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Dan Johnson's
Light-Sport Aircraft

Flattop Army Aviator

I was feeling pretty good about the whole thing until I got about fifty feet from the deck. That’s when I noticed that the deck was moving up and down faster than the sucker rod of a West Texas gooseneck oil pump when the spot price for crude jumped to over fifty dollars a barrel.

I brought the helicopter to a stop over the LST’s landing deck, which from my perspective appeared to be about the size of a card table at a church bingo party. I held the helicopter at the highest hover I could maintain and waited for the oscillating deck to come meet me at its earliest convenience. Shortly, the deck rose to the occasion, pitching up toward me. It stopped briefly at its apex and I pushed down on the collective to land. But before I could light, the deck plunged down again, leaving me suspended in the air.

Then I saw the deck coming back up toward me faster than I could spend money on payday. In a panic, I pulled as much collective as I could to escape it, and by the time I looked down again, the deck had fallen away once more as the LST hit a trough, and there I was, suspended so high above the deck I could barely see the sailors down there. However, I could still see them well enough to determine that they thought my predicament was terribly funny. And I could see also that money was exchanging hands between them regarding the outcome of my predicament.

I lost track of time as I alternately chased and fled from the plunging and lunging deck. During this time, the instructor up in the front seat offered encouraging comments such as “You know, you’re not being paid by the hour to do this.”

Just when I thought I would never get the skids of my aircraft and the deck to agree upon a common altitude, I felt the deck knock gently on the skids. Quickly, I seized the opportunity and shoved down the collective to latch onto the deck before it could drop out from under me again. Immediately, I felt the aircraft falling as the LST plunged into another trough, but this time the skids were on the deck and we were all—man and machine—riding the waves together.

At this point, I had logged one LST landing and there was so much sweat in my flight gloves they were sloshing. But I had done it. I let out a sigh of relief and rolled off the throttle to flight idle in preparation for letting another victim have a shot at this torture. That’s when the instructor said, “Now, make a takeoff.”

Although I was drained from the landing, I thought to myself, how difficult can it be to make a takeoff? I would just get the aircraft light on the skids, wait for the LST to rise up on the peak of a swell, pull pitch as the deck bottomed out again, and I’d be on my way. It seemed simple enough, and once I was airborne, I would simply refuse to return to the LST. I would fly back and land at Can Tho, where the ground stayed put under me.

page 5 of 6 pages

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