Saturday, January 26, 2019

FRIENDLY FIRE!

Here is my story, "Friendly Fire!"


25 Sept, 1966, 1915 hours;
265 degrees, 12 miles off Dong-Ha TACAN.
            It was a very similar mission to story number one, another perilous night medevac at Mutter Ridge.  This time the Marines  were being overrun by the North Vietnamese Army troops. Lots of wounded Marines needed a ride to Delta Med. 
           We launched out in our H-34’s, called Landshark Charlie to quell the outgoing artillery, and flew towards the landing zone (LZ). In this case, I was riding co-pilot for Captain Peter Janss, a senior captain.  Capt. Janss was the flight leader and would direct the other helicopter with its accompanying corpsman, into the hot LZ.  Again I was along for the ride, and felt very safe, as we, the lead helicopter, would not be required to go down into the LZ unless no. 2 crashed or was shot down. I felt there was a slim chance of that happening, as it was being flown by a very aggressive, very experienced junior captain.  I was pretty comfortable with the whole mission. Always somewhat apprehensive, but comfortable. 
            Flying no. 2 in YR-3 were pilot in command Capt. Phillip Ducat and co-pilot 1/Lt. Dean W. Reiter.  Crewmen were Arthur W. Green, Vernon H. Parker, and Navy Corpsman Robert P. Bossman.  I had known Dean through most of flight school, knew his wife, and had partied at his house in New River, N.C. prior to Vietnam.
            As we neared the LZ, we switched radio frequencies to connect with the grunts.  As in the previous story, there was a heavy battle going on, lots of shooting in the background, and the grunt radio operator breathed heavily as he exerted himself to avoid getting shot. In this case, the radio operator asked us if we would orbit for a while, as they were “not ready” for us yet.  Big understatement, as they soon got over-run by the enemy.
            We were relieved as to not to have to go into the LZ yet. Capt. Janss put us into an race-track orbit at a nice cozy, safe 4,000 feet, about two or three miles from the raging battle. Here we waited, monitoring the radio, waiting for the call.  Things could not have been safer.  We were over an area of high brush, the valley of the Cam Lo River.  If we had an engine failure, we would have probably been able to land in the river bed, where our wingman could swoop down to rescue us.  Of course, we were there for him, too. I was enjoying the night scenery, what little there was of it. Mostly, it was dark and grey outside. I was lulled into a place of complacency by the loud drone of the huge Wright Cyclone 1525 horsepower 1820-84-A nine cylinder radial engine.  There was no muffler on this engine, and the exhaust exited at my side about five feet from my left ear.  The constant roar was almost like a numbing lullaby.
            Escorting us were two Huey gunships, call sign Klondike, in case Capt. Ducat needed to have them suppress enemy fire while he descended into the hot landing zone. This was a true emergency medevac; the Marines in the field were in danger of dying if we did not get to them right away.  
            We had a crude pilot’s ready room at Dong Ha where we waited to be called out.  It was a simple plywood deck with a canvas over the top of the rafters similar to our living hootches. Inside were a few rows of plywood benches, covered with nagahyde cushions. In the corner by the door, was a plain military desk with a field phone on it. The duty officer sat at the desk. We all waited for the phone to ring to call us out on a mission. While waiting all night, we wrote letters home, read books, ate our meals brought from the mess hall, talked among ourselves, played cards or napped as best we could on the hard plywood benches
            The rating system for medevac missions had three levels, routine, priority and emergency.  Routine medevacs were those Marines who had a minor wound or illness, but were in no immediate danger. Priority medevacs were those fellows who were worse off, but were in no danger of dying right away; these could wait a few hours. Emergency medevacs were when wounded Marines might die right away if not taken to a field hospital immediately. We flew only emergency medevacs after dark
            Often, the three-call scenario often happened like this:  The field phone would ring, the duty officer would have a conversation with the unit requesting a medevac. Usually, his response was, “No. Sorry, we cannot launch out on a routine medevac at night, call us back at first light.”  Then he would hang up, but we all knew what would often happen next. About 20 minutes later, the shrill, irritating sound of the field phone would again awaken us from our uncomfortable sleeping on the padded boxes. Again the duty officer would take the call, listen to the request from the field, and once again explain, “No, sorry we cannot fly a priority medevac until first light. Call back at first light.”
            Not always, but frequently enough to make us nervous after the first two calls, the phone would ring for the third time.  “Emergency medevac, pilots man your aircraft!” While the pilots gathered around the duty officer to get the briefing, the copilots rushed out to the rice paddy to start the helicopter engines, turn up the rotors and begin systems checks. We tried to be off the ground within five minutes after any alert.
            Many times, the sequence of calls were for the same trooper, but his field sergeant kept up-grading the level of medevac until he got his trooper a ride.  Sometimes we went out to the field to see the “badly wounded” trooper walk to the aircraft. Sometimes the trooper would be carried to the helicopter on a stretcher, only to be miraculously healed during the flight, as he would then get up off the stretcher and walk into Delta Med. At times like this we learned that the trooper had not got his orders until this day that he was due to go on R&R or rotate home. He did not want to miss his flight. We always got a little perturbed when we put our lives on the line to see a healthy Marine benefit from  our risky efforts.
            This current mission was for real; there were once again severely wounded Marines on Mutter Ridge badly in need of a ride to Delta Med to save their lives. We orbited, awaiting the call from the grunts that the LZ was safe to enter.
            As we orbited, “fat, dumb and happy,” we suddenly flew into violent turbulence.  I have since related it to the feeling you would have if you rode your bicycle off smooth pavement and started riding between the rails and along the cross-ties of a railroad track. I was nearly being shaken out of my seat. At the same time or a few milliseconds after the turbulence began, there was a mighty whooshing, roaring sound which was like the sound you might hear if you were to be standing right below a railroad trestle with your head between the ties when a high-speed freight train rumbled overhead.  It sounded like a locomotive was going right through my helmet. I was scared and wanted to react, but didn’t know what to do or how to do it. Capt. Janss was driving the helicopter; he was the mission commander. There was not a thing I could do but stay put, strapped tightly down by my seat belt and shoulder harness. 
            The noise and turbulence ceased as abruptly as they had begun, before either of us could click the mike and say the usual “What the fuck, over?” Then an intense bright glow flooded the cockpit.  I turned my head to the left to see it’s source. What I saw has been burned into my memory forever, and will never leave me. No. 2 H-34 had exploded and was being consumed  in an intense sun-bright fireball right there off my wing, not 200 feet away.
            These H-34 helicopters are made of magnesium alloy. This alloy is difficult to ignite, but once it ignited, the whole helicopter will burn to ash in 15 seconds on the ground.  Here in the night sky, with the fire fanned by the 100 mph forward speed of the helicopter, and fed by 100 gallons of high octane 115/145 (purple) aviation fuel, I don’t think the fireball lasted more than five to ten seconds before the entire machine was gone.
            The helicopter began to slow down, started an ever-increasing rate of descent as it plunged from the sky. Burning brightly, dripping molten bits of aircraft fell away as it disintegrated. As I watched, about 1000 feet below us, the rotor system departed the helicopter and spun its way off into the darkness of the black sky, illuminated by the diminishing fireball of the falling, burning hulk.  Plunging further down into the black abyss, the fireball became smaller and smaller and became less white hot until it cooled down to yellow, then to a glowing red ember, then winked out below, probably when it hit the ground. 
            The two pilots, two crewmen and the Navy Corpsman never had a chance.  I triggered the mike and said to Capt. Janss, “Sir, they shot down our wingman!”  Then I had a moment of sheer panic as I realized that if they could shoot down our wingman, they could shoot us down too.  I assumed that the enemy had somehow shot down no. 2.  I did not want to die horribly, right here in the sky of South Vietnam, like my five squadron mates had just done! Had I not been tightly strapped in, I might have tried to jump out.   
                        We scrubbed the rest of the mission and returned to base.  I don’t have any idea if another set of crews went out to help the wounded Marines. After landing I went to the tent, but then I felt I had to be alone. I went out back by the bunker and looked up into the dark night sky that had just consumed my five buddies. I tried to make sense of all that had happened. Why? Why them, not me? How, why did this happen? I had the beginning pangs of survivor guilt. This was my second hairy mission in just a few weeks; the first hairy mission a month earlier, hovering over a battle, then this huge shock to my system. I was in a state of total emotional numbness. I immediately jumped to the assumption that there was no way I was going to survive this war.  I had been in Vietnam only about 8 weeks; I still had eleven months to go. I felt doomed.
            After thinking on it for a few days, I determined that I would not give up. I would do my job as best I could. I would be vigilant and careful. Maybe, just maybe, somehow I would survive this war. Somehow I did, but not without several more hairy events!
            The cause of this mishap was a miscommunication. While we were orbiting, the Marines on Mutter Ridge were being overrun by the enemy. The battle on the hill had devolved to hand-to-hand combat. In this case, the grunts called for emergency artillery, which overrode our previous request to hold fire. Because we were off frequency, or perhaps because Landshark forgot to broadcast the emergency mission, we were not aware of it.  The safe place Capt. Janss chose to orbit was right in the path of the huge 155mm artillery shells. We, in the lead ship, had flown right between two salvos of huge 155 howitzer rounds.  Our wingman was not so lucky.
            I have since read an account since from the Klondike gunship escort helicopter pilots. They were following YR-3, and had a front row seat to this event. They reported that they observed the big artillery shell passing right through the cockpit of YR-3. I do not believe the shell that impacted YR-3 exploded. It simply passed through the helo, ripping electrical lines and rupturing fuel cells. I was very wrong about the enemy doing this, but “they” still had almost shot us down, too. I also read recently that the bodies of the two crewmen were found on the ground. They must have been blown clear, or jumped to their deaths to avoid incineration in the violent fire.
            I have read that in World War One, air crews often had to choose between “wet” or “dry” death as their flaming aircraft plunged from the sky.  Perhaps these two chose to die “dry.”


This is an excerpt from my book, available on amazon.com as a paperback or an ebook.


https://www.amazon.com/Adventures-Helicopter-Pilot-helicopter-Vietnam/dp/1500936138/ref=sr_1_1?s=books
&ie=UTF8&qid=1420783861&sr=1-1&keywords=collier+helicopters-->



Sunday, July 22, 2018

H-34 Charlie never looked so good!




A beautiful young lady approached us this week asking if she could do a photo shoot at H-34 Charlie.
She has invented an easy-to-use concealed-carry holster for women (and men, too).
Of course we agreed.
How could we not?
Here are some pictures from the photo shoot with smashingly beautiful Kristina:







The concealed - carry holster she created.



For those of you who want to buy your sweetie something unique for a birthday or
Christmas present, take a look at this:     (soon to be available in several colors.

KCARRYholsters.com
1.800.936.3305

Captain Bill Collier, who writes this blog, adopted H-34 Charlie in early 2011 when he learned that the old hulk was about to be shredded if no one adopted it. He rallied his friends at Vietnam Veterans Chapter 890, Sandpoint, Idaho, and they unanimously agreed to support Bill's effort to save the old beastie. it will never fly again, but they tow it through town for the 4th of July Parade and other functions. If you want to know more and see pictures, see previous posts. 

If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation to the cause, donations are always appreciated.  Send a check to Vietnam Veterans of America, Charlie project, P O  Box 2014, Sandpoint, ID 83864

Captain Collier flew about 7,000 hours in helicopters over 32 years. A majority of his flight time was in H-34s. flew more than 40 different models of helicopter. That is if you count the H-34 C, D, G, J, and T models as different models. He also flew UH-1s, the H, N, Super Huey, Cobra, and several other versions of the Huey. He flew several versions of the Jet Ranger, including one cobbed together from various models know as the "Jet Stranger."
He also flew Hiller 1100s, and flew the French-built Alouette III on Forest Service contracts in California. 

Capt. Collier has written two books about his flying experiences. The first one is: 

https://www.amazon.com/Adventures-Helicopter-Pilot-helicopter-Vietnam/dp/1500936138/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=undefined&sr=1-1&keywords=The+Adventures+of+a+Helicopter+pilot++bill+collier

And the second one is about his experience flying helicopters in Laos for Air America, the air force of the CIA:

https://www.amazon.com/CIA-Super-Pilot-Spills-Beans/dp/1547225327/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1512543002&sr=1-1&keywords=collier+cia

If you buy his books, he sincerely requests that you go to amazon and write him a review. 
Thanks.







Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Marine Helicopters in Korea ... the H-19.

The H-19 was the predecessor to the H-34.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aK2P7xFQQU8

At this time, the Marine Corps called it the "Cavalry of the Skies."

The U S Army later co-opted the name and called it the Air Cavalry, or Air Cav.

A reminder: I wrote a book about flying H-34 in Vietnam.
If you have read my book, I ask you to be so kind as to go to amazon and write a review.
Thank you. It has a rating of 4.7 stars with more than 50 reviews.

https://www.amazon.com/Adventures-Helicopter-Pilot-helicopter-Vietnam/dp/1500936138/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=undefined&sr=1-1&keywords=The+Adventures+of+a+Helicopter+pilot++bill+collier

If you have not bought and read my book, then please consider doing so.
Paperbacks are $20.00;  ebooks are $5.00.

Any interest in an audio version?  if so,
email me at captwilco@gmail.com

I also wrote a second book about flying for Air America in Laos called,
"CIA Super Pilot Spills the Beans."
Also available on amazon; same prices.
This book has a 4.6 rating with more than 30 reviews.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Helicopter strikes vehicle; thousands lost!

For several years now, we have been towing Helicopter Charlie to the "LOST in 50's" old time car show in downtown Sandpoint. We love our old 1957 H-34 helicopter and plan to keep using it to gather donations for our basic cause of helping veterans in need, and attracting new members.  This past May was no exception, only this time we had a little mis-hap.

When our tow driver was making a turn to position the old H-34 into position, he swung the turn a little too wide, causing the tail of the helicopter to swing around and  scrape along the side of one of the show cars ... a candy apple red 1971 Chevy El Camino SS! It was a beautiful car ... until then.

I was walking the tail just to avoid such a problem. I could see that the tail was going to hit the Chevy, and I yelled loudly for the driver to stop. He did not hear me.

We have since bought a pair of walkie-talkies to prevent such future accidents.

Here is the broken tail handling handle of the helicopter, showing 
where it finally  stopped scraping along the side of the auto.


This shows where we broke off the side view mirror. 
Amazingly enough, the driver's window was not broken.



Close up shots of the damage to the front of the door area.
The windshield wqs broken in two places.
The descending part of the vinyl roof was ruined, 
necessitating an complete new vinyl top.




All the dirt came from inside the tail of the old machine, 
 where it accumulated as it sat in the desert near 
Tucson, AZ for decades.



I truly expected the owner of the Chevy to look me up and poke me in the eye. 
He did not. He was very philosophical about the whole thing. 
Love those mellow Canadians.


Front side panel where the tail first impacted.


At the end of the car show, the owner of the Chevy got a trophy. 
The Hardship trophy goes to the person who had the most trouble 
getting their car to and into the car show. 

What could be more trouble than getting hit by a helicopter?



Damage to the left front quarter panel.



A few months later, the chicken have come home to roost, so to speak. The total bill for this event was just over $6,000 Canadian. Too bad we didn't settle it sooner when the Canadian dollar was weaker. 6k Canadian is going to be about $5,000 US.

Our tow meister requested that this not be put on his auto insurance. I could only agree. So I have paid this out of pocket, and am now asking H-34 Charlie fans to contribute to the cause and make a small donation.
Please send a few bucks to:

Vietnam Veterans of America

Chapter  890

attn: H-34 Charlie fund

P O Box 2014
Sandpoint
ID 83864

Be sure to write "for H-34 Charlie" on the check.
All donations are tax deductible under our 501 3 C (or whatever that number is).
Your help will be greatly appreciated.


Should we gather more than the required amount, any balance will go to help veterans in need.

Thank you for your continued support.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

I was a "CIA Super Pilot" for AIR AMERICA--press release

https://www.amazon.com/CIA-Super-Pilot-Spills-Beans/dp/1547225327/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1513635208&sr=8-1&keywords=a+cia+super+pilot+spills+the+beans

here is the press release about my new book:

https://www.prlog.org/12687388-cia-super-pilot-spills-the-beans-now-an-amazon-bestseller.html

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Helicopter RVs

I found this article about Winnebago making RV's from H-55s and H-34s.
I believe I may have flown one of these after it was reconfigured back to utility status.



https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=191&v=MJRlQrN8RAY

Monday, May 15, 2017

Close Calls

CLOSE CALLS

            “Did you ever have any close calls?” is almost always the first question I get whenever I tell people I flew helicopters for 32 years. My immediate response is, “Yes, of course.” I read recently a report by an old-time WW2 fighter pilot. When asked that same question, his response was, “Every time I take one of these sumbitches off the ground it’s a close call!” I can honestly say I came up with the same phrase before I read it in that WW2 pilot’s book.
And … I can beat his story.

One day I had a close call before I even started my engine.

I got my aircraft assignment from operations at Udorn. I walked out to my H-34 on the ramp, did my pre-flight inspection, and climbed into the H-34 to prepare for a normal six-day trip up country. I began the pre-start check-off checklist:

            First item:                 Battery switch                                 ON      I pushed it down.

            Second item:           Electrical driven fuel pump          ON      I toggled it up.

I checked the fuel pressure gauge: fuel pressure within normal limits.

What wasn't within normal limits was the spray of raw fuel jetting from behind the instrument panel. The gage was known as a “direct reading” gage which means that a small fuel line from the fuel pump was connected directly to the back of the gauge. That line had broken off at the back of the gage. Raw fuel of the highest octane began to spray all over me and the cockpit. It quickly filled the cockpit with a mist of highly volatile fuel-air mixture. Raw fuel in the proper fuel-air mixture is more explosive than dynamite! The smell of raw fuel filled my nostrils.
Fuel was running down the back of the instrument panel, past several switches and dripping onto the radio console below. None of the radios was yet turned on, but the relays and busses to them might now be hot with electricity. The smallest spark would ignite that fuel vapor. I knew I would not survive the explosion. I also knew that even if it did not explode, as soon as the raw fuel reached any ignition source there would be fire.
I had to make an instantaneous decision. Quicker than you can snap your fingers, I had to choose between abandoning the helicopter or trying to correct the situation by switching the battery switch to the OFF position. I knew that if I jumped out of the helicopter, the fuel would continue to flow. If (when!) the helicopter caught on fire, the magnesium alloy would soon ignite and in 15 seconds the entire helicopter would be violently consumed. Jumping out would have also put my Flight Mechanic (FM) at risk. He stood beside the helicopter with a fire extinguisher at the ready, as he always did, in case of an engine fire on start. What we were facing here was much more dangerous that an engine fire on start.
Did I want to leave my FM with an explosive situation while I ran away? Did I want to risk being some of the ashes? Should I bail or stay? I might escape with nothing more than fuel-soaked clothing, but the helicopter might very well burn up, and we both might be badly hurt or killed trying to extinguish the fire or by the exploding helicopter.
            No, I could not bail out and put my FM at risk. I never had an FM I did not like and respect. I did not wish to put him at risk.
            I quickly snapped the battery switch up to the OFF position. There was no spark. It seems I made the right decision.