The MAIN mission for Army Helicopter Gunship pilots is to provide Close Air Support to the guys doing the dirty, actual work in Viet Nam; the "grunts". If they encountered serious resistance, they could shout for us. We'd come out and identify where they were, and where the resistance was coming from, and try to help them move on with their mission by eliminating that resistance.
To help them more efficiently accomplish their mission we'd frequently move a team of gunships to a safe harbor somewhat close to where they were doing their job so we could more quickly react to their needs.
One of the "safe" places we frequently re-positioned to was a little artillery base called "Polei Kleng".
This base was located about halfway between the city of Kontum, Viet Nam, and the border with Cambodia. It was VERY mountainous territory. In the valleys, the "elephant grass" grew so tall that when we inserted infantry troops into it they were simply swallowed whole... and I always wondered how in the world we'd ever be able to come back and recover them if that was necessary.
It was a scary place to fly. Our old "Charley Model" Hueys would not hover when we filled them with fuel and ordnance to do our mission. Our takeoffs were always done like airplanes...
Scooting along the ground until we were going fast enough for the rotor to reach out into the "clean" air necessary to lift all that weight. This was called a "running takeoff".
But we had a job to do, so we did it.
One day we got a call from an Air Traffic Controller-
"Almost nightly we've been watching a "primary" target come across the border from Cambodia and land just West of you. It's GOT to be a helicopter! Would you be interested in trying to shoot it down?"
WOULD WE BE INTERESTED IN TRYING TO SHOOT IT DOWN?!!
ARE YOU KIDDING?
Imagine the headlines.
Imagine the textbooks:
"First Air-to-Air helicopter combat in history!"
Were we excited? Were we all smiling?
Our faces HURT in anticipation.
So here was the plan-
ATC would call us when the "suspect" target appeared on their screen flying Eastbound. We would launch as quickly as possible on a Westerly heading. They would then guide us to the location of the "enemy" aircraft and as it reappeared on their radar after takeoff we would turn it into a ball of flames.
It would be... EPIC.
So we waited at Polei Kleng until the call came from ATC, right at dusk.
We launched in three minutes and headed West as fast as we could go.
From ATC: "He's just landing, about 10 miles West of you".
We couldn't see him, but knew we were eating up the miles between us as he offloaded whatever it was he was carrying into Viet Nam.
Again, from ATC: "Okay, he's back airborne, about two miles from your flight path."
And we're thinking, "We've got this S.O.B.!"
We still couldn't see him. It's getting dark, and of course he's "lights out" to prevent anyone from seeing him.
From ATC: "He's on your nose, about three miles distant."
ATC: "He's 12 O'Clock, four miles."
ATC "He's 12 O'Clock, six miles."
And we are pulling the GUTS out of our old Hueys trying to make them do things they were never designed to do.
We never did see him.
Our wager later was that he probably was in a French "Gazelle" helicopter, capable of about 30-40 knots faster airspeed than our old Charleys.
So we never did make history.
But it's a good story, and a fun memory.