06 July 2005

Lift Link

We were the lead gunship in a two gunship team, supporting a battalion of Infantry near the Michelin rubber plantation in the vicinity of Ban Me Thout, Viet Nam.

The bad guys stayed out of the rubber trees.......Michelin paid them "protection" to insure the trees were not damaged.
But they were damn close........in triple canopy jungle within site of the beautiful rows of rubber trees.

J.T. from Chicago, (the "Can Chickens Fly?") guy, was my Aircraft Commander.
I had just about gotten over my ill-fated orientation ride.

We had determined where the bad guys were in relation to the good guys, and had warned the good guys to keep their heads down, because quite honestly, we just weren't that accurate shooting the 2.75 inch FFAR, (Folding Fin Aerial Rockets) out of the old Charley model Hueys!

We started our first gun run. I laid down a good spray out of the mini-guns, then J.T. fired a couple rockets, then more mini-gun, then another pair of rockets. We started our "break" away from the enemy, when we felt the aircraft "settle" about an inch.


I looked at J.T., and he looked at me. Neither of us said anything for a moment.

It really didn't sound like we got hit by a .30 cal. round.
No caution or warning lights.......
instruments all in the normal operating range.

But at that time J.T. did something that probably saved four lives......he VERY GINGERLY banked the old Charley away from the enemy position.

He turned to me and asked,"You felt that too?"

"I sure did. Groundfire?"

"I'm not sure."

He keyed the microphone and transmitted, "Two....", (our wing man), "we're breaking off for the firebase to take a look at this aircraft.......we may have taken a round."

The number two aircraft acknowledged, and followed us to the firebase.

We landed, and four of us........J.T., myself, the crewchief and gunner all went over the aircraft with a fine-toothed comb.


No bullet holes.
Nothing out of the ordinary.

We all took another detailed look at the machine.
Again, nothing.

We had just about made the decision it was our imagination, when the crewchief said, "let me take a look up in the "Hell Hole."

The "Hell Hole" was a hole in the fuselage accessible from underneath the Huey........it granted access to the bottom of the main rotor gearbox. It was a pain to crawl under the aircraft and go up in the Hell Hole!

From the bowels of the aircraft we heard him say, "AH HA!"

When he crawled out, he had a shiny, half-moon shaped piece of metal in his hand, resembling a silver dollar cut in half, about a half inch or so thick.

"What's that?"

"Bottom half of the Lift Link attachment."

The "Lift Link" is a dog-bone shaped piece of aluminum alloy, about a foot long, with a hole in the top and a hole in the bottom. The top hole attaches to the main rotor gearbox, and the bottom hole attaches to the airframe.

Our Lift Link was broken!

The Lift Link is part of the helicopter "lifting system". When the main rotor lifts the helicopter, the Lift Link is carrying 90% of the weight of the machine.

Had J.T. not decided to abort the gun mission and turned for another gun run, when we tried to pull out of the gradual dive of the attack, the main rotor and transmission would have separated from the aircraft, giving the fuselage the aerodynamic quality of a brick!

The four of us would have had an exciting ride for a few seconds!

Investigation revealed the Lift Link had been "Murphy'ed"......
it was installed upside-down.
Installing it upside-down meant the torque values were wrong on the attachments, and the lower one, which should have been attached at the top, had been overtorqued, cracking the Link.

I had been involved in two potentially fatal incidents in two months, and was beginning to think I was cursed.........10 months to go in Viet Nam! What else was in store for me?

Obviously, I learned what to look for to determine proper installation of the Lift Link. I never took off again without checking to insure it was bolted in correctly.

I'll always believe there was Divine intervention that made J.T. fly that aircraft like he was handling eggs, and guided the crewchief to take that look in the "Hell Hole"!


Rubberducky1.0 said...

Reading your stuff always perks me up. People wonder why my preflights take longer than everyone elses. Now I have something to show them. Thanks!

On that subject, where does a up and comming pilot get life insurance. I don't want to leave my family with tons of bills if something happens to me. God forbid.

Greybeard said...

I'd be surprised to hear you are having trouble getting life insurance. Most companies will still write a policy unless you are flying a dangerous job.....EMS or cropdusting, for instance.
If you've tried and are having difficulty, join AOPA if you haven't already, and they'll sell you an A,D&D policy, (Accidental Death and Dismemberment).
Other aviation associations will also probably provide you with coverage.
If you still have difficulty, let me know.