Still in the gunship.

I was fascinated by a tiny length of wool that had been tied to one of the antennae outside the front of the cockpit perspex bubble…I cannot remember the colour…it fluttered helplessly in the wind stream….I wondered what it was there for?…..some kind of good luck charm for the crew or what?  I was later to see these strange pieces of wool on every Alo I flew in and found out that it was an improvised cockpit instrument… apparently helped the pilot to confirm that he was flying in a straight line and not crabbing to one side…….what a simple but clever idea.  Strange Aerospatiale never thought of this.

We had been flying for about 40 minutes I guess when the chopper lurched to the left and began its descent.  I held onto my seat a little tighter. Looking past the gunner I could see a dirt road beneath us and just a quick glimpse of a rather sad looking Bedford RL canted down on one side at the front like a wounded beast with a foreleg missing…..she was however still a proud looking old girl.

The chopper circled the area a few times like a dog looking for a place to sleep before the pilot and gunner were satisfied they had found the spot to put us down and that there were no evil gooks about…….and we began our descent…..all the while the gunner kept a sharp lookout for the enemy as well as any vegetation that might cause the Alo damage on landing.  As we neared the ground the down-wash from the blades flattened the grass and sent up a cloud of dust and grass seeds……we picked up our kit (including the MMD 1 dinosaur metal detector) and jumped into the unknown.  We all knew what to do…..straight out into all round defence…..FN cocking handles pulled back and released…working parts smoothly picking up a 7,62 x 51mm peacemaker… while the chopper lifted gracefully into the sky and turned back towards home..a gloved thumbs up from the pilot…the sound of the engine slowly fading……leaving silence and a feeling of utter loneliness.

On-board Cyclone 7 Gunship………outbound to Sidindi area

The pilot tested and released the brakes on the Alo gunship and we slowly taxied down the runway at FAF1……I was on the back seat….a simple hard bench that could fold up when the chopper was in the casevac role.  On either side of me was an infantryman from 1 Indep.  The infantry section or “stick” leader sat in a rearwards facing seat next to the pilot.  This seat had an olive green cushion for your arse and the seat was armour-plated all round so that whoever sat in it never had his balls shot off by gooks firing from below.

Another troopie sat in the door opening, a position I was later to claim as my own on many chopper rides.  There is something pretty fascinating about sitting in a chopper door when the pilot hits a hard port or starboard roll and you literally hang out the machine but cannot fall…centrifugal force apparently….those of you who have experienced this will know what I am talking about.  The door gunner was a serious looking fellow who had a flying helmet on that had wires coming out of it that plugged into sockets on the bulkhead..these were his umbilical cord to the pilot….they spoke constantly without a sound coming our way.  The weapon on these gunships was the Belgium made 7,62 MAG (Metrallieur a Gas) mounted as twins on a swivel arrangement giving traverse and elevation movement.  There was also an optical sight on these weapons.  Ammunition was fed into from two ammo boxes attached to the gun mounting. 

This was my first chopper ride and as you all know I am shit scared of heights.  My arse was nipping at the thought of the lift off and me just inches from the open door….I didn’t know about the centrifugal force theory at this stage.

I watched the pilot closely… he gently pumped his feet on the pedals as we taxied…..and how he flicked mysterious buttons on the rather impressive dashboard that had red and green lights on it.  His left hand had been continuously holding what looked like a car handbrake between the seats and as I watched he slowly lifted this device and the chopper left the ground and began to gently gain height….I learned later this handbrake thing was called the “collective” and had something quite important to do with the up and down activity of all choppers.  Actually if this device broke the chopper was fucked and all aboard in severe shit.

As we climbed I watched as the runway fell away and the buildings below became smaller and smaller…..the cars on the roads looking like the Dinkies I had played with in the sand as a child… the pilot swung the machine to port we headed east…..into the rising sun…..and into my first taste of what this war was all about.