Category: Well I thought it was funny!
The mission was to insert an infantry platoon covertly in the desert. For whatever reason, the grunt company commander was tagging along. Unusually, we were doing this mission in the daylight. The early morning weather was cool and calm. It was a beautiful day for flying.
We got the grunts arranged in the back and put the infantry captain in the jump seat just between and behind us two pilots. The flight engineer briefed up the passengers on seatbelt usage, emergency egress procedures, and the like. That bit was just like commercial airlines, only with way uglier flight attendants. As we got ready to spool up the airplane, I noticed that my infantry buddy had left his seatbelt fully extended and, therefore, worthless. I kindly suggested he cinch it up tight.
I had not worked with this guy before, and he was a bit snooty. He explained how he had done a great deal of flying before and was more concerned with being able to egress quickly than being secured in his seat. He went on to disparage my big 50,000-pound machine, even going so far as to call it a “pig boat.”
Here’s a pro tip, whenever mounting a military combat aircraft, never trash-talk the machine to the pilots. They might just take that as a challenge.
The Chinook is really fast. It is, in fact, the fastest rotorcraft in the U.S. Army inventory. The CH47D would hold 170 knots (or 195 mph) in level flight all day long. At three feet off the ground, that is a reliably wild ride. Blackhawks and Apaches were faster, but only in a dive. In a race, the big Chinook wins every time.
This particular bit of desert was as flat as Chuck Schumer’s personality. All the monotonous flatness was interrupted by a single big black 3,000-foot basalt mountain we called the Whale. I screamed toward the Whale as fast as the aircraft would go. When we got close enough to make our grunt buddy squirm, I torqued back on the cyclic and traded airspeed for altitude. In doing so, I pushed everybody down into their seats at about three or four G’s. That’s a lot in a big helicopter.
By the time we got to the top of the mountain, we were 3,000 feet higher but moving at a walking pace. I glanced over my shoulder to see my infantry buddy now with a happy grin on his face. He clearly believed he had survived his ride with the Hookers, the cool unit moniker we had stenciled on pretty much everything.
As we puttered along the top of the mountain at maybe ten knots, I kept the radar altimeter in the corner of my vision. It read three feet from the base of the fuselage to the hard rocky earth below. I had flown this route before and knew what came next.
The radar altimeter continued to read three feet before dropping precipitously beyond its 1,500-foot cutoff. The far end of the Whale ended in an abrupt cliff face that ran all the way to the flat desert floor below. When I was certain the tail of the aircraft was clear of the cliff, I dropped the thrust lever to the floor and shoved the cyclic into the instrument panel. We plummeted out of the sky like a greased anvil.
I took a glance over my left shoulder to see the infantry guy bounce his head off of the ceiling. For a pregnant moment, he was suspended in space like some kind of maniacal weightless flailing frog. Once we neared the desert floor, I popped the cyclic back and firmly returned everyone to their seats. As we resumed our position, screaming across the desert at 170 knots and about three feet off the ground, I noticed the young man discreetly cinching up his seatbelt.
Twenty minutes later, we disgorged our grunts and headed for home to do something similar all over again. I never saw that particular infantry guy again. I do hope he enjoyed the ride. Thrill-seeking lunatics of the world would pay a fortune for an experience not half as cool.
Here’s a dirty little secret not everyone appreciates. For all the sexy cool toys and undeniably dark missions, soldiers are mostly just glorified kids. They gave us the most amazing machines, and while we believed in our cause, in our hearts, we were just boys out having fun. It is a wonder any of us survived.
Talk about getting into your opponents mind before the fun starts!
A dear friend came up in the 1930s on a rural Mississippi farm. Growing up on a farm is a bit of a trope in the modern era. Back in the days before World War II, in the Deep South, however, it was a common way of life.
My wife is smart, assertive and capable. She is also of modest stature. Friends tell me the only substantive thing I contribute to our relationship is the capacity to reach tall things in the kitchen. So it sort of is with guys of other species as well.
In the bovine world, the women really do all the work. At a farm near where we live today, the cows and calves wander about freely in a massive expansive pasture. The cows keep busy gossiping about cow stuff while feeding and grooming the youngsters. There seems to be a social order to it all. Then there is a single massive bull maintained by all by his lonesome in his own separate space down the road.
I’m told those big bulls are too tough to make particularly good steaks. That big guy is kept around for one purpose and one purpose only. He’s there solely to make little cows. Outside of breeding season, the price he pays is a lifetime of solitude. On my buddy’s farm, their big breeder bull was an enormous docile creature named Ephraim.
A fully grown bull can weigh more than 2,000 pounds. Even if they have a sweet disposition, an animal that large can yet still be incredibly dangerous. If they are by their nature grouchy, then things can get dicey quickly. So it was at another farm down the road from my friend’s place.
Their breeder bull made fine baby cows, but he hated everybody. One day a farm hand got sloppy, and the big animal crushed him to death. News travels fast in the rural Deep South, so word of this tragedy made the rounds in a hurry. Condolences were offered, and a plan contrived. The following day the big animal was to pay for his sins. His steaks might be tough, but somebody, somewhere would be willing to eat them. Now hold that thought.
It was getting late, and the light was growing dim. As my friend was cleaning up after supper, he looked out the window and saw Ephraim standing outside the pasture. Ephraim was indeed a docile creature, but he was still a big, dumb animal. Sometimes a good scratching against the fence was adequate to push it over. My buddy sighed and headed outside. He would return the bull to the pasture and then run the fence the following morning to mend the damage. By the time he got outside, the light was failing.
Ephraim was essentially a family pet and responded reliably when spoken to. Our hero patted the big animal on the flank and opened the nearby pasture gate. He directed the bull back into the enclosure and stepped aside to allow the beast to comply. Ephraim simply looked at him dumbly.
By now, it was getting late, and the man was getting tired. He gestured to the gaping gate and slapped the animal vigorously on its flank. The bull just stared at him. This time he let out a little snort. Now things were in danger of escalation.
My buddy retrieved a nearby discarded length of 2×4 lumber and used it to give Ephraim a decent prod. At that, the big animal turned to face his antagonist. He then glowered uncharacteristically and snorted like he meant it.
Such stuff seems cold and cruel to those who have not lived it, but farm animals exist in a harder world than do we modern civilized folk. Right, wrong, or otherwise, these creatures are raised for food. There is certainly no excuse for rank abuse, but there is little time or inclination for undue civility, either.
Ephraim pawed the ground and lowered his head. It was clear that the animal planned to make an issue of this. The beast had tasted the sweet elixir of freedom and apparently had little interest in returning to his place of incarceration. As Ephraim made to lunge at the man, my buddy swung the 2×4 and broke it squarely across the hulking animal’s skull.
The big bull was momentarily stunned. With a look of bewilderment in his eyes, he then turned and obediently marched into the pasture. My pal secured the gate and went to bed, both aggravated and confused by the evening’s atypical proceedings.
The following day broke bright and clear. My pal got up early, as was his custom, took breakfast, and prepared to start a new day. As he looked out the front window across the expansive pasture, he was shocked to see not one but two bulls munching happily. One was the expected Ephraim, while the other was the homicidal neighbor from down the road who had somehow escaped his enclosure on the day before his scheduled execution.