I joined the Crusaders as a slick driver on 16 August 1969, and left on 30 September 1970. In January 1970, I became an aircraft commander and got my moniker, Crusader 25. During my time in the company I was assigned to both the 2d Platoon (Red Ryder's) and the 1st Platoon (Maggots).
On 3 June 1970, I was due for my 90-day check ride. I was an aircraft commander then so my ride would be from the left seat. My IP that day was CPT McDannald. He had recently returned from IP school where he was turned loose on the unsuspecting non-IP's and blessed (or cursed) them quarterly as to their level of proficiency.
We did the usual check ride stuff there at the Tay Ninh strip: autorotation's, tail rotor failures, hydraulics failure, normal and steep approaches, etc. When he was satisfied I wouldn't kill us both, we went out into "the countryside" to do some air work which would include a simulated engine failure. As "everyone" knows, US Army Aviation frowns on doing things that haven't been blessed by a committee of hundreds at Mother Rucker first. One of these things was touchdown autorotation's to unapproved landing areas.
CPT McDannald was an IP who believed that check rides should approximate as closely as possible what one may face in the real world. So, short of simulated engine failure to touchdown in a grove of trees, virtually anything went. He asked me if I had ever done a touchdown autorotation anywhere except to a runway. I told him no. He then asked if I would have any heartburn with touching down in a rice paddy out here in the boonies during my simulated engine failure and I said that'd be great since I'd never done that before.
During this time of the year the weather was relatively dry and the paddies were drying up. There was still some trace of water in the paddies but we both assumed that the depth of the water was insignificant and that touching down in one would pose no real problem. So, while we were flying around he suddenly cut the throttle on me. Always vigilant, especially during check rides when I knew an "engine failure" was imminent, I had picked out my nice flat rice paddy with what appeared to be a thin coating of water reflecting the sun.
I lined up to my selected touchdown point, called out my engine and rotor parameters, made my simulated mayday call, and charged for the ground. At the appropriate height I began my flare and at about three feet applied initial pitch. We settled into the paddy's layer of water and suddenly there was a terrific ker-splash! and water flew left, right and forward as high as the rotor blades. After we had stopped, the water level was just under the floor level! We both looked at each other as if to say, "Oh, sh..!"
I cranked the engine back up to speed and with a sickening sucking sound, we pulled out of this paddy. That happened to be the end of the check ride and we both promised that we'd keep our mouths shut about our unauthorized touchdown. We flew back to Tay Ninh and shot directly to POL. I got out to gas up and saw the skids covered with green vines, brown muck, and assorted vegetation. I quickly cleaned as much of that stuff off as I could and we put the ship back in the revetment and performed a post-flight inspection. Nobody ever said anything about our adventure so I always assumed we got our training in without repercussions.
That was an exciting and interesting landing and I never forgot what it would be like to plant a UH-1 in a rice paddy if I ever needed to.
©1997 - Mike Stratton
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© 1997 2001 WMH