…can I keep it?
A couple of days ago, I was reconnecting with a flight simulation website where I had been rather active for the last few years, but due to the cross-country move, etc, I had become a stranger to their pages. The folks that frequent this site are helicopter enthusiasts, and concentrate on “virtually” flying the famous Bell UH-1H Iroquois…more affectionately known as simply “the Huey”. Anyone with any knowledge of the war in Vietnam, knows that it was termed “the helicopter war”; and rightly so. The military had pioneered the concept of “vertical assault” just a few years before America’s involvement in S.E. Asia, and my father’s helicopter unit was one of the first to be tasked by President Kennedy to deploy to the rice paddies and jungles of Vietnam.
(In the early days of the war, the Army aviation units primarily shuttled South Vietnam troops in [and out] of combat. They used the early version of the Huey…the UH-1B pictured above, and the H-21 “Shawnee” [the machine my father flew during the conflict] pictured below.)
I originally penned this in August of 2013 after a conversation I had with a good friend while flying online. I titled it: “Mom, Dad, A Huey Followed Me Home…Can I Keep It?”
A few nights ago, while totally engrossed in an online flight with my good compadre’ and fellow flight sim enthusiast Griff, he offered a question that stopped me in my tracks…
“What do you think your Dad would’ve thought of this?”
Simple enough question, not at all a simple answer. First a bit of background.
For those of you that know me, you know I was blessed with being raised by a man that was not only my hero, but also the driving force behind my career in aviation (November 2013 marks my 30th anniversary flying for a major U.S. airline). He was fun (and funny), intelligent, handsome, caring, an incredible parent, but one of the coolest things I loved (and could “cash in on” in my little boy world), was the fact that he was a career Army Warrant Officer, and a veteran combat helicopter pilot. He truly rocked as a Dad!
(My dear father in the deadly skies over Vietnam…circa 1963.)
He joined the military at a very young age, struggled through Korea as a medic, and entered Army Aviation back in the days when flying helicopters was more of a fringe idea than a career path. He went to Vietnam early in the conflict in the cockpit of the CH-21 Shawnee, came home and transitioned to the OH-13 for a few years. Two years later, he hauled us off to Germany (for the second time) to fly the CH-34, and after two years of that, received orders to check out on a machine that was definitely on his “wish list”…the CH-47 Chinook. The only proviso was that when his training at Ft. Rucker, Alabama was finished, his next destination would be back in the hell of Vietnam. The year was 1968, he had his “20 in” toward his pension requirements, so he declined and decided to retire.
Although he never “officially” checked out on the UH-1 Huey, he did indeed log time in that wonderful machine from the amazing folks at Bell Helicopter. It was brought into the Army inventory about the time he was landing in the rice paddies of S.E. Asia in his Shawnee, so he missed a formal transition into it. Regardless of that fact, he was fortunate enough to fly it many times before he retired.
(A flight of Hueys touching down in the “PZ”…or pickup zone in Vietnam.)
After retirement from the Army, good news followed with a job as a civilian flight instructor training new Warrant Officer Candidates (or WOCs ) at the Army’s Primary Helicopter Training Center in Ft. Wolters, Texas. His love for being a “fling wing pilot”, his penchant for teaching, and his “gift of gab” served him well as an I.P. He loved the job, and it loved him. One awesome by-product of this new occupation, was that yours truly was allowed to accompany him to work on many occasions. I sat in on the lesson briefings, and was allowed to follow him to the flight line to observe the preflight inspections of the little TH-55 trainers. I would then hop in a pickup truck and bounce across the North Texas dirt roads (with one of the non-flying Instructor Pilots) enroute to one of the dozens of “Stage Fields” where the actual training took place.
They had cool names like, Sundance, Mustang, Rawhide, and Pinto, but then as Vietnam spooled up to it’s horrific crescendo, names like Da Nang, Phu Loi and Soc Trang became part of the Ft. Wolters lexicon. Being your typical 13 year old boy in the late ’60s, I was interested (but not too concerned) with the Vietnam War, the “hippie movement”, and the social unrest and protesting, but to say that it dominated my thoughts would not have been accurate. I was far more enthralled with sports, dirt bikes, and girls, but with that said, there was that one OTHER thing that most teen boys never gave two hoots about. Flying in general, and helicopters in particular.
Although my first lesson in a cockpit wouldn’t happen for another three years, I was being weened on the language of my passion. Words like rotor blades, tail rotors, hovering, pedal turns, retreating blade stalls, pinnacle landings, nap of the Earth flying, auto-rotations, vortex ring state, the cyclic, the collective and pedal controls were working their way into my speech. It was a new language, and it stoked the flames of my aviation passion.
(A scene from a “Vietnam era” mission that I built in the DCS flight simulation. This particular mission features flying the UH-1H ferrying troops into a hot LZ (landing zone)…I named the mission “Charlie Don’t Surf” from the famous line in the movie “Apocalypse Now”.)
When at the various Stage Fields, my place was to function as their de facto “mascot”. I was accepted by these brave men, and I would be tasked with getting coffee, running errands, passing messages and anything else those “six foot a million”, square jawed, broad smiled heroes might ask me to do. In return I was gifted with story after story of flying heroics (complete with the pilot habit of “flying your hand”), lots of “chin music” toward each other, and tons of tidbits about how to fly a helicopter…the right AND the wrong way. All of the I.P.s had been to Vietnam, most had been shot down at least once (my Dad was in that unenviable club), they all had medals to wear, and I’m sure they all had scars to hide. I cherish those days from many years ago, and marvel even today about how I was allowed a glimpse of their incredible world.
I lost this wonderful man (and his beloved wife and my beautiful Mother) back in 1993, and truth be told, nary a day goes by that I don’t have many thoughts of them both. In the latter stages of his life, his boyish charm and love of fun with gadgets got the best of him, and he bought his first Mattel Game-boy (of many I might add). He loved that little plastic device; his favorite game being a golfing experience . After his work day was done, he would spend hours sitting in his easy chair, thinning grey hair, glasses covering those wonderful “aviator” crows feet in the corner of his blue eyes, lost in his make-believe world of long drives and six-foot putts. Inevitably, a big smile would spread across his face and his dancing fingers would be putting it there. Unfortunately, he passed before my first computer purchase, but fortunately for me, that little Gateway system came complete with a flight simulation by the name of “Aces Over Europe”. It was my first exposure to flying in the virtual world, and I was hooked for life.
Over the years, my little Gateway joystick (suction cupped, trigger and one red button on top), has morphed into a TM Warthog HOTAS (top of the line joystick and throttle setup), with Saitek rudder pedals, all complete with a wooden stand constructed by a person without a modicum of skill with saw, hammer and nails (yours truly), but it somehow suffices. I cannot begin to account for all the expenditures in money and precious time that virtual flying has taken from me, and with the advent of online flying, the latter (time) has increased ten fold. The good news, of course, is that I’ve been blessed to meet and become fast friends with lots of folks through this 21st century medium. Most don’t hold any sort of FAA certificate, but in my eyes, that doesn’t diminish the fact that they share a passion for flying machines. They’re all pilots to me.
(I’m departing the airfield inbound to the PZ, then off to a remote mountain top, that will serve as our LZ for this flight. This mission can be flown by yourself in the “single player world”, or with friends online.)
This brings me back to Griff’s original question. How WOULD my father have liked virtual flying, specifically our newest venture…a machine he fell in love with almost 50 years ago. I knew that when DCS World released the UH-1H “Huey”, I would be drawn back to those days of my youth when I watched heroes laughing, smoking, drinking coffee and making fascinating flying machines dance a most difficult ballet. The smell of sweat, leather, coffee, cigarettes and Old Spice, complete with the summer Texas heat (mixed with the roar of dozens of Lycoming engines) was where I would be transported as I fired up that beautiful piece of software for the first time.
(Departing during a mortar attack by “Charlie”.)
To answer the question, I’ll simply say this… I’m fairly sure our first phone conversation after he flew it would be something on the order of the following:
“Hey son…what’s up?”
“Not much Pop…have you fired up that newest module from DCS? You know, the UH-1H Huey?”
“Yeah….wow! Flying that brings back a lot of great memories! That was a great helicopter, fun to fly and this is damn close to what it was like!”
“Really, it’s that good?”
“Yep…it’s that good! Oh… and your Mother has a bone to pick with you!”
“Yeah, she said to tell you that the new monitor, new Warthog joystick and throttles, new pedals, TWO new video cards, new computer chip, extra RAM, and those SSD hard drives I just ordered are coming out of YOUR inheritance!”
“LOL….thanks Dad. Tell her I love her, and that all this started back with your FIRST Gameboy in 1991…so it’s not really my fault! Oh, and can we expect you in TeamSpeak tonight at the regular time?”
“Damn right I’ll be there….SOMEBODY has to show you noobs how to really fly the Huey!”
(An hour…an many bullet holes in the Huey later…I’m landing back at the helicopter base.)
Needless to say, I’m thinking my Dad would’ve loved all this. I can hardly imagine his reaction after donning my Oculus “Rift S” Virtual Headset!
Side note: Another good friend of mine from the world of flight simulations, introduced me to “REAL” Huey pilot… his father-in-law Tom. He was a student at the Ft. Wolters Army helicopter school at the same time my Dad was a flight instructor there (no, they didn’t meet…of course I had to ask 🙂 ). During his long, accomplished career in the Army as a pilot, Tom logged more than 5000 flight hours in this amazing machine, and (according to him)…loved every minute of it. My mate Terry and I put Tom in front of a computer , and had him “fly” the virtual Huey around for a bit. What’s was his impression you ask? He described it as being VERY accurately depicted, and thought it was awesome. In fact, Tom has been gracious enough to meet online with another virtual pilot group I’m flying with, and hold “instructional classes” in the fine art of mastering this iconic bird.
“Dad, if you’re watching, know that each time I strap myself into the (virtual) Huey cockpit, YOU’RE right there with me. I know you are watching and me giving silent advice. I swear every now and then I can feel the gentle push of an anti-torque pedal, a slight nudge of the cyclic stick and occasionally the smallest of “helping” movements of the collective control. You’re sitting in that magic machine with me, and I’m damned glad you are…this “noob” needs all the help he can get.
I love you. I miss you. And I love flying with you in the Huey every chance I get.
Your loving son Bill.”
’till next time…