When I got to Korea I went
the Army base on Yoido Island, which was in the middle of the Han River
that ran through Seoul. Countrywide war games had just begun and
for my first week I was temporally assigned to the Navy.
It seems that the Admiral required 2 pilots to fly him around and all his pilots were tied up in the games except his aid. Since the Navy regulations did not stipulate 2 "rated" pilots I was given to the Navy for that week to comply with the regulation. Not being fixed wing rated I just sat in the right seat while the Admiral's Aid flew him all over Korea. The Aid did give me the controls for about 15 minutes until the Admiral came up and said he was starting to get a little sick and that was enough. I was having a little trouble keeping that sub chaser level. With the war games over I went back to Yoido Island.
I was on Yoido Island long enough to be initiated into the 55th Aviation Company there. Two things stand out to this day about that night. The first was a drink called "Lemon Heart". All the new guys had to drink it. As I remember there were about 8 of us and we all had to go up, one at a time, and drink a 2 shot glass of the stuff. We all had to run out and throw up except one; no not me for I threw up too but I held out the longest.
The other thing that I remember is the memory of a Captain whose name I can not recall. He was very quiet and never got into the internal politics of the unit. He was the kind of guy that stands out in a room as soon as you walk in, you just knew you were in the presents of a "real" professional. As I recall he flew the Army's Mohawk spy plane. He was getting ready to leave Korea and had adopted 2 orphans that he was taking with him. Someone asked him to give a little going away speech. He gave a short one and in it he said that a company could only grow and prosper if the enthusiasm and new ideas of the newer members was perfectly balanced by the experience and wisdom of the older members. That has stayed with me to this day because it rings so true even today.
Korea was starting to get some of the D-Model Hueys that had been replaced by the newer and more powerful H-Models and they desperately needed Instructor and Standardization Pilots for them. A 2nd Lieutenant named Brown, a CW-3, and myself were then given the task to Standardize all the training and to begin preparations to train and give check rides to all the individual unit IPs
Three days later I was told that they had checked the records and found that I was the youngest IP & Standardization Pilot in Army history to have reached the top level of that designation. I was also told that the General in charge of Camp Casey was badly in need of a Huey IP and had won me in a poker game and to pack my bags, I was heading North. That afternoon I found myself in the rear of a Huey heading to Camp Casey, which was the first large base just south of the DMZ. On the way up the General proudly told me that he had won me the night before in a poker game. So here I was, demoted from IP for all the Army in Korea to just a Battalion IP for the 7th Aviation Battalion. In reality, I was just a plain old company IP with a fancy title.
What I found at Camp Casey was a group of pilots with a whole lot of heart but of little experience. Korea seemed to be the place where the Army sent all their flight school graduates that could not be sent to Viet Nam because of "Only Child Status" or because they had a close relative already over there. For the most part they were very eager to learn. I was given immediate IP status and a free reign concerning training.
The weather was such that many times you couldn't get out of the valley. Because I could pretty much train any way I wanted to, at any time, I took advantage of the weather days by just taking a pilot or two to the "North 40" for some hover work. The North 40 was a very large flat sand area just off the end of the runway. That was where the Chinooks dropped off their sling loads.
One of the very first problems I had to lick was the fact that most of the other pilots seemed to be scared to death to fly with me, on a training flight, because I was an IP. Since I had no grading charts of any kind I licked that problem by simply telling them that I was going to show them some "tricks-of-the-trade" and that there was not going to be any kind of grade whatsoever on the flight. That usually settled them right down.
Usually, after the pilot had hovered to the north 40, I had him do a 360 degree pedal turn. When he stopped I asked him what the ship turned around on. That usually caught them off guard because they had never had to do precise pedal turns before, they just did a turn. I would then show them a turn around the mast, a turn around their seat, a turn around my seat, and then a turn around the tail stinger, which was the hardest. Then I let them try and usually we were all over the place. What I had done was wet their appetite.
Just before frustration was to begin I changed to something else. One section of the north 40 was particularly sandy. I had them hover over to it, set the ship down, then get the ship light on the skids, and with just the cyclic, I had them rock the ship back slowly until the stinger touched the ground and hold it there. I loved to see the looks in their eyes when they did that. Then I had them slide the ship around using just the pedals and collective.
I next would have them do some hovering autorotations. One of the first things my students learned was that there was a lot more bite left in the blades then they believed. It always seemed to amaze them when I showed them that they had effective blade bite with the collective all the way to their arm pit. They thought they had one pop and then she would just settle in. Knowing that they had all that "useable" rotor still left after initial pitch pull made it a new ball game. It usually didn't take them long to master the hovering autorotation and with that under their belt I usually got a big smile and that look of "what's next boss, this is fun". When I got that "I-want-more" look it made me feel proud and sometimes I thought of Condry and McCoig and all they put into me. I was more than happy to be passing it on.
With low hovering autorotations now mastered it was time to move to high hovering autorotation.. The first few at 20 ft and above got their attention really quick but once they saw that it could be done and done safely they relaxed and got the hang of it. Taking it one step at a time was the secret if there was a secret, to me it was just common sense.
After just a few of these sessions the word got out among the crew chiefs that were usually just sitting around and soon I had a full ship. They were interested in the training as well. It was OK with me and it was OK with the Company Commander so along they came. Having them along added several new dimensions to the training. The first was the added weight factor. The second was the intimidation factor because pilots sure did not want to screw up in front of that many people.
The third dimension and most important was that I could now do some precision combat "stump" simulations. "Stumps" added an extra month to my becoming an AC in Viet Nam and it was no longer a problem with me so I was going to make darn sure it wasn't going to be with them either.
I had the pilot put the nose of the ship just 6 ft or so away from one of the big Chinook loads that were all over the field. I then had all the passengers' sit on either side of the ship with their feet on the skids. When the pilot had the ship stabilized at a 3 ft hover, I gave the crew chief the go ahead and at his discretion he gave the signal for one side to jump off and then the next. Since they were not jumping off together the pilot had to compensate very quickly for the instantaneous change in CG (center of gravity) and most of the time they could not. With the Chinook load to judge distance by, they could see how much they slid to one side or the other then back again when the other side jumped off. I told them that I would allow a 4 ft side jump but that in Nam we got our tail rotors even closer than that sometimes.
It soon became a game with the crew chief trying to time the jumpers just right so he could throw off the pilot and the pilot trying his best to stay on top of things. The pilot never knew what side was going first either. When he got good I had the crew chief put 2 large rocks on the ground, in line with the tail rotor and several feet out. Those rocks became the "stumps" and it was now the crew chief and door gunner's job to keep the pilot informed of how close he was letting the tail rotor get to the stump. It usually took a few "we're dead" before the pilot caught on and began putting it all together. When they could do that, it usually resulted in a smile that was deeply rooted in a newfound confidence.
When I felt that my students had gain enough confidence and understanding of what the ship could and could not do at slow speeds and when close to the ground I took them over to the runway for some engine-out-on-takeoff work. We started by simulating an engine failure just after the initial roll out and just kept working our way faster and faster. Was that ever a confidence builder. When they saw and realized that they could indeed control that ship and set it down safely from an engine out at virtually any location during a normal takeoff they became real pilots. Hitting a spot during an autorotation is a piece of cake until you begin the flare than you hope and pray that you pop the pitch at just the right time. For my guys, the flare on down was a piece of cake and getting there was just kid stuff. I got 2 or 3 trained that way then was told to stop that portion of the training, it was using up too many skid shoes and scaring up the runway. All I could do was shake my head in disbelief. My training could save them a quarter of a million dollars worth of aircraft and I had to stop the final critical portion of that training because the Army didn't want to spend $60 on a set of skid shoes. Oh what power small minds sometimes wield.
There was one thing that I kept for the special few that were the fast learners. I was sometimes able to set a Huey down without you feeling the skids touch the ground. There was a trick to it and I guess I could do it about 1 out of every 3 or 4 tries. Everybody was use to the big clunk and jerk as the skids contacted the ground. That was the typical sign of the ship being firmly on the ground, then the passengers would start getting off. I loved doing it my way and seeing the looks on the passenger's faces when they heard the engine start idling down and realize that they were actually on the ground and not still hovering. The trick had 2 parts to it. The first part was that you had to realize that the ship would always hover with the left rear skid slightly low. In any case, if you could judge the distance to the ground just right or feel the slightest touch from the rear of the skid to the ground then you could go into step 2.
Step 2 was simply that you "goose" the trim switch forward slightly. Doing that tilted the rotor just enough so that some of the ground cushion escaped to the rear of the ship. That resulted in the ship settling in down and forward instead of the skids hitting all at once. It didn't take me long to get a good feel for that and it soon became my trademark among the pilots and passengers.
Besides the hover confidence training I also had to do instrument training as well. With Kimpo (Seoul) International Airport so close it was easy to just fly on down and shoot an actual approach or two or three. It was not a busy airport and there is just something about going into a "real" airport on an actual instrument approach. I always had them do the first one without the hood. Being able to actually see just how far out you were when you were making all the different legs and altitude changes sure put everything into perspective. It worked for me and it sure worked for all my students as well.
I usually did this training at night because the airport had much less traffic then and I could log both instrument and night time for my minimums. Here again the crew members amazed me. It did not take long for the word to get out and in no time I again had a full ship of people wanting to know and learn what the heck we were doing. To accommodate them I had the crew chief get as many spare headsets as he could hooked up in order to let them listen in on what was happening. Before we took off I gave them all a shortened version of what I was planning on doing so they could understand what was going on better. The only rule was that they could listen but not talk unless I told them it was OK to do so. They soaked it up like a sponge and many of their questions really surprised me, especially at their level of understanding.
One time one of the night flights backfired on me sort of and I thought I was going to get into a lot of trouble. I can fess up to it now but I sure wasn't going to back then. It was time for night training again and our ships were given cross-country routes to fly all over the area. We all had to come back by certain times with all of us heading up the valley between Seoul and Camp Casey. For some reason I was feeling a little playful so to break the monotony I took the ship down to about 1,000-ft and lit up the highway with both the landing lights as we headed north. It wasn't long before we came upon a bus and I guess I held the lights on them too long. The bus stopped and the people started piling out with their hands in the air. When I realized what was happening I immediately shut off the lights and headed in a different direction away from Camp Casey. I wanted them to think that we had come from Seoul and was returning there. The incident made it back to us a few days later but we didn't fess up to it and it soon passed.
Camp Casey was surrounded by very high and very steep ridges. One of the ridges had a large radio relay site on it that was a real dozy to get in to. I was told that, before I had arrived, a pilot from another company in the southern portion of Korea had to be flown up to do the job. Now it was my job.
Because of the sheer cliffs that surrounded the place and the smallness of the pad it was more visually intimidating than anything else. I had to go up there several times a week and there were a few times that I could not get in because of the wind. It sure was good training though and one heck of a confidence builder when one of my pilots got into there by himself. When it was windy the updrafts became difficult to judge. On more than one occasion I had to start my approach below the rim of the heliport and does that ever go against the grain. Several times it took me 4 or 5 missed approaches before I got the correct line up to hop up on to it. One of my pilots named Pabilonia, I believe, became the first of the group to begin resupplying that base on a regular basis when I was off somewhere else. I was sure proud of that.
I never got to train the General's 2 pilots who were both lieutenants as I recall. They were always too busy to take the time. I think that my being a mere warrant officer and they both being lieutenants had something to do with it. I got into a little trouble because of them one time but had a good laugh about it inside. I was on a 3 ship training flight and was taking the guys into various semi tight landing areas. It was a bit windy which just made things a little more interesting. Flying over Camp Casey I noticed that the General's ship was not at his mid camp heliport so I took the flight in. We all made it in OK and after hovering back a little for additional takeoff space we were out of there with no problems. I guess we were in there all of 2 minutes. What I didn't know was that the General was just coming around the corner in his jeep, from the airfield, because his pilots told him it was too windy to chance a landing at his heliport. Later that night I was told that the General's heliport was off limits to my training flights.
There was one other similar incident along these lines that happened over there. A Senator as I recall had arrived and it was our job to take him and his group to the main outpost on the DMZ which was about 30-45 minutes away. It was a 2-ship mission with 2 Lieutenants in the lead ship and myself and another pilot in the second ship. After takeoff I noticed that the lead ship just kept pulling away from me. I tried to match speed with him but it seemed as if he was pulling max power. I pulled in max takeoff power and still could not catch up to him. I gave him a call and asked what was up. He radioed that he was asked to make up time because the Senator was behind schedule and he was going to please the senator. I told him that he was pulling the heart out of the machine and that someone would have to pay for his mistake later. It didn't phase him a bit and he just kept on trucking.
I pulled back to normal cruise, to the dismay of my passengers, and arrived at the site to find the other ship already shut down and the ceremonies about to begin. My mind is a blank as to what happened next but I do remember that nothing happened to the pilot and that the ship was not pulled for inspection. I was to find out many years later that respect for the ship and who would be flying in it after you was one of the traits that usually separated a Viet Nam pilot from the rest of the crowd.
One of the hardest things I had to do over there was bust my best friend on his AC check ride. Steve Myers was my pinochle partner and was a sharp young pilot. By this time I had a standardization handbook to go by and busting a simulated engine failure test meant you busted the entire flight. Trying to pull a simulated engine failure on a pilot just waiting for such is usually next to impossible. I had an idea thought. I had noticed that the crew chief had a machete with him. Since he was on the same side of the ship as Steve was, for his check ride, I arranged with him to smack the side of the ship, along a rivet row, with the side of the machete when I gave him the command. When I started talking about my "Uncle" he was to get ready. When I said the word "Uncle" the second time, he was to smack the side of the ship. It worked perfectly and made one heck of a sound. Steve immediately looked back and I hit the "Beep" switch, which brought down the rpm approximately 5 % simulating an engine failure. The two together made for the perfect simulated engine failure. Steve turned around and didn't know what to do. I had to recovered the rpm and in doing so felt sorry for him. His flight had been a good one until then and when he realized what he just done he began calling himself every name in the book. He had to wait 30 days for another ride. That hurt.
You may have seen me on World TV. I didn't learn about it until after the fact and nothing was ever said to me concerning my part in what had happened. Around the beginning of 1970 a group of about a dozen or so Japanese students with swords hijacked an airliner and wanted to go to the capital of North Korea. The forces that be decided to divert the airliner to Kimpo International and try to make the hijackers believe they had landed in North Korea. The Kimpo sign was taken down and a fake one put up designating it as the airport that they wanted to go to. The Airliner landed but the hijackers were not sure where they were so the plane stayed put at the end of the runway. I didn't learn about all this until well after the fact.
I was flying that day and had to go to a base in an area that required me to pass through Kimpo's airspace. When I got close enough I tried to contact them on their approach control frequency but got nothing. Every frequency I tried was dead but I knew my radio was working because I could still talk to other aircraft further to the north. I figured they had a total electrical blackout.
I had to get to the other side so I turned on my landing lights and make my calls in the blind as to a low level crossing behind the airliner parked at the end of the runway. I then took that U.S. Army Huey right down the runway and crossed right behind that airliner. Everybody in that airliner had a good close up look at our ship. After passing behind it I went my way. On the return trip I bypassed Kimpo all together. Though I never got contacted about my role in the whole thing I know that it was probably my ship that blew the deception. I think the airliner finally took off for North Korea.
The Korean people really impressed me. They didn't seem to be the "Hard Core" solders I had seen in Viet Nam but much more like Captain Kim. The two things that surprised me the most were their sense of humor and the "Mongolian Koreans". If you did anything funny it would break them up in laughter.
A set of railroad tracks and a small strip of town that ran parallel with the tracks separated Camp Casey from the airfield. Every morning, after formation, the airfield personal would leave for the airfield. With them went their mascot "Me Tou", a feisty mid size dog. It was Me Tou's thing to bite the very first Korean she could as soon as she left the post. She did the same thing to another Korean when she left the airfield at the end of the day. The Katootsas were the Korean guards that were suppose to all be black belts in the Korean military one-punch killing karate. They sure looked and acted mean but when Me Tou came their way they would scatter like someone had just thrown a hand grenade in on them. Then they would all come out to watch who Me Tou picked to bite. Most of the time it was some little old person going shopping. Most of the locals already knew the routine and stayed out of the dog's way.
On the airfield side of things Me Tou would get one of two little kids that lived and played right next to the airfield. Because it happened so often their mother would make sure they were wrapped up well, from the waist down so that Me Tou wouldn't hurt them. I witnessed it several times and was always amazed that that dog did that. Those kids would try to run away but Me Tou was too fast. She would shake the one she got for about 10 seconds then let go and simply stroll away like nothing ever happened. And all this time, both coming and going, the locals just looked and watched and laughed.
The Mongolian Koreans were on the opposite side of things and they did not laugh very much. Where a normal Korea was about 5'6" maybe 135-lbs, the Mongolian Koreans were a minimum of 6'4" and 250-lbs of solid muscle. All the Mongolian Koreans I saw were cops and they were well respected. On one occasion I witnessed an elderly man and woman arguing over a taxi. They were making a big fuss, which attracted the attention of one of the cops. He came over and I guess told them to shut up. The crowd watching sure shut up but not the two elderly people. He said something again and once again was ignored. With little effort at all he then picked up both by the back of the neck and smashed them together with a force that both would remember for the rest of their life. He then dropped the now limp bodies right there, gave the crowd a who-is-next type look, and left. Nobody said anything until the cop was well out of site.
While walking in the main section of downtown Seoul, with someone from the base, I was approached by a little boy that asked me in broken English if I wanted the crystal of my watch shined. The guy said you have to see this, let him shine it for you. So I gave the kid my watch with a crystal that was in despair. The kid promptly took out a small pumice like rock and started rubbing it across the crystal. This really made me mad but the guy next to me said just wait and see. With the crystal now totally scratched the kid then started rubbing it with a large green leaf that had to be a good foot across. He was through in about a minute and the crystal shined like new. I wonder if he could do that with eye glasses?
I didn't have the occasion to eat out on the town very much. There was a Korean dish though that I liked that consisted of little marinated beef strips. The officer's club often put it out on the bar as an appetizer and it was very good. I sometimes would go over to the tiny mess hut the Korean workers had set up to feed all the camp's house boys. It really surprised them that an officer would sit with them and eat their food. It was OK and certainly different for our mess hall.
By this time Steve and I had become good friends and we were both into stereo tapes. I bought a second tape deck so I could make copies from the camp's master collection and really got into making tapes for people. Then I got a request by the officer in charge of the officer's club. He wanted a Johnny Cash tape, nothing but Johnny Cash for the entire tape. I made it for him and he promptly played it every night from then on. The guys at the club were getting fed up with Johnny Cash and came to me for a solution because their request for different music was being ignored.
This posed a problem because I sure did not want to make him mad at me yet something definitely had to be done or we would all go crazy in there. The tape had to be taken care of in such a way that he would think it a natural or accidental occurrence that could not be blamed on any one individual. Then it dawned on me. Since the club stayed open late he slept in mornings. I just moseyed over there with my tape head demagnetizer and ran it from the center of the tape to the outside edge, just once, but holding it high enough so that it would just faintly erase only a small sliver of the entire tape. When played that night you could barely tell that something was wrong. My plan was working but I had several more slivers to erase one at a time before the objective was met. By the 3rd day it was obvious that the tape was going bad. By about the 6th day the tape had to be discarded. I was asked to make another tape but I said "NO" and told him it was because he sure had overdone it the first time around. To this day Johnny Cash's "Train" song is imbedded in my memory.
If there was money in playing pinochle Steve and I could have supplemented our pay quite well. Since there was so little to do when we were off, evenings would usually find us in the mess hall playing 4 man, double deck "Military" pinochle. Steve was my partner and could we ever read each other's moves and without cheating too. There were 2 Lieutenants that we played most of the time. In the beginning we played just for fun but when they began consistently overbidding their hands we started to play for pennies and nickels, that stopped them.
Come Sunday afternoon you could find us at the camp service club for the weekly pinochle tournament. Steve and I usually won but there was some pretty good competition. There were 2 enlisted men that were both college graduates and math majors to boot. They took us down to the wire several times. The team that we hated to play the most though consisted of 2 old sergeants that were pretty much too busy having fun and reminiscing about old times to take the game seriously. Their big advantage was that GOD was helping them play. We couldn't believe the consistently good hands that those 2 got, they had to have divine help. In any case, when it came down to the very last hand, the LORD would usually give it to us because the 2 sergeants had gotten what they wanted out of the game.
When the All Korea Pinochle tournament came around Steve and I won the right to represent Camp Casey. When the first hand was dealt we could not believe our eyes. I had a double run and Steve had double Aces around. That's like getting that once-in-a-lifetime "Royal Straight Flush" in poker. The LORD had given us a taste of what victory would have been like but apparently there was pay back due. After we cleaned up on that hand we got nothing but junk the rest of the tournament and finished dead last. Guess the LORD was balancing things out, for me making all those people empty out of that Korean bus that night.
One day I was made "Arbor Day" officer and was responsible for picking up 2,500 trees and planting them. Arbor Day was a big thing over there because there were so few large trees. All the mountains were pretty much bear except for scrub trees.
I signed out a big truck, a jeep with a trailer, and 4 men to help me with the trees. The sergeant at the desk laughed at our convoy and with a great big smile reached under the counter top and brought up two handfuls of seedlings. Did I ever feel like a fool leaving that office. When my men saw me they just shook their heads in disbelief. I then put one hand full in the jeep's trailer and the other in the back of the big truck. I then told both drivers to take it easy going around the curves so we wouldn't lose any of the trees. They just smiled for they too knew that we all had been had.
The next question was where to plant 2,500 seedlings. I tried the field where the physical training took place and was told to get them out of there. I did plant some along the fence. Someone told me to plant some in the mountains that surrounded the camp. Not me, too many stories of unexploded mines left over from the war. I think one of the Koreans took them to pass out among his neighbors.
I was not planning on making the Army my career and I knew I wanted to fly helicopters on the outside. I also knew I didn't want to crash again so I began looking for civilian aviation mechanic schools. I found several and settled on Teterboro School of Aeronautics in Teterboro, New Jersey. By this time a Twix had come down from the Army that stated that anyone with 18 months of Asian duty time could leave the service early if so desired. I had 12 months of Viet Nam time and 6 months of Korea time and was accepted to my aeronautics school. After 6 months in Korea I was headed home.
On the long plane ride home I thought about many things. The first was that I was sort of sad for leaving the guys. They were soaking up my training like a sponge and wanted more. They needed it too but more of the Viet Nam guys were starting to come in country and they would take over for me. It sure made me feel proud to see their confidence grow. They had come to me "knowing" how to fly but left "understanding" how to fly and there is a world of difference in the two and that put confidence in their step. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that every one of them became instructors as well.
I was also a little scared because I was about to enter the unknown. I would be on my own with no more paycheck to plan on. What I didn't realize at the time was that the depth and quality of the training that I had acquired and the experiences of my worldly travels had given me one heck of a foundation to begin civilian live with. I was ready for new experiences.