FOG of WAR - aka "It aint over till its over"
I was a young 1stLT, the youngest Aircraft Commander of an
AC-119K "STINGER" Gunship. My home base was Nakhom Phanom RTAFB, Thailand better known as Naked Fanny or just plain NKP. We
rotated our crews/aircraft thru several bases in South Vietnam; Da Nang and Ben Hoi being the two major ones. I had just returned
to NKP from Ben Hoi on/about 29 Oct 1972.
My crew took a well deserved CTO (Combat Time Off = 3 days
free anywhere in Thailand). I was just happy being back at NKP, so I did not go with them. After a few days off I told the
duty scheduler I'd waive my last day off, and he could use me as a fill-in Pilot or Copilot. He did, and I flew 1,2, and 3
Nov; fun stuff because it was back up into LAOS and the Plains de Jars (PDJ)lot more exciting than some of the in-country
missions in South Vietnam. The story begins.
I was called to fly as an AC (aircraft commander) with a
"new" crew the evening of 4 Nov. We all met, for the first time, at the pre-mission briefing. They had given me an experienced
table Navigator who I recognized, but everyone else was a shinny new face. Briefing went well not a lot of questions. We boarded
the bus to go out to AC-119K #53-7830, known as the "Black Killer Duck", the best shooter in our small fleet. My copilot
that evening was a Captain, guess 6-7 years older than I.
The pre-flight went exceptionally well and I was especially
impressed with how sharp the copilot was; after all he was a Captain. Probably one of those by-the-book Flight
Instructors from Air Training Command (ATC). I was a 1LT, but had flown my 156th combat mission the night before. Since
engine-start and taxi had gone so well, and the Capt. had not missed a beat on any of the checklist I decided to break the
ice with him and offered him a right-seat takeoff. He seemed happy/excited and said "yes".
It was time
to break the by-the-book routine as we approached #1 for takeoff, and he finished the book BEFORE TAKE-OFF BRIEFING, I added
"round here we add 5 knots to rotate speed for the Flight Engineer, and I add another 5 knots for my Mother so I can see her
again. So when you have rotate speed+10 knots slowly/smoothly rotate the Duck off the ground and let
her gain some speed/altitude and call for the gear. Got it? I got it Co!!
Cleared for takeoff, Copilots airplane, pilots throttles,
Engineer backs me up and off we go down NKPs runway with everything in the green. Co's rudder inputs are good, smoothly past
Vr (reject speed we are now a go for sure) smoothly approaching rotate speed when suddenly at rotate minus 5 knots
the copilot yanks the yoke back into his stomach, and the Duck leaps off the ground hanging on the props in ground
effect. I scream in the mike "Pilots airplane!!!" I cant put her back down, no runway left. Im not climbing, and the airspeed
hasn't increased 1 knot! I can see the 12 fence at the end of the field, and rows of trees 500 beyond!!
I yell for the gear-up that will get us a few knots,then
to the Engineer to close the cowl-flaps. Yes stand a chance of overheating the recips, but the drag reduction might get
us another knot or two. Slowly, ever so slowly, the airspeed begins to creep up. I'm squeezing the yoke to see if I
can feel the difference from ground effect and a positive climb. Ever so slowly I feel the pressures change on the yoke,
we are finally flying!
Cleared the fence, had to zoom it to get over the trees,
once passed, let the nose back down to get back the speed I'd lost in the zoom, and headed for the river which I knew was
lower than the airfield. Engineers shouts the cylinder temps were going up but we were safely flying again, so had the
Co open the cowl-flaps. Left turn out of traffic, normal climb speed AFTER TAKEOFF/CLIMB CHECKLIST.
It took 45 minutes to an hour after takeoff before one entered
bad guy country. As I can recall there was very little to no chatter on the intercom. Think everyone onboard knew how
close we had come to buying-the-farm. knew something had to give or wed be in trouble again so I shouted over
the intercom "Ladies...PRE-STRIKE an STRIKE CHECKLIST! Time to earn your flight pay. Time to kill something any
screw-ups and you'll buy the beer!!"
A look back at downtown NKP as we headed over the fence into Laos. Picture supplied by Lee Kyser
Rest of the mission was a milk run killed a few trucks, helped
out some guys on the ground who said "STINKER YOU SHOOT BERRY BERRY WELL TANK YOU BERRY BERRY MUCH", got hosed by some 27
& 37 MM AAA. All in all, a normal night. It was still to quiet on the ride back to NKP after the Nav called
RTB (return to base) as no one was going to forget this mission.
On the bus going back to maintenance debrief, I was trying
to figure out how this 1LT was going to tear the Captain a new butt, when out of the dark in the back of the bus he says "sorry
guys, I'm buying the beer."
I still wanted to know why, and after a beer or two
I was about to ask when he blurted out "I choked. In training I think they only let me takeoff once
or twice, and none of those birds were half as heavy as we were tonight. I was so scared and trying so hard that I subtracted
rather than add the speed."
Well, the rest of the story was
that he had just graduated from Pilot training. He had previously been a maintenance Officer for 5 years and had
no flying experience at all. MY BAD!! I never asked, I just assumed!! This mission (which ended
up being the last STINGER mission out of NKP into Laos) put the fear of God back into me! I was probably the sharpest
pilot flying my next 15 missions before they told me to head home to the land of the big PX after my last mission on 13 Dec
1972. Remember, It aint over till its over!!