Courtesy Tony Terrana & Ron Turner
--- Smokey’s First Day
our arrival at Dong Ha in the early evening of March 16 1971, we parked 68-16221
over by the maintenance area. The
no. 3 hanger bearing mount on the tail rotor drive shaft was shot up and a few
other holes in the tail boom needed fixing.
I also had a round hit my M60 (that’s a whole ‘nother story).
After I was done with 221, I walked over to maintenance to turn in my
dash 13 and noticed a slick with a big black tank in the cargo bay laying on the
floor in front of the transmission, running the width of the ship.
The ship, a converted D model No. 67-17187, was a little rough around the
edges. A maintenance officer was standing there so I asked him what was up with
this bird. After a few minutes I
had a good understanding of what a smoke ship was supposed to do, and that it
was considered to be a loser. The
ship was assigned to the 2nd flight and it would be going up tomorrow.
I asked him why a smoke ship mission is such a loser.
He said, “low leveling around and around an LZ without gun cover just
doesn’t work. You might get away with it the first time you try it out in
the AO, but after that, you’re going down.”
I had a real dilemma on my hands. Later
on that night I would have to assign a crew to the loser but who could I saddle
this with? I decided it would have
to be me. (Later on that night, to their great credit, almost every crew chief
and gunner in 2nd Flt volunteered for this mission.)
I decided that if I was going to crew this ship, I had a lot to get done
in a real short time. First on the
list would be the AC. Being blessed
with the best H model pilot that I ever had the pleasure to fly with (and I flew
with a lot of pilots), my AC on 221, Mr. Turner, was the pilot I wanted.
I tracked Mr. Turner down and told him I was going to crew the smoke ship
and asked him if he would fly it. To
my great relief, he agreed. I
really have no idea how Lt. Smith ended up in the right seat.
My next stop was Maj. Bunting. The
good major gave me permission to use our company’s two aircraft 50. cal.
machine guns instead of the standard M60s as door guns.
Then I asked if I could put two more gunners in jump seats behind the
pilots with free ‘60s’. For as
long as I live, I will never forget Major Bunting’s response.
He looked me square in the eye and said, “I can’t afford to lose six
good men all at once. Four will be
bad enough.” Well that tended to
put the whole thing into perspective. Lose
one ship but maybe the rest of the flight gets out OK. In looking back, that may have seemed to be a desperate
measure, but in light of our losses up to this point during Lam Son 719, it was
reasonable. I didn’t have a
problem with this. After all, the
guys who flew our gun ships were making sacrifices like this every day.
Next came the selection of a door gunner.
had a guy named Barry Redington who just came into 2nd flight from the motor
pool. In retrospect, this was a
pretty shitty thing to do to a guy with zero flight experience, but if we
weren’t coming back anyway.......maybe better to lose three experienced people
instead of four. At this point let
me take a short aside to say that Barry turned out to be one of the best gunners
I ever had the privilege to train. He
was totally fearless, worked well under great pressure, winning a Silver Star
and a man that I will always count as a true friend.
Not too bad, as I would later find out, when you are only sixteen years
old. Barry and I worked into the
wee hours of the night with a guy from armament mounting the 50s and getting the
ship ready to fly. We managed a few
hours of sleep before preflight.
the morning (17 Mar.), we found the ni-cad battery would not start the ship.
Maintenance replaced the battery and started the ship with an APU.
The rest of the flight was already long gone. We left Dong Ha and headed toward the ocean, looking for a
place where Barry and I could learn how to operate the 50s. When a suitable spot was located I lowered the muzzle and
pulled --more like pushed-- the trigger and then all hell broke loose.
A first aid kit launched itself off the wall.
Mr. Turner’s map light came loose, hit him on the helmet and both
ashtrays fell out. Every gauge was
totally unreadable......Neat! I
found the 950 RPM rate of fire on that 50 very impressive.
The bad news was that the right gun would not fire at all.
We decided to head on up to PZ kilo and try to get the gun repaired
our arrival at Kilo, I tried in vain to fix that gun.
We even had a few guys from a passing armor outfit take a look at the 50
but to no avail.. That gun just wouldn’t chamber a round. So there we sat, with a broken right door gun waiting for a
mission. As the day wore on I
started to think that maybe we wouldn’t catch a mission. That would give me a whole day to get that gun fixed and tend
to many small items on 187. But,
around 1600 we were told to crank for a smoke mission. I don’t know how Mr. Turner felt or what Lt. Smith was
thinking or if Barry even knew what was going on, but I was about scared
shitless. I gave Barry my M79 to
compliment his M16 and away we went.
The tactical details of our smoke mission are as
follows: We were to wall off with
smoke, three sides of the ARVN PZ for this extraction.
The slicks were to go in low, do a 180 and come out high.
It would be necessary for us to climb over both the inbound and outbound
traffic to continue our run. We
came in low and fast on the north side of the PZ heading west.
The smoke system worked great! From
my vantage point I saw a huge, thick, high wall of white smoke coming from the
hot end of 187. Neat!!
We took some fire but that .50 was really taking care of business. Then I
noticed something strange. Tracers
were coming down instead of going up. I
leaned forward in the well and looked up only to see the smiling face of Mike
Swank looking down at me while he prepped all around our main rotor blade with
his free 60. Apparently our Joker
gun ships extended their traffic pattern to give us some much needed and
appreciated help. (Thanks, guys!!). We made our left hand turn and headed south for a ways and
then back east. Now this was the
part I feared the most, climbing over the traffic.
A rising target is easy to hit. As
we climbed up, a 12.7 started to bark at us.
I fired a burst at the muzzle flash and the gun stopped firing at us.
I don’t know if I hit him or just scared him but I sure did suppress
him. After getting hammered in Laos
for the last six weeks, I was enjoying the hell out of shooting big bullets down
faster than they were coming up, for a change.
We made, I believe, three passes around that PZ with about the same
things happening until all the slicks were out of there.
big payoff was that nobody got shot down, nobody got hurt, everybody made it out
of there clean! I will always look
upon this mission as a great tactical success for the 48th A.H.C.
Later that day, I took fire from a .51 cal and got three secondary
explosions out of that gun position with just a short burst.
That started my love affair with that 50.
You gotta like a gun that fires huge slugs that fast that is thick enough
to hide behind. Well, I used to be
thin enough to hide behind it anyway. So
goes the story of the 187’s first mission.
When I get time, I’ll write about day two, 18 Mar., 187’s last smoke
mission of Lam Son 719.
Anthony (Tony) Terrana 2nd Flt. Plt. 48th A.H.C.
Feb. 70 - Aug. 71
additional comments by Ron Turner
221 was a great aircraft but I loved 187. And other than being bored silly waiting for a mission, I was
like you .... scared shitless. Let's
see, I think the manual said something like "for best smoke lay down, fly
at 60 knots indicated". Ya,
Flying that mission in a pretty much untested/unproved aircarft had me
worried, based on the traffic pattern we had to fly because of the pattern of
the incoming / outgoing slicks. But
no time like the present. When we
got the word. "OK Smoke, start your run", I think my balls retracted
into my body as I nosed it over and headed for the tree tops. 60 kts for best....Shit, no way. "This is Smokey 82, smoke inbound, send 'em in".
You could hear and feel the whir of the pumps shooting the oil mist into
the exhaust. Tony and I were
exposed to the tree line but at least his gun was working. "Takin fire,
takin fire." Have you ever
heard & felt a .50 cal machine gun shake your aircraft?
The sound of Tony's 50 slammin' away was reassuring.
As we completed the horse shoe pattern I shut the smoker off and started
to max climb over the incoming flight. Geez,
I must be insane. But 187 had more
that enough power to get us up, turn around and do it again. We made 3 or 4 runs trailing smoke until the PZ was clear.