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...
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.
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?"
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.
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...
"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.