THIS STORY COURTESY OF JOHN HATCH
2 - CH-53’s Rotors Turning, Blade to Blade Contact in LAOS
This all happened in June of 1972, about 2-3 days after the 625/626 mission; and this narrative is 40 years after the fact, and from “OLD” Memories, I will try and be as accurate as I can be.
Anyone else who has memories of this are welcome to contribute to it accuracy, and their story too.
626 had made an EMERGENCY LANDING with only VERY LIMITED CYCLC CONRTOL.
The maintenance people went out to the landing area for inspection and repair of the aircraft, they changed 6 rotor blades by hand, replaced the Cyclic Sticks inner- connected Nested Torque Tubes with the nose of the aircraft lying on top of the nose gear and the belly on the ground. Don’t know how they got under it for the repairs if needed, other than to dig a hole under the aircraft, don’t know if they had to or not, I can easily surmise that it was not EASY fixing 626 for a one time flight back to NKP for proper repairs.
The story continues:
We had been tasked to airlift a large contingent of allied indigenous solders into a ground operation.
We showed up I think with 6 CH-53’s at an Air America Lima Site in LAOS for briefings and to start the airlift. After everyone was rotors turning and ready for taxi, lead started to taxi out onto the air strip, as he taxied out and was turning left to take the runway for take off, (his scanner failed to clear him for this left turn) his Rotor Blades struck #2’s Rotor Blades and parts went FLYING everywhere, Luckily no one was injured from the flying debris from the rotors blade to blade contact between the 2 aircraft.
Just happened to be the Squadron Commander at the controls of the lead Aircraft, what can you say, stuff happens, in private it was probably very intense to say the least.
“Everyone Shut Down” Now what do we do??????
Upon inspection it was learned that we damaged 7 Rotor Blades and they had to be replaced.
CLICK ON PHOTOS TO ENLARGE
CLICK ON PHOTOS TO ENLARGE
Lead sent 2 aircraft back to NKP for rotor blades, when they got there; supply/maintenance only had 1 in stock. They loaded up that 1 blade and some maintenance personnel and took off for the 626 landing/crash site. The maintenance guys removed the 6 rotor blades by hand they has just installed by hand on 626 and loaded them onto the helicopters for the flight to the Lima Site. (Each blade weighs approx. 400 Pounds). The blade pockets are very delicate and can be damaged very easily if not protected from damage, this task was probably very hard to do, I think they use some old GI mattresses that were common in the H-53 units incase of landing gear failures or malfunctions. But, that is another story in its self, maybe a maintenance guy can relate to the experience and let us know how much fun it is, is not!
The aircrews and maintenance personnel manhandled 7 rotor blades down, and manhandled 7 rotor blades back up onto the 2 aircraft from the ground, the maintenance guys Torqued and Saftied everything and adjusted for the Pre Tracking differences on the different blades (Thank Goodness for the forethought of the Sikorsky engineers for providing this procedure, otherwise we would have been tracking the rotor blades too)
After getting the Helicopters repaired we proceeded with the mission, it was a very long day as I recall, I am sure we refueled too, we did it from 55 gallon fuel drums in those days, provided by Air America. We pumped the fuel into the aircraft using a gasoline engine driven 100 gallon per minute pump, and usually rolled 18-20 barrels of fuel up to the aircraft, stood them up (450 pounds each) popped the top and pumped them into the aircraft fuel tanks. We usually tried to use 2 guys’ to stand them up, but that didn’t always happen. I can remember many times that I, being a young buck back then, would stand them up all by myself. I had the pleasure and honor of receiving a hernia for my efforts, but did not tell anyone because I wanted to fly “Combat Missions” and a hernia would have grounded me.
So, all in all the mission was done, we got some very good and valuable experience on what “NOT TO DO” We gained some respect for the maintenance folks and now have some idea of all the things they have to do to provide us OPS Folks with and aircraft we need to do our job, with the OLE H-53.
We totaled approx $250,000 in Rotor Blades that month between 626 and this mission, has to be some kind of RECORD, although not a very good one, especially for the TAXPAYERS.
Hope all enjoyed this; it is accurate to best of my memory I swear, although my memory is getting aged these days, like most of us OLD ROTORHEADS.
We were just going Gangbusters when I first got over and into the 21st SOS Knifes/Dusty’s. I sure am happy that things settled down after the Blade-to-Blade incident, I don’t know if I could have taken a year of things like this.
John L. Hatch
MSgt. Retired 1982