14 January, 2012

Profile 63 - UPDATE - "369" as flown by Robert Mason

Update time, and here she is so far.  Robert Mason's UH-1D "Slick" as he flew in Vietnam.

What a crazy machine.

I'm re-reading Bob's book, "Chickenhawk" to get into the era-vibe and I was struck by the part where he describes training to fly helicopters. It seems like every aspect of its flight is a circus act - like the guy on the unicycle, juggling hammers and balancing a monkey on a pole...

These are Bob's words:

"...I moved my left hand up and down, twisting it, to control the imaginary Collective and Throttle; my right hand moved in small circles, pretending to control a Cyclic; my feet controlled the Tail Rotor by pumping back and forth.  Eventually I could do all these movements simultaneously."

Complicated, eh?

Whenever I visualize a fixed-wing airplane, I see simple forward motion.  Elegance.  The exhilaration of open sky.  Freedom.  Vistas.  But jumping into Bob's Huey, I'm dumbfounded by precarious balance of forces threatening to throw itself apart at any moment.

"How is this going to work?!"

The truth is, however, in spite of a helicopter's complexity and demands, it doesn't throw itself apart.  Instead, it flies in a brilliant fashion that makes utter practical sense.  Helicopters work fantastically well!

Which of course leads us why the UH-1 was so ubiquitous in Vietnam - it was part of the practical plan to create a mobile army that could be picked up and placed at will.   The generals hovering over The Big Board could place their chips and markers, confident in the idea that it could be done...and at 125 miles per hour.

We've all seen the movies....

"Whup Whup Whup Whup Whup"   Bob and his colleagues would swarm into their "LZs," machine guns rattling, smears of gunsmoke, whirling blades of plant and power...stop, disgorge and get the hell out of there.

The mental powers required to control the helicopter, accomplish the mission and suspend a significant portion of reality (i.e. mortal combat) are immense.

Bob did it over 1,000 times in Vietnam.  Go ahead and say "wow."  I know I am - the pressure to make this one perfect is higher than any I've experienced.

Stay tuned.
Photo courtesy Robert Mason