Thursday September 24, 2020


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Dan Johnson's
Light-Sport Aircraft

Flattop Army Aviator

Having thus resolved, I was ready to begin when I noticed this sailor standing a few feet in front of the helicopter, between it and the railing, watching me intently. I suppose he had been there all along, even while I was trying to find the deck earlier, but I was so engaged in that quest that I hadn't noticed him.

He stood there and I waited patiently for him to move out of the way. After a while, he hadn’t moved, and I began to suspect that he might have some purpose related to me, so I asked the instructor about him. The instructor explained that he was there to direct my takeoff. His purpose was to give me signals designating when to come to a hover and when to take off. I had never had someone do this for me before. I considered him to be a sort of cheerleader for helicopter takeoffs.

I rolled on the throttle and waited for him to signal something. He simply stood there with his hands on his hips. The instructor said I should give him a thumbs-up when I was ready to go. So I flipped him a digit, and in response he began waggling his arms up and down, which I took to be the Navy signal encouraging me to come to a hover. Either that, or he was attempting to become airborne himself.

The Cobra strained to lift off the deck and I managed to get it up to a four-foot hover with the torque meter almost pegged. I was struggling to maintain even that height, yet the sailor still stood there in front of the helicopter, flapping his arms, and insisting on more altitude before he would give me the signal to take off. I did the best I could and managed to coax the Cobra another inch or two higher before the rpm began to bleed off. The sailor still stood there, flapping.

I considered the situation. I estimated the railing behind the sailor to be about three feet high and I calculated that, from a four-foot hover, I could just clear the railing. So, neglecting for my purpose the fact that the sailor in front of me stood six feet tall, I nudged the cyclic forward and headed for the open sea.

As the skids cleared the railing by a foot, I looked back and saw the sailor sprawled on the deck. Fortunately, for a man his size, he could move pretty fast. If he hadn’t ducked when he did, he would have had a shortened naval career. Based upon that experience, for years I thought the term “midshipman” referred to a sailor who had been chopped off at the waterline—so to speak—by an Army helicopter pilot attempting to take off from an LST.

To shorten the story, I did in fact return and managed to make a second landing on the LST. Thereupon, I gratefully gave up the aircraft to the next person. After that training, I was never again called upon to land on an LST, something for which I was profoundly grateful.

Ira McComic

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A Cobra Pilot in Vietnam: True Tales and Otherwise

page 6 of 6 pages

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