USS Sanctuary

Greetings, and salutations, fellow Lancers. It's been some time since I have been with the flight, but I have always been with you in my mind. I was really surprised when I got the Letter from Gary telling me about the web page. I never expected anyone to find me up here in northern Minnesota. I read that you were interested in stories about our tours across the pond and I remembered an amusing story that I decided I'd try and share with you. You will have to forgive me, since I am an ex-helicopter pilot, and not a renowned writer. So, on the lighter side of my time over there, I shall proceed. I am sure you all recall the mission, which was called "Battalion Courier". It was a mission that was generally boring and considered a waste of time. But it did have its good points. If you got to fly to Da Nang with some pax, and got to spend some time there waiting, you could grab a good meal at the Navy Base. Which actually gave you a choice of food, instead of roast buffalo, rice and gravy. You had the package store, which had a wide assortment of booze other than warm beer on a pallet. And with a larger exchange service you could actually find something that you really needed. Well really wanted anyway. Enough of this rambling, let's get on with my story. After a month or two in country flying CA's or resupply missions, you are ready for a simple courier mission. You've been flying most of the day on various shuttle missions and enjoying how easily the day is actually going. Hey, this courier stuff isn't half bad after all. What's all the griping about? You get back to HQ with your last drop-off and are told you have one more pick-up to make. As you sit on the pad someone comes out to the aircraft and hands you a slip of paper with freq.'s and some basic directions to take. Then the radio operator tells you that the pick-up is on the hospital ship. By this time you have probably made at least a half dozen or more landings on Eagle's Nest, so what could possibly be a problem with landing on a large ship in the middle of large spans of water? Now as I recall there was the U.S.S. Repose and the U.S.S. Sanctuary that shared duties of the coast. For the purpose of this story we'll say it was the Sanctuary. Those of you who have had the experience of this mission know where this story is going, but read on, you might still enjoy a laugh or two. For those of you who never had the pleasure of flying to, and landing on, the Sanctuary or Repose, then this story will definitely be a hoot. Once off the ground and obtaining altitude, you proceed to pick up a good heading to the ship’s location. On your way, as the A-#1 Aircraft Commander that you are, you remember to inform your crew about the emergency procedures for ditching over water. You even remember to tell your CE and DG to shed their "chicken plates" once you cross the coastline, and to remove the ammo and clear their weapons. Remember, I said you were an A-#1 A/C. As you cross the coast and head out over the water you look around you and get a feeling of complete peace. This is the way flying is supposed to be. Peaceful. Blue sky above, no one shooting at you, can't beat it. You notice the white caps on the blue water below, and you might even see a whale or dolphins playing along in the water as you cruise to your destination. You feel safe in the knowledge that it is highly unlikely that "Charlie" will pop out of the waves and put a round in your backside. In the distance you see the Sanctuary, so you prepare to put your best foot forward and show the Navy, how the Army with the best helicopter pilots in the world, take care of simple missions. Remember, you are the A-#1 A/C. You tune in the proper freq. and start the conversation. "U.S.S. Sanctuary, this is Lancer 17, over'. Crisp and clearer than you've heard in a long time comes the reply: "Lancer 17, this is Sanctuary, go ahead." So far so good. "Sanctuary, this is Lancer 17, a US Army helicopter enroute for passenger pick-up, requesting landing instructions, over". WOW! What a professional! You really are A- #1! Now, for those experienced, you know what happens next. For those of you who did not have the pleasure, this is where it starts to go from #1 to #10. The reply comes quick and clear, and goes something like this. "Lancer 17, this is Sanctuary, you are cleared for a quartering, starboard approach, to the aft poop deck. The winds are 030 degrees relative at 1O with gusts to 15. Call final approach." Now the first thing that you think is that you are on the wrong freq. Because, nobody talks like this. But he called you by your call sign, so he was talking to you. Maybe some VC got on the radio just to mess with you. No such luck. You look over at your right seat, who is looking back at you with the same look of total bewilderment that you are trying not to show. Again, remember, that you are A- #1. So, as not to appear ignorant by your right seat, and especially to the Navy, you immediately answer. "Sanctuary, this is Lancer 17, Roger, will call final." Now, maybe that approach to Eagle's Nest wasn't so bad after all. At least they spoke English. Well, with no hope of an answer to these landing instructions from your crew, you try to reason them out. Now what was it that he said, oh yea, a quartering, starboard approach. Well, the first and the last we figure out, but that starboard thing, that's something else. It's the middle of the day; just what stars does he figure he is seeing. Must be a Navy thing. Closed up in that room all the time, he has begun to see things. Anyway, we are getting closer, we better get on with the rest of the instructions. Lets see, what was that? The aft poop deck. Well, again we have the first and last somewhat figured out, as long as aft and deck are the same for the Navy as they are for the Army, but that poop stuff? Where's he coming from? The last time you heard that you were in diapers and you didn't really want to discuss that now. You have always thought that sailors were strange, but to have a special deck to take care of this business just has to be out of the question. Anyway, we're still getting closer so we better get on with our solution. The rest of the instructions were, winds at 030 degrees relative. Now, I've never seen this dude before, why does he want to talk about his relatives? He really must have spent too much time in that little room! Well we are coming up on the ship and the only thing that we have firmed out is that we are to make a quartering approach to the aft deck, and the winds are 10 with gusts to 15. From this we have determined that we should land to the back of the ship but from exactly which direction is still unclear. We could call him back and ask him to clarify his instructions in English, or at least in some form of language that the Army can understand, but we decide that this is what he would like us to do, so that is out. We could ask him to pop smoke, like we do in PZ's but that again would show our ignorance, and besides, it's a ship moving through the water. What good would that do???? Then we come across the only logical solution. We will shoot an abbreviated, high attitude approach. Just high enough to make it look good, but low enough to be able to see the ground guide that they will undoubtedly put out there. My gosh! We really are A-#1!!!! So, over the ship we fly, and low and behold, there is the ground guide, waiting. So now we go into our best overhead approach, and as we are turning base to final we remember to call; "Sanctuary, this is Lancer 17, turning base to final for the aft deck." Again the clear answer, " Roger, Lancer 17, Cleared to land, the winds are still 030 degrees relative, at 10 gusting to 15". Boy, we got that right, but on our over flight we did notice that there seemed to be a lot of the crew on deck watching, and I could swear that some of them were passing money between them This Navy is strange. Don't they know that they don't have to pay for these flights?? Oh well, on to final. As we get to short final everything is looking great, but a couple of things soon appear. The first of these is that this idiot boat is moving. Something that we seem to have forgotten in all the other excitement. From our approach angle, this boat is moving sideways at about 10 to 15 knots. Slightly different than Eagle's Nest, but we still have a much bigger landing area. Hell, we're A-#1, we can handle this. No sooner have we started to make this adjustment, but the second fact of this landing jumps up at us, and I do mean JUMP!!!! This deck is not only moving sideways but it's moving up and down. Nothing at all like any LZ on good old terra forma has ever done. As we get ourselves stabilized in our sideward drift, we start to try and put our aircraft down on this yo-yo of a deck. As you can well remember, this was a real trip. After many ups and downs with the collective, we suddenly got close enough to make contact. Only we feel that this was a little rough, HELL, we thought this was very rough, and we immediately grab an armload of pitch and suddenly find ourselves hanging out over the back of the boat at about a 10 ft hover. Seems we forgot about the drift in our excitement! Well as we get ourselves back in position again, we decide that the next time we make contact with the deck we will plant the aircraft as fast as we can, which, as it turns out, is what we should have done in the first place. With this firmly accomplished, while some bouncing around, we feel satisfied with a job somewhat well done. Now we hear over the radio, "congratulations Lancer 17". We start to think that we really performed an outstanding landing, by Navy standards anyway, when the rest of the message comes through. "That was the hardest landing that anyone has survived". With our ego totally deflated we can only click the mike twice to acknowledge his transmission and go about our business. As we look up at the deck we see the crew that was standing around slowly depart, but this time we are sure that we see money passing between them. Well, we are sure they weren't really getting ready to pay for their rides, but actually betting on how many bounces we would make, or on if we would actually survive!!! After we are loaded and get our clearance for departure, we leave this floating ship of mercy, and head back to good old terra firma, the place where we seem to belong. We leave with a sense of embarrassment in that we did not perform up to our expectations. But we also leave with a sense of pride, in that we learned a valuable lesson. We teamed not to get too "into" ourselves, and our own ego. That we should always keep our minds open and clear for something new. We also learned a new respect for our fellow servicemen, and the jobs that they perform. And we learned the reason for collapsible, shock absorbing landing gear. No wonder the Navy can make this easy! We vow to learn the difference between starboard and port, and to never forget. We understand that the radio operator was not talking about his relatives, but rather, the heading of the ship. We never did figure out that "poop" stuff, but thought that this was just the Navy's way of telling you what you would probably do when you tried to land your aircraft. Oh well; all is well. We're crossing the coastline so we should reload our weapons, put on our "chicken plates” and get on with what we do best. Fly helicopters, of course!!!!!!! Sorry the story took so long. I guess I got a little windy. Hope to hear from you all soon.

Ken "friar" Fort

Lancer 17