As a special teams pilot in Vietnam flying for the Battalion operations (S3) I was always subject to some odd missions even for the Army. One such odd mission was a Sniffer Mission. Yes, I did said Sniffer. The Army tried many things in Vietnam with helicopters, but a sniffer mission, that was the onecraziest yet.
On this mission we were to survey, with this sniffer machine, an area in Tay Ninh province. close to the Cambodian border. There were reports of battalion size movement in the area, but hunter killer teams could not find them moving in large formations. So, the next illogical step was to try and sniff them out.
A sniffer machine works on tracing ammonia smells that is given off by human and animal perspiration, but in order to have the machine detect these ammonia odor, I must fly the aircraft at 40 knots and on the treetops. At this altitude and airspeed the helicopter is in the kill zone for small to medium weapons fire. Regardless to say I was not a happy camper pulling this mission.
The morning of the mission I landed at 0700 hours in Tay Ninh City at the compound of the Blue Max, a company of hunter killer teams, to have the machine attached to my helicopter and pick up my gun escort. As the machine was being installed, they briefed us about the survey area and the type of grid search pattern they would use. When the briefing concluded, the sniffer machine was ready to go. I took off for the search area with one Cobra gunship and one OH-6 LOCH. When we reached the area myself and the LOCH descended to the treetops and slowed to 40 knots of indicated airspeed.
Our grid search started along a dike line and would continue north to the Cambodian border. But we never made it that far. After only 100 yards along the dike, we had a big hit on the sniffer, but no weapons fire. The operator of the machine said, “Go around and come back over this area again. I want to confirm this as a positive reading.”
As we made our turn back to the area the hair on the back of my neck was standing straight up and my butt cheeks had a tight hold on my seat. I barked, “Be ready boys.”
The hairs on the back of my neck never lie and they didn’t lie to me this either. When we came back over the contact area we were lit up. As soon as I heard the first round hit the aircraft I nosed the helicopter over to gain speed and get out of range of the weapons fire.
Over the radio you could here the LOCH driver exclaiming, “Taking Fire Taking Fire Identify smoke.”
The Cobra driver replied, “Roger, I have Goofy Grape.”
LOCH said, “Confirm Goofy Grape. Put your rockets just south of the smoke.”
Cobra replied, “Rolling in hot.”
As the Cobra was firing rockets into the contact area my self and the LOCH took up a position clear of the area. I confirmed no wounded and all engine instruments in the green.
The Loch driver asked, “Have you had your cherry popped?”
I replied, “Twice. “Why do you ask?”
Loch said, “Well, you just made your third time. Looks like your tail boom has taken a whole clip of AK rounds.”
I replied, “Great. When we get back to base the crew and i can play connect the dots.”
Cobra interjected saying, “Ladies you ready to go back to base? I need more rockets.”
Afterwards troops were called in to sweep the area. And my crew, we called it a day.
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