UNIT: Fort Wolters Flight School
SITUATION: Flying So long
LOCATION: Cam Rahn Bay, Vietnam.
TIME: Before May, 1969
When I was finally able to solo, fly by myself, I took off, I flew in a circle, and I set the aircraft down. Talk about nervous, I was so nervous, if had passed gas, I would house blown a hole in my uniform. You gotta remember, when you fly a helicopter, whatever the current weather is, you take off into the wind, and you land into the wind. The main thing you want to avoid is a still air mass. The reason is in a still air mass, if you try to hover, you are likely to crash into the ground because you don’t have fresh air being blown into your rotors. That was one of the big no-nos. That is why you keep your head on the pivot of situational awareness. It’s like what is the weather like? Where is the wind blowing from? Who or what is close to you, and what do you want to avoid?
Then, when you are airborne and flying, you want to read the signs for wind and weather changes. If you don’t have flags to tell you where the wind is from, you read the grass to see if the wind is blowing across the grass. You have to remember if you approach a hill, the sunny side of the hill will probably have an up-draft. The shady side of the hill will probably have a down-draft. The reason you have to study the weather changes is that if a change occurs, you need to know when it will occur for your flight pattern. When you return to base, the
wind direction will determine what your approach to the base should be and from what direction.
As part of our training, we lifted off, and then, we set down. Then we turned in circles over a set location. We banked right, and then we banked left. We went forward, then, we yawed forward on a set compass heading. We flew in cross winds. We did many things in flying a helicopter that I never suspected would be necessary. It wasn’t until later in Vietnam that I realized why all of it was necessary. One of the things we did not do was that we did not fly in the fog.
My first cross country flight was from the city of Mineral Wells to the city of Cleburne Texas. Of course, Cleburne was my hometown where I grew up. I thought, boy if they could only see me now. I felt like a stud. I didn’t have much time to enjoy the flight because I had to keep my head on a pivot and watch the wind the weather and everything else around me.
One of the things that I, and the others, truly enjoyed occurred when the last student soloed. We found the major near a swimming pool. We grabbed him and carried him to the swimming pool. We let him take off his shoes and his jacket and his wallet. We threw him into the swimming pool. He was good natured about it. Everyone had soloed, and he knew someone was going into the pool.
One day, we were gathered in the classroom for instruction when our chief instructor addressed us. Our chief instructor said: “Men, don’t complain so much. You ask, ‘Why is training so hard?’ Burn into your memory what I’m about to tell you. We train to fight wars. In that training, we train to win wars. For peace to be certain, there is no halfway victory. Only complete victory wins the war and the peace. War is not pretty. War is not glamorous. War is dirty, nasty, filthy, scary as Hell. War is deadly. Deadly to the bone! War will make you piss in your pants. It’ll make you cry for your Mama! But your Mama can’t save you. She can’t get you through to the other side. Only your training can save you. And only large amounts of serious, realistic, strenuous training that sinks in, sinks in all the way to the bone is going to bring you home. Winning a war doesn’t start on the battlefield. Winning starts right here, right now. So, quit complaining, and let’s start winning the war.”
Course, the war in Vietnam was raging. The war was real as was the military draft. As long as I had stayed in college, I was fairly sure I was exempt from the draft. But some things, it seems to me were more pressure filled than the threat of military service. Military service was not a threat to me. It was a way out of an undesirable lifestyle.
The end of the time established for training to fly a helicopter was fast approaching. Therefore, before the end of the training, we received orders on where we would be sent. My orders arrived, and they told me that I was going to Vietnam.
We finished training at Fort Wolters, and we had a choice of going to Fort Rucker, Alabama, or we could...