by Wayne R. "Crash" Coe
As I passed over the Landing Zone, I could see the smoke from the Grunts
going straight up. I thought to myself, great no wind to move the fog
around. The radiation fog was already covering the rivers and the entire
area was so hazy we figured it would be our last trip in and out for the
My Peter Pilot WO Steve Hartman was one hell of a pilot, and as we
brought the engine down to an idle he made the comment that we would
have to make an instrument departure if we did not leave in just a few
We had just dropped a load of ammo and were waiting for the several men
we were going to take back to base camp to come in from the perimeter
The Sargent in charge of the landing zone climbed up on the skid and
told us that one of the men we wanted to take back was out on a
listening post and it would be a few minutes before he could be
retrieved if we wanted to shut down.
I looked at Steve and we laughed, no way, we did not mind idling for a
few minutes but shutting down was out of the question.
One by one the men climbed on the helicopter as the Sargent checked off
the list. The last man was puffing hard from the exertion of running
back to make the ride out of the field.
By now it was so foggy I could not see even straight up.
"How is your instrument flying Steve?" He looked at me with a smile and
said "pretty good." I got the helicopter light on the skids and started
to pull pitch.
I thought the fog was very thin and I could pop up on top very fast, but
as we started to climb out it seemed to get thicker.
The sweat was running down my neck and getting into my eyes, I was
working as hard as I ever had to keep that big thrashing machine going
in a straight line. Steve called the Radar guys for a vector and they
gave us a number to squawk, and we waited for them to see us on their
The radar guys had us turn first right, and then left, and then I lost
Needle ball airspeed, the cross check looked OK, but my brain was
telling me I was falling out of the sky.
"Steve I am getting vertigo bad, you have it." And Steve was on the
controls in a flash with a quick "I've got it" and the old D model
calmed right down.
I looked in the back at my passengers; they did not like flying in the
clouds it was plain to see on their faces.
We flew into clear air in only a few minutes and my heart started to
slow down to something under the 200 beats per minute it had been racing
There was a tremendous feeling of relief to have a horizon and I
commented to Steve about how nice it was to have a truly great Peter
After that scare I practiced my instrument flying as often as I could.
I have felt the vertigo creep in the edges of my consciousness while
flying other aircraft in other conditions, but the only time I ever lost
it was in Viet Nam, where I had the best Peter Pilot in the world.
Steve Hartman and I still talk on the telephone about the great times we
had flying together. It is easy to stay in contact with a man that saved
Wayne R. "Crash" Coe