Reflections page

In the past century plus, man's advancements in the field of aviation have been very rapid. Less than three quarters of a century had elapsed between man's first hesitant step into the realm of flight and his first cautious step onto the surface of the moon. 

During this busy time in aviation's history, certain wars stand out as bringing forth new advancements or as being more colorful than others. World War I brought forth aircraft as a formidable weapon. World War II proved the value of air superiority. The Korean War has proven the efficiency of the jet, and the Vietnam War has proven the effectiveness of the helicopter not only as a weapon but also as a very manoeuvrable means of transportation.

The war that is most often referred to as the most colorful is World War I, when men would jump into their relatively slow and flimsy aircraft to meet their enemy almost face to face in the skies above. With all the advancements in aviation there was a type of flying in Vietnam that was often similar to that by-gone era, and that was being done by the observation or "scout" helicopters. The scout helicopters, like most helicopters in Vietnam, operated from small unimproved areas as did the bi-planes or yesterday; but the scouts, unlike most other kinds of helicopters, came almost fact to face with the enemy they find from the air rather than in the air.

The newest helicopter to join the ranks of the observation helicopters is the OH-6A Cayuse, but even it can be compared. quite easily to such famous aircraft as the Fokker Triplane. At first sight, the Cayuse is smaller but cleaner looking than ita earlier counterpart, as was the triplane on its debut. Another change from the ordinary is the number and size of the lifting surfaces, which in both cases had been two, either blades or wings. The Cayuse has only a 26 foot 4 inch rotor diameter, but tour blades; while the triplane had a shorter wingspan than the other aircraft of its time, but had three wings. A brief inspection of the Cayuse will bring out other similarities to its older sister.

The first thing that can be noticed is that the Cayuse is usually flown, as are the other scout helicopters, with the doors off, thus having relatively the same open cockpit as did the earlier fighter. The first remark a person is likely to make after closely examining the skin on the Cayuse is that it is much too thin and weak feeling to be of any use to the aircraft, but we must remember that the covering on the triplane wasn't too much to lean on either. In both aircraft., their strength is in their interior construction, while their covering is only a means of making them aerodynamically smooth. There are many cases where a pilot has destroyed a Cayuse in a crash for one reason or another, yet has walked away with only a few bruises.

Upon looking into the cowling of the triplane, one can see most of the 1lO horsepower rotary engine; but the first thing one sees upon opening the engine- access doors on the Cayuse is exhaust piping. The engines are about the same size, but that is where their similarity ends. The small 40.4 inch long 136 pound turbine engine can deliver 317 shaft horsepower, though it is derated to 252 horsepower in the OH-6A. This little engine can be changed by one man in about half and hour. 

The roles the Cayuse played in Vietnam were as varied as the units that used them. The Headquarters Company, First Brigade, First Air Cavalry Division - known as the Flying Circus - put the Cayuse to many different uses. Primarily using it as a scout ship, it would normally be flown with one pilot in the right seat, an observer / gunner in the right rear seat with an M-6O machine gun, and the mini-gun installation on the left side. After the first couple of flights in the Cayuse, we found it could dish out as well as take a good deal of punishment, and we soon grew quite fond of the aircraft. The battalion commanders we flew Command and Control helicopters tor soon discovered that when their ship had to return for maintenance or other reasons, the little Cayuse made a great stand-by replacement. Of course, the ever-present "ash and trash" missions could be performed easier and faster in the Cayuse because of its rear passenger compartment and greater airspeed. There have been many UH-l pilots who, while speeding along low level, have suddenly been passed by the little olive drab egg. The ease and simplicity with which the mini-gun could be installed or taken out allowed us to change the role of a particular aircra1't within minutes. I am sure Richthofen would have loved to have had that gun on his triplane. Because of the more up-dated radios in the Cayuse, it was possible for us to talk directly to and often aid the fighters when working with the Forward Air Controller directing air strikes. The fighters were also glad to receive the bomb damage assessments that we could get easier and in more detail than the Air Controller who was at a higher altitude. On a couple of missions the stream of tracers from the mini-gun were used to mark a target for the Air Controllers to in turn mark with their rockets because the crew had run out of smoke grenades. The tracers could be seen very easily and worked quite well. The pilots in the unit enjoyed the Gayuse and the relative ease with which it performed its many varied missions. It is an aircraft that had to be flown to be appreciated, as is any aircraft.

The performance of the aircraft was extraordinary. It was very much at home near the ground and its manoeuvrability would make a fixed wing aircraft envious. A spirit of adventure can often be felt in the Cayuse, and flying it can be both enjoyable and exciting. Though our helmets are not leather any more, one could almost feel that whits scarf flapping in the wind. Flying under a bridge seems more natural than going over it, and the temptation to loop or roll the aircraft could sometimes be felt. These manoeuvres were best left up to the movie stunt pilots, but I am sure everyone has felt the urge to try it at least once.

There have been many long and interesting articles written on the Cayuse and its capabilities, many hours of hanger flying can be Logged discussing its good and bad points, and many are the war stories concerning this quick little aircraft. In this writing I have tried to show that even though man's progress in aviation has

advanced almost as fast as his dreams for its future, flying today can still be as personal and enjoyable as it was many years ago. Even though designs, construction, and even nomenclature have changed, some of the past has managed to cling to the present. In fact, to keep a certain long-eared World War I flying ace happy, the structure on the top of the Cayuse's fuselage is known as the "dog house".



by F. Vanatta - PHANTOM