Combat Air Crew – 1972
So that air crews do not get overly exhausted, Air Force regulations state that pilots are not allowed to exceed 100 hours flight time within a rolling 30-day period. The Army decided to beat the Air Force, so their regs say the limit is 110 hours max. The Air Force regs further state that under combat conditions the max time is 130 hours, which means for the Army it is 140 hours. Flight time is charted in the Operations section, where a 30-day rolling sum of flight hours is maintained. Each day any new flight time is added and the 31st day back is subtracted, so an accurate count is current for each aviator.
Whenever an aviator reaches the max 30-day flight time, he is automatically grounded for three days. Before he can fly again, he must be examined by the Flight Surgeon, to receive a “go-fly” slip. If during that three-day period his rolling total has fallen below the limit, he can resume flying, provided his rolling total does not again exceed the limit. In our unit, the interpretation was that if an aviator exceeded the limit during a mission, he would continue to fly the mission and be grounded at its completion.
In early July our unit had just received some new birds, and were flying our asses off. I had gotten seven days leave for late August, to meet my starter wife in Hawaii. So, to maximize my flight hours, it had been scheduled that I had 139.5 hours rolling total the day before I was to depart. That last day I was assigned a mission expected to last eight hours or more. I flew that day with a high-time aviator who was about ready to become an Aircraft Commander himself. At the completion of the day he dropped me off at Nha Trang, where I could catch a flight to Saigon, and he flew the 20 minutes back to home base solo. My rolling total had hit 148.2 hours combat flying time in 30 days.
Being on leave status, I was flying “space available,” which meant I was catching flights however I could to get where I wanted to go. This was never a problem in Vietnam, and I assumed it would be no problem anywhere. I got to Honolulu, where I was to spend seven glorious days with my bride, but things did not go well. By the third day I just wanted to get back to my unit where they needed me, and resume flying.
So, I took a taxi back to the military desk at Honolulu International, anxious to get back to Vietnam. Problem was, the flight west was already full, with a waiting list. I begged and pleaded with the Air Force senior sergeant at the desk, but being a lowly Captain, I didn’t stand a chance when the waiting list was full of officers of all services ranking higher than me.
Determined to get back, I refused to give up. The Air Force sergeant looked my leave orders up and down, trying to find some way to get me on the flight. “What does this ‘Headquarters, 17th CAG’ heading mean?” he asked.
“That’s ‘17th Combat Aviation Group,” I replied.
“Wait a minute. Are you a combat crew member?” he asked.
“No, I’m a helicopter pilot,” I replied.
“Well, why didn’t you say so? Combat crew members have priority over everyone else.” As he lined out a Navy Commander on the manifest and wrote in my name, he said, “Get your bag. You’re on the flight.”
And 19 hours later I was back in the cockpit, doing my job.
Charleston – 1972
I finished the Advanced Course as a newly-bachelorized young Army Captain, little suspecting that I still had some six years to go in grade before coming into the zone for Major. I decided to travel Space-A for a while, catching Air Force transport planes to see where I could go. I arrived at Charleston AFB one evening, but they had no flights going anywhere until the next morning. The Air Force shared the base with the Navy, and the joint billeting office was located on the Charleston Naval Base side. An Air Force shuttle bus took me over to the Navy side, where I got a temporary room for the night in the Visiting Officers Quarters.
After I dropped my stuff in the room, I wanted to get to the Officers Club for something to eat, but I had no idea what kind of shuttle service the naval base had. So, I got the number for the base motor pool, and called on the phone in the VOQ lobby. After identifying myself, I asked if they knew how I could get a ride to the O-Club. The dispatcher was marvelously helpful, and said, “Yes, sir, we’ll get you a ride there right away.”
Very impressed, I stood on the front porch of the building in my class-A traveling uniform to wait. In about seven minutes a big shiny staff car pulled up in front, and the driver jumped out and ran past me into the lobby. After looking around, he came back out and asked, “Excuse me, sir. Have you seen a Captain Miller around here?”
I replied, “I am CPT Miller,” and for the first time he looked me over. Seeing my name plate, his shoulders drooped, and he said, resignedly, “Get in the car.”
As he was pulling away from the curb, the dispatcher came on the radio: “Were you able to get over and pick up Captain Miller?”
“Yeah, I got him.”
“Well, just one. He’s Army.” [A Navy Captain ranks with an Army full Colonel, just below an Admiral].
With disappointment in his voice, the dispatcher replied, “Oh.”
But at least they gave me a ride to the Club.