Just another example of how "command policy"
can be not only utterly stupid, but deadly

In 1964, the Republic of Vietnam was sending candidates to Ft Wolters, Texas to learn how to fly our helicopters.   One of my Instructors, Mr. Anderson, told me of his attempt to train one such Vietnamese pilot prospect named Tanh.  The problem, according to Mr. Anderson, was that they arrived without any advance training or any clue about the technical components of helicopter instruments and controls.  For instance, they didn't know what a "tachometer" was or what function it served.  So, Mr. Anderson resorted to telling Tanh to just keep the "tack" needle in the color green.  Never let it go to red (which overspeeds the engine) and never go into yellow (low revving and stalling the engine).

When Anderson would take Tanh up on training flights and Tanh was having difficulty, he would turn to Anderson and say, "No got it".  Tanh would take his hands off the controls and just sit.  Anderson would regain control of the aircraft and fly it.

It generally took helo flight trainees between 9 to 12 hours before a solo.  In my case, it was 13 hours.  Meanwhile, Tanh was ready at 54 hours...or so Mr. Anderson thought! (Despite the triple-length time required take this step, the Vietnamese pilots could not be "washed out" of pilot training.  They would lose face and the command policy was to make them pilots!)

The big solo day arrives.  Tanh took off and came around the 1st time to land.  Problem was...he was lined up for the control tower as a point of reference instead of the landing strip. Mr. Anderson recalled telling him he could not get lost; just aim for the tower on the turn-around and he would find the airstrip.  

The Control Tower called out, "Helicopter 64, go left".  The Tower operator kept repeating this command, "Go left!".  Tanh did not respond.  At this point, Mr. Anderson grabbed the mike and yelled, "TANH...GO LEFT!!

The next thing they hear is, "No got it".  The helicopter crashed and exploded.  I guess, technically, Tanh didn't wash out.  It was much worse than that. 

Fast forward to Vietnam, 1968.  After a combat assault, we had helo pick up. I ran up to the slick and sitting in the pilot seats was two TANHs!  "NO WAY", I said to myself. I immediately ran under the nose of the next helicopter.  Some of the guys started yelling, "Lt, where are you going?"  (What the heck; I knew where I was going...I was looking for US ARMY pilots!)

We finally landed and I was asked why I was running around to different slicks. I related the story of Tanh and his pilot training back at Ft Wolters.  The very next extraction after a combat assault, everyone was running around checking out the pilots.  However, we later learned that our earlier assault pickup was the first and last joint US/Vietnamese pick up.  The brass was told that the combat troops would not fly with the Vietnamese pilots due to lack of proficiency and the hard landings.  Other US pilots related how they could not fly "in trail" properly (assault line formations) to a hot landing zone.  They would change airspeed and risk the pilot behind them having a mid-air collision.  They would also hover too close to the re-fueling dumps instead of landing first.  Overall, the pilot stateside training was NOT producing qualified helo pilots.

Like I said, "I'm not a pilot...but neither were they".


submitted by
Lt Don Keith