A friend of a friend (don’t all good hangar flying stories start out that way?) reminiced about flying rotorcraft in Vietnam. While there’s certainly adventure and excitement in becoming an impromptu test pilot, don’t forget that there were more than a few such attempts at stretching the envelope which didn’t turn out so favorably. In other words, don’t try this at home.
If you’d like to crowd your pages with “over max-gross” stories, just talk to any combat pilot. The old C model Hueys were the designated gunships of the Vietnam era before the Cobras came into country in late ’67 as I recall. Underpowered, carrying a full compliment of ordinance, then taking on as much fuel as you could estimate would get you on station, execute whatever mission you needed to before being able to take a break and find a fuel bladder somewhere was the common routine.
Tactical Emergencies (TAC-E’s…duh) trumped anything the Safety Officer or aircraft specs put out regarding limits. You just got there any way you could to help whomever needed it. A TAC-E that involved a fellow American took precedence over anything else, often times even direct orders from a senior officer that you’d determined either didn’t understand the situation or had their head up their ass. Helping a fellow American was the most powerful driving force in existence.
I’d just taken on a few hundred extra pounds of fuel and had a full load of rockets and mini-gun ammo. I was heading out to pick up and escort a “people sniffer” mission, flying cover for a “slick” that had a long tube hanging out of it that read the contents of the air and could “smell” if a concentration of humans had been in an area…signifying enemy troop movement. Generally, a low-risk mission with no urgency involved. I’d taken on the extra fuel knowing that if I had a problem taking off, I could just sit there and burn it off to the point that I could at least make a low-power take off and get through translational lift, then get on station and hopefully get through the mission without having to refuel.
We were sitting on the PSP [Pierced Steel Planking] at the fueling station when a TAC-E came in over the Guard channel. We were the closest to the emergency and I called in that we could cover. The problem was whether we could get off the ground.
As luck would have it, I couldn’t budge. I had the collective snuggled into my armpit and all I could get was RPM bleed-off. I got on the intercom and told the crew chief and door gunner to get out. I got light enough to start a little skid. Worked it out to the active (about 50 yards maybe) and pointed it down the runway. Full pitch, pimped the engine RPM’s up as high as they’d go, kicked left/right tail rotor and forward cyclic to break the skids free again from the PSP and was barely able to get the ship moving down the runway, playing hell with the sheet metal skid shoes… and the crew running along on either side of the ship.
The crew was running along flat out. I intercommed “now” to my Peter Pilot and he waved the crew to jump on. I lowered the pitch a little just as they jumped on, then yanked in as much as I could… sprung up off the ground a little… settled back down… dropped the pitch… yanked it in again when we “bounced”… skid, hop, skid, hop… skiddddddddddddddddddd…. nursed in some pitch… stayed off the PSP at about 6 inches… then that delicious shudder and voila!! The crew was cracking up and clapping.
Made the mission, kept the bad guys away from the good guys until they could get extracted, then back home.
I kinda miss those days.