17 May 2005

Do Chickens Fly?

December, 1968
Polei Kleng, Viet Nam

During major ground operations, in order to provide more responsive support, the Division would sometimes position our helicopter gunship team close to the action.

Polei Kleng was an artillery fire-support base and airfield in the middle of nowhere.
On one side of the airstrip was a Special Forces Base.
On the other side, just outside a barbed wire fence, was a village.
Chickens from the village would cross under the fence to scrounge for bits of food on our side.

We would sit at the airstrip, watching villagers and chickens, waiting for a call for emergency gunship support from the grunts.
There was always a lot of waiting.

One day, J.T., a Chicago boy unaccustomed to having livestock around asked, "Do chickens fly?"

I had a little experience with Chickens.....
"Well, I know they can fly short distances. I've seen them fly to the tops of small outbuildings to find a safe place to sleep."

"Wonder what would happen if you pitched one out of the helicopter at altitude?"

I had no idea. Fascinating!

So as we gathered our gear to fly back to our base at the end of the day, J.T. enlisted our wiry young crew chief to chase down a big white hen.
Straight out of "Rocky", this kid finally caught the unwilling bird with blocking help from three of us.

We fired the Hueys up and climbed to 3000 feet, right over "Clucky Lucky's" village.

In a slow right turn, we gave the crew chief the word to pitch her out.

What a glorious sight! She took to the air like an expert!
Chickens are actually pretty large birds, so the pure white-3 foot wing span on this hen made it easy to follow her as she spiralled her way back home. She was absolutely beautiful.

She made several graceful circles on her way down, and was lined up perfectly... into the wind on final approach when it happened:

I can't say if it was because she realized she had never landed from that altitude before, or if she simply was going much, much faster than she had ever gone in her life,
but about 10 feet above the ground, she pulled her wings in and tried to touch down, still going 20 miles per hour!

It was like a pillow exploded.......tumbling as she slowed, feathers everywhere.
And before she came to a stop, she got her feet beneath her, gathered herself up, and ran back to join her flock, obviously complaining to all that would listen.

But she put on a wonderful show for a few minutes! And with a little practice on those landings, she could soar with the Eagles!

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