15 October 2005

Gunfighter Diary Desert Shield 14 Sep 90

14 SEP 90

Finally have a no fly day. Friday was our safety stand down, we talked about the very basics, area safety (ground and air), checklists, etc...The amount of time spent was about right for me, 3-4 hours, and no one harped on boring subjects. Not much else going on, no mail came. Sat around in the shop and stayed out of the way, talked to my guys about the great job they’ve done while everything was spooling up and getting settled in over here. Try not to overstress it but think about it every day. Don’t care if someone doesn’t salute me, but I will help someone out who is going to fast or hasn’t put their brain bucket on. We can’t afford to lose anyone. The 53 crash on Thursday was the straw that broke the camel’s back, they tried to take off from the pits with only one of their three engines rolled up. Wasn’t a very long flight. Let’s see, since we’ve been here, the Army has crashed a helo at night, on NVGs, a Cobra from the East Coast crashed on goggles, browned out in a hover, one of our Cobra guys flew around the pattern with an engine intake pillow still in, wondering why his EGT was so high, one of our Hueys went “skiing” while on goggles, a shitter sawed a foot off all 7 of his blades, lopped off the tail rotor of another 53, fragging his crew chief and punching a hole in a Saudi Super Puma’s fuel tank. Luckily, it was the squadron CO, he’s almost an Iraqui ace now. Meanwhile I feel like I’ve flown more conservatively here than I do at CamPen or 29 Palms. The Army balls up their helos on NVGs so much so they even have a quick reaction force recovery package to go get them when they do. Kind of their cost of doing business, doing the best they can given their mission and equipment. The guys that crashed the other night had very little moon and plenty of haze. We have tried to work into it since being over here, flying with high illum and working up to the hard stuff. This concept of flying in low level illum on NVGs is new, but much preferred to flying unaided. We probably have more low level illumination NVG flying than the other Marine units around here, probably double what the transport guys have. It hasn’t been too long since we were flying around with cutaway PVS-5s, strapped to our helmets with surgical tubing and counterbalanced with a lead shot bag. I’ve doubled my NVG hours this year.
The two 53 incidents were total “boneheads”, which happens too frequently, and both in broad daylight. One guy forgot to roll up two of his three engines before he took off, so the worlds’ most powerful helicopter just became an overpowered Huey. “Gee, sure feels kind of mushy today...”. I feel fortunate flying Slugs for several reasons. First, I get to fly a lot, thereby increasing proficiency, feel for the aircraft, and situational awareness. Second, when we fly, we routinely operate close to our maximum operating weight vs. a transport guy who booms around empty a lot of the time, carrying only a fraction of their combat load. They don’t get to fly as much, even less exploring at the edge of the envelope. Third, the Huey is the easiest and cheapest Navy/Marine Corps helo to maintain, and it’s combat/civilian proven. And last are the missions, we usually get to fly them all. “Jack of all trades, Master of none” is the quote I will attribute to Hammer, an HT-8 flight instructor who clued me, Injun and Mooch in on the bennies of flying the airborne jeep.
We have a good squadron, great maintenance department and super pilots. There’s no one here I worry about flying with, because I know I will learn something on every flight. Yes, even Spot. He is good at compartmentalizing, and is by far the squadron’s best pilot, so if you don’t take the opportunity to learn what you can from him, you’re stupid. He leaves his work at his desk when he goes flying. He is demanding, better not be out of position, but it is a positive challenge. The Hueys have a tradition of doing the “mostest with the leastest’, , which keeps us from doing bonehead stuff some of the time. The guys who went skiing over the dunes came about as close as you can come to buying the farm. The crew later said they knew that they were below 100 feet and still couldn’t see the ground. The first indication was when their position lights started casting a glow on the sand. We were out at the same time and had decided to go admin, climb to 1000 feet because the visibility was too low with the haze. You either have to stay real low or go high. When we‘re shooting an approach and the vis is low, I’m in the “boat mode”, calling altitude and airspeed trends to the guy flying until we can pick up some visual cues. Flat sand doesn’t offer much help. There were lots of dark nights off the boat, no moon and lots of water vapor to cut the visibility down. The haze here works in a similar fashion.

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