21 August, 2021

Profile 155: Hughes OH-6A as flown by Hugh Mills, C Troop, 16th Cavalry


One of the most impactful 'combat' photos I've seen is also the most nondescript.  In fact, it's so nondescript, 99.9% of humankind would think it a throw-away.

Have a look.

A careful ".1%" eye will notice that the trees are of a deciduous variety; the long, spindly trunks are (as any school child will tell you) Bishop Wood!  Though used for food (the leaves are edible and the fruit can be fermented to make wine), the tree is also known to be extraordinarily strong.  So strong, anyone with the time and inclination to scurry up trunk could easily reach their way into the lush, thick canopy that flourish as high as 60 feet off the ground (AGL - for you aviation-minded.)

Blah blah blah blah. 

Just kidding.  Are these really Bishop Wood trees?  Maybe... I don't know anything about trees, especially trees in the forests of the Central Highlands of (former) South Vietnam.  Forgive me for the rabbit-trail as I simply wanted to put some verbal 'distance' into the before/after photo (so y'all wouldn't just jump ahead). 

The reality of this photo is that it's a life or death moment between the photographer and a North Vietnamese soldier.  In a tree.  With an AK-47.  Firing off his clip...

...straight into the face of the photographer; a helicopter pilot.

The picture was snapped in April of 1968 by Bruce Huffman(C-troop, 9th Cav) who was in a hover in a UH-, somewhere in the foothills West of Hue, South Vietnam.  He saw the poofs of smoke coming from the clattering assault rifle, a peculiar duel of shooting bullets vs. shooting film. 

Need some help finding the NVA soldier?

See below.

If you squint, you can see the smudge of gun smoke. 

"Ahhh.  I see it!" (you say).

"Yeah, and if this were real life, you'd be dead." (I say).

Frankly, it hit me smack-dab in the forehead how humans can create and survive such mortal environments.  It takes a lot of experience to look into the moment above and notice the difference between puffs of cordite and the sensory noise of everything else.

So, time-travel yourself to 1968 and put yourself in Huffman's shoes.

What would YOU have done?

For me, I think I'd just have gone slack jawed and stared until the slugs knocked me into either a field hospital or Jesus' knee. 

Anyway, I'm introducing my newest public commission - that of a Hughes OH-6A flown by one of, if not the, most heavily decorated helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War, Hugh Mills.   I've been getting to know Hugh and will share what I'm learning in posts to come. Hopefully, I'll be done with this little power-egg by the first week of September.

In the meantime, here's my progress so far...

This is only my fourth helicopter.  The proportions and lines are still somewhat unfamiliar territory to my 'eye'... which leads me to the point of this post's intro.  This tiny, two-three crewed beast performed an extraordinarily visual role in the Vietnam War because its mission — as part of the U.S. Army Scout (or Aero Scout) mission — was to get down low and ID the NVA/VC in order to direct a Cobra helicopter to deliver its heavier firepower.

Quite literally, like a hunting dog sniffing out pheasants, theScouts kicked up the enemy...only instead of flying away like the game bird, the NVA/VC often hunkered down and shot back... at distances that were regularly (repeat, no exaggeration) point-blank. 

I remember a few years ago, I asked Bruce how they (Scouts) did their work and he described a process that involved flying 50-70mph at 6-10' off the ground (or tree canopy) simply looking for 'bad guys.' 

"What on earth can you see at 60mph, ten feet above the trees?!" I asked.

"Lots of things," Bruce replied.  "If you're thinking that there's a skill to it, there is.  Aero Scouts needed experience and a great sense of observation."

"Like what?"

"You see paths, footprints... sometimes people shooting at you.  And that's the point.  We found them."

Hmmmm.  When I read Hugh Mills' famous book, I initially thought the title, "Low Level Hell" was simply dramatic literary license, perhaps cooked up by some marketing weenie at the publisher.  No such thing.  It was Hugh's unit's (The Outcasts) slogan.

HEARTILY RECOMMENDED.  (geez not a single four-star or less review?!?). Click the pic.

Easily as awesome-of-a-read as Robert Mason's "Chickenhawk."

A LONG way to go.  But soon enough it'll be a (hopefully) perfectly accurate rendering of "Miss Clawd IV," the OH-6 shown below.


I got a little extra time recently to move it along...