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We've been hitting the whole 10 year ADSO should you join thing pretty hard lately, and while there's some value in that, it's not relevant to those of you who have already started down this path.  I enjoy writing and talking about myself ;) so I'll share some stories about the days when you do fly.  Maybe that will help your motivation, or maybe not.  If you have stories of your own feel free to add them in.

I'll start off with one of my favorite missions during my career, which was the multi-purpose range complex in Korea.  We spent 9 months on a rotation in Korea as our last hurrah before the unit was reflagged as an Apache unit.  Most of our time was spent at "home" near the flag pole but every so often we'd head up for a couple weeks at the range to support whatever ground unit was also training there.  I always had a blast.

The week would start off with a reposition up there, which was about a forty minute flight if I recall correctly.  We'd pack up the trucks who would convoy up with our equipment, then we'd head over to the flight line and get the birds ready to go.  Simple cross country flight up with 6 or so birds in formation, and we'd refuel them up at the range and land them in the parking lot.  Grab our gear and head to the command post designated for us to drop our stuff off.  Sleeping in open bays, our duffel bags and stuff was usually dumped randomly on bunks so you'd have to go find your sh*t then try and finagle the bunk you really wanted.

Anyways, the missions up there were live fire so we'd rehearse with the tank unit (or whoever we were supporting) and figure out timelines and all that.  Build our paperwork and get ready for the next day's missions.  That soaked up most of our initial days at the range.  Lots of dead time in between so there was all sorts of tom foolery, throwing rocks, movies, dipping, walking around, working out, etc.

Whatever shift you were on determined when you woke up, and we generally did stuff as a team.  We'd meet up and head to get some food, then grab our stuff and go to the main command post to receive our briefing for the mission.  Then it was preflight time, get our stuff situated in the aircraft, and we'd head back to our own little hut and sit down as a team and discuss our plan.  After that we might wait around for a bit, or head to the birds.  

Get in, run them up, check our radios and equipment, and take off.  A quick little circle back to the arming and refuel point to load up on bullets and rockets.  Because weight and balance and performance planning was our own responsibility we had a lot of flexibility in how much fuel/ammo we wanted.  It was quicker for one of us to get out and help load rockets so we usually did.  Once we were loaded we'd take off and link up in the air.

Climb up, circle in our holding area and try to get a hold of the ground unit.  The left seat pilot in the lead aircraft always talked to the unit we were working for, and they drove the mission.  Once we'd get in contact we'd wait for their signal for us to come in and shoot for them.  

Once we had the word we'd do a quick communication about our tactics and then bomb in on the target.  We always had a simulated threat to contend against and that would shape how you flew.  Generally it was low and fast, weaving and bobbing through the trees and valley, down the hill, and then a quick climb up to start shooting.  The OH-58 did not have flexible weapons, so you had a grease mark on the windshield to aim and shooting was a WW2 style strafing run.  You'd shoot, break turn out of the way as your trail aircraft started shooting.  Then they'd break off and we'd bob and weave our way around for another attack.

Repeat until we needed to get more fuel and ammo.  Head back to the FARP, load up, and take back off.  This went on for hours and sometimes we'd have lots of time waiting for the ground unit to get set/reset.  Missions could be up to 8 hours of flying.  By the time we were done and the birds were spinning down it was complete exhaustion.  Grab some food, collapse into a camp chair, and watch a movie on the laptop.  All the fun of a deployment without anyone shooting back.  I really, really miss those days.
 

Here's some random Korea pictures:

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Edited by SBuzzkill
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My time in Afghanistan was largely uneventful.  OH-58s had a reputation with the senior leaders in RC East so we had quite a leash put on us while we were there.  Initially we weren't even supposed to deploy with the brigade, but there was a need for us and they quickly called our troop over to assist with security.  We never quite figured out what they were afraid of us doing, as the Apaches were out blowing the countryside up left and right, LoL!

I spent most of my time on the midnight shift, waking up at 11pm and stumbling my way to the shower trailer to get ready.  After that it was a 50 yard walk to the troop command post where I'd grab my gear with the rest of the team and head to the aircraft to preflight and arrange/rearrange our weapons load out (yeah, I carried my ammo/rockets from the FARP and loaded it on the pad).  After preflight we'd walk over to the task force command post and receive our briefing, which included our timeline and mission for the day.  Then we'd head back to the troop command post (which was a "b-hut", a tiny 2 room plywood building) and conduct our internal briefing.  With those briefs combined we'd spend no joke 2+ hours just talking about the day's missions.

We were assigned "windows" for our flying to avoid overlapping with other teams.  Sometimes we'd take off right away, other times our window was later and we'd just go run up the aircraft to check the systems.  How we spent our time in between was up to our air mission commanders, who usually preferred watching movies or the Indian satellite TV that we subscribed to.  An interesting point about that is American TVs are not fully compatible with foreign transmissions, and all of our satellite TV was in black and white.

We were always ready to run to the aircraft and get off the ground quickly if we needed to respond to something.  Once we did take off we almost always started out with a test fire.  After killing the sh*t out of a bush or a rock we'd head over for our assigned mission.  Lots of circles, looking at random stuff, FARP turns to refuel, more looking at stuff, taking notes, etc.

Sometimes we'd have a break so we'd head in and grab breakfast.  Other times we'd be so busy we'd just ask the FARP for some snacks.  They were awesome and always had some rad breakfast stuff to hand off to us.  I loved our armament guys, and as that armament officer I worked very closely with them to ensure our weapons were always where they needed to be.

Most of the time nothing happened and we'd just head back to base.  Other times we'd get called in to a troops in contact only to arrive and find the shooting had stopped.  Or our command would decide to use the Apaches and call us back.

We'd fly into the daylight, often finishing up around 10am.  Back to the CP for a quick debrief with intelligence and hand off any pictures I might have taken that day.  Then it was off to bed for me, in the sweltering heat.  Our AC in the sleeping hut usually worked pretty good, and eventually winter came and the heat went away.  So did the rocket attacks, although they never truly stopped.
 

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Edited by SBuzzkill
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I finished up my time after the OH-58D had been retired by flying OH-58Cs for Eagle Team at the National Training Center.  That was a fantastic assignment.  The flying was great, no deployments, and home every night.  One of the more unique things we did at least for modern Army Aviation was single pilot flying.  It was our regular mission to take a bird out solo, whether to pick up our OC counterparts, fly the birds down to get washed or maintenance, or sometimes just to put time on the aircraft.  We even did solo NVG flights.

NTC is roughly the size of the state of Rhode Island, and goes from around 3,000 feet at the low point to over 6,000 up in the Avawatz mountains.  All of that area was fair game for us to fly around and land wherever we wanted.  It was a blast.

During the training rotations we'd spend 6-8 hours a day chasing AH-64s around as they did their missions.  Off rotations we'd fill the schedule with training flights, or simply do our work for the day and go home.  We were close to Death Valley and on one of my last flights in the Army we landed down below sea level at Furnace Creek, then headed out to Big Bear in the mountains above Los Angeles.  It was 90+ degrees in Death Valley and closer to 50 degrees up in the mountains.  Quite the difference.

I spent lots of time flying in the mountains there landing on pinnacles and mountain tops to get a good view of the "battlefield."  Sometimes it was fun, other times when the winds were howling and the nights were dark, it wasn't so fun.  I had some of the most intense flying of my career working there and would not recommend it for new aviators.  

We had shifts for the rotations and if the OC needed me I had a radio so they could get ahold of me.  I'd usually head in, preflight my helicopter, and hang out in the office waiting for them to call me.  Once they did I'd head to the aircraft and take off to go meet them in the desert wherever they were.

They'd climb in, brief me up on what the Apaches were doing, and then we'd wait for the AHs to come up on the radios.  They'd tell us when we were taking off and we'd follow them out to wherever they were working.  We'd monitor their communication, movement, and when they attacked the opposing force we would adjudicate their "kills."

I'd spend my day flying from hilltop to hilltop, or landing in the valley, then following them back to their FARP.  We could usually get 3+ hours out of a "bag" of gas because we spent so much time at idle on the ground "perched" as we called it.  

Every once in a while I'd get called to pick up a VIP and transport them somewhere.  Usually we had a Blackhawk unit that did that but when they were too busy we'd get the tasking.  The cool thing about the OH-58C is that I could sit whoever I wanted up front with me.  So if they wanted to I'd let them sit up front at a set of controls, of course I never let them actually fly ;);) 

But it was always fun blasting around the deserts in Southern California.  We rarely flew above 100 feet unless we were climbing up into the mountains.  Off rotations we'd go out and see what kind of wildlife we could spot.  I've seen bobcats, bighorn sheep, rabbits, snakes, eagles, hawks, donkeys, you name it.  I don't think there's anywhere else in the world where someone will throw you the keys to a turbine helicopter and say "go put 6 hours on it.  I don't care what you do."

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Edited by SBuzzkill
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Thank you for the stories, and I seriously hope this thread takes off. Though the ten year ADSO didn't change my mind on what I wanted to do, all these posts about it definitely have me worried about what to expect for my potential future. Stories like the ones you shared make me feel excited again about the prospect of flying for the Army, even if it only makes a small percent of everything you do as a WO and aviator.

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After being signed off on the basic flying as a new aviator, it was time to start training in team flying.  The unit instructor pilots were taking myself and my platoon leader out for a progression flight to start working toward our next sign off.  I showed up to find the LT sitting down at the computer already planning.

Afraid I missed something and was late I asked him what he was doing.  “I was told to plan a flight to Piercefield, we’re going to look for a missing teenager.”  Soon one of the instructors poked his head into the room and gave us some more guidance.  He said we were flying out toward the Adirondacks to help a park ranger search for a missing person.

Thinking this was some outlandish scenario our instructors had thought up I played along.  We planned a flight out there and got our stuff ready.  We met up and did our team brief, talked about who we were going to get ahold of, and headed out to the flight line.

Eventually I realized it was not a joke and that we were actually going to go do this.  It was a 40 minute flight out to Tupper Lake from Fort Drum, which didn’t leave us with much gas to play around with before we had to head back.  We got in touch with the park ranger who briefed us up on where to search.

They had divers in the water, a sheriff helicopter in the lake, and tons of volunteers on foot in the woods around the area.  A 19 year old boy had walked away from a party in the middle of the night and disappeared from the side of the highway. 
 
We passed overhead then started our search.  Focusing on streams, ravines, roads, trails, anything that he might have traveled down we searched back and forth.  There was snow on the ground and we had very little information to work with.  But there were no leaves in the trees to block our view so our hopes were high.  Staying within a few miles of the town we covered as much ground as we could in the short play time we had.

After about 30 minutes we hit our “bingo” and had to call up Ranger Burns to let him know we were heading back to base.  Disappointed that we didn’t find anything but excited about the opportunity to combine some training with a real world mission we flew back and shut down.

Debriefing the techniques we used and their relevance to reconnaissance one of the instructors mentioned we might get in trouble for what we did, due to the whole Posse Comitatus Act.  News did make its way up the chain, but we ended up with only a “nice job, but do it through the proper channels next time.”

Some random New York pics:

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Edited by SBuzzkill
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Id share some stories if i had more time to type them up but i can make a list for now.

Korea:

Flying the trace through Seoul is one of the coolest things ive done

Mountainous low level near the no fly area was fun

Noe river running through LZ Tom and Jerry

 

States:

Buzzing the statue of liberty at an altitude not to be put online :)

Cross country staying in awesome hotels in awesome cities (dallas, nashville, columbus)

Working with AFSOC for a large scale exercise at Eglin(more fun cross country stops also)

NOE flying through the Adirondacks is absolutely beautiful

Getting to do a display for an airshow

 

Afghan:

Working with ODA’s and other entities

Blowing up the countryside as mentioned above lol

Doing some stuff that will eventually make it on dvids or youtube once its unclassified

 

Overall, Ive gotten everything I wanted out of my current unit, same unit that reflagged to 64’s that sbuzzkill left.  Its been pretty awesome here and im gonna miss the people when I PCS shortly.

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Potentially the best thread on this forum. Keep them coming!  I don't have any deployments under me but I've had the opportunity to fly to some amazing places, see amazing things, fly amazing aircraft and be around some of the best people in the world (WOs)

India:

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As an Army Aviator you'll do training events all over the U.S.  We usually flew ourselves to these events in multi-day cross countries we called "self deployments."  They took a couple weeks leading up to the launch to plan and prepare for.  Hotel reservations, flight planning, coordinating crew chief and equipment transport, briefings, etc.  And that's just for the flight to the event.

However many aircraft we'd be bringing was how many were in the formation, sometimes accompanied by a chase bird (usually a UH-60 from another company heading down).  Usually it was around 6 of us.  So for us slow pokes it was me and 11 of my buddies blasting across the country together on a 3-4 day trip to wherever we were going.

On one memorable trip we were heading down to Louisiana from Upstate New York for a rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center.  It was a decisive action rotation, which meant that instead of living on the "FOB" and doing counter insurgency stuff, we'd be living in tents and digging foxholes fighting a "near peer" enemy.  Higher intensity, more suck if you will.  But there was always about a week of living in a staging area before you started the rotation.

As we were on our way down for what we were sure was going to be a miserable rotation, we ended up getting cut off by a line of thunderstorms.  The problem with flying north/south through the country is that you're constantly flying along fronts instead of across them, and they tend to bend a bit so that you never get behind them.  After a slow slog of waiting on weather, launching, waiting out weather, we ended up in Oxford, Mississippi.  Having no idea where that was most of us were surprised to see a college campus next door to the airport with "Ole Miss" written on the water tower.

We checked into our rooms and quickly changed to head out on the town.  Most of us ended up in a bar.  I can't speak for all units but when my troop was on the road the warrant officers generally tried to keep a relatively low profile.  But here we were in a college town, very out of place, and no matter what sort of excuse we came up with we were obviously not from around there.

The bar tender took notice, and asked my friend and I what we were doing there.  "Just passing through" is what we told him.  He didn't buy it and kept poking and prodding until finally he exclaims, "WERE YOU THE BOYS FLYING THOSE HELICOPTERS IN?!"

Apparently, he was at a barbecue and we flew overhead.  He quickly announced our presence to the owner of the bar, who decided that my entire troop was going to drink for free that night.  Let's just say we had a good time and it was a good send off for our trip into "the box."

The rotation itself was nothing to write home about.  Lots of traditional Army flying performing screens, recons, some live fire, and pulling security around our base.  I spent quite a bit of time up in the live fire area shooting for the ground units.  I don't recall how I got so lucky, but live fire was great because you slept in a plywood shack instead of in a tent.

The very last night after an intense sh*t-show of a mission, a huge line of storms started rolling through and all of the sudden we were getting told to head for the forward operating base they had set up there.  That was weird because all of our stuff was in the tents on the other side of the training area and that's where the rest of our aircraft were too.  Once we landed we got the birds tied down the four of us were kind of looking at each other wondering what to do now.  Out of the darkness a random range truck comes hauling ass up and the guy driving tells us to get in quick.  Turns out they had a tornado warning and we needed to get to a hardened shelter quick.  That was the end of our rotation.

The rest of our unit met us there at some point I can't remember, maybe the next day.  Talking with the guys up at the live fire range they had quite a show and if I recall correctly even got a picture of the tornado.  The final tradition of any JRTC rotation is to talk one of the civilian contractors into going and getting a bunch of crawfish for a last night feast, they always tasted better than any other time I've had them.

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In Afghanistan?  The few times we were assigned to QRF we still flew.  Every day was at least 4-5 hours in the air, sometimes broken up into multiple windows.  With only 5 aircraft we put up 2 teams every single day without skipping a beat.  Everyone in the troop flew between 90-110 hours a month.

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  • 2 months later...

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Flying at NTC rewarded me with some of the best flying I experienced in the Army and certainly some of the most challenging.  As you progress through your career as an aviator you are constantly upping your knowledge and experience, which in turn increases your situational awareness.  If I could identify the most important thing when it comes to flying missions it's situational awareness.  It's pretty rare to have an aviator that doesn't develop a feel for the aircraft or that cannot navigate, but it's common to have folks who just never get to a certain level of situational awareness.

"Modern" Army aircraft have really good systems for maintaining situational awareness and managing the cockpit:  Moving maps, BFTs, sights, comms, etc.   On the other hand, the aircraft we flew as O.C.s were round dial OH-58s similar to the ones we trained in during flight school.  They had a simple GPS, but no moving map, no BFT, nothing to help orient ourselves in the training area.  All we had was a paper map book and our knowledge of the training area to get us around, often times doing it solo.  I got very good at plotting grids and using terrain association to navigate the incredibly complex airspace during a rotation.

Additionally, rotations almost always occurred during the lowest illumination periods.  Pitch black, in a 3000lb helicopter, getting thrown around by strong winds in the mountains, trying to stay out of the way of live artillery while also trying to keep up with the flight of AH-64s maneuvering in front of us, and trying to set up an approach to a pinnacle that you cannot see until you're on short final.  It really took flying to the next level.

For every busy rotation there were two slow ones.  I'd drive in to the office, preflight, check weather, then put on youtube, and sit on the couch waiting for a call to go fly.  The next pilot would show up, we'd chat for a bit, then I'd grab my gear, pack up and go home.  Repeat, for weeks, until finally  the radio would scratch at me "Hey dude, I need you to get out here ASAP, the AHs are getting ready to spin up."  

Damn, I was just getting ready to eat my food that I have in the microwave.  Take a quick look at our map and figure out where the assembly area is, look over the ROZs, make sure they're on my map, fill out paperwork and get my approval to go fly, grab an energy drink and off I go.   

Swing my body into the bird, get my helmet on, start up and wave away the crewchief.  Make my radio calls, take one last look at my maps, and off I go into the night.  Picking the most direct route that kept me away from any restricted airspace I would make my way out to the assembly area.  Contact their tower, do a couple circles looking for where I was going to land, and call up the OC to make sure that's where they wanted to meet me.  Swing on in and start my approach.

As I get close I look around and holy sh*t!  There's people all around.  It's the training unit and they're all pulling security.  Damn this camo works well out here, so I pull pitch and go around.  I don't want to land on anyone.  Picking a new spot further away and better able to clear myself down will be a pain in the ass for my OC, but it's the best option.  So I land and make him walk.

He climbs in and I tell him why I'm so far away.  After that we move to a better spot to watch the Apaches as they get ready to take off.  They're ready and off we go.  Damn I'm tired, better take a sip of my energy drink.  Following the AHs out it's clear they're not sure where they're going.  I know this place like the back of my hand and we're definitely not heading to where we are supposed to be working.  But oh well, they'll figure it out.

Eventually they swing back around and get re-oriented and we're back in business.  The rest of the night consists of us perching up and watching them work through the screen they're assigned to.  They engage some OPFOR, we call it up and determine whether or not they get credit for the kills, and then it's time for fuel.  Back and forth we go, fuel, rearm, back in the fight.  Eventually my replacement gets into their helicopter and heads on out to us.  "Hey man, I'm on the ridge at your 9 o'clock."

Cool, we fill them in on the situation, then I head over to the assembly area and drop my OC back off at his humvee.  I'm solo again and have about half a bag of gas, so I decide to do an altitude over airspeed takeoff.  Man this thing has some power when it's light!  The sun is coming up and my goggles are starting to wash out, but it's not quite bright enough for me to see unaided.  Flying during this time of day is a pain so I get a little more altitude since it's going to be difficult to see obstacles.

Looking down I see some soldiers doing a PT run along the road.  Dropping down and slowing down I swing over cruising along the side of the road and give them a wave on my way by.  Then it's back to the airfield for some fuel and then park the bird, pull my gear, and head back to the office to turn in my paperwork and log the flight.  My day is over as the sun comes up and I snap a picture of sunrise before I get in my car and head home.  Today was a pretty good day. 

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Edited by SBuzzkill
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  • 1 month later...

I meant to post this story close to Halloween, because it's kind of in that spirit.  But I got busy and forgot.  The short version is that I saw a mystery blinking light in the desert.  Here's the long version:

My very last mission in the Army was during an NTC rotation, with some of my best friends training in the Apaches we were OCing for.  That alone was exciting for me as I hadn't shared a mission with these guys since we left the OH-58D world a couple years prior.  It was day into night, covering a big operation in a neighboring military training area. We normally used Army land for war-games, but some of the aviation operations required us to get away from the ground forces and utilize a different range.

This meant there would be no opposing force in the area, so the only boots on the ground out there were from the unit we were grading. They set up a forward refuel and rearming point (a jump FARP) out in the desert, which is just a bunch of fuel trucks and pallets of "ammo" parked in a big circle for the helicopters to land next to.

I should mention now that this area we were in has only a couple dirt roads into and out of it, and the general idea is that it is isolated and easily protected. I'd estimate it was at least 10-15 miles from the nearest anything.

We met the Apaches at their headquarters and went through the standard briefings and whatnot, then got into our aircraft and took off for the jump FARP. We arrived there after a quick 10 minute flight and set down in the desert to wait for the Apaches to arm up. The next hour or so was before sunset and really just like any other day. They would go into the mountains, engage the enemy, and then return for more gas and ammo.

As it started to get darker after sunset, we put our night vision goggles on. We were flying back to the jump FARP when I noticed a light on the other side of a large hill from the FARP, I'd guess about a mile or two away from where our soldiers were. It was blinking in a steady rhythm, and my first impression was that it was a blinking stop light at an intersection or a gate. I could see the light spilling onto the desert and plants in front of it. I really can't remember if I could see it with my naked eye. I think I could, and I believe it was red. But I definitely could see it under NVGs.

Anyways, we landed normally and watched the Apaches and then went back north with them. When we came back it was twilight, and that light was still blinking. Although at first I didn't think anything of it, it seemed peculiar to me and I began to get curious about it. It did not make sense that there would be an intersection or a gate in this part of the desert as there were no roads. I also began to worry that maybe a soldier had walked away from the FARP and gotten lost on the back side of the hills and was trying to get our attention. Soldiers do stupid things sometimes.

So with my concerns we flew over toward the light to investigate. Amazingly, it turned off! As soon as we got close enough to make out enough to detail to orient on it, it turned off. "Huh, that's weird," I said to the guy I was flying with, and explained to him what I'd been observing earlier. My scout pilot instincts were starting to build.

We kept on with the mission, and as we were flying away I looked back towards the area where the light was. There it was! It had turned back on! We did our thing up north and when we returned I flew straight for the light. Again, as soon as I got close it turned off. We circled the area that I thought it was coming from and both of us looked for any sign of someone being there. I should mention the other guy I was with was also a former scout pilot.

I searched my brain for tactics and techniques, as well as knowledge to explain this phenomenon. We looked for movement, color, light, obvious sightings, shadows, smoke, textures, trails. We went through our visual illusions trying to explain it that way. We repositioned the aircraft around the area to see if changing angles or distance would reveal it again. Nothing.

Then I had an idea. We used to play this cat and mouse game with the enemy, and would feint a return to base and then try to catch them doing whatever they were doing. Up until this point we had all of our exterior lights on for safety reasons, but our Apaches were all on the ground refueling so there was no need.

I flew away from the light, over the hill, and turned my lights out. Then I climbed the aircraft, and set up some nice and high circles a few miles away. Using the winds to your advantage and keeping things quiet you can get quite close to somebody without them hearing you. It worked, and within a few minutes the light turned back on and started blinking its steady rhythm off into the desert, always in the same direction.

I dove for it. I flew the aircraft as fast as I could, completely blacked out. We made it much closer this time, and I could finally make out to within a couple football fields where the light was coming from. They were onto us though, and as soon as they realized we were closing in the light went off. But I had something to work with this time.

I got our lights back on and approached the area. We hovered low just a couple feet off the desert, using our spotlight, and searched around, sticking our heads out the side (we don't fly with any doors). There were no signs of life. No trails, no equipment, nothing to give away a person. There were lots of "potholes" which are pretty common in the Mojave desert. It's very uneven terrain. But not a single manmade object in sight. We looked for things that could reflect light, like a sign or a piece of metal. We looked for vehicles in the area that someone could have trekked in from. After all that searching we found nothing but a few jackrabbits.

Eventually it was time to head back to the Apaches and watch them return to base. We flew over the hill back to the FARP. There was another OH-58 covering the mission (IIRC there were three of us out there), so we called them on the radio and asked them to confirm the light as they flew by in the distance. Sure enough, they saw it too!

I feinted one more time as we returned to base. Pretending our sister ship was us and turning out my lights, flying fast and low while our Apaches were off in the distance, I popped over the hill straight for the area I saw the light. And once more, I caught that light blinking, steady, into the desert. And once more, it turned out as we flew over.

I later asked the operations center, the commander of the opposing force, anyone I could think of if we had people on the ground out there and everyone said no. It wasn't part of our range so nobody had permission to be out there but us. As it was my last flight, I was never able to go out there during daylight and poke around. I'll never figure out who was out there that night or what they were doing. But it sure was a fun mystery, and whoever/whatever it was did a damn fine job of hiding from us.

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Edited by SBuzzkill
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  • 1 month later...

This one will be a little more difficult for me as flight school was over a decade ago.  There are some standout moments in my memory, but it’s tough to build a complete narration.  I am sure most of what I write will be very familiar to anyone with silver wings, but this isn’t intended to be interesting for them.  Let’s get to it.

My days typically started by throwing my uniform on, grabbing my gear, and running out the door to catch the bus.  I lived in Enterprise, so I had a gate to get through and a short drive, and I was almost always running late.  Going around the last corner down the hill was done with held breath and my fingers crossed that there wouldn’t be a line.  Nobody in front of me today, solid!

Sitting in the bus lot I would use what little time I had to cram the 5s and 9s I was supposed to study the night before.  I think 90% of my learning occurred during those short bus rides to Cairns.  I had to do it though, because I knew what was coming.  The preflight briefing.  Gulp.

It was an intimidating room full of desks with crusty old IPs on one side and students on the other.  In the front stood our flight leader, scanning the room looking for the first student to start our daily questions and quiz.  I always did my best to look attentive but not make eye contact.  It never worked.

There was always one or two questions nobody wanted to answer.  You’d count heads to try and figure out where you were in line.

”Mr B, what is the definition of a warning?”

Thank God, I know this one.  “A warning is an operating practice that if not correctly followed could result in personal injury or loss of life.”  Whew, nailed it!  Wait, why is Mr Carter shaking his head?

”A warning is an operating procedure or practice, that if not correctly followed...”

Damn.

The rest of the briefing went over weather, tasks, etc.  The IPs would squawk at each other and argue about their interpretation of the manuals.  Blah blah blah.

Morning flight line was a godsend during the hot Alabama summer.  The aircraft were cool, I was cool, the IP was cool, and we didn’t have to deal with thunderstorms.  

A short bus ride to the parking pad and there she was, a bright orange and white Jet Ranger, covered in dew, quietly tied down and waiting.  Preflight was a team effort, my stick buddy and I diligently looking the aircraft over.  I read the checklist, went through the motions, but honestly had no idea what I was looking for.  It took a couple years to really develop a good idea of how to preflight a helicopter.

Time to fly.  I’m riding in back for the trip to the stage field.  Sweet, I don’t have to worry about callouts today.  Don’t hot start it LT!  A nice start, a wobbly hover down the taxi lane and we’re off to the stage field.

We land at the stage field and I hop out, my turn to wait in the shack.  All my second period friends are walking in as well.  Someone is missing, one of the Dutch guys, must have had to bump aircraft back at Cairns.  Inside we all nervously shoot the breeze, joke about the briefing, and roll our eyes at the guy who is God’s gift to Army Aviation as he tells us his technique for hovering autos.  He’s a real expert with 10 hours in the bird.

All too soon it’s my turn to strap in.  I help my buddy get his gear out, swap radios, and climb in.  I’ve always loved going from the loud scream of a turbine outside the helicopter to the relatively quiet whine on the inside.  A quick moment to savor the sound and *click* I plug my helmet in.  “Welcome, you ready?  Your controls.”  Gulp.

I lift off with a smooth pull of collective.  Nope, too much!  Now my nose is turning.  We’re drifting.  Ah crap!  Dance the feet, wiggle the hand, finally we’re stable.  I start nudging us down the taxi lane feeling more confident with each second.  I got this.

”Hovering auto.”  

Wait, wait, wait, pull!  Nice this will be a good one.  We haven’t touched down yet, sh*t!  Pull, pull, damn out of collective. *slam*  We sit there rocking back and forth and I wait for it.  “Well that was ugly.  Run it up let’s head over to the grass.”  Damn.

After a couple more hovering autos it’s time to head into the pattern and do some from the air.  Around and around we go.  Too much speed on touchdown, too much flare, not enough flare.  Entry was a bit late, airspeed got slow, airspeed got fast.  Over and over until I was covered in sweat and it was time to go pick up my stick buddy and head back to Cairns.

I always liked the flight back.  Just cruising back to base with the hard part over with.  Land, shut down, and head in for the debrief.  Done flying for the day we’d get our study assignment for the night, and it was off to lunch then class in the afternoon.

At the end of the day I’d head back home, start up the grill, and crack a cold beer.  The sun going down, pastel colors taking over the sky, the air starting to cool off again.  I’d sit back to watch the Blackhawks fly by headed out to the stage fields and think to myself “man, I’m actually here.  That’s going to be me soon.”

I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed flying during Primary.  I love flying, I crave being in the air.  But I dreaded every single flight of Primary.  It was an incredibly stressful phase, but man was I glad to finally be at the controls of a helicopter that said United States Army on the side.

 

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Edited by SBuzzkill
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