My mission in Vietnam as a 19 year old aircraft commander was to support special teams such as Tracker Dog, LERPS and Rangers. On one mission I was deployed with a team of Tracker Dogs to Song Be, some 60 kilometers from my base camp at Phuoc Binh. My aircraft was rigged for the team to repel to the ground from the helicopter via ropes.
The area consisted of tall trees and dense jungle. The patrol that called for the team had made a Landing Zone (LZ) by blowing down several tall trees with claymore mines to accommodate the 50 foot rotor system which would allow the aircraft to get low enough so the ropes could reach the ground. The only problem was that the patrol only made the LZ 51 feet in size. This left me six inches from the rotor circumference to the trees.
When I arrived at the location, I lowered the helicopter down into the trees as low as I could. Once I was established in a 50 feet hover off the ground with the gunners ready to return any fire, four of the five men repelled to the ground. The fifth man, the dog handler, then rigged the rope for the dog to repel to the ground. The dog, a 110 pound Black Labrador Retriever, was harnessed and prepared for the repel by the handler. Once the rigging was completed, he carried the dog to the side of the aircraft to repel to the ground As the dog was dropping to the ground the line fouled bring the full weight of the dog, now dangling halfway down the rope, to jerk the helicopter to the right side impacting the trees. Wood was flying everywhere as the blades were chopping the tops of the trees. With all the flying debris the troops on the ground took evasive actions to avoid the falling wood debris. Once I was able to stabilize the aircraft again the handler pulled the dog back into the helicopter to fix the fouled line. Then again the dog was repelled to the ground successfully this time. Once the handler was off the aircraft I raised out of the hover hole and headed back to a small base at Song Be, The helicopter was vibrating so hard that it was difficult to read the instruments.
When we reached Song Be, the aircraft was shutdown to reveal that six to eight inches of the rotor was gone. The honey comb mesh filling in the blade was hanging from each blade almost nine feet. The Tech Sargent at the small base told us that they had no way to really fix the aircraft and that we needed to take the aircraft back to Phuoc Binh base, some 60 kilometers away. The Tech Sargent did however push all the honey comb mesh he could back into the blade and taped it off with Duct Tape. Once he completed the quasi repair, we took off for the base. When we landed at the base, the Maintenance Officer looked at the helicopter and said, “Well you trashed another one Short. We need to give this one back to the taxpayers and get you another one.”
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