101st Airborne Division
Submitted by Charles Lee
I started out as a grunt, army aviation was extra duty. I graduated OCS,
"Benning School for Boys", Jan 1967, 7th Battalion / 73rd Company,
'The Student Brigade'. A 6 month tour at Benning as a Tactical officer at 51
Officer Candidate Company for 6 months.
During the last month of flight school, I just asked and my orders were
changed from 25th Field Force, VN to Ft. Sill to form a Chinook unit.
Lucky I guess.
We began in April 1968 as the 293rd Medium Lift Helicopter Company (Chinooks),
assigned to Fort Sill, forming for RVN.
The first Commander was Merril T. Adamcik. Our XO was Samuel Kiaser, and the
two platoon leaders were Maj. Leroy Jones and Captain Jeffery Fillion. Two of
the four Section leaders were Captain Charles Lee, Captain Paul Cuda. The other
two section leaders were senior Warrant Officers.
Captain Larry Cooper, was the unit supply officer, and CW3 Paul Clements was
the Personnel / Administrative Officer for the company. Also attached to the
company was a Maintenance Detachment commanded by Major Frank Shafer. Major
Shafer transferred to another unit once we arrived in Vietnam.
Major Larry Karjala was initially the Company Operations Officer, then
moved to Maintenance Officer when Frank Shafer left the company. Also in
Maintenance Detachment were two W4 Warrants who were maintenance test pilots.
These two warrants, CW4 Harold Wright and CW4 Bed Sherrell, had been UH -1
drivers during their first tour.
All of the Warrant Officers assigned as new unit pilots were fresh out of
flight school. All maintenance personnel were also fresh from MOSQ schools.
Chinook Helicopter experience did not exist at any level within the unit.
However, experience from other units, i.e., Huey, Fix wing, etc., did. That and
a belief that we could accomplish anything made the system work.
All the older officers, i.e., Commander, XO, and Platoon Leaders, were
ex-Army fixed wing jockeys with a quick course (8) weeks, then assigned to fill
helicopter unit slots. Medium and Heavy helicopter pilots, at the time - 1968,
were required by army to have 1 tour as an aviator, 500 hours of flight time and
then transition into Chinooks and/or cranes.(CH-54's). The army was short of
pilots with all the new units forming, and rotation of pilots already in Viet
Nam so the only thing available for the new units like ours were pilots fresh
out of flight school.
Unit financial and equipment support for any unit about to deploy was an open
door, open check book approach - "here are the men, here are the aircraft,
here is a check, go get, write and deploy..." - of course the Chinook only
cost $1,000,000 each then instead of the $15 - $20 million now, and, the economy
was different also.
Imagine, it took 6 months to move an existing unit from Ft. Campbell to the
Middle East in 1991. We drew pilots, crewmen, aircraft, parts, vehicles from the
manufacturer, shipped them to Ft. Sill, trained the individuals, then completed
unit level training, passed maintenance and operational readiness tests and
inspections, packed and shipped all equipment, personnel and aircraft to
Vietnam. All completed from start to finish in 6 months. This was done using 99%
draftees and almost all of them fresh out of Warrant Officer (Flight) school or
Officer Candidate School and then flight school.
We wanted, and requested "Mother's Truckers" as a call sign. We
were told that it was to "gross" and therefore the Department of the
Army wouldn't allow it. We were however called "Playtex",
because we "supported" the division. The "Bra" was support,
and there was an ex-Miss America, advertising Playtex, so we put two and two
together... no pun. Everything we owned was painted pink. Our entire building
complex in Vietnam was Pink. We painted a bra on the underside of one Chinook
for demonstration work and exhibitions we were flying in the US before we went
From memory so + / - a couple here or there.
Motor Pool personnel:
- 1 Officer - Additional duty
- 1 Enlisted (E4) Acting Motor Sergeant
- 1 Enlisted grade 2 or 3 as Mechanic
(Just a little short on people authorized for the motor pool with 100
vehicles and trailers to be maintained)
- 18 jeeps
- 4 - 7ea 3/4 ton
- 3 - 5ea 2.5 ton trucks with trailers
- 3 - 4 5 ton with trailers
- 2 ea. fuel trucks - 2 1/2ton with 2 each 300 gallon pods
- 1 each 5 ton wrecker
- 1 ea. 5 ton forklift
- 1 ea. 40 ft flat bed with 5 ton tractor
- 2 ea. water trailers (buffaloes )
- 1 ea. moped motor scooter (the flight line technical inspectors)
- 2 ea. mules (flat bed cart with 5.HP Briggs and Stratton engine)
- 1 ea. D8 Cat, bulldozer. We were authorized one, Shipped it to RVN as
Unit TOE property. The Seabees building our billeting area used it to
clear the land for living quarters, then took it as an equipment
- 1 ea. Air Force Flight Line Tug. One of our flight crews
"confiscated it" from an AF base. It was repainted, issued a
log book and shipped. We were young and had no fear. You were basically
authorized anything you could acquire and we had some masters at the
game. With Chinooks, nothing was too large - sling it, if it was.
A typical Chinook company of an Airmobile Division consisted of;
- Command Commander and Executive Officer
- Operations (extra duties at company level, did the same job as Bn
- 2 Flight platoons – 30 Officers, 2 Majors for Platoon leaders, 4
Captains for Section leaders @ 2 per Platoon, and the rest Warrants
Officers 1 - 4
- Each unit appointed a Safety officer - extra duty to flying, motor
officer, supply officer, and any number of other jobs
- We had 18 Chinooks, supposedly 16 were flyable and 2 in reserve
maintenance for back up
- Each Platoon had 8, therefore 4 to a section
- Unit consisted of a major as platoon leaders, if available, most of
the time Captains were the platoon leaders with a Major for CO of
- Possibly a Major or senior Captain for XO
- A Warrant Officer's extra duty was assigned as Administrative Officer
for the orderly room. This was in addition to the 1st Sergeant
- There was an enlisted platoon (s) with the Flight Engineers (1 per AC)
and 2 - 3 Door Gunners. Usually one of the door gunners would be
the Crew Chief for the aircraft
- The aircraft had 2 pilots (aircraft Commander and Pilot), Flight
Engineer, Crew Chief and 1 - 2 door gunners, depending if the tail
ramp was lowered and a M60 was mounted as a "stinger" on the
ramp shooting to the rear...neat idea
- Total EM and Officers for the aviation company with 18 aircraft was
approx. 300. This allowed minor maintenance, although would keep the
crew busy. Mess hall, Petroleum crews, orderly room, weapons, motor
pool, etc., in the normal company requirements made the large number of
At company level (3 Company's per Battalion) only Chinooks are authorized. At
Battalion level we added 2 loaches (OH-6's) for admin flying, command and
control, and in dire emergency, flying nurses to the PX, etc.,
Attached to the company was a Maintenance Detachment with a Major as commander
and 2+ Warrant officers for maintenance test pilots. These were addition to the
company pilots. The Enlisted assigned to the detachment numbered about 300, same
as the company. The maintenance detachment had separate shops for radios, rotor
blades, engines, etc. Each shop was specialty, sheet metal work was big... the
detachment, although commanded by the major, was directly responsible to the
unit commander. It was a very efficient operation. Maintenance was a separate
operation, yet answered directly to the aircraft company commander because it
affected his mission.
This formation allowed us to fly some long hours each day. Because maintenance
was assigned and not dependant on a separate unit or, separate level of command,
as it is now. The yearly flight hour allocation, which we flew, was limited only
by availability of spare parts and the number of pilots assigned. Now it is
limited by unit maintenance, which is assigned and performed by another unit,
without a command and control linkage. Where our flight hour program allowed
30,000 hours in a year for 18 birds, now a unit programs 2000 hours, and units
probably can't fly all of it. It was supposed to be an improvement, Go figure.
were not called "Artillery Raids" until 1970. The "Artillery
Raid" was a 1970 concept, based on the proven ability to insert and
withdraw artillery units in a fast efficient manner. It involved nothing more
than the missions we had perfected in Viet Nam. Chinooks taking artillery into a
firebase area, a quick set up, fire rounds for 24 - 48 hours and then move the
artillery to another site. Hit and run so to speak. We were doing the first two
parts of this operation as a standard procedure in Viet Nam, the added phase of
withdrawing after a short time was the "new" concept. A Chinook can
carry a towed 105, (Howitzer pulled behind a truck or tank) with a sling load of
ammo and the gun crew inside the AC. So 6 Chinooks, with one load each, can move
a battery of artillery to a site with enough ammo for 2 - 3 days of shooting.
Then one or more aircraft can be assigned to re-supply as needed. Although the
concept was initially designed for guerrilla operations, there is no reason it
would not work in a conventional war. A moving army would need the artillery
moved at a fast pace to support the infantry troops.
The old Chinooks (A / B / C's) could carry up to 10,000 lbs. load on a good day,
so a battery of 6 Artillery tubes (105's) needed 7 loads to move. 6 tubes, 1
command and control, and all with an ammo load attached. Even with the cyclic
(Constant) rate of fire for a 105 being sustained, we could piggyback enough
ammo for a couple days of firing. Then re-supplying as needed at 10,000 lbs. per
load was no big deal. (Additional loads would be needed for food, water,
generators, etc. For the larger 155mm howitzer we took two loads per gun; one
10,000 LB load of bullets, or "projo"s as they were called, and one
load of powder. You didn't carry both items together! Mind, you'd be just as
dead with 10,000 lbs. powder going off as you would be with 5,000 lbs. Guess it
was the way it was packaged at the factory on pallets.
We flew insertions of artillery bases, or Fire Bases on a moments notice, radio
call from aviation unit operations to 6 birds already flying to meet for an
insertion, and within 10 minutes you had birds, call signs, pickup zone, and
drop or insertion zones - all done while you were in the air.
The aircraft would be at 30 seconds spacing between each, thus a tube insertion
every 30. The first tube would be firing before the last one was on the ground.
Less than 3 min from drop to first round out of the tube. Fast. We would put an
artillery battery of 6 tubes in and have ammo for 2 days with 6 - 7 loads, or 3
- 5 minutes...
When I returned to the states and attended the Infantry Advance course (9
month school for higher command and staff assignments) the "Official Army
Doctrine" called for inserting an artillery battery with: 6 tubes,
personnel, 8 hours of ammo, would need 37 Chinook loads... that's right, book
called for 37 loads, not 6... Official Doctrine, and we couldn't get it changed.
I'll bet today you'll find the same doctrine in place, and the aircraft (AC)
will haul more ammo with the tubes. The "RAIDS" of today were the same
operation we did then; just they plan on 24 - 48 hours today.
Once the Fire Base was in, the re-supply continued with loads as needed;
ammo, water, supplies, PSP (Perforated Steel Planking, for building), wood, sand
bags (empty), C rations, jeeps with trailers loaded with ice and beer - no joke,
great moral builder. We used Connex's rigged with shower nozzles - mounted a
55-gal drum of water on the top and you had a shower. We'd sling those to the
firebases so the grunts could have showers. Those were the fun loads, knowing
they would help moral. We also flew the USO shows, donut dollies (Female
entertainers) from USO shows or Red Cross units out to bases for brief daytime
visits. Jump seat between the pilots was always reserved for a mini-skirted
Our normal armament was two M60, 30-cals., one on each side. The marines used
two .50s on the baby Chinook (CH-46). We occasionally added a third on the ramp.
With the ramp lowered to level position and a M60 on the lip. The gunner could
sit with his harness on, and his legs hanging over the lip of the ramp and
outside, and straddle the machinegun, and look to the rear. It was a neat seat
and place to ride. However, you never saw a "stinger" gunner not
sitting on a Chicken Plate. (Porcelain chest protector).
The main reason for limit on the armament was that the Chinook, with rare
exceptions, was only a re-supply aircraft. In our Battalion of 3 companies, I
only know of 1 Combat assault done with Chinooks. I did one, or so it was called
- actually was an Infantry Company put in to secure a down aircraft site, not
much of an assault, we took no fire, thank goodness. I believe the 1st Cav.
tried using Chinooks for assault. They hold 33 men as opposed to the 7 - 9 for
the Huey. Our problem was they were a huge target. You loose 33 men at a time or
more if you crash. Also, if you have one disabled in a small LZ, you stop the
assault. Size of the LZ could be the most important. In open areas like the
delta you have water, which will let the Chinook wheels sink.
Lots of reasons for not using Chinooks for assault and then there just wasn't
that many of them. The 101st only had 48 in the Division and that meant in I
corps, Da Nang to the DMZ - 150 miles and with Marines, ARVN's, US Army, we
supported 50 - 100,000 troops. Loosing one would hamper the re-supply effort. It
meant you also began to have trouble getting replacement aircraft from the
states. With all the units in Vietnam loosing aircraft, replacements were hard
to come by for a complicated aircraft.
FUEL & FLIGHT TIME
Refueling was almost always done "hot" - with engines running.
Rarely, almost never are they refueled that way today even though they are safer
systems. Without the bladders (resealing bladders in tanks, standardized in
mid-1960 and after) we could stay airborne for about 2.5 hrs. Now most will plan
on 2 hours - 2.5. Today you have different models with larger tanks for
extended operations, or even air-to-air refueling on some (Special
We'd run two loads of fuel, 1 - 2 hours depending on the sling load weight, the
more weight hauled, the more fuel you burn in a given hour, then stop for a
maintenance break. A 30-minute break was usual, then up for another two
loads. During the summer 12 - 15 hr days were not unusual, and 7 days
You could fly 120 hours in any given 30-day period. Say as an example, 1 May
1969 was a 12 hr day, then 30 May1969 you dropped the 12 hours from the 1st
(30 day periods) and you could fly 12 hours or however much of the 12 hours
you needed to bring you up to 120 hours for the period 2 May - 30 May.
Company operations job was to post, track, and ensure missions didn't put
pilots over the limit. At 120 hrs you could get the flight surgeon to
examine you, give you an up slip for another 10 hrs, then another for 10
hrs for a max. of 140 hrs in any 30 day period. 100 - 120 hrs was not uncommon
for a Chinook pilot. Therefore he would get 1000 - 1200 hrs on a 12-month
tour. XX every pilot in the unit. What you got was 18 year olds going to
Flight school. 19 years old at the finish of flight school, Chinook transition
(40 hrs) and then Viet Nam. At 19 or 20 this "kid" is a CW2, Army
Pilot, 1,000 hours of flying, handled emergency procedures from run away
engines, to engine failure, shot up hydraulics, overworked, underpaid, yet doing
a job everyday, drinking at night, thinking that it was "Normal"
for a 20 year old. Hell of a bunch of Guys. And they were the ones with the
"easy" flying jobs. Not the combat assaults, night medical evacuations
with bullets flying all the time, or the other jobs.
Charles Lee, Section Leader/Platoon Leader/Motor Officer,
C/159th ASHB, 101st Airborne Division, Bn S-2, 159th ASHB, RVN
'68 – '69.
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