it was a wild attempt not to have a hooch named after us.
Any way, this low level tour lasted about 20 minutes while we roared back and forth across town at TV antenna height. Any attempt to slow down to make a PL resulted in the RPM bleeding even lower. So after a while we started clawing our way back up the side of the mountains that form the bowl that Dalat sits in and we literally low-leveled through the mountain pass south of town, finally heading in the general direction of our clinic. We went by the ARVN roadblock checkpoint in the pass so low that they all hit the ground to avoid getting struck by our skids.
45 minutes later we arrived at the clinic, the girls were most impressed with their first helicopter ride in country, but we were so shook that we left right after lunch.
Flash ahead 9 months. I've finished my 48th Tour, volunteered for a second tour (they made me see the Flight Surgeon) gone to Rucker TDY, qualified in the CH-47, and I'm back in the same battalion with the 196th ASHC Flippers. One on my first missions is will a real AH Captain / IP to the area west of good ole Dalat!
We go into some Mountain Folk village about 100 meters from the Cambodian border and start a single ship extraction. Well, old CPT H. is the AC/IP and I'm just the mushroom CP so under his advanced expertise we load up 105 (count them)! wee people and a portion of their livestock. Not a real problem since we are almost out of gas and the twin rotors of the Hook did the job nicely. As we climb to altitude I point out the fact that in about 30 minutes we are going to flame out and CPT H. announces we'll just head for Dalat and gas up!
We wheel into the Hot Gas point at Dalat running on fumes and line up with the hose points. This results in use parking 90 degrees to the runway and with a nice breeze blowing crosswise across our twin rotors. CPT H. sez "Filler Up, boys". I suggest that we might better take on a partial load of fuel since the DA is so high, we're packed to the gills with the village people, and that I almost died here once on a previous tour. CPT H. wasn't impressed with my tale of life as an underpowered Delta Model slick driver.
So after the boys in the back finish refueling us and fight their way back aboard, good ole CPT H. snatches the Hook into a 20 foot instantaneous hover with the breeze blowing across both rotors, declares the power check A-OK, kicks left pedal and blasts off down the center line of the runway. I whimper loudly and once again beep like hell!
About 300 meters down the runway we settle involuntarily to the pavement and continue to gather speed towards my favorite cliff. We again plummet over the cliff and go off through town on another low-level tour. I now perform two functions. I point out know areas of lower terrain and provide a guided tour narration of the benefit of our CE and Gunner. "Over at 3 O'clock and slightly above us you'll notice the South Vietnamese Military Academy. To our 12 O'clock and substantially above us is the closest pass out of this godforsaken valley." Useful stuff like that.
Well, we made it and only hit one small out house on the way out of town, but it sure helps to know the terrain!
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