Bases, Places and Memories: Memorable Flights
After the preflight, we’d climbed up on the wing left side and with a crank wound up the old inertial starter. We threw the crank down on the ground, jumped in the cockpit, moved the mixture to full rich, cranked the throttle just over Idle, turned the primer to the top cylinders then pulled the toggle to engage the starter motor. Then hope it would fire up or go through that routine again!
After the start, I’d run up to full power check and reached that point then fluctuated. I thought well, that’s not good but if I down the aircraft meant I wouldn’t fly that day. With that unwise decision, I taxied out & took off for our training area which carried me over the outskirts of Fort Worth. Regulations required an altitude not lower than 500 ft over those areas. I went to about 800 ft and the engine dropped back to idle!! I started rapidly moving both the mixture & the throttle FW and Aft and it caught up momentarily then back to idle which required me to drop the nose & start a downward descent to avoid stalling out.
I looked in all directions and it was city streets and houses. I could do nothing but continue my descent without a clue in or on what I was going to land! I had the old seat parachute but altitude and where the aircraft would hit precluded any use of the chute. I was at about 200-foot altitude when I saw the high tension wires in front of me. I pulled the nose up and cleared the wires but lost my forward airspeed and did the only thing left in that mode; lowered the nose and prepared to make a 3 point stall landing!!
To my complete surprise, I was over the railroad tracks that went from Fort Worth to Dallas. I landed alongside the rails in some very tall weeds and came to a stop almost against a building. Would you believe it was a small beer joint on the outskirts named “Blondies.” As I was landing, I noticed cars pulling over along the street and folks looking up at me. I went inside and called the field trying to tell them where I was. At first, they thought it was a caller pulling a joke.
They later took the aircraft on a flat boy trailer back to the field and found that a restriction in the fuel system had caused the problem. It was complete luck that I ended up there without hitting a structure. I received high marks for making the safe landing since I only had been flying solo for 8 hours.
The other one that really got my attention happened at the foot of the mountains in Vietnam near Cam Ranh Bay Jan 17, 1967while flying out of Nha Trang in my old CH34C 543045. I had auto rotated down alongside the mountain to observe an assault by gunships on a mountain site. Suddenly, I went into a very violent spin which made it impossible to move as I was pasted against the seat by the spinning force. I knew that I had lost tail drive and the only possible emergency procedure was to release torque from the main rotors. This happened when I had applied throttle to flare and stop the autorotation. The throttle was on the collective stick and I managed to rotate it to idle and the spin momentarily stopped that was when I saw I was headed nose down to the trees and ground.
Figured that fire was the most likely thing when you crashed so I turned off the battery switch and hit the Mag switch and threw the cyclic stick full left. Wanted to stop the main blades when we hit so they would not chop off our heads. We took down some small trees and the main blades hit the ground on the left side and wound around the top of the cockpit just inches above my head. I was with my left leg outside the side window and the ground. The Vietnamese captain in the right seat climbed up and out the right side window and me trying to get my leg free. I remember hearing the fuel, “gloop, gloop,” running out from the fuel tanks under the troop compartment floor and praying that a fire didn’t start as I could hear the inverters & electrical components running down.
I finally got free and climbed up through the right side window. There in the middle of all that spilled fuel was that dumb Vietnamese officer firing those finger flares we carried into the air. I grabbed him and pushed him away from the helicopter and asked him if he was trying to get the Viet Cong to rescue us!! He wanted to start walking towards the Nha Trang Air Base. I said go ahead if you know where all the minefields and VC might be located. I was going to stay by the crash and see if something flew over then I would fire some flares.
After about 20 minutes some of the Army Hueys flew over and after some time they finally came down with the door gun trained on us to be sure who we were.
I was a very happy camper when we got back to the Nha Trang base. I had some broken ribs, banged-up left leg and numerous bruises but in one piece! When that violent spin started I was sure that was going to be my last flight and my last day on earth.
Anyway, that is two of several flights in my times that I remember every minute of!!