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Date Posted: Mon, January 12 2009, 14:40:36
Author: ROBERT J. ARCHER, (former CPT in Vietnam) (Fear versus Courage)
Author Host/IP: c-24-23-234-140.hsd1.ca.comcast.net / 22.214.171.124
Subject: CONFESSIONS OF A CH-54 PILOT
Monday, January 12, 2009 CONFESSIONS OF A VIETNAM CH-54 PILOT
Thank you for your suggestion and encouragement (<email@example.com>) to publish my experiences in Vietnam in “War Stories.”I am telling this story to let you know that more often than not, when I was in trouble, I was scared to death.
The reason I did not originally post my 158th Assault Helicopter experience (Lancer 24, 1970) on war stories is because I believed that was only for people who had done something courageous who posted their experience. I was just a combat assault pilot like every other Lancer pilot or crew member. However, I thank you for your suggestion. And I followed your advice and posted my letter on "war stories". Thank you very much for your invitation. I am filled with humility and sadness and appreciation for those young warrant officer and officers and crew members who gave their lives. God Bless You, Bob Archer (alias Lancer 24 and Lancer 11) p.s. I am not a hero. I was often scared once I experienced my enemy fire.
Ironically, I never took a hit as a Lancer. I was “shot down” as a CH-54 pilot. I was forced to land after taking a hit from small arms fire while taking off from a Vietnamese village where we dropped off some supplies - just a log mission. Our Cobra escort had left us early so we had no support at the time. A CH-54 Skycrane has no guns, and are easy targets due to their size. We have a 72-foot rotor span. One of the bullets struck the spar or main support for our rotor blade. If we had not landed we would not have made it very far before catastrophe struck. We were on the ground in an open field for several hours while we waited for assistance from our maintenance crew. Our crew set up a defensive perimeter and waited for assistance from the 478th Maintenance crew. They flew out a new blade and we were back in business without further incident. Again, I was very fortunate. This was apparently the act one person. I think that we were the only CH-54 ever "shot down" (forced to land under power) in Vietnam.
I also flew secret missions in Laos to support the Mong and Mien military who were busy fighting their Pathet Laos and the North Vietnamese (with our help). After we left, they lost the war in Laos, and many of them fled to Thailand refugee camps. We left some very good friends behind. Some of them made it to the U.S. eventually. There is a group in Richmond, CA. that get together every year to celebrate. Those people say that they lost the war, but gained something more precious, their freedom with their families in the United States.
Some of those missions in Laos scared me more than anything I did as a Lancer. I guess the more time and experience one has to anticipate what could happen, the greater the fear factor, at least for me. Although, I never let the crew know when I was afraid. That would have destroyed their confidence, and increased their fear. We supported Air America which I later found (via TV about 20 years later) was working for the CIA!. We were the only aircraft powerful enough to put a 105 Howitzer on a 11,000 foot mountain top. We referred to this act as a "controlled crash". The winds were fierce (strong updrafts and down drafts). Our approach angle had to be perfect. The aircraft would shudder severely from the strong winds. And constant and quick use of the collective and trim were critical to maintain the proper glide path. I was fortunate to have learned on a previous mission from one of the best Army CH-54 pilots that I ever met. He was WO3 Joe Winters from Texas. He was a big guy, very tall. He had to get his height waived by the Army to get into flight school. Thank God for that! He taught me a lot on my first mission to Laos. He trusted me to make several of those mountain top landings.
The weather was not always good in Laos. I remember flying at tree top level trying to keep up with our Air America friends. The top speed (VNE) on a CH-54 is about 115 knots. They were flying at about 115-120 knots. The clouds were very low, almost on the deck (tree tops). In fact, I found myself flying through enough low clouds on the way back to base camp that I would momentarily lose track of the tree tops. This happened over and over again. I was terrified that I would go IFR, and have to rise up off the deck. That was white knuckle flying all the way back. Near the end, I was totally exhausted (after about 1 hour of this type of flying). Acting perfectly normal, I calmly said to the co-pilot, and excellent Warrant Officer, “okay, why don’t you take the controls for awhile. I don’t ever remember being more scared. I really did not know if we would make it back on the deck. Those Air America pilots were absolutely fearless, and a little crazy, but very good guys.
Thanks Again for your help.
Warm Regards, formerly CPT Robert J. Archer
478th Heavy Lift, Red Beach, DaNang.
On Mon, 1/12/09, War Stories
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