"Super Subsonic Fighter"
"Super Subsonic Fighter"
Submitted by -1LT Robert Brewster, Headhunter 37, 3rd PLT Qui Nhon Sep '70-Oct '71
It is around April 1971. I am based in Qui Nhon with the 219th 3rd platoon. The Birddog is an unusual airplane. Specifically built to Army specifications as an observation airplane and radio relay airplane, it also is an excellent aircraft for forward air controller (FAC) duties. While assigned to the 3rd platoon, we got to know many of the units that we worked with in the air by call signs and voices. Rarely did we ever meet the people we supported who flew side by side with us. This was particularly true of any assault gunships or tactical air from the Air Force. However, there was one time where I had a chance to meet several pilots from an assault helicopter company (AHC) based between Qui Nhon and the Mang Yang Pass on the way to Pleiku. I cannot recall the units name or even its call sign but we worked with them a lot in the areas around Phu Cat.
The pilots from this AHC offered several of us the chance to obtain some High Explosive (HE) and Fleshette (Nails) rockets. I remember along with CWO Larry White and I think also CWO Jim McDevit taking a Deuce and a half truck from Qui Nhon to the AHC base some twenty miles away to pick up these rockets. When we returned to Qui Nhon, I was all hyped up to do some “damage” with them. Our Bird Dogs were outfitted with four rocket tubes - two on each wing. We normally carried four 2.75 inch White Phosphorous (WP) rockets. When fired to spot a target the WP rocket would send up a plume of pure white smoke hundreds of feet in the air from the ground. This smoke could be seen for miles and it was our main tool for bringing in air strikes or gunships on the enemy.
Anxious to fire these HE and Nails rockets, I got up at “0-Dark thirty” one morning. There was a valley where I always saw heavily used trails but never any bad guys. The bad guys worked and traveled at night but this day with my new load of rockets (2-HE and 2-Nails) I was going to get there just at the break of light and catch them out in the open. With the help of my crew chief we first loaded two HE rockets. To my surprise they stuck out almost two feet in the rocket tube’s front. The WP rocket’s nose stuck out maybe eight inches so this was a big difference to me. Then we loaded the Nails rockets and they were the opposite barely sticking out of the rocket tube at all.
All loaded, I felt like a “super subsonic fighter” - dangerous, stealthy and ready to show the enemy what I had. While still dark, I departed Qui Nhon for a valley west of Phu Cat in Binh Dinh Province called the Crow’s Foot. There were many valleys running up and down this mountainous region and they resembled a crow’s foot from the air. My tactic was to low level on the treetops perpendicular on one valley side and pop over the ridgeline down into the next valley. This morning my timing was perfect! As I popped over the first ridgeline, I could not believe my eyes. There were hundreds of black clad people running every direction. I quickly pulled up and armed the HE rockets. I did a semi-split S maneuver and pointed my Bird Dog’s nose at the running bad guys. I pulled the trigger to fire one HE rocket and off it went with more power than any WP rocket. I watched the rocket head for a large group of people and….nothing happened. I swung around from a different direction and armed the second HE rocket. I fired! And, still nothing happened. Neither rocket exploded on the ground. Now, people are disappearing into the jungle. I am desperate to do something. I swing around on another pass. This time I will fire a Fleshette rocket. I pull the trigger and the rocket heads toward a large group. Nothing happens! I fire the second Nails rocket on my last pass and unbelievably still nothing happens again. I have fired all four rockets – two HE and two Fleshette without any of them exploding! What is going on? The WP rockets would all have exploded. I cannot figure it out.
All told only a few minutes had passed since I made my initial surprise attack over the valley ridgeline. In spite of small arms ground fire I am not hit anywhere. It is daylight and everyone has disappeared. I search around the area and see nothing. Later that day I would go back out with a second aircraft, an Air Force O-2 and we would put tactical air strikes in along the valley. But, we see nothing. That night I would learn that both the HE and Fleshette rockets need minimum distances to arm themselves before impacting or exploding. Of course, I am at tree top level, maybe 300-500 feet above ground level at the highest when I fired and too low for the rockets to arm themselves. What a threat I am! Better stick with what I know. But, I do know this much - I scared the crap out those bad guys! At least they would think longer and harder about shooting at any Bird Dog flying overhead after that day.
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