Wednesday, April 13, 2016
Surprised to Be Alive, Two Climbers Rally in Hospital : Survived 3 Days in Snow Cave May 16, 1986|Associated Press PORTLAND, Ore. — Two teen-agers who survived more than three days buried in a snow cave on Mt. Hood with six companions were reported slowly improving today, and doctors said they are optimistic that both will recover. Their companions, two adults and four youngsters, were pronounced dead Thursday after being found in the cave, dug in an effort to escape a savage snowstorm that enveloped the mountain during an annual school outing. The cave was discovered by a rescuer who poked through 4 to 5 feet of snow on the treacherous slopes, 8,300 feet up the 11,235-foot mountain, and struck a backpack. It was just five feet from where the body of another member of the outing was discovered Wednesday, one of three bodies found on the mountain that day. Of the 13 climbers who began hiking up the mountain Monday, four survived, including an adult and a girl who walked out Tuesday seeking help To read the rest of this article click on the link below. http://articles.latimes.com/1986-05-16/news/mn-5945_1_snow-cave
Tuesday, April 5, 2016
Wednesday, March 30, 2016
Friday, July 31st, 1998
“Attention in the building. Attention in the building. All available helicopter aircrew members please report to the operations desk –I repeat all available helicopter aircrew members report to the operations desk immediately.” It must be Friday.
A small single engine Cessna 172 Skyhawk tail number N835T departed Troutdale Airport just east of Portland around 10:00am enroute to Mountain Home, Idaho. A few hours later it had gone down somewhere in the vicinity of the Anthony Lakes Ski area in the Elkhorn Mountains. According to the 911 operator who received the phone call from the survivor reported a female victim extremely terrified and entombed inside the wreckage. The survivor sounded as if she was going into shock. The 911 operator also reported the loud sounds of a crying child in the background which meant we had at least two survivors at the scene. Before losing contact due to a suspected low cell phone battery the survivor reported that the pilot was her husband and that he was immobilized under the aircraft and unconscious. She explained that she could not get out of the airplane or reach her two year old daughter because they were both hanging upside down still strapped into their chairs. She continued to describe her surroundings as a mountainous, heavily forested area surrounded by clouds.
We all watched as the supervisor of flight who had made the announcement over the intercom and had collected all of our names just moments before was now behind a glass wall in the director of operation’s office discussing who would fly on this mission. It was always based on not only who was qualified but who had the most crew duty day left. I was not driving north to pick up my daughter today because the this weekend was our one weekend a month unit training assembly which always fell on the first weekend of the month.
As the supervisor of flight walked out of the director’s office with names in hand he immediately turned without looking at us and walked over to large scheduling board behind the long operations counter and began filling in the blanks. Who was it going to be? Who had the director of operations selected to go on this rescue mission? There were certainly more than enough qualified aircrew members amid us to fill a two ship. We were all poised anxiously to see who amongst us had been selected to go this rescue mission. The supervisor of flight wrote the following from left to right filling in the columns;
Call Sign: Jolly 21, Tail Number: 89-26200, Fuel Load: 4400 Mission Pilot: Graham, Mission Copilot: Waller,
Mission Flight Engineer: Murray,
Mission Pararescuemen: Hanley, Collins, and Liddle.
Call Sign: Jolly 22, Tail Number: 89-26195, Fuel Load: 4400 Mission Pilot: Lopez, Mission Copilot: Goglia,
Mission Flight Engineer: Novak,
Mission Pararescuemen: Archer, Rainey, and Javorski.
Score! Not only was I selected to be part of a real rescue mission I was selected to command my own aircraft and crew that was a major score! I knew now that I had arrived. Lieutenant Colonel Jamey P. “Opa” Graham would lead the mission in Jolly 21 and I would be his wingman in Jolly 22.
The Elkhorn Mountains are a sub range of the Blue Mountains located about 247 nautical miles east of Portland as the crow flies in northeastern Oregon. Its highest point is 9,108 feet and the broken cloud layer was about 8,000 feet that day.
We departed Portland International and flew past Troutdale Airport as we followed the Colombia River through the deep Gorge for several miles until we exited near The Dalles. There we found ourselves starring at a whole lot of wilderness thinking to ourselves this is going to be like looking for a needle in a hay stack. We started our electronic search listening for an emergency locator transmitter or ELT, nothing, not a sound. An ELT is carried aboard most general aviation aircraft in the U.S. in the event of an accident. They are designed to send a distress signal on 121.5 or 243.0 megahertz frequencies. We could only hope that this particular aircraft had one on board and that it was operational.
About an hour and twenty minutes into our search we could hear King 76 overhead joining us in the search. They had been diverted by our command post after completing a four hour training sortie to deliver the helicopters important details regarding the possible location of the crash site. “Jolly flight, King Seven Six.” What a great surprise to hear the tanker somewhere above the clouds. They always brought a great deal of comfort to any mission not only because they contained fuel on aboard in case we needed it, they could climb to a greater altitudes staying line of sight with us and relay transmissions to home station or communicate with just about any station. Most important just in case anything went wrong with one of the helicopters they could call for help and even parachute their PJs direct to our location providing immediate medical attention. “Jolly flight, King Seven Six.” “King Seven Six, Jolly Two One Flight where did you guys come from?” we responded. “Jolly Two One standby to copy coordinates of possible crash site. You can’t keep all the glory to yourselves.” King 76 replied.
We entered the new coordinates into our flight management system. In the time since our departure from Portland the cellular company had triangulated the 911 call based on several cell tower transmissions in the area and forwarded the information to our command post. They in turn contacted King 76 and within minutes we were headed in a new direction. It was about a 90 square mile mountainous cloud covered search area. Then a stroke of luck King 76 informed us that another small airplane flying over the area reported what appeared to be the remains of a small airplane on the side of a mountain. Once we loaded the approximate latitude and longitude coordinates into our aircrafts navigation system and hit enter our number one needle pointed to an area about 18 miles northwest of Baker City, Oregon. As we continued our flight on or about a zero nine nine degree heading King 76 remain overhead. King 76 continued to monitor all search and rescue frequencies and provided a vital and real time communications link not only with our command post but also with local law enforcement and air traffic control advising them to prepare to guide us to the nearest hospital in Boise.
As we approached the tallest peaks that pierced the cloud layer about the 8,000 foot level we were wretched by the lurid signals coming from the emergency locator transmitter. “Turn it down!” I yelled at my copilot as I followed Jolly 21 in trail slowly around the cliff side searching for the source of the unpleasantly loud transmitter. The airplane is here, somewhere but with the clouds and the mist clasping the tree tops and keeping an eye on Jolly 21 who had slowed down to almost a hover made it difficult for me to search. Then all of a sudden…
(to be continued).
After spending the better part of ten years flying several types of US Army helicopters I ended up in the US Air Force by what I used to call an accident. I also used to tell people that I had won the Lottery! For those of you who have spent any time in the Army you can relate because you cannot compare the Army way of life to that of the Air Force. Every day in the Air Force was like Christmas.
I received my commission on June 9th, 1984 through the reserve officer training corp program otherwise known as ROTC at the University of Washington. Upon graduation I was a brand new Second Lieutenant assigned to the 361st PSYOP Company at Fort Lawton, Washington. Because of my experience and recent degree in fine art I was given charge of GA Platoon which is graphic arts platoon of a psychological operations company. Where I spend almost a year waiting for my pilot slot while creating propaganda leaflets that would be later delivered by aerial means through artillery shells or aircraft behind enemy lines only during brigade training exercises.
After earning my US Army Aviator Wings at Undergraduate Pilot Training at Fort Rucker, Alabama the following year I reported for duty at Gray Army Airfield, Fort Lewis, Washington where I was assigned to Aviation Detachment 3, HHC (-) 81st Separate Infantry Brigade. From there I would soon transfer to my dream job, Platoon Leader, Attack Helicopter Troop, 116th Armored Cavalry. Dream job because I was now at the controls of the AH-1F Cobra Attack Helicopter. Flying the Cobra was the only reason I had joined the Army and not the Air Force back in 1982. Since I was a child I had always wanted to fly the Cobra, and now was my chance. I rapidly progressed through the program and would later become an AH-1F Maintenance Test Pilot and Maintenance Officer. Over the years I also learn to fly the OH-58A Kiowa and the UH-60A/L Blackhawks.
It was during the Blackhawk course at Fort Rucker, Alabama that I was first made aware of the rumors floating around our unit that we were not going to convert from the Cobra to the Apache after all. At that time the US Army was in the process of converting all attack helicopter units from the Vietnam era Cobra and Huey to the modern state of the art Apache and Blackhawk. It was Friday night, March 5th, 1993 and were all celebrating as a unit at the officers club after recently graduating from various flying and maintenance courses for some, others still had weeks of training to attend at Fort Rucker when we received the word that we were all ordered to return to Fort Lewis immediately. What? Why? The government would not waste all of this training? As the evening progressed the alcohol persuaded dialogues continued concentrate on this one subject all night. I was particularly distressed that night had I chosen poorly? Should I have taken the Apache course first then the Blackhawk? I was so looking forward to flying the Apache and I thought I had plenty of time to convert later. Turns out having been selected to fly the Blackhawk first was the best decision.
Upon our return to Gray Army Airfield we noticed that some of the aircraft had already been shipped away to foreign military sales and others were sitting on the flight line covered in white shrink wrap awaiting transportation. The air was filled with nervous anticipation as we waited in formation for the formal news. The denial continued, this cannot be true we all thought, well we all thought wrong! The hanger came to attention as the commander entered the large expanse and soon made the official announcement we had been waiting for; the battalion had been cut from the Apache program but the unit would not be de-activeated. Instead plans were the unit would again go through transition this time we would convert from an attack helicopter unit into a heavy lift or transportation unit. The CH-47 Chinook is a twin engine, tandem rotor heavy lift helicopter that can pick up massive loads and transport them all over the battlefield. So what! I do not want fly something that can have a midair with it’s self.
Five days later I was flying a Kiowa on a training sortie out to Ocean Shores and back. My copilot CW2 Chip J. Twombly said; “You are a Blackhawk pilot now.” “So what,” I responded. “You did graduate right?” “Yes I did graduate and I must admit I sure enjoyed flying the Blackhawk. The only problem is you do not see any Blackhawks on our ramp do you?” I replied. No, but the Air Force has some Blackhawks just a couple of hours south of here in Portland. I think it is a reserve unit. If you do not want to fly the Chinook you should give them a call before you find yourself out of a job.” Chip argued. The Air Force has helicopters? What the heck do they do with them I wondered? I thought they only flew airplanes. The next day I gave them a call expecting them to say we are not interested in any Army pilots. When I mentioned that I was a newly qualified Blackhawk pilot and a commissioned officer well the rest is history. I was hired and my lateral transition package from the Army to the Air Force was started 303 days later it was complete. I now know there are no such things as accidents. God has a plan for all of us.
My last effective date in the Army was Friday, January 7th, 1994 and my first effective date in the Air Force was the following day, no break in service. My first order of business was to officially sign into the 304th Rescue Squadron Monday morning. The squadron was co-located with the 123rd Fighter Squadron on an Air National Guard Base across the runway from the Portland International Airport in Oregon. The 123rd also known as the RedHawks fly the F-15C Eagle.
Besides learning how to wear a squadron scarf and placing the equally bright colored patches on the correct shoulders, I needed to get myself into the next available training class at Kirtland Air Force Base? Located in southeast Albuquerque, New Mexico, it is home to the 58th Special Operations Wing which has the mission to train mission ready special operations, combat search and rescue and missile site support forces. At that time they instructed students in the MC-130P Combat Shadow, HC-130P/N King, UH-1N Huey, the MH/HH-60G Pave Hawk, and Pararecue.
The US Air Force prerequisites to become a helicopter pilot are much different from those of the US Army. Besides the normal graduate level academics and flight training required to transition from the UH-60L Blackhawk to the HH-60G Pave Hawk there were a multitude of other courses I had to attend. They include but are not limited to the S-V90-A water survival course and dreaded S-V80-A land survival course also known as the prisoner of war camp training. Both of these courses are located at Fairchild Air Force Base just outside of Spokane, Washington. But, the course that truly scared me the most was not the prisoner of war camp that everyone tends to worry about, for me it was the 9D5 under water egress trainer or otherwise known as “The Dunker.” Located at Miramar Naval Air Station in California the 9D5 was also referred to by many as “Panic In A Can.” And panic it caused even the best swimmers. The reason it scared me in particular was I still did not know how to swim at the time. So upon discovering there was no way around this requirement I immediately signed up for swimming lessons at the local YMCA in Vancouver. You should have seen the look on my swim instructor’s face when I told him that the only swimming skills I needed to learn were to how dive to the bottom of the deepest pool they have, stay there and turn myself upside down and hold my breath in this inverted position for a count of ten, and return to the surface and tread water for two minutes. With a very puzzled look he asked “What, Why?” My response was simple; “Why, because I want to be a pilot in the United States Air Force that why.”
My story begins on a warm Friday evening in July of 1994. I had decided to stay late after work and I was ready to call it a day when a call came over the squadron’s intercom system; “Attention in the building. Attention in the building, all available helicopter aircrew members report to the operations desk immediately! – I repeat all available helicopter aircrew members report to the operations desk immediately!” It is every rescue pilots dream come true – a real rescue mission!
Wednesday, March 23, 2016
Friday, November 22nd, 1996
It was a cold November evening in the northwest and I was driving south on Interstate 5 returning to Vancouver, Washington with my then ten year old daughter Brianna. A long weekly drive that had become so familiar I could do it in my sleep. I had made this long tiresome drive every available weekend over the past three years and I would continue to do so for almost three more years. I memorized every twist and turn and speed trap along the way. My normal routine on Friday was to arrive at work earlier than normal in order to get in eight hours done in time to beat rush hour traffic on the drive north for two hours and pick up my wonderful little girl from school and take her out to dinner somewhere along the two hour return trip.
It was always a great opportunity to just talk about her week in Lakewood, which is located just outside of Fort Lewis, Washington. I would always ask, So how was school? How are your friends? Do anything fun?, or What would you like to do this weekend? How about a movie or climb Multnomah Falls?" It was the typical get to know you again chit-chat between a child and divorced parent. But tonight's conversation was going to be a little different. Tonight I had the difficult task of informing her that one of my friends, a person she had met on several occasions at squadron functions had died of a heart attack the day before. I was preparing her for a different kind of weekend. One where we would not be doing our normal routine of restaurants, movies, and nature hikes instead we would be attending a wake. How do you explain a wake to a child? I had two hours to think about it on the drive north, and I am glad we had two more hours in the car to talk about it on the way home. As our conversation on the subject continued I could see Brianna's face in the reflection of car passenger door window. She had a very serious and concerned look on her face as she starred out window as if trying to hide her expression. "Dad, I do not want to see a dead body," she finally said. I remembered my first wake, it was my Grandfather Claudio Ruiz, I was almost ten years old and it scared the hell out of me to see him lying in a coffin surrounded by a small garden of flowers and people crying. I said, "ok sweetheart I understand we will attend the wake but you do not have to see him." I could see a huge sense of relief upon her face and body language and I decided to change the conversation to something more pleasant, maybe we could still fit in at least one new restaurant or a movie.
Master Sergeant Richard A. Harder was better known as "The Bagger." He had received the call sign after participating in several rescue missions in which all of the victims had returned in body bags. Rumors around the squadron were that during his first seven rescue mission he had returned to the base without survivors only body bags! I am not sure if the real number of mission was seven or whatever the real body count was. No matter it did not compare to the over 300 people he saved by the time I was introduced to The Bagger. Sergeant Harder was a twenty year veteran of the Portland Fire Department and a Pararescue man in the 304th Rescue Squadron and always the first to volunteer for a mission. He had a great smile and a gift for making you feel like you were the most important person in the room when you were talking to him. I still miss his daily warm whimsical morning greeting "Sir, tell me a story" he would always say as he passed you in the various hallways of the squadron.
I discovered the words "World Famous" were written on the inside of his helmet from a Mount Hood climber that Bagger rescued. During the mission the climber noticed it when Bagger took his helmet off and place it on the snow nest to him as he frantically dug a hole. The stranded climber expecting to be immediately rescued asked "Why are you digging?" Bagger responded the hole is for you. I am sure this confused the survivor or more like scared him from Bagger's description and smile on his face when he told me his side of the story. The survivor noticing the inside of the helmet then ask "What does World Famous mean?" Bagger a humble man simply replied "Oh that, we will talk about that later, right now I have to dig." Indeed the hole was for the climber and for Bagger it would prevent them both from being blown off the ridge by hurricane force winds produced under the Pave Hawk during the extraction.
As inscribed inside his helmet Bagger was world famous. Anytime I mentioned the fact that I was a member of the 304th Rescue Squadron no matter what part of the world I was in, people would immediately respond with oh you must know The Bagger?
As inscribed inside his helmet Bagger was world famous. Anytime I mentioned the fact that I was a member of the 304th Rescue Squadron no matter what part of the world I was in, people would immediately respond with oh you must know The Bagger?
Sergeant Harder became world famous during one of the biggest mountain search and rescue operations in U.S. history. Known as the Oregon Episcopal School Tragedy where 15 students and three adult leaders attempted a climb the 11,239 feet to summit Mount Hood in May of 1986.
On Monday the day after Mothers' Day, the hikers struggled against the darkness and bitter cold toward the summit of Mount Hood to catch the warm rays of a new day. During the first part of the climb five students became sick and returned to base camp. With only one days' rations of food and water and only one sleeping bag and no tents the others pressed on. Just 14 feet from the summit the students experienced a demonic snowstorm with 60 mile per hour gusts that forced them to find shelter in a small snow cave.
Student climber Molly Schula then 17 years old, and Ralph Summers age 30, a professional mountaineer continued to hike down the mountain to seek for help. Their cries for help the next day launched one of the largest U.S. mountain search and rescue operations ever launched. Local state, federal, and volunteer resources covered the mountain working against time and the cold.
The 304th Rescue Squadron helicopters loyal to the search continued to scan the freshly snow covered mountain for any signs of the students. Early Wednesday morning, Bagger spotted two students at the 7,700 foot level that had left eight others in a second attempt to also go for help. A third student also part of this second attempt was later found about 500 yards away at the 8,200 foot level. They were all airlifted to local Portland hospitals where attempts to revive them failed. Just before the search and rescue efforts were to be called off on the third day, again it was Bagger that came across a backpack at the 8,300 foot level. Search efforts for the snow cave encompassing the eight missing hikers were now concentrated in the zone where the backpack was located. The hunt paid off, Bagger found the missing students barely alive. Of the eight found in a snow cave only two 16 year old sophomores survived Giles Thompson and Brinton Clark. Nine others were dead to date this is the worst climbing disaster on Mount Hood. Bagger never gave up hope or the search for the missing students. He was a good man and a good friend, I will always remember his mentorship.
Upon our return to my almost completely vacant two bedroom townhouse apartment, our routine was simple. I always insisted on my daughter taking a shower immediately up arrival to remove the second hand cigarette odor from her long hair and I would place her clothing in the washing machine. Oh the joys of being a single parent. I would then have a long awaited cold beer in a frosty mug and try to relax from a very long week at work followed by an additional four hours of driving.
I was upstairs when I heard Brianna say; "Dad I thought you said Bagger died at the gym?" "Yes, he did my love; he died of a heart attack during or just after his workout," or so I was told by my co-workers. "Dad, according to the news he died in a plane crash." What? "No he did not die in a plane crash, the news always gets it wrong sweetheart, he died at the gym after his workout." I said to her as I rolled my eyes toward the ceiling thinking will the news ever get it right? They are making his death even more difficult to explain. "Dad, he died in a C-130." Brianna continued. What? No sweetheart, I said as I continued my walk downstairs to my bedroom where my daughter who was sitting cross legged on my bed in her pajamas pointing at the tiny 13 inch television screen. I turned and looked at the small screen and immediately felt an electric shock sprint down my spine as I recognized the local reporter standing in the rain being blinded by the bright camera lights in her face. She was standing in front of sign that said in big bold letters PORTALND AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE. What, this can't be. It was the sign on the front gate at the base. Oh No! I turned the volume up just in time to hear the reporter say "There are no reports of survivors in the water at this time." What? I immediately turned back to my daughter and held her by both shoulders and said; "Brianna you have to be a big girl tonight, a very big girl, some of Daddy's friends may have died tonight and I need to get to the base now!"
Brianna go to your room and pack an overnight bag I have to go to the squadron now. She responded as she always has with a great sense of urgency and those caring brown eyes that tell you I love you and I care without ever whispering one word. I was very proud of her bravery in that difficult situation. I called the squadron no answer. I jumped into my flight suit as fast as I could as I continued to call the squadron again, this time a voice from the operations desk answered and said "When can you be here?" I am on my way I replied.
I then called Soap who lived just down the street. "Hello" answered Captain Kevin P. "Soap" Jergens. Soap are you watching the news? Yes he answered what happen? I don't know I just called the squadron and all they said is when can you be here? Can I bring Brianna over and have her stay with Kim? I will pick you up and go to the squadron. "Yes, yes, see you soon" he said as he hung up the phone, I am sure he was busy getting changed into his flight gear.
I said goodbye to his wife Kim and their six year old son Kevin Jr. before kneeling down to kiss Brianna goodnight on the steps of Soap's home and told her that I needed her to be a... she immediately nodded her head and said; "I know Dad, I will be a big girl, I love you."
(to be continued)...
Saturday, March 19, 2016
1130 Giant Drive
Friday, July 6th, 1979
Friday, July 6th, 1979
Never say out loud “feet check” or “show me your feet” in a combat search and rescue squadron or much less at any official or unofficial combat search and rescue function if you are not prepared to receive an eye full of moon, and I am not talking about the natural satellite that circles the earth.
There are many myths and legends in the rescue community and rightly so in a career field that has earned more than its fair share of medals with valor for bravery to include the Congressional Medal of Honor, and the Air Force Cross just to name a couple. As legend has it according to Captain Jerry W. Jennings of the 4488th Test Squadron one of the unit members nicknamed the rescue helicopter “The Jolly Green Giant.” To the best of his recollect it was either Technical Sergeant Marchant or Staff Sergeant Crumpler who said; “Look, it’s The Jolly Green Giant.” As the first camouflage painted Sikorsky CH-3 helicopter arrived at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida in the summer of 1964. A year later two CH-3s and two crews from the 4488th were sent to the 20th Helicopter Squadron in Tan Son Nhut Air Base, South Vietnam to begin combat search and rescue (CSAR) operations. Upon arrival they were asked what call sign they would like to use. All of the members of the newly arrived crews agreed that Jolly Green combined with the last two digits of their tail number was appropriate, for example "Jolly Green Nine Zero" for aircraft 63-09690. These crew members saw no reason to use the revolving call sign system that was being used by others in theater. The bad guys all knew the radar signature following a shoot down would be that of a rescue helicopter attempting to pick up any surviving aircrew members regardless of their call sign. During the course of the war the Air Force conducted literally thousands of combat search and rescue missions using the call sign "Jolly." Thus the nickname stuck and is still proudly used today by all USAF Combat Search and Rescue squadrons stationed on duty around the world.
The Minnesota Valley Canning Company introduced The Jolly Green Giant in 1925 to market the company’s peas. The Valley of The Jolly Green Giant is reference to the Minnesota River Valley of Le Sueur. Today in the City of Blue Earth, Minnesota stands a 55 and a half foot tall statue of The Jolly Green Giant. Erected on July 6th, 1979 the city paid $43,000.00 for the fiberglass statue to commemorate the linking of west and east sections of Interstate 90. Of course being a combat search and rescue pilot I could not help but play tourist when I unexpectedly came upon the statue. I could not just drive by and not stop and take a picture. My daughter Brianna and I posed at the base of the statue that attracts over 10,000 visitors a year. I wondered during the pose how many members of the Air Force rescue community had done the same over the years. So why is the mascot on the side of a can of green peas so important? This mascot is not only the logo of one of the world’s largest food companies in the United States it is also represents a force that will stop at nothing to rescue American airmen and their allies flying in harms way around the world 24/7/365. The word “Jolly” is now synonymous with the word “Rescue” all over the globe, and continues to represent the bravery of the men and women of the US Air Force Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) community. You will find The Jolly Green Giant proudly displayed on the right shoulder patch of airmen belonging to CSAR squadrons to this day. One of which is the 41st Rescue Squadron presently stationed at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia and conducting rescue missions in Afghanistan today.
But the most highly revered and prestigious symbol of CSAR is The Jolly Green Giant’s green foot prints. You will find his them painted on just about everything from the tallest water towers to the concrete helicopter pads and everything in between at every location lucky enough to be graced with the privilege to host such brave Americans.
According to another legend green ink first appeared seven years after the arrival of the first Jolly Green Giant helicopters into Southeast Asia. The tradition of tattooing The Jolly Green Giant’s footprints on the Glutei Maximi was started by two inebriated pararescue men. They did not want to leave Thailand without a proper souvenir reflecting their heroic combat tours supporting rescue missions in Laos and Cambodia. Wearing now what they thought was the greatest symbol of manhood, and that it should be shared with all. And shared with all they did. They flashed their moons to anyone willing and unwilling to see their “Green Feet.” Before the war ended the custom of Green Feet had spread to also the pilots and flight engineers of the Jolly Greens. After all it was an enormous team effort to put together a combat search and rescue package just to save one life. The tattoo reflects a sense of pride so to speak and is one of those military customs that was born in combat and is still around today. I have witnessed the slightest provocation to begin a moon cycle around a squadron social event that will blind even the most sedated. This historic symbol of valor and commitment while not located in the most humble of places is venerated by all.
Make no mistake according to most members of the rescue community you do not join the squadron and run out the next day to the local tattoo parlor. You must first earn your Green Feet by first “saving a life during a combat search and rescue mission.” This view is especially held by the pararescue community who claim to be the first to wear this gallant badge of honor. But what do warriors do without a war? Between Vietnam and Desert Storm and again between Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom there was very limited opportunity to be part of actual combat search and rescue mission. Thus this unsanctioned requirement simply dropped the word “combat” to “saving a life during a search and rescue mission.” This opened it up to peace time civilian search and rescue (SAR) missions. The majority today will tell you that they are of the opinion that a “life is a life” and a “save is a save.”
Having flown in both scenarios I concur that a SAR mission is just as dangerous as a CSAR mission except you are not on the “two way rifle range” as my buddy Elvis used to refer to the combat environment. The only difference is that no one is shooting at you during a civilian SAR mission. At least you don’t expect anyone to shoot at you! Boy was I wrong. Regardless I was going to wait for a combat rescue save to get my Green Feet.
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Friday, July 29th, 1994
The word “Dead” was transmitted over the radio. “Say again” someone else transmitted. Immediately everyone began to speak up not only inside of our aircraft but also outside of the aircraft. And at an altitude of 10,000 feet anybody listening on that frequency also heard the word Dead!
As soon as the word Dead was transmitted in the open our command post miles away at home station heard it over the radio; “This is the command post; understand the victim is a Delta?” Oh no, this is not good. Even as the new guy, I had a feeling nothing good was going to come of this as I listened to the chaos over the radios. “Jolly 21, This is the command post; understand the victim is a Delta?” repeated the sergeant at our home station command post. I could picture the chain of command standing behind the sergeant listening back home with anticipation. Bullet responded with “standby.” He was now trying to sort things out in flight between our flight of two helicopters and the sheriff’s helicopter and the local civilian rescue teams on the ground. As to who actually transmitted the call in the open as to the victims alleged condition nobody admitted it. Not that it mattered at this point because “Delta” was now being transmitted every couple of minutes. Delta was our code word used over the radio in the clear for deceased. “What is going on Razor?” asked one of the PJs. “Everyone quiet” he responded to our crew – “Understand we have a Delta?” “What?” “Who said that?” “How can you tell?” “Who is with the victim and declared him a Delta?” these were just a fraction of the transmission made by the sheriff’s helicopter and civilian rescue teams on the ground and we could even hear the sheriff’s home station. Basically all involved, these questions were even echoed between us inside.
“Jolly 21 flight this is the command post understand the victim is a Delta return to base immediately.” and just like that the mission came to an immediate halt. Immediately the PJs expressed their strong desires to exit the aircraft onto the rocks to verify the climber’s condition. I was all for it, let’s do it. But I was just the co-pilot on number two and that meant that I was so far down on food chain when it came to making decisions it did not matter what I thought. I also did not realize at the time many of the implications. I asked “Ok so what is the big deal, let’s go get him dead or alive.” I had always been trained never leave a man behind. In the military, training beats into your head over and over again, never leave a man behind in combat alive or dead. But this was not combat.
Another thing that I did not realize is that Air Force Regulations do not allow us to just pick up dead bodies. As a rescue pilot I am only allowed to risk my life and the lives of my crew members to save a life. I am not allowed to risk my life or the lives of my crew or any life on the ground assisting us just to recover a body. I am not allowed to place anyone in harm’s way to recover a body without first receiving higher headquarters permission. And that meant more time. Time was something we were running out of on the mountain. It was getting late and it would be dark soon and we did not have the fuel to wait for permission to recover a body.
Razor knew no one would grant us permission to do this at night. It is dangerous enough during the day. Jolly 21 did the only thing they could, they inserted some of the civilian rescue team members as close as they could in hopes that they may be able to reach the climber and determine his condition first hand. Then we heard; “Command post, Jolly 21 flight returning to base.” I am sure that was a tough call for Bullet to make being a sheriff himself in his civilian job. And just like that the mission was over. The victim was now presumed dead. I remember feeling sad not only for the victim “May God rest his soul,” but also feeling sad for his family. I am sure they were at the base of the mountain waiting on pins and needles for good news.
It was now getting dark in the cold shadows of the mountain and by the time we would reach Portland International it would most certainly be black of night. “Crew let’s get ready to return to base and plan on an instrument approach recovery, FE please hand me the pubs kit,” said Razor with a bit of disgust under his breath. Nobody wanted to go home especially the PJs. As quiet professional everyone turned their attention to the task at hand outwardly, inside everyone was disgusted with the situation.
Tarzan handed Razor the pubs kit per his request as I started to load the coordinates to Portland International into our navigation system. Moments later, Razor slammed the approach plates onto the radio console. “What is your problem Razor!” I responded immediately. I knew he was upset that we were not given permission to continue with the mission, but did he have to throw things at me. “You have to look at the approach plates to appreciate the joke.” Razor said. I picked up the approach plates and the cover said Montana not Oregon. “Well there must be another one in the kit for Oregon?” I responded. Razor said “No! look for yourself!” as he shook his head and looked out his window no doubt thinking what an idiot his co-pilot was. And I was. I had taken a pubs bag from an aircraft that had landed earlier in the day returning from a cross country flight from our sister squadron in Arizona. The Oregon approach plates which were obviously used by the previous pilots for their approach into Portland were still in that aircraft. No matter, it was still my fault for not taking the time to check the cockpit and the Pubs kit and verify it was complete and all the approach plates were accounted for. No approach plates for Oregon meant we had no data on how to execute an instrument approach into Portland International or any other airport in the state of Oregon. Another reason this was such a sore subject with Razor was that just two days earlier on a previous training flight together I had been counseled more like yelled at by Razor as my instructor pilot while we sat in a running helicopter in the middle of the runway at Scappoose Industrial Airpark for not brining the pubs kit on the flight. Something he did not discover until we needed them to fly a practice instrument approach at the end of the training sortie. My argument at the time was that it was Razor’s responsibility as the assigned aircraft commander. As a pilot in command in the Army I signed for everything including the copilot. Razor’s argument was that it was my appointed duty as the assigned copilot, and he did not care how the Army did things! It was a ridicules argument on my part because I was continuously comparing the way things were done in the Army to the way things were done in the Air Force. In the end I was wrong, for not taking the time to transfer the original pubs kit which I signed for to the spare aircraft. No matter, his point was well taken and I would never make that mistake again. And ultimately learned to forget the way the Army did things and accepted a new way of doing business for the rest of my training.
Our solution was simple receive all of the data from Jolly 21 over the radio and Razor a seasoned instructor in the squadron had practically memorized the ILS into Portland International. ILS stands for Instrument Landing System which is a precision runway approach aid based on two radio beams that allows you to navigate vertical and horizontal through the clouds down to the lowest possible altitude above the runway.
As we descended out of the mountains and approached Portland International it was now covered by a black moonless sky above and below you could only see a glow through the clouds beneath where you knew the large city was located. A layer of clouds about thousand feet thick blanketed the city all the way down to minimums which is 200 feet above the runway. Great minimums I thought what else can go wrong today? As a former Army guy I could count on one hand how many times I had actually flown in a real cloud in the past ten years. Needless to say in the Army Kiowa pilots considered flying in the clouds an emergency procedure. With only one unreliable Non-Directional Beacon or NDB in my mighty OH-58A Kiowa I would still considered it an emergency procedure today. An NDB is the least exact of instrument approaches.
The Pave Hawk on the other hand is another story it is a cornucopia of instrumentation. Onboard it has an ILS, a VOR, TACAN, ADF, and DME, not to mention Inertial Navigation, Doppler, and GPS, can you say Score! “Crew standby for an instrument approach.” Razor announced as he continued to set up all the radios I just mentioned with the proper frequencies while I flew the aircraft over the city descending from 6000 to 4000 feet. As I continued to maneuver the aircraft under radar vectors from approach control Razor briefed the ILS approach. All the while we could hear Jolly 21 being cleared for the ILS approach and being advised that an American Airlines 737 had just broken out at minimums. We waited with anticipation. “Jolly 22, Jolly 21 we just broke out at 200 feet and it is not getting any better, good luck see you on the ground.” Upon hearing that Razor said; “I have the controls copilot back me up. Approach control Jolly 22 is ready for the approach.” Approach control cleared us for the approach and Razor started his descent into the cloud layer below us. Please break out, please break out, I thought to myself. Not breaking out of the clouds at the bottom meant having to go-around. This means begin an immediate climb to avoid hit the terrain or obstacles and request radar vectors for another attempt or divert to an alternate airport. We were low on fuel so going to our alternate was the plan. Our alternate airport was located just across the Columbia River on the Washington side and we had just enough fuel left to make it there with reserve. I found it strange how the weather was always different just across the wide river.
It took me a while to get comfortable flying in the clouds some pilots describe it as flying inside a ping-pong ball. It can be disorienting if you look outside, just fly the instruments, trust your instruments, and you will be just fine. Again I thought to myself please break out! At 200 feet we could barely make out the white rabbit lights, score! They are a set of white strobe lights that give the appearance of moving in a straight line toward the end of the runway. I call them beautiful. As we punched out of the clouds just below minimums right over the runway I was exhausted. As we taxied back to parking in the fog I could hear airplanes behind us on their approach calling a go-around. We had shot our approach without a minute to spare. Sitting there in the cockpit waiting for the rotor blades to come to a complete stop I was in awe at what we had just accomplished. No survivor but the capability the United States Air Force has to rescue a survivor from any environment and in any weather condition, day or night is awesome. I was tired and excited about what had just occurred, the only thing that would have made it a perfect day is if we could have found the climber alive. And no buffoonery over the radios! No survivor meant, no green feet for me today.
The next morning fresh crews were launched in search of the missing climber. Nothing. They discovered the gully extremely raked by fallen rock and the climber could not be located. Upon their return to base they asked Knuckles; “Are you sure you saw a body?” Doubt was beginning to circulate around squadron as to an actual sighting of a body. Knuckles a good old country boy later told me “I thought they were nuts, how could they not locate the body.” There was no doubt in his mind as to what he saw. He saw a man at the bottom of a 1000 foot cliff lying head down on a giant boulder. An investigation following a lawsuit was started. It was later surmised that the body was swept down the gully into a crevasse. Further recovery efforts were suspended due to the teeming rock fall.
A register entry at the summit dated 28 July 1994 revealed that Larry Hermens did indeed summit Mount Jefferson but had expressed concerns about the descent. He was 16 years old.
Monday morning maintenance called Razor and I over to see what little was little was left of the turbine engine and interior walls of the combustion chamber. There was literally nothing left of the inside. Little did we know at the time of the compressor stalls that three of four bolts that hold a metal cover over the External Stores Support System (ESSS) attachment points departed the aircraft and were sucked into the air-intake and ingested by the engine. The Inlet Particle Separator or IPS blower sucks dirty air from the front of the engine and blows foreign objects overboard in order to prevent internal damage to the engine. In our case you could see where the IPS blower managed to send one of the three bolts over board by the thread marks left on the internal walls of the blower. That left two bolts unaccounted for and that was enough to destroy the engine. Maintenance personnel were astonished that the engine held together and did not explode and possibly catching the aircraft on fire. This incident was reported through both the operations and maintenance channels to higher headquarters and as a result the entire Pave Hawk fleet was grounded until each aircraft passed inspection of the same ESSS bolts. To our astonishment the majority of the aircraft in the fleet had lose bolts and in few cases missing bolts. This included most of our own Pave Hawks of which we owned a total of nine birds. A fix was immediately implemented and the fleet returned to duty as soon as possible.
During my walk back to the operations building after looking at the dissected engine, I was reliving in my mind what could have happened had the engine not held together but dismissed my catastrophic scenarios. I just thanked God that the engine held together. I was still excited about my new occupation. I was excited because I had been part of a real mission and torn because we did not find the missing climber alive. My thoughts and prayers immediately turned to his family and friends for their loss.
Sunday, March 13, 2016
Friday, July 29th, 1994
“No shit—there I was, thought I was going to die,” and on my first rescue mission. Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Wow, it does sound like a machine gun going off I thought to myself. The sounds of our number two engine experiencing severe compressor stalls sounded exactly as described by many of my previous instructor pilots. I remember reaching my right hand up to grab the number two power control lever waiting for the flight engineer to say, “confirmed” and my aircraft commander to give the command to either reduce the power or go into ECU Lockout. The later action allows the pilot to over ride the automatic control system and take manual control of the engine. “Co-pilot standby number two throttle for ECU Lockout.” Throttle, that right! I had just started flying the Pave Hawk only weeks earlier and I was still not instinctively used to the new Air Force terminology. I guess old habits die hard. I was a former Army Aviator or what is otherwise known as a “FAG” which was short for Former Army Guy to all my new Air Force buddies, I am sure they meant it as a term of endearment, right! I was new not only to the squadron but to the US Air Force having spent the last ten plus years flying various makes and models of US Army helicopters including the AH-1F Cobra Attack Helicopter and OH-58A Kiowa out of Fort Lewis, Washington. I had also recently completed a UH-60L Blackhawk transition course at Fort Rucker, Alabama. After a lateral transfer from the Army to the Air Force in January I was now beginning my MH/HH-60G Pave Hawk training. I had just completed the phase one of my flight training in the Pave Hawk when I was lucky enough to be selected to fly this particular mission. Lucky for me I decided to stay late after work on Friday, when the squadron received the 911 call that a climber was missing on Mount Jefferson. The director of operations immediately announced over the intercom system for all available aircrew to report to the front desk. There he would count heads and put together crews from all available aircrew members. It was Friday and it was late and that meant that most of squadron had already departed for the weekend. Score!, I was in the right place at the right time. For those were not selected because their duty position was already filled they ran around the squadron doing what they could to help. In this case we had more flight engineers than we needed so they immediately ran to the flight line to help get the helicopters ready. Based on qualifications thus far, training, and previous experience, I was lucky enough to be selected for my first mission. I was the co-pilot of the second aircraft in a flight of two Pave Hawks. We always deployed as a two ship. Since I was still learning the rescue mission and was paired up with an instructor pilot. I could not believe it, I was going on a real mission. I excited to go and learn first hand what combat search and rescue was all about. This was a rare opportunity.
Anyway back to the in flight emergency, in the US Army the throttle is referred to as a power control lever or PCL for short. It is even labeled “Power Control Lever” on the side of the handle. This is because the HH-60G Pave Hawk is just another UH-60L Blackhawk, except this one is on steroids. The Blackhawk which was originally designed to fill many if not all of the shortfalls the UH-1H Huey experienced during the Vietnam War. The Blackhawk is a success story and truly is a combat survivable aircraft. It reminds me of the BASF Corporation trademark; “We don’t make a lot of the products you buy. We make a lot of the products you buy better.” The United States Air Force did not make the Blackhawk, the Air Force made the Blackhawk better. The Pave Hawk is very impressive, especially to a former Army aviator who was amazed that unlike the Army an aircraft actually existed where every button, switch, and toggle actually worked! But, sometimes that is not enough, and today my number two engine is experiencing severe compressor stalls, which are causing it to come apart in flight and eventually fail.
We were the second aircraft in a formation of two Pave Hawks enroute to Mount Jefferson to look for a climber who was reported over due when we experienced the savage reports of the number two engine that is was coming apart. “Jolly Two One, Jolly Two Two, is returning to base due to engine problems, we are switching to Portland Approach” Said Razor over the radio. Major Brandon B. “Razor” Sharpe was my aircraft commander during this rescue mission. “Jolly Two Two, do you need us to assist?” Responded Bullet in Jolly Two One. “No continue with the rescue mission.” During our continued un-commanded descent we turned north along the Interstate 5 corridor to return to our home station at Portland International Airport. Razor kept calling for the engine emergency checklists from the flight engineer. As I looked over my right shoulder I could see our flight engineer Technical Sergeant Mitchell P. “Tarzan” Collins flipping frantically through his checklist for something that applied based on the instrument readings in the cockpit and the loud sounds coming from the engine. There are too many engine emergency related checklists for the Pave Hawk to list them all here. I was amazed at how Tarzan read each and every one of them in a clear and concise voice before settling on the one that the crew thought made the most sense for the emergency. Tarzan was a call sign he had earned years earlier when he fell out of a helicopter while in flight and dangled below it from his restraint harness. It was a funny story that he would only relate the actual events to me in detail years later over a cold beer. The restraint harness is designed to replace the seat belt in the sense that it does not tie you down into the seat rather it allows a person to move around in the cabin while still remaining attached to the inside of the aircraft preventing you from being thrown out during a crash sequence.
After several compressor stalls Tarzan recommend a checklist that involved taking manual control of the engine by disengaging the Electrical Control Unit or ECU and Razor agreed. While I kept my eyes on the engine and transmission instruments looking for abnormal fluctuations in rpm, temperatures, pressures, and any associated caution lights. I pulled the number two throttle out of the “FLY” position and reduced the demands on the engine as Razor reduced the severity of our turn in order to stop the series of compressor stalls. Razor then gave the command; “Co-pilot take the number two engine to ECU Lockout.” I pulled down on the throttle and advanced it full forward to the ECU Lockout position and then back quickly to the six o’clock position or pointing straight down to the floor. I now had manual control of the number two engine and immediately began to reduce the demands we were placing on the engine just by our sheer weight in excess of 22,000 pounds alone if nothing else. My job now was to keep my eyes inside on the gauges and advise the pilot on the condition of both engines so that the he could keep his eyes outside and concentrate on flying the aircraft to a safe landing. I took note of the engine instruments on my knee board to check for any trends. From time to time I would peek outside and point out a few suitable landing areas. I said “Razor look there is a road at one o’clock we can land on.” “No” he responded immediately. “I don’t land on roads!” What? I thought to myself. “Look Razor there is a football field we can land on.” “No” he responded again immediately. “I don’t land on fields!” What? I thought to myself again, great we are going to die, at this rate of descent we are not going to make it back to Portland. “Co-pilot get ready to lose some weight!” Razor said. “We need to get rid of a lot of weight!” Ah, yes I thought to myself that will help! That will help a lot. As I looked over my right shoulder I said, “Wow, we are going throw everything out of the cabin?” In the back of the aircraft were three pararescue men with enough gear to climb Mt. Everest.
The aircraft commander (Razor) sits in the right seat and directly behind him sits the flight engineer (Tarzan). The co-pilot (me) sits in the left seat and directly behind him sits the gunner. This particular mission took place prior to the formal introduction of the Aerial Gunner position in the HH-60G at the 304th Rescue Squadron. While other rescue units on active duty had just introduced them, we in the reserve were still waiting for the positions to be funded and authorized. The gunner position was normally filled by a pararescue man or a second flight engineer during tactical training flights or operational flights that required flight below 500 feet such as a real rescue mission. Behind both the flight engineer and the gunner positions on the floor sat two or three pararescue men otherwise known as PJs which is short for Para Jumper and all of the required equipment to insert them or extract them from the landing zone such as rappel ropes, rope ladder, and fast rope. This along with all of their weapons, ammunition, and medical equipment to include stokes litters and any other specialty gear that may be required for a particular type mission. This can range from mountain climbing gear to SCUBA for a water rescue and everything in between. I am sure the PJs would take the kitchen sink if they felt it added value to their mission.
I was just about to question the pilot on how he intended to dump all the gear overboard when the pilot said; “Standby to dump fuel.” Dump fuel? Oh yeah, unlike the Blackhawk this aircraft can actually dump fuel overboard at the rate of 800 pounds a minute. I remember reading about it in the operator’s manual. Dump fuel? Humm? Now where is that switch? Not counting circuit breakers there are over 528 switches in the cockpit of the HH-60G that must be physically flipped, rotated, pushed-in or pulled-out. I know this because I counted them all during a long cross country flight just to keep myself awake. As we were in a descending turn towards the earth, I could see through the broken clouds the tops of buildings and houses below, still not finding the red cover guarded switch which was safe tied to the closed position with a breakable copper wire. I divided my attention between looking outside at the ground for a safe place to land and inside monitoring the engine gauges, and that damn switch that I still could not find! Dumping fuel was not something you practice everyday. Being new to the Pave Hawk I did not instinctively know its exact location, other than it was located on the auxiliary fuel panel. Even if I had found the damn switch, it is just not a natural act to just send the life sustaining liquid over board. The Pave Hawk can dump 800 pounds of fuel a minute. At that rate you could easily put yourself in precarious situation. There is a series of steps required in the dump fuel checklist which should prevent you from just dumping all your gas overboard, or so I have read. Razor kept asking me; “Have you found it?” “No, I can’t find it!” Especially with me sitting in the left seat and my right hand on the throttle! Good grief Razor must have thought. I remember looking through the chin bubble which is a small window placed just below the foot pedals and seeing the roof tops getting bigger! Razor do we really want to dump hundreds of pounds of fuel over these civilians? Air Force Regulations allow us to only dump fuel during life and death rescue missions, high priority operational missions, and during emergencies only, but not below 3,000 feet or over agricultural or populated areas. Now how did I remember that and not the location of that damn switch!
“No,” Razor replied. “Do not dump fuel.” Great, now I am going to burn up in the crash with almost 4,000 pounds of jet fuel. Why did I open my big mouth? My worry was not the more than 2,500 pounds of fuel in the crash worthy main tanks; it was the almost 1,800 pounds of fuel remaining in the auxiliary tanks that are located inside the aircraft cabin. Who was the smart guy who invented that? As we continued our descending turn towards Portland International Airport we managed to level out about 2,500 feet above the Interstate 5 corridor on one engine. Wow what a great feeling having two engines! That is why Razor did not intend to land on a road or open field, in his mind we still had enough power and altitude to possibly make it home on one engine. After ten years of flying single engine helicopters my mind was already set to instinctively land immediately or as soon as possible if there was any question that my single engine would quit in flight. You got to love multi-engine aircraft it is the only way to fly.
Razor gave us a quick autorotation brief; “Gentlemen this will be a straight ahead autorotation from this altitude to runway two eight left, airspeed will be slightly above a 100 knots, at 150 feet we will have the rotor in the green, wings level, FE call out the rotor.” As we made our final turn to line ourselves up with the runway, I heard one of the three PJs, in the back say; “PJ to Pilot” followed by silence. “PJ to Pilot” again there was no response from Razor. “PJ to Pilot” I looked to my right and I could see Razor was too busy talking to the tower and asking for crash rescue to answer the PJ. As Razor continued to set up for the autorotation. I responded; “PJ this is the co-pilot go ahead.” The PJ team leader asked;“Sir, should we be like in the crash position or something?” At the time I found it the funniest thing, because the PJ’s question caused me to immediately turn my head back to the cabin over my right arm which was still on the number two throttle to say; “Does this mean you are not?” And the sight of three grown men spontaneously dance in the cabin, jumping and moving equipment all around, it was assholes and elbows everywhere! I still laugh every time I think about it. I was laughing so hard in the cockpit that I had to lower my visor just to hide my in appropriate and uncontrollable hysterics and remind myself that we were about to enter an autorotation.
Now an autorotation is a complex phenomenon where the lift generated by the rotor system on a helicopter is purely accomplished by aerodynamic forces under certain conditions. It involves the delicate balance of opposing aerodynamic forces along the rotor blades. I will not bore you with mach numbers and angles of attack, transverse motion, and complexities of aerodynamic analysis and how they present difficult problems in fluid dynamics. Rather just know that it is a bad thing. When the engine quits on an airplane it becomes a glider. That is if you do not have an ejection seat or parachute your only option is to glide the airplane to a safe landing. The same is true in a helicopter. Because helicopters are not designed with ejection seats and the crews do not wear parachutes departing the aircraft is certainly out of the question if the engine or engines quit. Besides with four rotor blades the diameter of over 53 feet spinning over your head on a descent, where do you want to go? Certainly not outside of the aircraft.
Believe it or not a helicopter can become a glider. A very poor glider at best, a rock glides better than a helicopter. An autorotation provides you with enough inertia in the rotor system, provided you catch it in time to glide to a suitable landing site within your immediate surroundings. Now if we were flying an auto gyro this would be fine because an autogyro uses autorotation as its primary lifting mechanism. In a helicopter autorotation is purely an emergency procedure that is used when failure of the power plant or transmission occurs. The most important part of the autorotation is to have just the right amount of inertia at the bottom, or what we call the flare.
Just moments after I lowered my visor Razor announced to the crew; “Crew call ready?” I answered “Co is ready,” the flight engineer answered “FE is ready, and the PJ team leader in the back called “PJs are ready.” Upon hearing confirmation that the crew was ready to enter the autorotation Razor immediately dropped the collective in his left hand and I pulled the number two throttle back to idle as instructed and we began our rapid descent to runway two eight left. You could tell were still very heavy certainly well above 20,000 pounds. The sudden sensation of falling butt first down the world’s fastest runaway elevator was enough to confirm our total weight. That and the loud sounds coming from the transmission as is spooled up. In training this is a lot of fun, during a real emergency not so much. I could hear Tarzan say “high rotor, high rotor, high rotor” and Razor would gently pull up on the collective to make the correction. Followed by "low rotor!, low rotor!" in a higher pitched voice. Razor would then lower the collective to regain the loss of inertia.
During the autorotation descent the pilot divides his focus outside on the intended point of touch down, in our case runway two eight left and inside the cockpit on his altitude, airspeed, rotor rpm, wings level, alignment, torque, engine rpm, and sink rate, all while listening to the sounds of the transmission over his head for clues. The "ground rush" while distracting, is interrupted by Tarzan continuing to make the high and low rotor calls. High rotor you have too much inertia, low rotor not enough inertia. High rotor you can recover from fairly easily by pulling up on the collective in your left hand thus increasing the drag or friction on the main rotor blades to slow them down into the normal range. Low rotor is bad. Let may say this again low rotor is very bad! You wait too long to correct it and you may slow the main rotor blades down to a point where you will not recover the lost inertia. Mishaps have occurred where the pilot waited too long and thus stopped the blades in mid-air at which point they are no longer in aerospace vehicle, but rather something that resembles a call falling off a cliff. The end result of course catastrophic. By lowering the collective you decrease the angle of attack on the main rotor blades thus decreasing the drag or friction. Less drag the easier it is to fly through the air. Do you remember as a child sticking your hand outside the window of a moving car and feeling the air run quickly past your hand when it was palm down and how much resistance you felt when you slightly tilted your hand up thumb first? Dramatically your hand would fill with air and cause your arm to move up and back. The same with the main rotor blades by lowering the collective you move the position of the blades to a level position just like your hand. This decreases the profile and friction across the surface of the blades and increases the speed of the entire rotor system. With enough altitude at least 500 feet and above during an autorotation the more time you have to make these corrections and the greater your chances of having enough inertia to make a safe landing. There is a series of charts in our flight manual labeled high velocity diagrams which we often referred to them as the “boob of death” chart because the red zone on the graph resembles the profile of a female breast. It depicts altitude on the left side of the chart and airspeed along the bottom of the chart and curved lines from the upper left corner to the lower right corner represents temperature and aircraft weight. The red zone or boob of death is the area in the chart where based on your aircraft weight and temperature along with your altitude and airspeed is mathematically insufficient to allow you to achieve enough inertia to recover the aircraft in time. The white area of the chart which is the remainder of the chart depicts altitudes and airspeed that when matched will give you the best chances for survival. These charts are particularly important when you are conducting operations that require a lot of hovering above ground effect or the diameter of one rotor. Today our airspeed of 130 knots which equals 149.8 mph and an entry altitude over 1,500 feet above the ground we are in the white area of the chart and have plenty of inertia to make a safe landing, if we do not screw it up.
Now the most self-critiquing part of the autorotation is the flare. There is a tremendous amount of energy stored during the descent. The flare is most effective in the last 100 feet of the approach which translates to last five to six seconds. You are basically taking this giant fan over your head and turning it sideways by pulling back on the cyclic or which is often referred to as the “stick” with your right hand to slow the aircraft down just above your selected landing site. At the same time you decrease or increase slightly the collective depending on your rotor spinning faster or slower during your flare. As you are doing this with both of your arms you are also using both of legs by moving the foot pedals to maintain your alignment with the runway. The foot pedals perform the same function for the 11 foot diameter tail rotor as the collective does for the main rotor. Most helicopters are designed with a three to one or six to one ratio. You basically have a smaller rotor on the tail which spinning three to six times faster than the main rotor and this makes it very sensitive.
As you pass 150 feet above the ground you begin the flare so that your control inputs take place between 125 to 75 feet above your intended point of touchdown. Your control input should be severe enough that you should lose sight of the runway through your front windshield about 20 to 25 degrees nose up. At this point you shift part of your attention to your peripheral vision to judge your forward ground speed or what we call ground rushing by the window. You are also ensuring no lateral drift or movement from side to side. Lateral drift is bad. Let me say that again, lateral drift is bad. It is bad because if you touch the ground on either your left or right side only with any part of the main landing gear and you will create a pivot point upon which you will roll the aircraft and impact the main blades on the ground. You also do not want any forward movement once you touch the ground on an unimproved surface such as freshly plowed field, wet ground, or any other surface that is not a paved runway, this would allow the main gear of a heavy aircraft to sink into it thus causing a pivot point forward. Plus anything not tied down inside the cabin may fly forward and hit you on the back of the head.
By the end of the flare you want to get rid of just the right amount of energy to have enough left over to catch your fall. The end of your flare is obvious; you will feel a sudden stop in forward movement immediately followed by a sinking feeling, not just in your stomach. You will literally fall out of the sky, which is the point where you want to immediately level the aircraft by inherently pushing the stick forward with your right hand while pulling up on the collective with your left hand to now increase the drag on the blades and get as much lift as they will allow and input left pedal to keep you from spinning to the right. Execute all of these simultaneously while judging your rate of descent to touchdown as smooth and as light as a feather.
A slight forward movement of the aircraft on an improved surface such as runway or hard surface road is fine. And that is what Razor had in mind that day, the instant he gently touched the surface of runway 28 left with the tail wheel and continued our forward roll onto our main wheels the PJs let out a load and sigh relieving cheer – “HURRAH!” “Great job Razor,” We all said as I proceeded to shut down our number two engine and check for a post engine shutdown fire. As we continued our roll on the runway looking for taxi-way Charlie 6 back to our parking ramp, I could feel a sudden sense of exhaustion caused by all the adrenaline in my system from this short flight. As we continued our taxi to parking I noticed what appeared to be the pit crew at Daytona on our ramp getting another aircraft ready to launch. “Razor do you see that, someone is getting ready to go” I said. “That someone is us, co-pilot you have the controls, continue with the shutdown checklist and turn the aircraft over to maintenance and move our stuff to the spare; PJs move all of your gear to the spare aircraft. “FE I am going inside to the operations desk to get the latest update on the mission, get us ready to go as soon as you can.” Razor replied. What? we are going again, after what we just went through? I thought to myself this can’t be. That was another reason Razor did not intend to land on a road or open field and wait for help, he intended to return to base and continue the mission using the spare aircraft. Tarzan looked at me with that reddish blonde mustached smile under his visor and said; “Sir, welcome to rescue!” I was dumb founded, wow we are really going at it again. The Air Force is awesome! This did not compare to the training flights of my last ten years where nothing was worth taking this high of a risk. Then again, this was a real rescue mission and someone’s life hung in the balance. Somebody in the chain of command had already approved this mission because it was a matter of life and death.
As I walked up to the spare aircraft tail number 89-26200 after completing the engine shutdown checklist on 89-26199 and from signing it over to maintenance. Tarzan yelled out to me “Sir, can you please go get some Pubs?” Pubs, short for flight publications which includes all the local area maps, approach plates, and books required to be onboard the aircraft for the flight. It is the aircraft commander’s responsibility to make sure they are on board the aircraft but it is the co-pilots additional duty to sign for them from the operations desk and carry them out to the aircraft. I said yes of course and as I turned to my previous aircraft 199 to recover the Pubs that I had already signed for and brought out, when I noticed that maintenance being the efficient machine that it is, already had 199 half way across the flight line in tow. Too far to chase after it looking like an idiot, so I did what any lazy co-pilot would do. I went from aircraft to aircraft on the flight line in the hopes of finding another set instead of taking the time to go inside to the operations desk and sign out another set of pubs. Score! I found a set, I grabbed them and jumped into the spare aircraft and started the pre-flight cockpit checks with Tarzan. The PJs were all smiles packing their gear in the back of the spare aircraft all the while taking the time to say; “Nice job Captain.” It felt great to hear those words from the PJs and right at that very moment I felt like I was part of a great team. Maintenance was running around the aircraft ensuring we would have everything we needed and standing by for anything that may fail during our checks. Other flight engineers were around and on top of the aircraft closing and locking access doors and panels they had opened during their pre-flight inspections in order to expedite our departure. A process that normally takes an hour or more was being accomplished in minutes, putting any pit crew in Daytona to shame.
Once again we lifted off in record time with priority from departure control and climbed as fast as we could to reach our sister ship that was now arriving in the vicinity of Mount Jefferson. I remember taking the time to look at the surrounding area of the City of Portland and marveled at its mid summers beauty during our departure. Portland is located in the Pacific Northwest where the Columbia and Willamette rivers converge, I thought to myself what a great location, what a great unit, what a great mission!
Mount Jefferson originally named Seekseekqua by native Americans was called Mount Vancouver by the British and later named in honor of US President Thomas Jefferson by Lewis and Clark. Mount Jefferson is an old volcano in the Cascade Range and at 10,497 feet it is the second highest mountain in Oregon. It is one of the hardest volcanoes to reach and climb because of its summit pinnacle is very steep ice encrusted rock. As we approached the mountain we could here Jolly Two One on the radio with a local area sheriff’s helicopter. They had both landed in a meadow half way down the mountain for a face-to-face coordination meeting. We shot our approach and landed next to our sister ship and pulled the throttles out of 100% back to idle to save fuel and reduce our noise signature. The aircraft commander and the PJ team leader immediately jumped out and walked over to join the impromptu meeting. I could see all of them huddled together with the county sheriff, the local mountain rescue team, along with Jolly Two One’s aircraft commander and their PJ team leader. They were all holding various maps and papers in their hands and occasionally pointing at the mountain. What are they doing I asked? Tarzan responded; “they are forming a plan. We need to know where the climber started his climb, which route he used, who he was with, and anything else that can help us locate him.” Ah ok, makes sense to me, I was just too excited, some people wait their entire military career in rescue and never get a chance to go on a single rescue mission. Others seem to be in the right place at the right time and get all the missions. All I knew is that I was just lucky to be there and to be part of a real life and death search and rescue mission. I was not even mission qualified yet, and yet I was on my very first rescue mission! How cool was that!
I could smell the clean cold glacier air filled with the sweet scent of evergreen occasionally interrupted by a strong odor of jet fuel from our engine exhaust as the breeze would change direction on the mountain. The smell of fuel would make me look at the engine instruments to ensure that everything was operating as it should be. I was so excited to say the least, and I remember thinking to myself I think I am going to like this new occupation. “Here they come,” said Tarzan. I looked up and I could see Razor wave his hand in the air in a circular motion signaling to return the throttles to fly thus spooling the main rotor up to a 100%. Razor jumped in with a smile on his face, what is there not to smile about we have a mission and we are about to save some one’s life. What can be better than that? “We are living the dream” as the “Bagger” used to say. The Bagger was a world famous PJ and good friend.
“Ok gentlemen this is the situation. We have a single male climber trying to summit the mountain on his own.” Razor briefed. What? That’s crazy we all thought. “The Sheriff said a single male climber left Jefferson Park yesterday for a solo climb in an attempt to summit Mt. Jefferson and failed to return today.” Razor continued. He also told us that Jolly 21 had located what they thought might be the missing climber at the 9,500 foot level during their second pass. He was located on a boulder in a rock slide area just below the summit to tight for a helicopter to hover near the face of the cliff. The climber appeared to be unresponsive lying head down in a gully on the east face of the summit ridge. Lead was going to insert his PJ team as close as we could dare along a ridge line so that they could continue in on foot to verify the victim’s actual condition, was he dead or alive? Flying in Jolly Two One was Lieutenant Colonel Leon D. “Bullet” Parker a former US Marine helicopter pilot and a local area Sheriff in his civilian job, his co-pilot Captain Nicholas D. “Knuckles” Waller another former US Army helicopter pilot and a man I served with years earlier when we were gun pilots together in an attack helicopter unit. I had lost track of him over the years until I ran into him in the hallways of the 304th Rescue Squadron during my interview the year before. Their flight engineer Technical Sergeant Oscar J. “Anchors” Pennington from the call sign you can tell he had spent some time in the US Navy. What an eclectic bunch of guys I thought, but whose total experience together made for a very effective team.
We departed the meadow behind Jolly Two One followed by the local Sheriff department helicopter in trail and circled the mountain in search of the missing climber. As we circled the mountain we flew near the area where lead thought the victim had landed from the fall. Next step was to search for suitable one wheel landing spot where we could drop off our PJs and return to the meadow and wait for news. As we were communicating with Bullet what we thought was preferred touchdown spot among the rocks. What we heard next over the radio would cause a huge controversy in the months that followed... (to be continued)