Well worth reading…an excellent comment in The New Yorker:
The most worthless time of my life was the year and one half that I spent as an Army officer at Fort Hood,Texas. That said, I did learn a few things.
I learned the reality about the military, that my prejudices about Texas were valid, that my dream to marry a oil heiress was stupid, that I missed real trees, and much more. At the time, the only firearms I saw were hanging in the rear window of pick-up trucks. The gates to Fort Hood had guards, but they waved in any car with a sticker on the bumper and saluted those with a blue one. I do not recall any crime. Many were angry about the (senseless) war in Vietnam (Don't agree? read the true history, starting in 1918), but I do not recall any violence.
Times have changed. Guns have taken over American culture and being on an Army base does not guarantee safety. Perhaps, it is even more dangerous. Of course, the headlines about the latest shooting in Texas scream “not terror related”, as if this means anything, especially to the dead or wounded and their families. This is a different kind of terror: that of pickling the brains of Americans with fear about ghosts. This is the direct result of a needless war in a country that has oil and another needless war in a country that has devoured invading armies for centuries. These primitive tribes even made the “greatest nation god ever created” look like fools. Millions suffered--and continue to suffer--so that a few could profit. Now, many of the geniuses that brought us the never-ending “war on terror” are writing books and still blathering garbage of talk shows.
Now, they are trying to stir things up in Ukraine. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a little war in Europe? That would be easier than one again Muslims...and just as profitable.
Anyone traveling in England or viewing news reports on the country will notice just about everyone wearing a little red thing on his or her lapel. Some are of cheap paper; some are jewel-encrusted. This phenomenon occurs each year and has for almost a century.
What people are wearing is supposed to symbolise a poppy and they are used to commemorate suffering of World War I. The English have vowed never to forget and make a great show of this effort. Anyone not wearing a poppy is criticised. I have found this somewhat admirable, having grown up in a country that easily forgets, yet touts patriotism as its unique national characteristic. I recall how my service in Vietnam was honoured and celebrated.
I bring up the poppy phenomenon, because I notice a change this year. For the first time, I have spotted articles and opinion pieces in the media critical of the glorification of war. After all, World War I was one of the dumber conflicts, absolutely needless and fought to placate the egos of distant rulers. Millions suffered at the hands of incompetent leaders.
A few years ago, I traveled with an Australian friend to Ypres in Belgium to see where his grandfather had died and was buried. We studied the memorials and displays; I had read a bit of history. Standing on the ground almost 100 years later (and having been to a “more comfortable” war) one cannot imagine the horror, even with the aid of photographs. One cannot put oneself into the place of the generals, who sent me to suffer insufferable conditions and to die needlessly, while they dined in comfort far to the rear or back at home. (If you want example of the incompetence, read Gallipoli, by L.A. Carlyon.)
The red of the poppy should symbolise rage, as well as sorrow. But, it does not. People still permit their “leaders” to send poor souls off to war, maybe not as stupid, but often as needless. As long as nations glorify the military, politicians will find a way to waste lives and resources.
After the roaring success with war in Iraq and Afghanistan (not to mention Vietnam), arms manufacturers and military contractors in the United States are drooling over the possibility of continued obscene profits from an invasion of Syria.
If media reports are correct and this actually happens, someone should consider renaming the country to United States of Quagmires or the Land of the Poor and the Home of the Wounded.
A friend sent the below article, which will not interest all visitors to this needless blog. But, it brought back memories and spawned some thought.
Helicopter Pilot Superiority - explained!
This has been a serious debate for quite some time with battle lines well drawn and the debate field hot, furious, and emotional. Obviously, the heat of the debate and the surety of the participants are directly proportional to the amount of liquid intelligence that has been consumed. Nevertheless, this humble observer will present the evidence that clearly proves helicopter pilots are, as a matter of fact, the most superior pilots in the aviation community.
First, let's talk about the numbers. Airplanes have a lot of numbers, V1, V2, VTOSS, MMO, the figures many civilian helicopter operations emulate. However, while helicopter pilots try to operate "by the numbers", the operating environment often precludes such a luxury. The 757 pilot is, "going to come over the fence at Vref+15k" or some other such number like that. Meanwhile, the helicopter lands on a rig, perhaps with a 30 knot head wind, a 15 knot crosswind, or maybe he has to land in a remote area with no wind... And he will LAND AT 0 KNOTS GROUNDSPEED! If you know anything about aerodynamics, I shouldn't have to say anything else - the safety of the numbers does not always grace the helicopter pilot therefore, they need special skill to compensate when the numbers are not even applicable. The rotorhead may be landing at 40 knots IAS or 0 knots... Airplane safety margins are all off!
Not convinced, let's talk operating environment. It would be nice to be able to land on a flat piece of paved real estate that was 200 feet wide and 8000 feet long, for every landing; but for helicopter pilots, that's the exception rather than the rule (We are even told to "avoid the flow" of the starch wingers lest we upset their "numbers.")
Helicopter pilots are called to land on small offshore platforms, smaller shipboard platforms (that can be bobbing and weaving like Mike Tyson), rooftops, forests, jungles, and next to highways at night to pick up the injured. This is a VFR (Visual Flight Rules) operation that would make most airplane pilots cringe. This goes beyond those fixed wingers who call themselves "bush pilots." Helicopter pilots are the true Bush Pilots - they land and takeoff in the midst of the bushes!
To this, the helicopter pilot adds all the stuff the corporate or 121 operator does. They operate in dense airspace, fly instrument approaches, operate at busy airports, and fly in severe weather - often without the help of a four-axis autopilot with "autotrim." (In fact, the only autopilot may be control friction... And any objective dual-rated pilots will confess the helicopter is quite a bit more difficult to fly on the gauges!)
At this point I have to interject for the prima Donna part 91 operators in their Citation X's, Gulfstreams, and Falcon 50's. Yes Veronica, there are a lot of helicopters with color radar, multiple MFDs, EFIS, digital fuel controls, 4 axis autopilots, and all the other goodies, so don't go there! We can operate your fancy equipment as well!
I'm not done - what about workload? The helicopter pilot is normally the "company man" on the job. Therefore, they must not only be able to fly the aircraft, they have to be the local PR man with the customer, often solving the customer's problems so the aircraft is used the most efficiently. The helicopter pilot might have to arrange for his own fuel and even refuel his own aircraft. He checks the landing sites, trains people how to work around helicopters without getting injured, and makes sure the aircraft does not disturb Grandma Bessie's chickens!
But wait, like the Ginsu knife, "there's more!" The rotor-head does it all. He does all the pre-flight planning, submits the flight plan, prepares all the paperwork including the weight and balance, loads and briefs the passengers, loads cargo, and after landing takes care of the unloading and finally arranges for their own transportation and room. This is often interspersed by telephone calls to some company weenie that changes plans and expectations every hour.
Finally, the all-important question, "What about control touch?" I want to shut up all the hotshot fighter pilots. I've been in their aircraft and they have been in mine... I could fly theirs but they were all over the sky in mine! So then, Mr Starch Winger; when you see a Hughes 500 or Bell 206 pilot hold one skid on a 5000' knife edge ridge that is only two feet wide so passengers can step out onto the ridge, while the other skid is suspended in space... When you watch a Skycrane, Vertol, S61, 212, or 214B pilot place a hook, that's on a cable 200 feet below the aircraft, in the hand of a ground crewman... When you see a Lama, AStar, or Bell 206L land in a space in the trees that's scarcely bigger than the helicopter... and if you ever watch a BK 117, 105, or A109 pilot land in a vacant lot next to a busy freeway surrounded by power lines-at night... Well then, you'll have some idea who is the master manipulator of aviation equipment.
The bottom line is; if all you want is to get into the air, find a Cessna, Beech, F-16, or 757. However, if you want to truly fly, to be an artisan in aviation and develop a bird-like control touch; then, you want to be a helicopter pilot. After all, a rock would probably fly if you made it go 180 knots. Or, if you subscribe to the old Soviet theory of aerodynamics that states, if a big enough engine can be put on a brick, it'll fly.
The real question for our fixed-wing brethren should be, "How fast can you fly backwards?"
Number One Son flies one of the most-sophisticated airliners. He needed years of intensive training to master the art…of suffering hours of boredom being a "flight deck manager". I do not belittle his talent, ambition, or competence, but his main concern seems to be to impress frequent fliers in the back who, if paying attention, should be impressed by how gently he touches down several tons of metal on a long, well-paved, well-lit, well-maintained stretch of concrete.
I was a military helicopter pilot. I received nine months of training and was then sent to Vietnam to learn how to fly in combat. Most of those that survived became competent pilots. The Army must have hoped that I would live long enough to amortize the investment in training.
My kid wanted to become a pilot from his early teen years. I became a pilot out of self-interest, not because I ever dreamed of flying. I recall no such thoughts. I can remember the day that I became interested in becoming a pilot. The decision had nothing to do with the desire to soar above the clouds. I'm sure that I was aware of statistics citing the relative survival rates/chances of infantry officers compared with helicopter pilots involved in the Vietnam Follies, but that played no role in my decision.
One hot, summer day, I was trying to sleep in the shade of a pup tent deep in the heart of Texas, when a helicopter landed nearby and stirred up the dust. My unit was simulating patrols at night to test sensing devices destined to fail along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. In my discomfort of trying to sleep on the hard ground, I glanced towards the pilots, comfortably seated in a glass enclosure anonymous behind mysterious helmets and glare shields, and realized that they must sleep in beds…even in war. When we returned to base, I learned what one must do to volunteer to become a target in order to avoid slogging through the jungle and sleeping in the mud.
I spent a year flying in the Central Highlands. Each day, I landed—several times—in good weather and bad on small bit of terrain on hilltops, buffeted by winds, an over-loaded UH-1 helicopter. Tolerances were so marginal, that one false move meant certain destruction of the aircraft and possible death and/or embarrassment. We did not enjoy the luxury of ten thousand foot runways. We were happy with 100 square feet of level ground, but were often forced to balance one skid on whatever would hold to allow passengers to jump out or the crew chief to dump supplies. And, that was the easy part, because on good days no one shot at us.
We might have experienced greater risks, but we had more fun…
The slide show feature is back by popular demand (definition: one or more person wanting to see another).
About ten years ago, an Australian friend and I talked about riding bicycles from Saigon to Hanoi along Highway 1. It did not happen for a number of reasons (one of which being spousal veto). Because I have traveled along Highway 1 (south of Qui Nhon) in a jeep and have scanned the photos, I want to share these with my friend and anyone else interested in a view from the ground (albeit a bit out of date).
I have mentioned being an adviser to the Korean Tiger Division during the Vietnam War. I hung out at division headquarters or flew helicopters. All real estate outside our (secure) compounds was scary...although not really. We drove into Qui Nhon or to a secluded beach, and no one threw rocks at us. Each far-flung brigade had a US lieutenant colonel as adviser, who usually traveled to and fro by helicopter. We all lived together in a compound within the Korean compound. It was relatively pleasant, as far as war accommodation goes.
One day, one of the Ltc's suggesting driving down Highway 1 to his brigade. I was foolish enough to agree to accompany him. After all, I trusted him. He was more senior and had recommended a good hotel and jewelry shop for my Bangkok R&R. What could go wrong? I assumed that he knew what he was doing, had collected the latest intelligence on enemy activity, and would take no risk with his own life.
We filled up the jeep and armed ourselves with enough weaponry to hold off a peasant with a sling shot. I knew the entire route by heart from the air. The first bit of road was familiar, because I used it often to reach Qui Nhon. Soon, we left the built-up area and climbed the hills that cut through the coastal plain. Traffic was not a problem, because people did not have cars, there were no military vehicles on the road (except fools like us), and no one cruised on the ubiquitous mopeds outside built-up areas. Once we crossed the ridge and descended to the coastal plain, I was relieved to see an Esso truck. I assumed that no one would be crazy enough to be driving a huge Molotov cocktail, if there were danger of a Vietcong attack. I relaxed, enjoyed the scenery, and took photographs (which you may now enjoy without fear of anything).
I do recall mentioning to my friend that a bike ride could be grueling, because of the hills. The photos confirm this. Seeing it once was enough.
The regular reader of this blog knows that I have bought a scanner. I've been revisiting my past through photographs. It is inevitable that I will compare the old times with the new. This post is not criticism (for which I am well-known), rather merely comparison of different times, situations, and conditions.
Number One Son is a Lufthansa pilot. Today, large passenger jets approach long runways on straight and gently sloped glide paths, all controlled by computers (to reduce irrational fear of the folks in back). It takes a great deal of skill and knowledge to handle such a complicated machine. Even helicopters are stuffed with electronic gadgets unimagined in my day.
Now for the contrast I promised...
This is the view of a real runway and a real airfield. Even in poor weather, it's kinda hard to miss.
I flew in a different era, in a different type of aircraft, and in a different type of environment. We flew with our two hands, by the seat of our pants, and without adult supervision. Computers had been invented, but had certainly not made it to the trenches. The Air Force had air traffic control, but I served its poor relative.
Where's the "runway"?
This is a Korean fire base in Vietnam. They liked to perch their luxury accommodations on the most-inaccessible mountain tops. Everybody and everything had to be hauled by helicopters. Uncle Sugar was nice enough to deliver the goods on a daily basis. We were delivery truck drivers, but had bigger egos and more fun.
Anyone that has flown in mountainous regions should be able to spot the "runway". For those that need help, it's the only flat piece of land (yes, there really is one!) in the right/middle of the photo with a whiff of colored smoke (to help the pilot gauge wind direction and velocity). If it's hard to see, you can share the pilot's daily dilemma. Heavy loads and quixotic winds reduced the margin for error to something close to zero. But, it was a job...and certainly a nicer one than that done by the folks living in this palace.
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.