A tribute to combat helicopter flight crews

 

A tribute to the Army’s first generation of combat helicopter flight crews

written by J.C. Pennington

As we get older

We experience the loss of old friends, we begin to realize that maybe we aren’t ten-foot tall. Bulletproof Army aviators (and crew) won’t live forever. We aren’t so bulletproof anymore.

We ponder… if I were gone tomorrow, “Did I say what I wanted to my Brothers?”  The answer is “No!” Hence, the following random thoughts:

When people ask me if I miss flying

I always say something like, “Yes, I miss the flying because when you are flying, you are totally focused on the task at hand. It’s like nothing else you will ever do (almost). ” But then I always say, “However, I miss the unit and the guys even more than I miss the flying. ”Why you might ask?  They were a bunch of aggressive, wiseass, cocky, insulting, sarcastic bastards in smelly flight suits!

combat helicopter flight crews

A tribute to the Army’s first generation of combat helicopter flight crews

They drank too much, they chased women, they flew when they shouldn’t, they laughed too loud and thought they owned the sky, the bar, and generally thought they could do everything better than the next guy. Nothing was funnier than trying to screw with a buddy and see how pissed off they would get.

combat helicopter flight crews

They flew helicopters that leaked, that bled RPM, that broke, that couldn’t hover, that burned fuel too fast, that never had all the radios and instruments working, and with systems that were archaic next to today’s new generation aircraft.

But a little closer look

Might show that every guy in the room was sneaky smart and damned competent and brutally handsome in his own way! They hated to lose or fail to accomplish the mission and seldom did. They were the laziest guys on the planet until challenged and then they would do anything to win.

combat helicopter flight crews

They would fly with rotor blades overlapped at night through the worst weather with only a little position light to hold on to, knowing their flight lead would get them on the ground safely.

They would fight in the air knowing the greatest risk and fear was that some NVA anti-aircraft gunner would wait ’til you flew past him and open up on your six o’clock with tracers as big as softballs. They would fly in harm’s way and act nonchalant as if to challenge the grim reaper.

 

armys-first-generation-of-combat-helicopter-flight-crews

When we flew to another base we proclaimed that we’re the best unit on the base as soon as we landed. Often we were not invited back.

When we went into a bar, we owned the bar. We were lucky to be the Best of the Best in the military. We knew it and so did others.

We found jobs

We lost jobs, got married, got divorced, moved, went broke, got rich, broke some things, and knew the only thing you could count — really count on — was if you needed help, a fellow Army Aviator would have your back. I miss the call signs, nicknames and the stories behind them.

I miss getting lit up in an O’ or NCO’ Club full of my buddies and watching the incredible, unbelievable things that were happening. I miss the crew chiefs waiting as you got to your ship for a Zero-Dark:30 preflight. I miss pulling an armful of the pitch, nosing it over and climbing into a new dawn. I miss going straight up and straight down.

combat helicopter flight crews

I miss the tension

Wondering what today’s 12 hours of combat flying would bring. And the craps table in the corner of the O-Club and letting it ALL ride because money was meaningless.

I miss listening to BS stories while drinking and laughing until my eyes watered. And miss three man lifts.

I miss naps on the platoon hootch porch with a room full of aviators working up new tricks to torment the sleeper. I miss rolling in hot and watching my rockets hit right where I was aiming.

 

combat helicopter flight crews

Personal photo courtesy of Christopher Gaynor

I miss the beauty and precision of a flight of slicks in formation, rock steady even in the face of tracers flying past you from a hot LZ.

I miss belches that could be heard in neighboring states.

I miss showing off for the grunts with high-speed, low-level passes and abrupt cyclic climbs. I even miss passengers in the back puking their guts up.

Finally, I miss hearing In-Coming! called out at the bar and seeing and hearing a room full of men hit the deck with drinks spilling and chairs being knocked over as they rolled in the beer and kicked their legs in the air—followed closely by a Not Politically Correct Tap Dancing and Singing spectacle that couldn’t help but make you grin and order another round. I am a lucky guy and have lived a great life!

The one thing I know is

combat helicopter flight crews

A Huey Flight crew posing

I was part of a special team of guys doing something dangerous and doing it better than most.

Flying the most beautiful, ugly, noisy, solid helicopters ever built… an aircraft that talked to you and warned you before she spanked you!

Supported by really talented Crew Chiefs and Gunners committed to making sure we came home!

Being prepared to fly and fight and die for America. Having a clear mission, clear vision, and having fun.

We box out bad memories from various missions and events most of the time but never the hallowed memories of our fallen comrades. We are often amazed at how good war stories never let the truth interfere and how they get better with age.

We are lucky bastards to be able to walk into a reunion or a bar and have men we respect and love shout our names, our call signs, and know that this is truly where we belong.

We are ARMY AVIATORS and CREW MEMBERS. We are Few and we are Proud to have been one of the first combat helicopter FLIGHTS CREWS the world ever saw. I am Privileged and Proud to call you Brothers. Clear Right! Clear Left! Pullin’ Pitch!

Thank you, brother! Most appropriate.

Re-Printed from Cherriswriter.com

Naples Museum Of Military History

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