Friday, July 28, 2017

Hughes OH-6 Cayuse

Of all the helicopters I saw in Vietnam, I wish I had a chance to take a ride in the Hughes OH-6 Cayuse or Loach as we called them.  The name Loach was an acronym extracted from the three words, Light Observation Helicopter.

A Loach looked like a load of fun to be in.  They always seemed to be in danger, buzzing around close to the trees looking for signs of Vietcong soldiers.  Like a hummingbird, they would flit from location to location quickly and effortlessly.

Recently I owned a Mini Cooper convertible.  I always imagined that buzzing around in that Mini with the top down would be about as close as I would ever get to the feeling of flying in a Loach.

I said in an earlier blog that the Loach won the competition for an Army contract to supply the Army with a light observation helicopter.  The Hughes OH-6 Cayuse beat out helicopters designed by Bell and Fairchild-Hiller.  The helicopter replaced the US Army O-1 Bird Dog, a fixed wing aircraft used by the Artillery for observation and reconnaissance.

The OH-6's capabilities blew away the competition.  It set 23 world records for helicopters in 1966 for speed, endurance and time to climb.  Also it set long distance records that still stand.  In 1966, Robert Ferry flew from Culver City, California to Ormond Beach, Florida, a distance 2,213 miles in fifteen hours.

If you look closely at the picture, just above the strut was mounted a 7.62mm mini gun capable of firing 2,000 to 4,000 rounds per minute.  Wow!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Bell Model OH-58A Kiowa

The Bell Model OH-58A Kiowa did not have a role that I am aware of while I was in Vietnam.  Maybe the reason was they were brand new at the time, first appearing in Vietnam in 1969.  I never saw one used other than for officer transportation.  I read that in the early 70's they were used as an artillery spotter during battles and for battle assessment afterward.

 An early prototype of this helicopter competed for an Army contract with Hughes Aircraft and Fairchild-Hiller in 1965 to supply the Army with a light observation helicopter.  The Hughes OH-6 Cayuse or Loach won the competition.  Hughes however could not build enough OH-6's.  So the Army went back out to bid in 1967.  By that time, Bell had an improved version, the model 206A.  The Army agreed to a contract to purchase the new version from Bell then designated the helicopter an OH-58A Kiowa in honor of the American Indian tribe.

The Army continued on with this helicopter well after Vietnam.  They modified it nine times, creating armed versions as well as versions that served the Canadian, Austrian and Australian Armies.  New Kiowa's were built until 1989.  They are still in service today.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Nui Ba Ra Mountain

In February 1970 I flew from Bien Hoa to FSB Buttons for the first time.  As we approached Buttons, there was this mountain just standing there off to the side.  I was told it was Nui Ba Ra Mountain.

What made it odd looking was it was not part of a range of mountains.  It looked all alone, standing there like a pimple that did not belong.

In early April I spent time on top of Nui Ba Ra.  It was cooler up there.  The cooler temperature was an unexpected surprise.  It felt good when compared with the hotter more humid temperatures below.  There was a great view of the countryside  in every direction.

Our platoon had flown up in the afternoon and then spent the night pulling guard on a small outpost at the summit called LZ Thomas.  LZ Thomas was packed with Army communications equipment.  Our night up there was uneventful.

It was not until I was long out of the Army when I learned that Nui Ba Ra was an ancient volcano that was formed millions of year ago.  It is 2,300 feet high.  There are similar volcanoes in other parts of Vietnam.  A sister mountain, Nui Ba Den, is sixty miles away.  I never had to the chance to go there.

Today, Nui Ba Ra is a destination for the Vietnamese people.  They have a tram that takes visitors to the top from Song Be to enjoy the mountain in the same way I did so long ago.  I wonder if there any remnants of LZ Thomas still up there?  Maybe someday I will get the chance to find out.    

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Bomb Craters from a B-52 Run

During the Cambodian Incursion in May 1970, I passed over an area in the jungle where there had been a recent bombing.  You can see a series of bomb craters, some filled with water from monsoon rains.  The craters were closely packed together so could only be made by B-52 Stratofortresses.

B-52's were originally designed to carry nuclear weapons.  In 1964 the United States decided to use B-52's to drop conventional bombs on Vietnam as part of what was referred to as Operation Arc Light.  The bombers flew from Guam and Thailand, dropped there bomb load then returned.  They provided air support to grunts in Vietnam.

 Each plane, depending on its configuration, carried up to 100 bombs in a mix of 500 and 750 pounders.  I heard they even  dropped 1000 lb. bombs.  Missions normally consisted of a three-plane formation called a cell.  They dropped there bombs at such a high elevation, the enemy below didn't see them or hear them coming until it was too late.

I can remember being in the jungle and hearing off in the distance this low rumble of a noise that continued for about ten seconds then abruptly ended.  I was told it was an arc light.  They say that enemy soldiers that lived through an arc light were found with their ears bleeding, no hearing and mentally lost.  I'm sure they were never the same person again.    

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Rainy Season Mud on a Fire Base

Vietnam during the rainy season could become a mud pit dependent on where you were.

Both snapshots were taken on a firebase in July, about midway through the rainy season.  You can see how thick and heavy the mud was.  It had the consistency of wet cement.  When I walked through it, my boots would become coated with a layer of mud.  If I wasn't careful when stepping forward, especially if the laces on my boots were not tightly tied, I risked stepping right out of my boot and leaving it behind.  The ooze was like a magnet.  It was so bad, we built crude roads from logs as you can see in the picture below so small vehicles would not get stuck in the mud.

During the rainy season, mud was always a problem on a fire base.  Fire bases were built by pushing all vegetation from the center outward exposing the earth below the grasses.  I don't know what it was about that earth that made it so different.  It had a lot of clay in I think.  During the transition between the dry and rainy seasons the earth was at its best.  Not to wet and not to dry.  When overly dry it was like talcum powder.  But when overly wet on a firebase, it was a viscous, sticky mess.

Walking through the jungle, by the way, was fine during the rainy season.  Mud was not an issue out there.  Sure we were soaked a lot and had trouble drying our clothes when in the jungle.  But the grasses that made up the jungle floor was so thick and dense that even though water passed readily through it, our jungle boots did not.

Not having to deal with mud in the jungle may be the only good thing I ever said about being out there.

It was nasty stuff.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Dust Cloud over Candy

This is another snapshot from Fire Support Base Candy in April 1970.  In the background and rising into the sky is another dust cloud.

I said earlier that when we were on Candy pulling guard, the Army was pounding away on Cambodia with large howitzers.  Well those howitzers were fed powder bags and explosive projectiles that were delivered in a steady stream by Chinook helicopters coming in from Bien Hoa.

Chinooks were these large, two bladed helicopters that did most of the heavy lifting in Vietnam. Artillery supplies were loaded in cargo nets and slung from a hook that was tucked up close to the bottom of the helicopter.  Every time a Chinook arrived during the day, it would come in fast, slow to a hover, settle the load to the ground, and then release the cargo net from the hook.  Once the load had been dropped, the Chinook would very quickly lift upward while accelerating forward and within thirty seconds would disappear from sight.

Left behind however was a dust cloud that a grunt at least could not escape from.  As the cloud rolled over us, the sweat on out bodies attracted it like a magnet.  A day of that and we were coated red from head to foot.  Candy was the only firebase I remember where I would have preferred living in the jungle.  

Friday, June 16, 2017

Bird's Eye View of a Small Firebase

This is a birds-eye view of one of the small fire bases we worked from as an infantry soldier.  I took this snapshot while flying above the fire base in a Huey helicopter at around 700 feet.  Those are my knees and another guy's knee at the bottom of the picture.  We were sitting in the open door with our legs swinging in the breeze.  None of us had seat-belts on.  One good push and I never would have been able to provide a description of this picture.

I was member of an infantry battalion called 2nd of the 12th Cavalry.  A battalion was made up of four infantry companies.  Three of those infantry companies patrolled the area around the fire base looking for enemy soldiers to destroy.  The remaining company protected the fire base by guarding from the outside perimeter.

The outside perimeter consisted of a berm or embankment with fighting bunkers spaced evenly around the circle.  The berm was formed by a bulldozer.  Even from 700 feet you can clearly see the berm.  The circle shape was common in there design.  It was easier to defend from a circle.  Settlers moving west in the 1800's learned that lesson when they would circle the wagons.  

Just inside the berm were metal culverts that infantry soldiers slept under.  More toward the center was a supply tent, a cook tent and a 105mm howitzer battery consisting of about six guns.  The howitzers were there to back up the infantry if they were caught in a firefight and needed help.  The maximum range of a 105mm howitzer is seven miles.  So when working the jungle, we always stayed within range of those guns.