Strength & Honor

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Wayne King

Selected Excerpts

Robin Hood & Brotherhood
Wayne King (US Army helicopter pilot)

". . . I've been asked if I was scared flying into an LZ. Well, that depends. Most times I was too busy to be scared.

When we flew formation with other helicopters, the idea was to keep it tight so we would all touch down together in an LZ of limited size, offload the troops, nose it over and take off together; that's better than going in one at a time and giving the enemy more opportunities to shoot us, and it puts more troops on the ground in one landing, a stronger unit instead of weaker pieces.

Flying formation meant staying within one rotor diameter of the next aircraft, usually on a 45 degree angle by visually lining up his near rear skid strut with his far front skid strut, and keeping his rotor plane visually on the horizon so we had three feet of vertical separation in case the rotors overlapped. If the lead aircraft was not sufficiently smooth in turns or deceleration or descent, it was like trying to stay steady in the middle of a slinky though the fun of flying the slinky was diminished by thoughts of certain death from a mid-air collision. I monitored several radios, listening intently for things like "taking fire!" or "go around" if the initial landing attempt was a no-go. As we went in I had to keep the aircraft steady with the others descending and bleeding off airspeed, watching for stumps or booby traps or trees too close to the rotors, always alert for VC popping up to punch our lights out, watching the other aircraft to stay in sync with touchdown, keeping an eye on RPM to make sure we have enough power to keep flying, knowing the troops are just as anxious to get away from the huge target they are riding in and will jump out before touchdown, and mentally preparing for the painfully loud report from my M-60s in the back when my crew chief and door gunner went hot to shoot back or to lay down suppressive fire.

Whether we were inserting troops into an LZ or picking them up in a PZ, who had time to think about being scared?

But if the LZ was hot, and the lead said "Go around" so that we stayed in formation and set up for a second try at a hot LZ where the tracers were already flying, well, the pucker factor escalated and my butt-cheeks sometimes took a big bite out of the seat as I crouched behind my chicken plate and used one finger on the cyclic like Sam showed me. . . ."

Photo courtesy of Wayne King
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