14 April 2009

LURPS

Big ol' ugly thing... (But I love it!)
That one looks a lot like the machines I flew in Viet Nam.

Hang miniguns on the sides instead of the flex M-60's and it's almost an exact match. Notice too the crew chief and gunner hanging out the sides of the aircraft with their
M-60's. This was not a view you sought if you were Viet Cong or a North Vietnamese regular.

My unit,
the Aeroscout Company, had the primary mission of doing reconnaissance for the Americal Division. (If you click on the "1969 Yearbook" and "photo album" tabs at that link, you'll find several pictures of yours truly.) As part of that mission, we frequently transported L.R.R.P.'s (Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrols, pronounced LURP'S) out into bad guy country and dropped them off. Once inserted, their job was to avoid contact with the enemy and observe his movement.
Theirs was risky work, as was inserting them into position.

It was just about this time of year 40 years ago that we took off in the afternoon to do a LRRP insertion. We frequently would do one or two "fake" insertions... landing at other LZ's without disembarking the LRRP's, to confuse anyone watching and provide a little more security for these brave guys. Still fairly new "in country", I was the wingman in the formation, Aircraft Commander of a Gunship like the one pictured, accompanying an AH-1G Cobra and the UH-1H troop carrier (Slick).
We did one fake dropoff, then successfully inserted the team and started back home. The gunships I flew were underpowered and overloaded. So overloaded in fact, on hot days they would not hover. We kept them at absolutely minimum fuel for each mission in order to give us the best power-to-weight ratio possible. But that meant our endurance on each mission was limited.

About 10 minutes after inserting the LRRP's, over the FM radio, we heard this call...
(Whispering)... "Warlord Lead, this is Blue Potato, over."

Our team leader answered, "Blue Potato this is Warlord Lead, over."

"Can you come back and pick us up? There is an enemy unit of approximately battalion size coming toward us from an adjacent hill."

These guys were in big trouble. If we called someone to come get them immediately the response time would be over half an hour. They didn't have that time. Problem was, I was fuel critical, and my team leader knew it.

"Two, what's your fuel status?"
A quick calculation and my pucker factor went to ten on a scale of ten...
"We're gonna be mighty close, but we have no choice."
"Roger that." And with that we turned 180 degrees.
A battalion of bad guys, and they know our scouts are there. When they hear us coming back, they'll be prepared for us.

The slick spotted the LZ and started his approach. Hoping to draw some of the fire away from him I slotted in on the approach with him, loose echelon-right.

From the air, an AK-47 being fired at you sounds like popcorn being popped... a muffled Pop-Pop-Pop-poppity-Pop!
Ten seconds from landing it began...
Poppity-Poppity-Pop-Poppity-Poppity...
Lots of firing, but so far no rounds had made contact with my aircraft. As the slick slowed to land I flew past him, and noticed he lowered his nose to accelerate...
Going too fast, he missed his LZ. We'd have to turn and do it again, and now they'd know exactly where he needed to land.

Go around...
Big circle...
Start the approach again.
This time to change things a little I'm in echelon-left.
...Much more AK fire this time...
Poppity Poppity Poppity Poppity Pop Poppity!
Time almost stopped. The slick dropped into the LZ and I made my break to the left. The Cobra rolled in behind us and provided cover while the troops got aboard. When the slick lifted I turned inbound again, once again hoping to divide Charlie's attention.

As the troop carrier climbed out Lead called, "Slick, you okay?"
"Roger that!"
And with five happy LRRP's aboard, we once again turned for home.

"Two, how's your fuel?"
"I'm indicating 300 pounds. It's gonna be close."
Almost immediately my 20 minute fuel-low warning light came on.
"I've got a 20 minute light."
"Roger that. Keep me advised."

We've all been low on fuel, watching the fuel gauge drop while anxiously peering ahead, hoping for a glimpse of the refueling station. But it's different when you're flying over unfriendly ground, listening for the sudden sound of silence that would mean you had to accomplish an emergency landing in a helicopter that was too heavy to hover when you took off.
Stress?
You bet!

We hovered into our revetment twenty minutes after the 20 minute warning light came on. Everyone flying this mission wondered how much fuel was left in my bird, so we all stood and watched as my tanks were topped off...
...Four gallons left... less than three minutes of fuel.
(Then they drained a bunch of that fuel out for the next day's mission.)

Later that night there was a knock on the door of our hootch and I heard a loud, slurred question...
"WHERE'S GREYBEARD?"

"Here. Who's asking?"

"The guys whose lives you saved today."
All five of 'em standing there, team leader in front.
In one hand he had a bottle of Crown Royal. In the other, a bottle of Chivas Regal.

I think we had a good time...
I don't remember much more about that evening.

16 comments:

ddf said...

WOW...tears in my eyes. Brave men on heroic missions. Thanks for sharing...keep the stories coming.

Anonymous said...

Great story! Really enjoy your stories of real life experiences.
I second the motion from the 1st comment,
Keep em coming!
John K

Jack said...

Thanks for being one of the good guys!

cary said...

You deserved every drop, bro.

And the pictures show your mug hasn't changed much, just a bit of weathering around the eyes. Your smile/scowl is the same.

cj said...

You, sir, are certifiable.

Awesome and amazing too, but clearly certifiable.

cjh

Cissy Apple said...

Very cool story!

Rita said...

Thank you GB. Thank you for your service to your country. This country will remain great because of people like you, people who believe that freedom is bigger than themselves.

I do not believe that faith in country and freedom is likely to vanish any time soon. I pray that it never does.

JP said...

Thank you for your lifetime of service. You, sir, are a hero.

Anonymous said...

Lead this Slick,I'm low on CR in the purple bag. But to this day I thank the guys in the charlie model for the gun support. And damn story true!!! I was the CE on The Slick Warlord 840.

Greybeard said...

Thanks Slick.
I was hoping you'd stop by and comment.

And to all-
Remember our troops are doing these same sorts of things on a daily basis.
Keep them in your prayers, always.

Dave Earl said...

Thanks for writing this up. "We're gonna be mighty close, but we have no choice." I think this embodies why America will always thrive...

Crown-n-coke said...

Thank you GB. Thank you for your service to your country. I cut and pasted that from Rita But i sure as helll mean it. Very cool story, makings of a great book in there somewhere GB. I salute you and wish I could do a shot of Crown with you someday !!

Crown-n-coke said...

GB, I have a great interest in aircraft. Me and Joetta and Bob are flying to Ft Meyers tomorrow and I love everything about flying even hanging out in the airport before a flight. I joined the Army National Guard in 1973 and almost signed up with a unit that was in helicopter maintenance, can’t remember the name of that unit. I decided instead to join the 13th13th Engineers unit because I wanted to be a heavy equipment operator. When I was checking into the helo unit I was told there would be no slots open for me in flight school because the returning Vietnam vets were getting first option and rightfully so. I wish now I would have joined the chopper maint. unit instead, at least I could have been close to the aircraft and maybe learned a good trade, but I have always wanted to learn to fly. I took one introductory flying lesson just to experience it one time. I have checked into getting my pilots license a few times but can’t justify spending that much $$ on myself. I really love rotary wing aircraft, I know it takes a lot of training to get the coordination to fly one of those things. So thanks for the story, it’s always interesting to read about events from the pilots perspective.

gunner 840 said...

lead , this is gunner 840. Warloard 840 just gave me a shout about your blog. Thanks for the memories. It seems so long ago but in a blink we are right back there. Thanks for flying cover and watching our tails all those times. bill b.

Greybeard said...

Hey Bill-
Wonderful to hear from you!
It's a mutual admiration society, man...
That was me flying by bristling with guns and rockets while you and Slick 840 landed in that hot LZ.
WHO WAS MORE AT RISK?
Thanks guys.

Jeff Bobelak said...

Hi Dave I wanted to reread this before commenting, it was a little distracting at the Helipad. Quite some story ! I'd like to believe I would run low of fuel too if I was faced with that same situation. Amazing what you and your brethren did for this country, much respect from where I sit.