It was almost an audible command to pay attention. I may have been doing a bit of day-dreaming as I did on occasion encapsulated in the flight helmet sheltered against the noises--if there were any--of the war without. The "whop-whop" of the main rotor and the steady hum of the tail rotor seemed to be in cadence and perfect synchronization as we "floated" lazily along in the Viet Nam sky. If memory serves me well, there were no red clouds depicting the dryness of the Highlands (which was unusual) at this time.
The "thoughts" came one after another. What are you going to do when you have to put this in the jungle down there. No fear flooded my being. I had had some experience with simulated as well as actual forced landing. I have adopted a philosophy that has served me well through the years. "If man builds it, it is not a matter IF it will fail--just WHEN!" That was the beginning of a ritual which lived with me in my off hours, even in examining what the jungle looked like as we flew along over it in the time following.
Each night I practiced. I practiced what I would do with the controls in the event we were forced into a landing which we did not intend. I took a couple of broom-sticks for the collective and the cyclic and drilled and drilled myself until I was satisfied that, "This is what I will DO when it occurs."
Upon the approach to a forced landing into the trees--it never occurred to me that it would be anywhere else, that would be too simple, go into autorotation and at the prescribed altitude, decelerate--zero out ground speed, pull pitch steadily and cushion it in like landing on eggs. My operandi proposed would be.
Keep the aircraft flying until closure came with the trees, decelerate to zero ground speed, as the leaves of the trees came to obstruct the view out the windshield pull pitch for all it was worth and simultaneously roll the aircraft to the "right." My rationale was, zero ground speed no forward motion. Flying the aircraft to the last ditch and pulling pitch as it fell into the trees would slow the main rotor somewhat with all pitch pulled in and by rolling the aircraft to the right to meet the trees with the advancing blade would serve two purposes. 1) Slow the revolutions ever slower and 2) the resultant forces generated by the main rotor striking the trees would have a opposite reaction that reacted favorably with the transmission to force it backward instead of come crunching forward on the pilots.
What's past is "prologue."
The real proof of the pudding came one day as me and my crew were left behind to transport some PAX and dirty laundry back to base camp. Earlier that day I had remarked to one of the ground troop officers that, "Someday this ol girl is going to kill somebody if they don't respect her for the sick sister she is." Little did I know that before the day was out--I would be IT.
We were departing the firebase and I was instructing Mr. Moon in a confined area take-off. As we proceeded toward the trees which lined the area, I felt that we were not going to make it and said, "I got it" to Mr. Moon and assumed control of the aircraft. We hovered back as far as we could to make another attempt at a take-off.
I remember exactly my words to Mr. Moon. "I'll show you how it's done."
Upon experiencing translational lift, I began exercising a steep take-off over the trees. Mr. Moons calling out the gauges was suddenly interrupted horns in our ears and blinking lights that prompted me to click on the intercom and say, "We're going in!"
And we did.
As you can observe, the rationale proved to be right. My crew chief received a black eye bouncing around the crew compartment. As far as I know the gunner had no injuries. The "PAX" which we had on board--I didn't hear from them any more. Mr. Moon, my PP, who was on loan from the 189th just in country was unhurt other than being shook up a bit after the sudden, unexpected plunge near the firebase which we had just had part in moving. I received a "bee" sting on my forehead and on my shoulder. I received a bone chip in one of my elbows--it has been so long that I now forget. 1967 is a fur piece from 1999!
All's well that ends well they say. There is another saying, "When you can walk away from it, it is a good landing." That reminds me of another saying that goes something like this, "The sea and aviation are unforgiving of human error."
There is no way that I can accept responsibility for the safety of the crew as it was out of my hands several days, weeks before when the "premonition" told me that some day, some time it was coming to pass. Thank God for His leadership even in spite of ourselves. Praise His name as now I sit here and recall all of this as a testimony to Him.
(Signed) Elder Selba Khomer "Chief" Beaty, Sr. (CW3 Ret.)