“…AND WHEN CHARLIE HAS THE GROUND UNIT SURROUNDED, WE USE WHAT WE CALL THE HIGH-OVERHEAD APPROACH.”
My Mom included the cartoon on the right in a scrapbook she complied regarding my military service. Portions of the scrapbook are exhibited on a touch screen display in the “Souvenirs of Service” exhibit at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum. In the cartoon note the expression on the face of the left seat Huey pilot and the caption. The caption is quite accurate. (“Huey” is the nickname given to the Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopter).
I served as a Warrant Officer Huey pilot in Vietnam flying for A Company, 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division from May 1967 to May 1968. Army helicopter pilots in Vietnam were mostly warrant officers and relatively young as most took advantage of an army program which allowed men to enlist for the army’s Warrant Officer Rotary Wing Aviator Course. One could do that immediately after completing high school. We had at least one nineteen-year-old pilot in our assault helicopter company. It took about a year to complete basic training and flight school and receive your wings and warrant officer bars. Most new army helicopter pilots received orders for an aviation unit in Vietnam as their first duty station after flight school.
Flight school training was excellent. The final portion of the training was at Fort Rucker, Alabama where we transitioned into the Huey and received tactical training in formation flying, low level navigation, night flying, formation, and single ship approaches to and landings in simulated landing zones, etc. The instructor pilots were all Vietnam veterans, knew firsthand exactly what flying a helicopter in Vietnam entailed, and did their very best to prepare us for our upcoming assignments. Flight school training, however, did not include high-overhead approaches, one learned the approach on the job after arriving in Vietnam.
A high-overhead approach was used on single-ship missions, only in daytime with decent visibility and usually when hauling supplies (ammo, food, water, equipment, etc,) to units in the field. For some reason, perhaps having received enemy fire on an earlier flight to the landing zone or being informed by the infantry that the enemy was present near the landing zone, the aircraft commander would decide to execute a high overhead approach. Its purpose was to get from an altitude less vulnerable to enemy small arms fire, perhaps 3000 feet or so above the ground, to on the ground in the landing zone as quickly as possible while remaining in the relatively secure airspace directly over the landing zone.
To get to the landing zone, the pilot would completely unload engine power to the rotor system when one was directly over it, enter a tight, perhaps 60 degree, turn to his side of the Huey and use the pedals to kick the aircraft out of trim. All three actions would cause the aircraft to rapidly descend. You would make one and one-half or two 360 degree turns on the way down and time everything so that coming out of the last turn the aircraft would be facing into the wind and be on short final approach to the landing zone. You would then get the nose up, restore power to the rotor system, get the aircraft back in trim and land. One could go from 3,000 feet to on the ground in a minute or so. This was actually the safest way to approach a landing zone where enemy ground fire was anticipated. It was also really fun to fly.
Aircraft commanders functioned as combat instructor pilots for the new guys joining our company from flight school. The aircraft commander designation was not based on rank (most aircraft commanders were Warrant Officer 1s), but rather on the demonstrated ability to fly the aircraft and experience with the various mission types we flew. One would fly as copilot or, as we termed it, Peter Pilot, for perhaps 300 to 400 hours of combat flight time before being designated as an aircraft commander.
Back to the cartoon, on a resupply mission one day I demonstrated the high-overhead approach technique to a new pilot joining our company by the name of Roderick. The experience must have made an impression on Roderick as the cartoon showed up on the message board in the A Company operations bunker.
View this cartoon and peruse Rick’s digital scrapbook, which includes fantastic views of the Hueys in Vietnam, in "Souvenirs of Service : The Things They Kept" on exhibit now.