20 April 2006

"The Sniffer" and "The Snatch"

What a title!
Bet this post doesn't go the way you imagine!


My Viet Nam Unit was one-of-a-kind.
I was in "The Aeroscout Company", Americal Division.
Our main mission was reconnaissance.
We accomplished our recon. mission by launching four helicopters:

  • An OH-6 Scout,


  • A UH1-C "Charley Model" Gunship,


  • An AH1-G Cobra Gunship,

  • and,

  • A UH1-H "Slick"


  • The little OH-6 Scout would fly low enough to part the tops of trees with his rotorwash and look underneath to see if any enemy activity was going on down there. I think the guys flying this mission had the most dangerous flying job in Viet Nam. No OH-6 in our unit accrued 300 total flight hours before being shot down during my year there.

    I followed the Scout in the "Charley Model" Huey, flying 50 feet above and about 1/8th mile behind, to cover the OH-6 in case he began to receive fire.
    This low altitude and airspeed also left me considerably exposed,
    SO......

    The "Snake", (Cobra), followed behind me at 1000' altitude and 1/2 mile behind in case I got shot at.

    The "Slick" carried a squad of Infantry,
    (we called our grunts "Animals"),
    and followed along high enough to be out of the range of small arms fire.

    One of the special missions our unit performed was "The Snatch".
    If the little Scout saw a military-age male acting suspiciously in the area we were to recon, he would call for the Slick to land and the "Animals" would pick this suspect up for questioning.
    Obviously, this was a dangerous mission......on more than one occasion we landed the Slick, only to find we had inserted our troops into a hornet's nest. We'd then use the two Gunships to provide fire and protection for the Slick as we extricated our "Animals" from harms way.

    However, we were frequently successful at snatching suspicious young males who provided good information to our Division Intelligence folks.

    We used this same basic team to do another type of recon mission: "The Sniffer".

    The little Scout would pick up a specialty team with a special machine......
    The Sniffer.
    It fit in the rear of the OH-6, and had a sensor on a cord that was lowered 30 feet below the aircraft. We would then go out into bad-guy territory and fly just over the triple canopy jungle with the sensor just above the tops of the trees. We would start working a grid pattern downwind....the sensor would give you erroneous readings if it picked up the exhaust from the helicopters....and we would fly a grid that was designated by our Division Intel. people.

    The Sniffer picked up human perspiration. If it sensed perspiration, the technician operating the machine would call out "HOT" over the radio, and the Co-Pilot in the Slick would make a mark on his map showing where that "Hot" reading was taken. We would fly along for several minutes with the technician saying "HOT", "HOT", "HOT", "HOT", "HOT"every two seconds, then we'd do a 180 degree turn, move 1000' upwind, and sweep another path......
    "HOT", "HOT", "HOT", "HOT"....

    Keep in mind, the Scout and I are flying at near treetop level over triple-canopy jungle, in single engine helicopters, over what was probably a North Vietnamese Army Division.
    My fear: What are we gonna do if the engine fails? This job was tense....gave me a "pucker factor" of 9 out of 10!

    We flew Sniffer missions about once a week, but I don't remember ever being shot at during one of these flights.
    The bad guys were moving their troops to attack us and didn't want us to know they were down there. Shooting at us would have unquestionably exposed them and their position.
    By flying this mission weekly, we were able to plot the movement of large enemy units.

    Imagine how you would feel, flying along hearing "HOT"...."HOT"...."HOT"..... over the radio, thinking of (thousands?) of men below you, and all the possibilities that COULD happen!

    3 comments:

    Julian said...

    Your blog rocks man. Fascinating.

    THIRDWAVEDAVE said...

    It does rock...I linked this post over at Lucky Dawg News.

    Daedalus67 said...

    Just stumbled onto your blog. This is really fun to read ... and then I noticed you served in the AeroScout company.

    So did I ... until November of 1968 I was one of those Scout Pilots ... wouldn't trade it for the world.