Wednesday, April 6, 2016

10,000 Spare Parts Flying in Close Formation

An MH-53 Pave Low helicopter, tail number 5-790, from the 20th Special Operations Squadron (SOS) at Hurlburt Field, Fla, 1st Special Operations Wing (SOW). (Source)
The helicopter has always fascinated me, especially the military versions of that aircraft. (Which should come as no surprise to you.) Oddly enough I've never actually been up in a helo. Nor has The Missus Herself.

I don't know if The Nuke has ever ridden in a helo. In her travels for the Navy she has been in many different types of transport. From riding a RHIB* guarding oil platforms in the Northern Arabian Gulf (or NAG as she calls it) to landing on a carrier via the COD** or departing a carrier via the COD she has certainly gotten around. (Not to mention the destroyers, carriers, and submarines she's been on!)

Now The Naviguesser has indeed ridden the mighty SH-60 Seahawk when he was a midshipman. One of these...

SH-60B Seahawk (Source)

On one of his summer cruises he and a number of other young officers-to-be were shipped off to the Persian Arabian Gulf to ride one of Uncle Sam's mighty destroyers, I think it was the USS ARTHUR W. RADFORD, DDG-968, but I could be wrong.


Seems the midshipman arrived to find that their ship was out at sea. Too far out to get there by helicopter. So they would have to wait. The Navy put them up at a rather nice 5-Star hotel in this exotic foreign locale where they would have to entertain themselves until the ship got within helicopter range.

Eventually that day came to pass and the midshipmen (no doubt sated from their stay in Manama, Bahrain) boarded a Navy helo to head out to their home for the next four weeks. Did my son and heir enjoy the experience?

No, not at all.

Seems he feels that helicopters are one loose nut away from turning into an aviation disaster. (That nut is often known as the Jesus nutIf the Jesus nut were to fail in flight, the helicopter would detach from the rotors and the only thing left for the crew to do would be to "pray to Jesus.")

Of course as a shoe, er I mean Professional Surface Warfare Officer, he was (as his cognomen might suggest) a navigator and spent many a happy hour on the bridge of one of this nation's mighty destroyers. Want to get him spun up? Pretend to be talking on the radio demanding that the ship be conned in such a way as to place the wind "abaft the beam." I can see why an aviator might be a tad picky as to the wind direction when trying to land on that wee postage stamp that a destroyer man calls a "flight deck."

So The Naviguesser does not care for rotary wing flying vehicles, or "fling wings" as I have heard them referred to. Now as I have friends who fly helicopters for a living (now, now, don't judge them just because they fly helos, I mean someone has to, right?) I won't pick on the mighty rotary winged beast. I mean, I may want to go up in one some day. (Maybe this summer, I know a place that will fly you around Newport for a few shekels.)

Now The WSO, being a zipper suited sun goddess, that is, a Naval Flight Officer, doesn't mind helicopters at all. In fact, her first experience at the controls of a flying machine was, indeed, a helicopter. One of these...

The mighty CH-46 Sea Knight, affectionately known as the "Phrog." (Source)

Seems that at CORTRAMID*** she was with a group of midshipmen slated to get an orientation flight in the mighty Phrog, flown by a crusty Marine major from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. This august gentleman polled the young'uns to discover where they were going to school.

The WSO answered, "Holy Cross!" (Which is in Massachusetts, if you didn't know.)

With that the Major informed The WSO that, being a fellow New Englander, she would get to fly first. Turns out she also flew the longest, 20 minutes or so. She really enjoyed it. (The others all had to be satisfied with 10 minutes, or less if they proved particularly ham-handed. Which some were...)

The WSO also got to ride on a helicopter out into the Gulf Of Mexico with a few classmates from NAS Pensacola (Home of Naval Aviation). There they were unceremoniously dumped and told to just "hang out" until another helo came to pick them up. Or maybe it was a boat that picked them up, I don't recall the details of coming back, just the going out.

Anyhoo, the youngest doesn't mind helos at all. So I guess that will go on the "list of things to do." (No, I don't call it a "bucket list," too morbid for my tastes, and I don't believe in tempting fate. Knock on wood, [Said whilst tapping the side of my bald noggin.])

If I could choose a helicopter to ride in? It would be this beast...

AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopter from 1st Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment. (Source)

Yes please, front seat, down in the weeds.

Yeah, that would be great...

*RHIB = Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat (One of these.)
**COD = Carrier Onboard Delivery (One of these.)
***CORTRAMID = Career Orientation and Training, Midshipmen (See this.)


  1. My first helicopter ride was in a Scorpion. Like this: It had a mile of belts on it. Knowing what I know now..... I might have to pass. Second ride was a Bell Ranger, mountain top radio repair, and the third was another mountain top repair ride, but the bird was foreign. Can't remember the type.

    My Bell ride was interesting. I was riding up with a radio shop owner, and as we came in to the small deck (helipad), there was a naked woman sunbathing on it. The shop owner said in all the years he'd been going up there, he'd never seen a nude sunbather on the pad. She stood up to chase her clothes down, and it was apparent she had been exposed to gravity for 60 - 70 years.... He laughed and said it must've been because I was riding with him.... nicknamed me Lucky.

    1. That Scorpion is a wee little thing innit? Not sure I'd go up in that particular helo.

      As to the Bell ride, great story. Gravity is ever the enemy.

  2. Sarge,
    My twin brother spent 15 years in Air Force Special Operations as an aerial gunner on Pavelows. He spent the most time with the 20th SOS, and has likely flown the bird in your first pic A LOT. In fact, Bob was on the last combat flight for Pavelows (actually their last flight ever) in Iraq in Sept 08. The 20th was the last Pavelow Squadron, and was deactivated the following October (they are at Cannon now, reactivated and flying Ospreys).

    I told you all that to tell you this. My Mom passed away last night. She was in the hospital for a couple days first, and Bob came out with his family. We were in her room there yesterday when I showed him your site. I was looking for a specific picture that you have somewhere because in it you resemble our Dad a lot. Also, he went to Lowry for Tech school, then to Kadena and then Kunsan before going into Special Ops. I find that interesting. In addition, while at Kadena, he worked on the F-15's on the same stretch of flight line the Juvat flew.

    So I show him your site yesterday, and today, looking for a bit of normalcy this morning, I find your lead pic of a Pavelow. I don't believe in coincidences, I think its all connected somehow. Your site matters to me. I think a bit of Lex has rubbed off on you. I had just started reading him a few months before his last flight. I connected to him because when I was a kid, I wanted to fly F-18's. I now come here everyday, so Thank You for being here every day.


    1. Bill, Sorry to hear about your Mom. You and Yours will be in our prayers.

    2. Bill, first off I am devastated to hear about your Mom's passing. Please accept my condolences and know that you and your family will be in my thoughts and prayers. Losing a loved one is hard, so hard. I pray that you will find the strength to endure.

      I too don't really believe in coincidences, I started writing one thing, found that Pave Low photo and the rest is history. Really glad to have you aboard here.

      As to a little of Lex rubbing off on me, I consider that high praise indeed. Thanks.

      Stay strong brother, we'll be thinking of you.

    3. Badger Condolences and Sympathy to you at this time. But always remember, like Sullivan Baloo and his Sarah, you will meet again.

  3. Been in two. A Blackhawk on a visit to the DMZ in Korea and a Kiowa in Hawaii. The Kiowa was the last airplane I had my hand on the controls. My boss at CincPac was an Army LTC aviator. When he retired, he set me up with an orientation flight with his old unit. That was a blast. I was actually able to hold a (fairly) stable hover. All that having been said, I'm in agreement with your post title and will reiterate my oft said statement. The only good time to see a helicopter in flight is when it's hovering over you and the extractor is coming down.

    1. So you actually got some collective time (as opposed to stick time) in a helo. That's pretty cool.

      Over on Facebook another reader mentioned that my "to-do list: fly in a helo" was equivalent to "to-do list: learn to juggle chainsaws." I can see his point.

      Still and all, I'd like to do it at least once. Maybe even while sober!

    2. Actually make that three. At the conclusion of F-4 RTU, I got to participate in an exercise on the Luke Ranges. I was a downed pilot, dropped off in the desert. The rest of the class was doing the CAS with A-10s out of DM playing Sandy. A couple of Jolly Greens were involved. Other than the fact that it was July in the desert, it was kind of fun. Didn't get to ride the extractor though, the Jolly landed and I ran over and hopped in.

    3. Cool.

      (Conceptually, not meteorologically. if'n you get my drift.)

  4. When I was 6years old, we lived in Barron, WI. The Barron County Fair is held next to the lake, in Rice Lake, about 15 miles away. My folks took me and the triplets, ( my younger brother and sisters ), to the fair that year, ( 1967 ). A Bell 47 was there, to sell helicopter rides. The took it off the truck, put the rotor on, and off hey went over Rice Lake, on a test hop. About 200-300 feet off the fairgrounds, the jesus nut fractured, nd the rotor did indeed come off. I don't remember where the rotor went, but because the engine was still driving the tail rotor, which not had no torque to counter, the helicopter corkscrewed in. I vividly remember how quiet the fairgrounds became after the helicopter smashed into the lake. Mom and Dad bundled immediately into our GMC Handi-Bus, and set out for home. Our next door neighbor in Barron was the police chief. We met him about halfway home, headed for Rice Lake, pulling the Barron PD's boat. I also remember how fast a 1967 Imapala pulling a boat could go. I have been leery of helos for 48 years, now.

    1. Well, I can see why.

      Gives one pause it does.

  5. I had a friend when I was at Udorn in early '72 who was a rear gunner on the HH-53 Super
    Jolly's and this gave me an in to go on a number of training flights and I loved it! The '53
    was an impressive aircraft. But as anyone who has ridden on a helicopter can tell you, they
    are extremely loud. When you see movies where people are riding in a helo and talking to
    each other in a normal voice, it don't work that way. Either you are using headsets or you
    are yelling at each other.

    1. I figured that as the sumbitches are loud outside, they would be more so inside.

      Thanks for confirming that and yes, officially I am jealous.

    2. I tried real hard to hitch rides on the UH-1's and HH-43's but never could
      swing it. Didn't even help laying on the flightline kicking and screaming!!!

  6. Have ridden in a chopper twice. First time it was a UH-1 Huey Phu Bai to Da Nang, 1967. (This was kinda cool as all I had to do was go on over to the airport and ask for the ride.) Second time was from Stanford, CT to Brainard, MA. This was in a "People Pod" clamped beneath the frame of a CH-54 Flying Crane. Was a bit apprehensive about this flight, knowing that somewhere in the cockpit was a "release button" to let go the load in case of emergency. (Or so we were told.)

    1. Yeah, that last bit would certainly get my attention!

  7. Beaucoup rides in rotary-wing A/C. First in a Huey flown by a 'Nam chopper vet who knew how to fly one. What a way to get a first ride in one. :-) First ride in a CH-47 was by a CW-4, same pedigree as the Huey pilot, who proceeded to show us what you can do in/with a 47. Training highlight: as long as a 47 is leaking hydraulic fluid it is safe to fly. Much less so when it's not. I remember a number of 47s crashing (falling out of the sky, actually) around '80 in Europe. Kinda threw me off them as a reliable platform. Ridden in a number of Pave Lows of varying models. Those truly to scare me as they do resemble the 50,000 parts flying in loose formation, any one of which can (and do) say, FIJIMO. The UH-60 (Blackhawk in the Army, LAMPS in the Navy), after its initial fielding pains (called the Crash Hawk for awhile in '80) are pretty good birds. Lots of time in the back of them while somebody of the 160th was up front. Jumping (airborne operation involving a parachute), rappelling, fast roping, ladders of various sorts, jumping (the leaping out into water or onto the ground), and the usual air land disembarking. Oh, and STABO exfils with them. I regret that I never got the opportunity to ride on the outsides of Little Birds for an assault. All in all they're good platforms. I've not ridden in an Osprey, but I'm just not a fan of the platform. ymmv

    1. I have heard that if a CH-47 is not leaking hydraulic fluid then you have a problem. As in, you're out of hydraulic fluid and expect things to start to seize up momentarily. (Hhmm, what's that smell, is that supposed to be smoking like that?)

      I figured that you had a lot of helo time under your belt.

  8. Where'd you get the idea those parts were in CLOSE formation?

    Three times I arrived at the scene of a helo crash in the mishap aircraft. Walked (limped) away from two, swam away from the other. Turns out that the other vital nut is the one doing the autorotation.

    Reminds me of a favorite helicopter joke I like to tease my Marine brother with.

    If the Army calls 'em choppers, and the Air Force calls 'em copters, and the Navy calls 'em helos, and the Mud Ducks call 'em whirlybirds, what do the Marines call 'em?

    Wait for it...

    (Points up in the air, eyes big as onions) "UGH! UGH!"

    1. Well, as to the "close formation" thing, the other choice was "loose formation," as an engineer, I gave my fellow engineers the benefit of the doubt as to how tight the formation is. Any looser and the paint wouldn't stay on.

      Dang! Three?

      I would laugh at that last bit but I have Marine friends. Oh what the Hell...


  9. Helio drivers will tell you helios don't fly, they beat the air into submission.
    Have about 10 hours of bootleg dual in an H-13. Never got the hang of hovering in ground effect.

  10. So many stories to tell. Some even true. regards, Alemaster

  11. After a couple of Huey lifts at Homestead for water survival and Fairchild for plain old survival E&E (now SERE), I found myself at Clark for jungle school. I was still a bit confused as to the reasoning behind the need for a Russian linguist to attend but I had heard that it would be much more pleasant than Fairchild and resolved to make the most of it. Eventually we were sent out to the boonies via a HH-3 Jolly Green. It was a flight of under ten minutes yet the instructor advised us that due to the rugged terrain it would have taken a couple of days on foot. The Jolly Green was noisy as advertised and we appreciated the lift. The instructor did allow that the previous week another HH-3 had a bit of trouble setting down on the sloping LZ and ended up turning turtle. Thankfully all got out ok before things went TU. Turned out the remains were a bonanza for the Negritos who found the rotor blades ideal for making new machetes.

    1. I'm thinking that the Philippines would be more pleasant than Fairchild, especially in the winter!

      Clever folk those Negritos, did any of 'em speak Russian?

  12. I've flown in two, one USN, one civilian. In '91, on liberty in Alexandria, the seas were judged too rough for the u-boats, so we spent the night on benches in the beer tent; next morning they flew us out to the Forrestal in a CH-46.
    In '94, I went to the Smoky Mountains & took a "see the mountains from the air" tourist helo ride, much akin to the one that just crashed near Pigeon Forge.
    I'd about give my left nut (I'm old, not using it for much anyhow) to ride aboard one of the big 53s. Those are amazing helicopters. I've always had a thing for the Mi-24, too, but I bet they're not nearly as attractive up close. They are, after all, Russian, meaning they're basically big flying tractors, albeit very-well-armed and -armored flying tractors.
    --Tennessee Budd

    1. Heh, "big flying tractors," well put Sir, well put.

      The Mi-24 is a big, mean-lookin' sumbitch isn't it?


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