As many helicopter crewmembers may remember, the last combat flight during a tour of duty was no doubt one of the hardest.  Luckily it was probably uneventful for most people, but for some it may have been horrific.  I will never forget my last combat flight on October 21, 1968.

I had just completed over 1,100 combat flight hours in Vietnam and the last 200 had been with the 155th Assault Helicopter Company flying out of Ban Me Thuot in the Central Highlands.  Most of those 200 hours had been logged in support of combat operations near Duc Lap.  Parts of the 4th Infantry Division, 173rd Airborne Division, MACV, Special Forces, and RVN units had taken quite a pounding from the North Vietnamese Army since the middle of August 1968.  The 155th had lost its share of aircraft and crewmembers during this period.

Our platoon leader had promised that once a crewmember had less than ten days left in country, their combat missions would be over.  As a single digit midget (less than 10 days left before departure from Vietnam), I wanted to stop flying as early as possible.
Wouldn't you know, only seven days until DEROS (date eligible for return from overseas) and I was the only Aircraft Commander left available for a mission this day.  I tried to talk my way out of it, but my platoon leader reminded me that it was not a combat mission, it was a support mission, just a "milk run".  The mission was to support the MACV (Military Advisory Command Vietnam) compound at Gia Nghia where things had been relatively quiet for the past week.  After completing the pre-flight inspection of the aircraft, taking off, and flying towards our destination I began to feel that this wouldn't be so bad after all.  I had an experienced crew chief and gunner, a good aircraft, and a new co-pilot who seemed fairly calm.  The weather was great and we had no suspicion or anticipation of anything bad happening.

Upon landing at Gia Nghia we shut down the aircraft and reported to the operations shack to receive a briefing on the day's activities.  I figured that this would be a typical MACV mission where we would do a little aerial reconnaissance of the area, carry a few supplies, and transport people from place to place.  No one seemed in a hurry so we went to the mess hall to drink a little coffee while waiting for orders.

Suddenly, a Sergeant came running in the door and informed us that a "hot" mission had developed and we were needed at the MACV compound in Duc Lap.  The only information available was that we were needed there ASAP (As soon as possible).   The hairs on the back of my neck stood up.  I couldn't believe that this was happening to me!

We quickly ran to the helipad , started the ship, made a hasty takeoff and flew towards Duc Lap with no idea of what was in store for us.  All my previous landings there had been at the Special Forces camp, next to the airfield.  I had never landed at the MACV compound.  It had almost been overrun just a few days before, but was now safe and in friendly hands. 
Upon arrival, we were briefed that the ARVN (Vietnamese Army) outpost just southwest of Duc Lap had been under siege for a week, without any re-supply.  The soldiers were holed up in their bunkers and desperate for ammunition, food, and water.  Because of enemy activity, MACV had requested a helicopter gun-ship escort for us and sure enough two of the 155th AHC Falcons showed up.  Due to the enemy situation and after talking to the Falcons, I decided that the best flight path to the compound would be a low-level approach with one gun-ship leading ahead and the other following behind to provide any required fire support during landing.  After touchdown the gun-ships would fly in a daisy chain pattern left to protect us from possible enemy fire coming off the "volcano" (a small hilltop to the left of the compound).

I was very apprehensive, but calm with knowing that I had the combat experience to be able to react quickly if necessary.   After takeoff, the five-minute flight from the MACV compound to the outpost went by very quickly and the approach to landing was unbelievably smooth.  Falcon Lead fired several 2.75" rockets both left and right of the compound.  We touched down just in front of the compound's closed gate.  There were no visible signs of activity inside the perimeter.  The crew began to unload the ammo boxes, I transferred the controls of the aircraft to the copilot, and I watched out to the left side of the aircraft.  Suddenly, two VC (Viet Cong) soldiers stood up near the top of the volcano and pointed a 60mm mortar at us.  I could see a round being dropped in the tube and then it fired out.  The round impacted and exploded about 15 yards to our left front.  Without warning, my copilot (two weeks in country) pulled the collective pitch control full up under his armpit and pushed the cyclic stick to the front stop!  The ship lunged off the ground and began to wallow like a fat hog.  The Low RPM audio alarm was blaring in our helmets and I saw 5600 RPM on the engine gauge.  Normal flight RPM was 6400 to 6600.  Grabbing the controls, I lowered the collective, pulled back the cyclic and somehow we stayed in the air.  We began a slow right turn and small arms fire was heard from below and right.  The Falcons destroyed the mortar crew with rockets and my crew chief and gunner used their machine guns to return the small arms fire.  We flew back to the MACV helipad and after landing the sergeant that had gone with us let me know that we had landed in a minefield at the outpost!  We did a quick inspection of the aircraft and found no evidence of hits.

The MACV commander asked us to make one more trip to the outpost in hopes of getting some ammo inside the compound.  After discussion with the Falcons, we decided to use the same route back in without making a landing.  My crew chief and gunner stacked the ammo boxes in the doorway on each side of the ship.  Falcon Lead once again led the flight with mini-guns blazing on short final and as we flew low level, high speed directly over the compound, the crew kicked out the boxes.  "BULLS EYE".  The ammo landed exactly where needed.  Falcon Wing followed and protected us on the way out.  I guess that the bad guys had enough that day as they left us alone this time.

This was the end of my combat flying.  It was the only mission that I flew where I was provided two gun-ships for a single slick.  The Falcons were "outstanding" and to this day I thank them.  Wish I could remember who they were!

Jim Koch
Stallion 505 (92nd AHC)(Nov67-Aug68)
Stagecoach 13 (155th AHC)(Aug68-Oct68)



In late August 1968 after flying 912 combat hours with the 92nd AHC, I was transferred to the 155th AHC.  The battle of Duc Lap was just getting underway and the unit was in need of some experienced aircraft commanders.  I flew just over 200 combat hours in less than 60 days.  The following account was from my memories as Stagecoach 13.
A common mission that aircrews of the 92nd AHC performed was the insertion and extraction of  Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRP).  The patrols came from the various combat units that were supported and were usually composed of a 6 man team.  The teams were required to operate on their own for 3 to 5 days after insertion with little or no support.  Once or twice a day they would attempt to make radio contact with their higher headquarters.  They were dependent on the aviation unit for extraction on completion of their mission or emergency extraction if unable to evade the enemy if discovered.

A typical LRRP mission began 2 or 3 days before the actual insertion.  The LRRP Team Leader would meet with the crew of the Command & Control Aircraft to perform a high aerial reconnaissance of the area and select a Landing Zone and Pick-up Zone.  This was accomplished by making only 1 straight-line pass of the area.  Thus, the enemy was denied the knowledge that a team would be inserted into a certain area.

On the morning of a team insertion, other aircraft and crews were assigned to work under the
C&C Crew.  An insertion team normally consisted of 4 UH-1 "slicks" and 2 UH-1C
"gun-ships".  The aircraft each had 3 different radios.  FM was used for air to ground communication.  UHF was used for air to air between the slicks.  VHF was used for air to air between the gunships.  The aircrews monitored all 3 radios and also the intercom system.  Some typical radio callsigns used were:

Stallion Lead  -  C&C Ship                          (Stallion 505 for contact with LRRP Team)
Chalk 2  - LRRP Team Insertion Ship
Chalk 3  - LRRP Team Pick-up Ship in case of "hot" LZ
Chalk 4 or Trail  -  Pick-up Ship for any downed aircrews
Sidekick 6  -  Lead gunship
Sidekick 7  -  Wingman
Renegade 33  -  LRRP Team Leader

Radio traffic was kept to an absolute minimum during the mission.  The flight would depart the staging area and fly at least 1,500' above ground level until about 5 miles from the LZ.  Chalk 2 would then descend to tree-top level.  Lead would guide Chalk 2 to the LZ by giving directions over the radio.  The gunships would fly at the best altitude to provide gun cover for the insertion.

Radio communications from a typical "COLD" and "HOT" mission follow.  They begin about 5 miles from the LZ with the order to descend from cruising altitude.  Just remember that 3 different radio frequencies plus the intercom system were in use, and various calls could be taking place at the same time.

                                                         "COLD"  Mission

Stallion Lead:"Chalk 2, begin your break"
Chalk 2:  "Roger, 2 breaking left"
Sidekick 6:    "Sidekicks on the break with 2"  (gunships are following Chalk 2)
Lead:"Roger 2 & 6"
Lead:"2, turn left 30 degrees"
Lead:"2, turn right 10 degrees, LZ, 500 meters"
Lead:"LZ, 200 meters"
Chalk 2: (pilot on intercom) "OK guys, keep an eye out for incoming fire and watch for                                                          stumps in the LZ.
              (co-pilot on intercom) "Pre-landing check complete"
              (pilot on intercom to crew chief & gunner) "You are cleared to return any incoming                                                                                         fire, but watch out for the Sidekicks"
Sidekick 6:    "Sidekick 7, racetrack left, 6 on the break"  (gunships are circling in left                                                            hand orbit to provide protection while Chalk 2 inserts team)
Sidekick 7:    "Roger 6"
Chalk 2: (co-pilot/crew chief/doorgunner on intercom) "Clear left---, clear right---, tail rotor                                                                                             clear"
Chalk 2:  "Chalk 2, touchdown"
Lead:"Roger 2"
Sidekick 7:    "7, breaking left"
Sidekick 6:    "Roger 7"
Chalk 2: (co-pilot/crew chief/gunner on intercom) "Team is clear, before take-off check                                                                                             complete, clear left, clear right"
Chalk 2:  "2 on the go"
Lead:"Roger 2"
Renegade 33: "Stallion 505, this Renegade 33, over"
Lead:"Renegade 33, Stallion 505, over"
Renegade33:  "Stallion 505, the LZ is cold"
Lead:"Roger, Renegade 33"
Lead:"Chalk 2, join at your 3 o'clock"  (A clock position is given to allow Chalk 2
                                                                         to quickly locate the remainder of the flight)
Chalk 2:  "Roger, join at my 3 o'clock", breaking right"
Chalk 2:  (co-pilot on intercom) "Clear right, I have lead at our 3 o'clock, high"
               (pilot on intercom) "I have the flight in sight"
Chalk 2:            "Lead, I'm about 500 meters behind, I'll join at trail"
Chalk 3:            "Chalk 3 copies"     Moves to #2 position in flight
Chalk 4:            "Chalk 4 copies"     Moves to #3 position in flight
Chalk 2:            "Lead, you now have a flight of four"    Upon joining flight
Lead:                  "Flight, mission complete, let's head for home"

Chalk 3 & 4 would only talk if needed.

                                                             "HOT" Mission

Stallion Lead: "Chalk 2, begin your break"
Chalk 2:   "Roger, breaking left"
Sidekick 6:     "Sidekicks on the break with 2"
Lead: "Roger, 2 & 6"
Lead: "2, turn left 30 degrees"
Lead: "2, turn right 10 degrees, LZ, 500 meters"
Lead: "LZ, 200 meters"
Chalk 2: (pilot on intercom) "OK guys, keep an eye out for incoming fire and watch for                                                          stumps in the LZ."
              (co-pilot on intercom) "Pre-landing check complete"
              (pilot on intercom to crew chief and gunner)  "You are cleared to return any                                                                                         incoming fire, but watch out for the Sidekicks"
Sidekick 6:     "Sidekick 7, racetrack left, 6 on the break"
Sidekick 7:     "Roger, 6"
Chalk 2: (co-pilot/crew chief/doorgunner on intercom) "Clear left---, clear right---, tail rotor                                                                                             clear"
Chalk 2:   "Chalk 2, touchdown"
Lead: "Roger, 2"
Sidekick 7:     "7 breaking left"
Chalk 2: (co-pilot/crew chief/gunner on intercom) "Team is clear, before take-off check                                                                                             complete, clear left, clear right"
Chalk 2:  (pilot on intercom) "pulling pitch"
Chalk 2:  (crew chief on intercom) "taking fire!, taking fire! from 9 o'clock"
Chalk 2:   "2 on the go, taking small arms fire from our 9 o'clock and breaking hard                                 right"
Lead:"Roger, 2"
Renegade 33  "Stallion 505 this is Renegade 33, LZ is hot, need immediate extraction.
                             Bad guys are southeast of my position"
Sidekick 6:"6 rolling in, target 150 meters southeast of Renegade 33"
Lead:  "Roger 33,  roger 6"
Lead:  "Chalk 3, break for immediate pick-up"
Chalk 3:    "Roger, Chalk 3 breaking left"
Chalk 3: (pilot on intercom) "Get ready for action guys, Sidekicks will be on our left and the                                                 LZ is hot"
Renegade 33:   "Stallion 505, this is Renegade 33, we need suppressive fire 100 meters
                                southeast of my position"
Sidekick 6:"6 breaking left"
Lead:  "Roger, 33, pop smoke for pick-up"
Sidekick 7:"7 rolling inbound"
Lead:  "Renegade, I identify yellow smoke"
Renegade 33:   "Roger 505, yellow smoke"
Lead:"Sidekicks, targets 100 meters southeast of yellow smoke"
Sidekick 7:"Roger, yellow smoke, breaking left"
Sidekick 6:"6 rolling inbound"
Chalk 3:    "Chalk 3 identifies yellow smoke, short final"
Chalk 3: (pilot on intercom) "Chief, place fire on the left side"
              (co-pilot & gunner on intercom) "Pre-landing check complete, clear right, tail rotor                                                                       clear"
              (pilot on intercom) "Cease fire, cease fire!"
              (crew chief on intercom) "Clear left"
Lead:  "Roger Chalk 3, Chalk 2 join at your 4 o'clock"
Chalk 2:    "Roger, lead"
Chalk 3:    "Chalk 3, touchdown"
Chalk 3: (crew to LRRP members)  "Let's go, let's go!"
Sidekick 6:"6 breaking left"
Sidekick 7:"7 rolling inbound"
Chalk 3: (crew chief & gunner on intercom)  "Loaded left, loaded right"
Chalk 3: (co-pilot, crew chief, gunner on intercom) "Before takeoff check complete, clear                                                                                          left, clear right"
Chalk 3: (pilot on intercom) "Pulling pitch"
Chalk 3:    "Chalk 3 loaded and on the go"
Sidekick 7:"7 breaking left"
Sidekick 6:"6 rolling inbound"
Chalk 3:    "3 breaking right"
Lead:  "Roger 3, join at your 3 o'clock"
Chalk 3: (co-pilot on intercom) "I see the flight at our 3 o'clock"
Chalk 3:    "Roger, 3 will join at 3"
Chalk 2:    "Chalk 2 is joined"
Chalk 3: (pilot on intercom) "I see the flight"
Lead:  "Roger 2, Sidekicks expend all ammo on target"
Sidekick 6:"Roger, 6 breaking left for one more trip"
Sidekick 7:"7 rolling inbound for last run"
Chalk 3:    "Chalk 3 is joined"
Lead:  "Roger 3"
Sidekick 6:"6 rolling inbound"
Sidekick 7:"7 breaking right, expended"
Sidekick 6:"6 breaking right, expended"
Lead:  "Flight, mission complete, let's head for home"

            LRRP MISSION
Stallion 505
Stagecoach 13