“Captain”, said Sgt Ron, “the Major is running towards us. There must be a problem somewhere. I’ll get the bird ready!”
As Captain Bob, the Aircraft Commander stood up; the Operations Officer stopped in front of him and said “There is an Army unit in trouble about 40 clicks to the Northwest. They need some firepower. Here are the coordinates. The Forward Air Controller’s call sign is Covey Two Five. Radio channel One Five on the UHF, standard Fox Mike. You and Mike get up there and see if you can help.”
Turning to the assembled air crew members, Captain Bob said “O.K. Guys, you heard the Major. Lets crank them up! ”
The two gunships were on alert at the Special Forces camp located at Dak To, Republic of Viet Nam, in the event one of the reconnaissance teams in the field needed fire support or an emergency extraction from a Landing Zone (LZ) by the unit’s transport helicopters, or slicks. They were also available to provide fire support to any unit that was in trouble. Both helicopters carried an Aircraft Commander, First Pilot, two gunners, and were armed with 14 rockets loaded into external rocket pods, and 630 pounds or 9000 rounds of 7.62 millimeter ammunition for their two mini guns. Each rocket weighed about 15 pounds, and was armed with a 7.5 pound High Explosive warhead,. The mini guns with six rotating barrels could fire at a rate of 2,000 or 4,000 rounds a minute. A standard fuel load of 1500 pounds of jet fuel allowed them to remain airborne for about two and a half hours.
After the engine was started and the rotors were up to speed, Captain Bob called for the crew for check in:”Right Gun?” “Right Gun ready.” “Left Gun?” “Left Gun ready.” “Pilot?” “Pilot ready, radio frequencies are set.” “Roger crew.” Switching to Green Hornet common on the Very High Frequency radio, he called “Two check in, and go to Channel one five on UHF”
“Lead, Two is ready to go, monitoring UHF One Five” responded Captain Mike.
Captain Bob switched to the TacticalOperationsCenter frequency on the FM or Frequency Modulated Radio. As he increased power for takeoff, he pressed the radio transmit button and spoke into the microphone: “Hog Heaven, Hog Heaven, this is Barracuda Lead departing your location with a flight of two.”
“Roger, Barracuda Lead, Hog Heaven will be standing by.”
Changing the radio to Ultra High Frequency, he called: “Covey Two Five, Barracuda Lead on channel one five, we are airborne, estimating your location in two five minutes with a flight of two guns.”
“Roger, Barracuda Lead, Covey Two Five copies.”
The flight climbed to an altitude of 5000 feet mean sea level and leveled off at a cruising speed of 80 nautical miles per hour, which is close to 95 miles per hour. The altitude was selected to place the helicopters at least 3000 feet above the ground. At this height they were out of range of most standard thirty caliber weapons carried by enemy forces.
Twenty minutes later, Barracuda Lead turned up the valley towards the coordinates given for the location of the ground party and the Forward Air Controller, or FAC. Under the Rules of Engagement that the Green Hornets and all U.S. Air Force aircraft followed, weapons could only be discharged when the aircraft was receiving direct fire, or they were under the direct visual and voice control of an air controller. Consequently, the FAC was in charge of all air to ground operations.
“Covey Two Five, Catfish Lead. We have retrieved as many folks as we could, but there are still six left on the ground. All my aircraft are at Bingo Fuel, and we have to head for home. We plan to refuel and come back for the rest of the troops.” Bingo fuel was the code for low on fuel, generally the aircraft had only enough fuel to get home with a few minutes to spare.
“Roger, Catfish lead. Break, Break: Pirate Lead, what is your status?”
“Roger, Covey Two Five, Pirate Lead has about three zero minutes remaining until Bingo Fuel.”
“Roger, Pirate Lead. Break, Break: Barracuda Lead, say position.”
“Covey Two Five, Barracuda Lead is heading up the valley towards your location, currently at 5000 feet. Requesting SITREP (situation report).”
“Roger Barracuda Lead. The ground party is moving to a new LZ. The first one was tight, and the waiting slicks came under fire from the area. The wait for the team to move was longer than anticipated, and the slicks are now out of fuel. They are heading home. Pirate Flight is a set of Army gunships, they are over the remaining team members as they move, and they are down to 30 minutes of fuel. The LZ is about 10 or so clicks (Kilometers) East South East of Dollar Lake. If you know where DollarLake is, you are cleared in to the area.”
“Roger, Covey Two Five, we know the area, and should be there in one zero minutes. Break, Break, Two, this is Lead; we are starting down, go weapons hot.”
“Lead, Two copied SITREP, weapons are hot.”
Over the Target LZ
As he approached the area, Captain Bob spotted the FAC, then he saw the other set of gunships circling the LZ. The new LZ was located in the jungle about a kilometer east of a small mountain ridge. During the original attempt to extract the reconnaissance team from just below the ridge, small arms fire had been received from the ridgeline and one set of Army gunships had been damaged and had to leave the area. This is what forced the team to move.
“Pirate Lead, Barracuda Lead. We have you in sight and the team’s panels in sight. we are approaching from your six o’clock position. We’ll take over protection of the LZ. What is the situation?”
“Roger, Barracuda Lead, We are still getting some fire from the base of the ridge, but the team is not reporting any contact. Could be Charlie is not in pursuit, but you never know. T hanks for the relief; Break, Break, Covey Two Five, Pirate lead clearing the LZ and heading home.”
For the next 30 minutes or so, the helicopters flew protective cover over the ground team, varying their flight path from a racetrack pattern around the LZ into a figure eight pattern, and then into a clover leaf, changing the direction over the LZ on each pass. The sporadic ground fire received from the ridgeline was countered with an occasional pair of rockets and a short burst of fire from the Gatling guns.
Then Covey Two Five contacted the ground party on FM Radio:” Spyglass One Zero, this is Covey.”
“Roger, Covey, this is Spyglass One Zero.”
“Sorry Spyglass One Zero, there is a problem with refueling Catfish Flight. They won’t be able to get back until morning. How does it look to RON (Remain over Night) at your location?”
“Roger Covey, understand no Catfish; Wait one.”
A Decision is Made
Switching to Green Hornet Common, Captain Bob radios: “Barracuda Two, Lead; Mike what is your status? I’d like to get those guys out.”
“Lead, Two is down to about 30 minutes fuel until Bingo. Let’s get them.”
“Covey Two Five, Barracuda Lead: It will be dark in another 45 minutes; Barracuda flight can lighten up our aircraft, and take three at a time out of that LZ.”
“Spyglass One Zero, Barracuda says he and his wingman can reduce their aircraft weight and pull you out, three at a time. That is, if you don’t mind riding in a gunship.”
“Covey, Spyglass One Zero: Roger, Roger, Roger, Bring them in!”
“Covey Two Five, Barracuda Lead on FM: We are going to expend as much of our ammunition as possible, then we will jettison the rest. Break, Break: Spyglass one Zero, when we come in, approach the helicopter from the nose of the aircraft. Put two folks on one side, and one on the other. Get into the cabin ahead of the guns. If you go past the guns and try to get in from the back, there is no room and you will be left behind. I Repeat, climb in ahead of the guns!”
“Roger, Barracuda: Approach from the nose, two on one side, one on the other, climb in ahead of the gun. Spyglass out.”
“Barracuda Flight, Covey Two Five. You are cleared to engage.”
“Roger, Covey. Break, Break: Barracuda Two, this is Lead; I am going to expend the rest of my rockets, strafe with the guns, and then jettison the remaining ammunition when I turn into the LZ. I am down to 900 pounds of fuel, so going Winchester (Out of Ammunition) should bring the weight down by about 1600 pounds. Plenty light to go into the LZ and get back up.”
“Roger Lead, Two copies, we will go in when you come out”
Switching to intercom, Captain Bob briefed his crew. “Here is what is going to happen. I‘ll shoot the rest of the rockets at the ridgeline. When I break left, I want the right gun to fire at the ridge, and the left gun to fire directly below the aircraft. Left Gun, remember there is a small team about 600 meters to our left. When I start to roll out, cease fire and start dumping all of your remaining ammunition over the side. Then get set to talk me down through the trees. This looks like a three canopy jungle, so keep me out of the trees. Keep your rifles close in case we take fire. Are there any question?” There were none. Switching back to the FM Radio, He said: “Spyglass, Covey, and Barracuda Two; Lead is starting in.”
Captain Bob maneuvered his helicopter until he was just off to the side of the LZ, high enough to see the orange colored panel marking the team’s location, and perpendicular to the ridge. He marked the location of the team’s panel in his mind, and when he was several hundred meters past the LZ he opened fire, sending his remaining rockets, two at a time towards the ridge. As he banked to the left, both guns opened fire.
Continuing around in a 180 degree turn, he rolled level and started to slow down as he approached the landmarks he had noted before, bringing the helicopter into a hover over the LZ.
Normally, the pilot has plenty of room to land his aircraft, and can look around to make sure he is clear of all obstacles. However, when descending into a jungle LZ, the pilot has to concentrate on flying the helicopter, and can not spend a lot of time looking around. He depends upon his crew to talk him through the trees, both going down and coming up.
“Right Gun has the panels in sight; you are 120 feet above ground, clear to start down. Right side is clear; tail rotor is clear, clear forward”
“Left side is clear, tail is clear, move forward a bit, stop, continue down”
“Move left, tail is clear, below the first canopy, 90 feet above ground, now clear right.”
“Clear left, clear forward, tail is clear, 75 feet, clear second canopy, continue down.”
“Clear right and forward, move forward, stop; continue down, tail is clear.”
“Tail is clear all the way down, below third canopy, clear to the ground on the left, team in sight”
“Clear to the ground on the right, ten feet up, five, touch down, two team members approaching from the right.”
“One team member on the left; climbing in; on board!”
“One on board on the right; second member on board; clear to lift out.”
“Barracuda Lead on Fox Mike, Coming Out.”
Applying power, Captain Bob started the helicopter climbing almost straight up. His gunners immediately began their chatter.
“Looks good; tail rotor clear, at 40 feet.”
“Stay to the left, tail is clear, main rotor is clear, 75 feet”
“Still clear left, 90 feet, tail is clear, main rotor is clear.”
“A few more feet to go, 20 feet, 10 feet, clear of the trees. Two is at our six about 100 meters back”
As he accelerated and picked up airspeed, Captain Bob spoke to his crew:” Good job, guys, I appreciate you talking me down. I’m coming back over the LZ, so keep your eye on Two.” He then set up a crossing pattern over the LZ, which allowed his crew to observe the other helicopter and keep up a running commentary on his wing man’s location. Barracuda Two’s descent through the jungle canopies seemed to take forever, but in reality it was probably less than a minute to get down, 15 seconds on the ground, and another minute to climb out of the jungle.
“Two is coming out” was a welcome radio transmission.
“Sir, Right Gun, Two is coming up, half way now. Almost to the top. O.K. he is clear of the last canopy and starting to accelerate.”
Heading for Home
“Two, this is lead. Coming up on your seven o’clock, turn to heading 165 degrees, continue climbing. Break Break: Covey Two Five, Barracuda Lead. We have all team members on board both of our aircraft, and are heading for Hog Heaven. Let their home unit know where they can be picked up. We should be there in less than three zero Minutes.”
“Roger Barracuda Lead, thanks for picking them up. You guys do good work!”
“You are welcome, Covey.” Switching to FM: “Hog Heaven, Hog Heaven: Barracuda flight inbound to your location. Two five minutes out, with three extra souls on board each aircraft. We will need fuel.”
“Roger Barracuda Flight, welcome home. Hog Heaven, out”
Both Aircraft Commanders were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with a “V” device for Valor. Each of the remaining crewmembers was awarded the Air Medal for their roles in the extraction.