10 May, 2020

Profile 143: Hughes OH-6A Cayuse as flown by "Bruce" Huffman, Troop C, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry

It's helicopter day again.

This one fulfills a commitment made six years ago.  Eventually, I 'get around to it,' but in this case, it's for the best that it took me so long.

But first, a few points on the Hughes OH-6A.

First, it's name, "Cayuse" is, depending upon your point-of-view, either a small horse or a tribe of Native Americans.  As the Army had a convention of naming their helicopters after Native American tribes, we’ll go with the later.  Still, “Cayuse” has pejorative connotations that wouldn’t stand today’s public relations department. Yet, those were different times, too; the OH-6 was first flown in 1963.

Billionaire eccentric Howard Hughes is reported to have supervised the project and in the process tried to rig the bidding process! More on that later but in the end, the U.S. Army bought about 1,400 of the nifty little machines.

Anyways, the purpose of the OH-6 was to provide the military with a small observational helicopter.  Note the design—shockingly easy for me to draw, it's basically an window-covered egg with a tail; whoever came up with the concept wanted maximum viewing for the pilot and crew (3 people total).

Using my sketch of an AH-1G Cobra as a comparison, the OH-6A’s small size becomes all-the-more apparent, especially considering the Cobra wasn’t all that big in the first place.

And it terms of payload/capacity, the OH-6 was really a lightweight.  Of course, the OH-6 wasn't designed to carry much more than life-support systems for eyeballs — hence it's observation mission—while the AH-1 Cobra was armed to the fangs.  This fact leads to the second point of all-things OH-6A -  it's more common name of "Loach."

Google "Loach" and you'll get the photo below.  It's an aquarium fish that spends its active time scraping its belly on the gravel trying to kick up gawd-knows-what.  It's also the representation of disturbing memories as it was an aquarium fish I simply could not kill. Not that I wanted to—I just had better things to do (like avoid responsibilities, build model airplanes, avoid responsibilities, launch model rockets, avoid responsibilities...).  In the end, the lowly loach, to me, became a symbol for persistence that difficult jobs have to be done. 

I eventually made-nice with my obligations and my loach and I prospered for many years.

The Kuhli Loach!  I had one and it would not die.
Photo: PetCentral.com
However, don't think for a second that the people who hand-out nicknames determined Loach was appropriate because it swam on the bottom and suffered fools.  Instead, the name comes from Light Observational Helicopter, a mil-spec acronym of LOH.  Go ahead, say it - El Oh Aych.  If you really work at it, you'll get "Loach" at some point.

Hold that thought.

So, a while ago, the pilot who flew the particular Loach shown on top of this post and I were having a conversation about, "What was it like to be in the Vietnam War?" As a Loach pilot, he spoke from that perspective.  He described his mission with the Aeroscouts (Scout), an Army squadron of Loaches attached to an Army division.  

His name is Bruce Huffman, btw.

"So, you observed?"

"Uh...yeahhh. We observed."

"So, you'd be hovering above..."

"No.  We'd be moving."

"How fast?  I mean, how can you observe while you're moving?"

"Thirty, forty, sixty miles per hour."

"So what was your altitude?"

"Uh...eight, ten feet sometimes?"

"So how close were you to the action?  I mean, you can't really see much flying over..."

"Oh, you see a lot."

(I thought about that - a little egg-shaped helicopter buzzing over grass, trees, hills, at sasquatch height)   It didn't make sense.

"So what can you see so close, so fast?  Two seconds and you're gone!"

Bruce laughed.  "You can see the whites of their eyes."

"And did they shoot back?"


"And you made it through."

Bruce grinned, "I guess I was hard to kill."  I thought about my own loach; before I could make the crass correlation, Bruce stated bluntly, soberly, "Not everyone was so lucky."

Now's a good time for some facts.  Know that the U.S. Army ordered 1,420-some OH-6As of which the vast majority went to Vietnam to "observe."  Of those 1420 Loaches, 960-some were destroyed.  And of those 960-some, 842 were lost to enemy action.  That's 60% of all Loaches.  

Let that sink in for a moment.  

Though obviously Bruce made it out of the war in one piece, it can’t be said for his Loach.  I’ll post the final art and full story, here some time after June 1.  But if the idea of how someone can survive, if not thrive, as a Loach pilot especially intrigues you, listen up.

If I’ve learned anything from being a history nerd it’s to experience a thing first hand.  As soon as time-travel is invented, I’m pushing myself to the front of the line and paying whatever the price.  Until then, however, the next best thing is talking to people who “were there.”

You agree, right?

Next week, May 16, "Old Guys and Their Airplanes" is adapting its brand to the world of COVID-19 via online interviews.  They’re called, “OGTA Debriefs” and allow the audience to meet highly decorated veterans, hear their stories and ask questions. 

AH-1G Cobra pilot, Pat Owen  is the first.  Last week’s tech run through was pretty cool and Pat’s insight into the world of an attack helicopter pilot is especially fascinating.  You won’t want to miss it...Click here.

However, two weeks after that, on May 30, Bruce is up next.  Though I’ll have a progress post of his Loach sometime before then, you really should make plans to partake in Bruce’s OGTA Debrief as well. 

In the meantime, meet Bruce.  He’s third from left.  Oh and he just sent me an email letting me know that his call sign is important - “Cavalier 13.”  As to why that’s important, don’t take my word for it - why not ask him yourself?

One last thing... want statistical reading on helicopter loses?  Click here
Progress on Bruce's OH-6A.  I'll be drawing it as it looked shortly before it was shot up.