Pilot Trainee Don Keith at Ft Wolters, TX


Another example of lowering standards in order
to get more bodies in the combat zone

Early on in my career, I was a rotary-wing mechanic.  I was offered the opportunity to become a helo pilot, so I began the qualification process. Unfortunately, that didn't work out too well; I got washed out of helicopter  flight training in 1964. I had accumulated 14 hours of certified flying time and even got to "go solo".  But...there's always a "but", right?  I just couldn't do an "auto rotation" to save my life. My Flight Instructor advised me that, if I wanted to make my wife a very rich woman, he could sign off on my qualification papers anyway and let me kill myself at some point.

While in Vietnam, I not only had adventures in the L-19 Bird Dog recon aircraft {See "A Fine For Barfing" in the War Stories}, I had many flights in the old OH 23 Hiller helicopter as well.  One day  the wind was really blowing.  The pilot couldn't get the chopper out  of the revetment.  Every time he backed up, the tail would almost hit the sand bags.  Since it was a "duel-controls" model, I told him to crab into the wind as he backed out and bring  it to a high hover. He said he didn't know how or didn't think he could do that. I said let me take it out.

I lifted the helo off, hit the foot controls, moved the cyclic stick over, pulled pitch and slipped out with no problem. I took it  to the edge of the run way and set it down. The pilot then asked me, "Why don't you take the 1st hour?"   I told him I was NOT A PILOT.  I explained I washed out of flight school due to auto rotation requirement.  We had to do three (3) solos a day, to include hovering auto rotations. We got a lot of instruction time on it.  The pilot told me he hade never done an auto rotation; they just showed them how it was done.

Now remember, I washed out in 1964 when the war was just heating up.  He got out in 1967, when the shit was really hitting the fan.  He told me that they stopped having the students doing the "auto-rotations" and the "solos" due to all the accidents occurring in the training cycles.  Yeah...go figure.

I decided that now was a good time to give this "pilot" a little education even though he had his license. I lifted the helicopter off the ground, shut off the engine and did a smooth hovering auto rotation.  I said, "That's how you do it".  

As I got out of the aircraft, I told him, "I may not be a pilot...but you aren't either!"


Submitted by
Lt Don Keith