My Claim to Fame, The only Flight Engineer to Remove the Nose Gear Door

“In Flight” on the HH-53

During “Operation Honeybadger” and beyond training, circa, 1980, we “SLICKS” were tasked to be “FUEL TANKERS” for the Army H-60’s




We were tasked to provide simulated ground-refueling support for a flight of Army H-60’s in a fictional Desert Location.


This scenario was done on NVG’s, Lights Out, Com. Out, and in total Darkness.


We flew to the fictional location as planned, as we lowered the landing gear for the Desert Landing, we got an UN-SAFE NOSE GEAR indication, we cycled the landing gear a couple of times, but still got the un-safe indication. I leaned out of the right door and looked under the helicopter at the nose gear and saw that it was stuck in the nose gear wheel well.


Since this was a Joint Service Scenario, we wanted to still be a part of the mission, so that the H-60’s could have their site picture, and locate us for their Rendezvous with their Simulated Refueling Location.


My Pilot was Russell Rakip, “ROTOR” as he was affectionately known, we talked over our options, should we RTB with the un-safe gear or not, thus taking some realism out of the mission for the H-60’s?


I suggested that we stay at the pre-planned location. I also suggested that when we landed with the UN-SAFE nose gear stuck in the wheel well, he should lower the nose of the helicopter very slowly, as he felt or assumed that it was touching down he should move the Tail Rotor Peddles back and forth there by shifting the nose from side to side as it touched down onto the desert floor. This would allow the structure of the helicopter to shift the sand around and provide a larger footprint for the underside of the helicopter to rest upon, thus spreading the stress and weight of the aircraft over a much larger surface area and hopefully preventing damage to the helicopter. He agreed, so we landed as planned.


None of us wanted to do the “Mattress Drill” in the morning when we got back to our FOL operating base with un-safe landing gear. We talked about our options as we sat in the desert waiting for the H-60s’ to Rendezvous with us, and to complete their phase of the training mission.


I suggested that when we started up for takeoff the in the morning, “Rotor” should pull up into about a 5-6 foot HOVER, while I would be on the ground, on HOT MIC and try and Pull the gear down, that didn’t work, so I tucked myself up inside the nose gear well with some tools that I carried with me as “mission essential equipment” and proceeded to try and remove the nose gear door that had the nose gear jammed in the wheel well. After some tuff wrenching and cussing under my breath, I got the nose gear door off, pulled on the gear, and it came down and gave a SAFE indication in the cockpit. This probably took about 20 minutes to accomplish successfully.


To keep that “BRIGHT BLUE SPARK” from the static electricity that the H-53 generates at bay, I hooked up the forest penetrator to the hoist cable and reeled out a few feet of hoist cable so that the aircraft would “ALWAYS be GROUNDED” That Static Electricity Charge “Discharge” can really HURT, as a lot of us have had the pleasure to have known on a personnel level.


Normally, I would not have done something like this, but I had flown with “Rotor” Many, Many times over several years, and had COMPLETE FAITH in his capabilities and skills as a Pilot, In fact he was probably one of the BEST Pilots that I have ever flown with, I trusted him completely. When he strapped into the Pilots Seat, he and the Helicopter became, ONE ENTITY!! He talked to the helicopter like it was an old friend, and affectingly referred to it as “SIMBA”


I learned a couple of years ago of his Passing, Much too early. He was the ONLY Air Force Pilot on the first Iranian Hostage rescue attempt referred to as “DESERT 1” He will be Missed.


We returned to our FOL base of operation without further incident, I handed the crew chief the nose gear door as we left the aircraft.

John Hatch, MSgt Retired, 1982