Dog of War
Think of Yankee Lima Four Two as a time machine: Jump in and you're back in Vietnam.
- By Stephan Wilkinson
- Air & Space magazine, July 2001
(Page 3 of 6)
“She’d also fly without transmission fluid,” Scholle continues. “Guys would have the transmission oil cooler shot out, the oil pressure went to zero and you’d just fly it back. You do want to keep the power up, though, because once the gearbox stops, it welds itself into a single piece.”
For their size, UH-34s were surprisingly nimble. They could get into and out of landing zones where no other helos could go, but once on the ground, the pilots were sitting 13 feet up in the air, and the people shooting at them were lying as flat on the ground as they could.
Rod Carlson was another re-routed CH-46 pilot, sent to HMM-361 to fly Dogs. Carlson drew his first night medevac mission soon after arriving at Marble Mountain, flying with Captain Rod Sabin. Wounded Marines who medics feared would die in the field before daybreak were flown out, but it was a dangerous undertaking. Carlson and Sabin waited for a summons in the squadron ready room, where, “with the red lights on to preserve our night vision, everything was the color of clotted blood,” Carlson recalls.
When the phone rang, Sabin and Carlson sprinted to their 34 and fired it up. “A constant blue-white flame from the exhaust stacks extended past my window like a huge blowtorch,” Carlson recalls. “Once we were airborne, Sabin flipped off the light switches overhead, and except for the flame, everything vanished in total darkness. I felt as though I were in free fall.”
Below them, Carlson says, “lights blinked like the small farms we flew over during night hops from Pensacola. But each [light] was the muzzle flash of a gun being fired at us.” The LZ—landing zone—was hot, so Sabin told the grunts on the ground to mark its center with a small strobe.
“The standard procedure was to spiral down directly over the LZ, in order to present the smallest target for the shortest time. In daylight, this approach was dangerous. At night, I was sure it was impossible.” Carlson remembers that Sabin dropped the collective to the bottom stop to reduce the pitch on the blades to zero, cut the throttle, dropped the nose, and spiralled down like a duck with a shot wing. “After five complete revolutions he straightened out,” Carlson recalls, “and the strobe was dead ahead. I could feel him raising the nose to slow our forward movement and twisting on full power to stop the descent.”
Sabin maneuvered to put the strobe between the helicopter and the waiting Marines, but the light kept moving: The Marine carrying it had mounted it on his helmet, figuring that would make it a better beacon, and now he realized Sabin might try to land on top of him. “Rod landed with his side toward the shooting, so the exhaust stacks wouldn’t be a target, and we picked up our guy,” says Carlson. “I remember as we headed back toward Marble Mountain, Sabin got on the intercom and asked the corpsman down in the cabin, ‘How’s he doing?’ The medic said, ‘I’ve got my hand inside his chest, but he’ll make it.’ ”
Before the end of Carlson’s first night aloft, he and Sabin would do it 11 more times, a typical shift for a ready-when-you-are Dog.