Air to Air with a Buzzard
Fred Harms – Sidekick 3
We were returning to Dong Ba Thin from Pleiku. It was early afternoon and the entire crew was pretty tired. I was flying the “C” model from the right seat; unfortunately, the passage of time has erased the memory of precisely who was aboard that day.
As we flew along in the warm air, everyone started nodding off. I noticed my left-seater hanging from his shoulder harness and when I glanced in the back, I saw the crewchief and gunner slumped forward over their M-60s. Since we were just traveling, I figured I’d let them sleep. I knew that if something happened, everyone would be immediately alert and on the job, and in Vietnam, sleep was where you found it.
I wasn’t too alert myself as we thumped along. Only minimum effort was required to fly at that point, so my mind succumbed to fatigue and slipped into low gear. Through my drooping eyelids, I spotted a buzzard circling around in a thermal up ahead. It was a pretty common sight and the birds always saw us approach and moved out of the way. On this day however, the buzzard was apparently in low gear also, because as we approached each other, it became clear that we were on a collision course.
Almost simultaneously, the buzzard and I woke-up to the fact that we were just seconds from hitting. The buzzard reacted first and it looked like he was going to initiate a climb, but just as his wings flapped, I guess he realized that the rotor blade was now directly above him so he did what I can only describe as a back-flap maneuver. His feet were out in front, his head was tucked down, and he was beating furiously to stop his forward momentum. At this moment, we made eye-to-eye contact, and it was clear we had both screwed up.
It appeared like he was going to enter through the windscreen and join me in the cockpit. I instinctively turned away and yelled out in anticipation of the impact. Of course, as soon as I yelled, everyone was immediately up and trying to grasp what was happening. I saw the buzzard flash by my door, then a yell came from the gunner in back. I swung my head around to see the buzzard with his feet on the door gunner’s chest, furiously beating my crewman’s head with his wings. After a few fleeting moments, the buzzard was able to push off and dive into clean air, however, the encounter must have been quite frightening because he lost control of his bowls and emptied himself on my poor unsuspecting gunner. I swear that as that buzzard dove away, I saw him raise up his middle feather at me.
Where else but Vietnam could you be blissfully sleeping one moment, then find a giant bird standing on your chest and shitting all over you the next.
Sidekick 3 - out