Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Secret Nest of H-34's

Last August we took Charlie to the experimental Aircraft Association's fly in. (See post for 8/14/1012). While there a pilot wandered up to the old helicopter and said to us, "I was just over in (somewhere west of us.) There is a fellow over there who has a bunch of these things and he flies them all. I had to know more(!!!) How can this be that there are a lot of H-34's flying in my greater neighborhood and I did not know about it? I asked the fellow for more information.

He said a fellow had a helicopter company called XYZ  Helicopters. He flies the helicopters for one reason only, to dry off the cherries in the cherry orchards after spring rain showers. I had to know more; I did an internet search and found the company. I called the owner and talked to him. He invited me to come visit anytime. Sure enough, he has seven old H-34's which he flies only for drying cherries. It is a fact that if the ripe cherries get wet from a spring shower, they split and are worthlesss. By flying over the cherry trees low and slow after a rain shower, the rotor downwash shakes the branches, knocking most of the water off them and helps to dry the rest of the water off. He told me he will pay about $90,000 for a flyable old H-34 and pay for it the first season. The farmers in the area have doubled their crop since he has been drying them. What a great way to make use of these old machines...and make some big bucks, too.

Flash forward to today. Upon returning from a trip to Portland, I decided to detour to this remote airport and see if I could find this owner and his high flying cherry drying service. When I arrived at the the airport all was quiet. Then I saw an object of extreme beauty:
H-19 all decked out in HMR-161 Korean War colors
H-19  HR-4

I knew I was getting close, but there was nothing else in sight.  At first, I saw only one hangar at this small airport and there seemed to be no activity at all.  I began to walk around;  behind a small storage building which was blocking my view, I spotted another H-19.  This one was all decked out in red and black and had a civilian registration, N855TC.

H-19    N855TC
(More accurately, with a civilian designation, this in an S-55)
I have never seen this window configuration on any helicopter.  This one has it on both sides.
It must have been some kind of airliner or sight seeing helicopter at one time, but there was no one around to ask.

I found out an hour later, that the two H-19's/S-55's belong to another company.  They also do cherry drying.  In addition to the two helicopter outside, they had three more in their hangar in various stages of overhaul.  It seems like very simple work--just high hover-taxi over the cherry trees.
Some of the H-19's have been converted to turbine engines.
As I explored further, I saw another hangar further down the field. There were no doors on the end of it facing me. As I walked around to the other end of it I saw something that made my heart glad. Inside this hangar were seven H-34s! It was H-34 heaven!

I explained myself to their very tight security and was allowed to inspect the helicopters. They had a variety of colors and markings. One was all painted up as and UGLY ANGEL of HMM-362, Vietnam fame. I believe it may have actually been in Vietnam with HMM-362, but this will require more investigation to confirm. It was very clean. YL-38 for those of you who know HMM-362. BuNo 148786. Civilian designation N7936C

Here are all seven of the H-34's. The seventh one is tucked into the right corner and is painted white, making it very difficult to see. I took hundreds of pictures and will be posting more soon. One interesting note is that one of the H-34s had the N number of N79AR. I flew that particular H-34 in Alaska in 1983 and 1984 for a company called BRISTOL BAY HELICOPTERS. More on that later, too. I had to climb up into it and sit in the right seat for a while. An old friend and I reunited!

DO NOT make an impromptu visit to this area and try to find these helicopters.  I was fortunate that I was able to talk myself past security, but usually visitors are highly discouraged and security is tight!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Big Snake at Khe Sahn

Yesterday I won the First Prize in the Idaho Writers League annual writing contest, short humor category, for this short story about Vietnam: THE SNAKE The recon Marines patrolling the jungle out of Khe Sahn, Viet Nam, in the summer of 1966, encountered a large snake of the boa constrictor variety. They decided it would make a great pet, so they brought it back to base for a mascot. They cleaned out a fox hole, covered it with wire mesh to keep the snake in, and placed sandbags around the hole on the wire to keep the snake contained. They put up a small sign: "Beware of the Snake!" After a few days, they realized that the snake would have to feed, so they went to the nearby Montaignyard village and bought two ducks to feed to the snake. The marines lifted the wire, threw the ducks in, expecting to see the snake immediately pounce upon one of the ducks and devour it. Apparently the snake was not hungry just yet, so nothing happened right away. Later that night, after all had turned in, there arose a great ruckus from the snake pit. There was lots of quacking, hissing and thrashing about. Everybody assumed that the snake had eaten one or both of the ducks. The next morning, when they went out to see the well-fed snake, it was dead. The ducks had pecked out its eyes and killed it. Later that day there was a new sign: "Beware of the Ducks."