Home > History & After Action > After Action Articles > Hydraulic Failure
Standard procedure for the HAWKS during this timeframe was to have the First-Up ("Scramble") team look over their aircraft around 6 PM every evening, then go back to the barracks and get what they needed to spend the night in the "Ready Room" near the OPS building. Another crew would stand-by to fill in should a scramble be called while the primary crew was away from the flight line. This evening, SPUD and I were the standby crew for the fire team leader.
Shortly after the first-up crews left the flight line, the scramble siren sounded. I climbed in the back seat and began the start procedures. SPUD and the crew-chief checked the aircraft to make sure all doors and panels were closed after the preflight procedure, then SPUD climbed in the front seat. I could see our wingman's rotor turning as the engine came up to speed, so I knew we were about ready to go. SPUD called OPS on the company VHF frequency while I called PHU BAI tower for a scramble departure. Hawk 3 (don't remember who was HAWK 3 or his front seater that night) checked in with us and said I should take the lead and he was ready to go. As we started hovering to the takeoff position,OPS advised us it was a troops in contact mission North of Hue, details would follow when available.
It was common practice for the scramble team to launch with little information and be provided more mission detail enroute. The most important task initial task was to get airborne and start heading in general direction expected in the follow-on information.
Just after take-off, OPS began calling HAWK 3 several times. When he did not respond to their call, I responded. OPS advised me the lead aircraft had a jettison pin streamer still visible on the left outboard rocket pod. I advised them, the lead aircraft was HAWK 21, that I understood the message and was going to continue the mission with the streamer as it was.
I had flown over 9 months in-country and never had to jettison wing stores before. Since this was a troops in contact mission and it was getting dark, I wasn't concerned with the possibility of not being able to jettison the wings stores. The aircraft was configured in the "Heavy Scout" configuration -19 shot rocket pods outboard, M18 mini-gun pods inboard, one mini-gun and one 40mm grenade launcher in the turret. (Read as the aircraft was about as heavy as it could be).
Nearing HUE, OPS advised us the mission location was KHE SANH and provided the map grid, contact information and radio frequencies. SPUD copied the information and confirmed it with HAWK 3. About that time, the aircraft felt like it hit a little turbulence or rotor wash and SPUD asked me if there was anything wrong. I told him everything in back was "looking good". As soon as the words were out of my mouth, the MASTER CAUTION and CHIP DET lights illuminated. I advised HAWK 3 (and SPUD) we had a chip detector and I would have to put the aircraft down somewhere. I also told Hawk 3 to advise OPS of our problem, scramble the second-up team and get a maintenance crew to come out to wherever we landed. HAWK 3 acknowledged and asked which chip detector had illuminated.
The G model Cobra had a yellow CHIP DET light on the pilot's caution panel which was connected to a four segment light near the aft portion of the pilot's left console. Pushing the console segment with the CHIP DET light illuminated would show the pilot whether the chips were in the engine, transmission, 45 or 90 degree tail rotor gear box. Located next to the chip indicator segment was a press-to-test button that illuminated all four segments to verify light bulb functioning and circuit continuity.
My response was all four segments had illuminated but I suspected it was the engine because it had just quit - I had a whole bunch of caution lights and the LOW RPM WARNINGS (Red RPM light and warning audio). Lowering the collective got the RPM back in the normal range - now to find a good place to put this bird. Thankfully, the HUE Citadel airport was just out the right side and within autorotational range.
Rolled into a relatively hard right turn towards the runway and called, "Hey 3, going down engine out - going to try for the Citadel." SPUD warns me we were getting too slow (about 60 knots indicated and slowing) - get the nose down. Apply forward cyclic to get some speed back (increasing the rate of descent) and slowed the turn to line up with the runway. Getting awfully close to the deceleration point and still coming down very fast. Thought about hitting the wing stores jettison switch about that time, but remembered the left outboard pod might still be pinned. (Didn't want to complicate lateral control function by keeping one full outboard rocket pod). Knew I couldn't salvo the rockets while in the middle of HUE, so I kept everything.
Deceleration killed a good bit of airspeed - but it didn't do much to slow the rate of decent. Collective pitch pull was also fairly ineffective - we impacted hard, but fairly level and stayed upright. As the rotor slowed, SPUD said he was okay and going to clear the aircraft. I called HAWK 3 and advised him we were down hard, upright and both okay. During rotor coast down, I checked the chip detector segment again - this time it clearly showed ENG - I had apparently pressed the test switch the first time. Finished shutting everything off, and got out to await help. The aircraft was sitting fairly level, but low aft - the aft cross tube bent on impact.
After a short time a Huey landed, a maintenance crew got off and told us to get on the Huey for a ride back to PHU BAI. A couple of hours later our aircraft returned to PHU BAI under a CH-47 CHINOOK. It took a couple of days to replace the engine, the cross tubes and repair the damage to the pylon dampers (which had sheared from their mounting rivets on impact). I also had to explain to the Battalion Commander face to face why I was flying that night (he had ordered me not to fly missions until I had tech supply well organized - my "reward" for being promoted to CW2.)
SPUD and I were relatively lucky that night. The engine quit at a good time -it wasn't fully dark yet and in a good place - we had a nice landing area and were not at KHE SANH when the problems occurred. We also survived a screwed up 180" autorotation at (or over) maximum authorized gross weight with full ordinance without injury to anyone. The second-up team was airborne just about the time we touched down at the Citadel. HAWK 3 joined them for the mission.
That's my story and I am pretty much sticking to it. Hope you enjoyed!