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By Randy Mains BEST UNIT IN THE WORLD


A GENTLEMAN ON MY PROFESSIONAL FACEBOOK PAGE CLAIMED A CERTAIN UNIT WAS “THE BEST AVIATION UNIT IN THE WORLD.” WHILE WE PILOTS OFTEN MAKE STRONG CLAIMS, I GOT TO THINKING: WHAT CRITERIA WOULD QUALIFY A UNIT TO BE CONSIDERED ONE OF THE BEST IN THE WORLD?


NATURALLY, I IMMEDIATELY THOUGHT ABOUT THE UNIT I SERVED WITH IN VIETNAM FROM OCTOBER 1968 TO OCTOBER 1969. WE WERE THE BLACK WIDOWS OF CHARLIE COMPANY ASSIGNED TO THE 101ST AIRBORNE DIVISION. I WAS BLACK WIDOW 25. WHEN I ARRIVED WE WERE BASED AT LZ SALLY, 7 KILOMETERS NORTHWEST OF HUE. SEVERAL MONTHS LATER WE MOVED TO THE AIR BASE AT HUE PHU BAI.


I’d say one criterion that would certainly be the mark of a world- class aviation unit would be carrying those souls who entrusted the aircrew with their lives and delivering them to their destinations safely without causing death or injury. As you can imagine, doing so in a combat zone adds pressure to accomplish that mission because you’ve got bad guys and girls trying to kill you most of the time.


Flying back in time, I literally amaze myself when I realize what we had to work with back then. I am mainly referring to how relatively inexperienced we were. A newly minted helicopter pilot arriving in Vietnam fresh out of flight school had logged a mind-boggling 210 hours total time. I marvel at how much we accomplished back then considering how young and inexperienced we all were, but we learned fast. To survive we had to.


There were 20 pilots in Charlie Company. Of the 210 hours of flight time we logged in flight school, only 50 hours was in the Bell Huey: 25 hours for the transition and 25 hours in what was called Tactics.


Of course, not everyone in Charlie Company was a brand-new pilot. There were several ‘old’ guys as well. They were the guys who had been in-country before us, whom we’d replace when they left the country after serving their one-year tour of duty.


I flew a total of 1,042 combat hours in that one-year tour. That amount of flight time in a one-year hitch was about average for a pilot over there. That meant that in one year, 20 of us would fly, collectively, 20,800 hours to include combat assaults, taking soldiers in and out of the jungle, and resupplying them (what we called “ass-and-trash missions”). Even at night without the aid of night vision goggles, we flew men and equipment, ammunition, food, mail, etc., all within hostile territory in all kinds of nasty, monsoonal weather. In the year I served with Charlie Company, we did not have one non-combat-related accident where someone was injured. Not one.


As I mentioned, we didn’t fly with NVGs back then, but there were times we flew night extractions using only our landing light and searchlight to focus on the jungle below while a flare ship circled overhead dropping flares so we could see. Hairy stuff to be sure, but the fact still sticks with me that we didn’t harm one person who entrusted us with their lives due to a non-combat incident. It is a fact that I find amazing.


Our unit was either lucky or exceptionally talented, probably both, because we lost only one crew when I was there in that year. Their ship took a rocket-propelled grenade through the tail rotor while hovering in a hover-hole during a combat assault. The ensuing crash killed the two pilots, the gunner, and crew chief.


You might think I flew in-country when there was a lull in the action, which could explain our excellent safety record. But I didn’t. I was


10 July/Aug 2018


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