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Dan Johnson's
Light-Sport Aircraft

Flattop Army Aviator

It was during this school that I learned the principle difference between an LST and an airfield: an LST moves. This concept of a moving landing site was an eye-opening revelation to me. Generally, my experience had been that airfields stayed in one place when I left them and they didn’t tend to move someplace else the minute I turned my back. I could usually find an airfield right where I left it. Oh sure, just like any other helicopter pilot, I had on a few occasions misplaced an airfield or two, but I had never had one get up and move of its own volition. Furthermore, unlike an LST, land-based airfields didn’t try to run away from me when I was attempting to land on them.

In the school, the Navy officer explained some of the communications protocol in contacting an LST. For example, a typical radio contact might be, “Navy LST One-Two-Three, this is Satan One-Three. I would like to land now, and by the way, where are you?”

He also informed us that an LST deck could hold only two helicopters. Then, as an afterthought, he mentioned that, as we were making an approach to an LST, if we happened to notice there was already another helicopter on the deck and we intended to occupy the other spot, we should take an interest in observing whether the preceding helicopter’s rotor was turning or if it was tied down. If it was tied down, he assured us we could hasten to proceed with the landing. However, if this earlier arrival’s rotor was still turning, he suggested we might reconsider our intention to land since the deck of an LST didn’t have enough room to accommodate the diameters of two turning helicopter rotors; at least, without causing vital parts of both helicopters to be cast upon the waters. We pondered that for a moment.

Then someone looked at the time and commented that the club was about to open so we rushed the Navy officer through the remainder of the school. He fluttered his hands in the air, simulating the flight pattern for a landing to an LST. On the approach, he said we should come in perpendicular to the length of the LST and terminate the approach in a hover over the deck. Regarding the height of the hover, he urged us to keep an open mind on that subject since it depended upon the depth of the waves on which the LST was riding. Some of those swells could make an LST bob up and down like the cork on a fishing line with a hooked turtle. The actual termination of the landing—that is, putting the skids on the deck and making them stay there, all without bending them—he left to our imaginations. Finally, the Navy officer assured us that there was really nothing to worry about, citing the statistic that almost half of those who attempted a landing to an LST did, in fact, achieve this goal.

When the school ended, we chosen few retired to the club. There, we discussed the perils of LST operations. After a few drinks, the unanimous conclusion was that if Navy helicopter pilots could do it, it couldn't be that hard for us.

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