March 11th, 2019
Last week my wife and I decided to watch a movie on Netflix. We searched randomly through the titles, and I saw that they had “Black Hawk Down”. Karin and I had never watched the film before, so we picked that one.
I used to fly Black Hawks, back when I was in the Army. When I first got out of flight school in 1981, I flew Hueys. Those were Vietnam War vintage. A year later, Sikorsky started fielding Black Hawks in West Germany. I transitioned from Hueys to Black Hawks, and I flew them until I left the Army in August of 1986.
Black Hawks were fun. A pilot could do all sorts of things with that aircraft. We typically cruised at treetop level at a speed of 140 knots (161 mph). We could put the helicopter into a 90 degree bank (basically flip it on to its side while making a turn), and we wouldn’t lose any altitude. We could carry a total of eleven soldiers as passengers in the back of the aircraft. Each Black Hawk had a hook on the bottom to haul loads up to 7000 pounds. It was a sweet machine.
It could also be unforgiving. Aviation is not for the timid or the careless. I remember spending hours practicing emergency procedures while flying the helicopter. A pilot has to be ready to react almost instantly to any crisis. There was no room for error. In a helicopter, if you have a problem, you can’t just pull over to the curb. It is not a good thing to run out of altitude, airspeed, and ideas all at the same time.
I served in the Army during peace time. I was just lucky. I never had anybody try to shoot me down. However, I did have a couple instances when I was scared shitless while flying. Those special moments stay with a person forever. So, I could feel my body tense up when I watched the two Black Hawks get shot down in the film. All I could think was, “Oh man…”, and shake my head.
I was thinking about the movie today, and I was thinking about Hans. The movie was mostly about the soldiers on the ground, and they reminded me of my son. Hans was in Iraq in 2011. The movie takes place in Mogadishu, Somalia. Even so, I figured that location probably closely resembled the places where Hans fought.
I texted him, “Did you ever watch Blackhawk Down? What did you think of it?”
Eventually he replied, “Yeah and it was alright the hole deal was messed up though.”
I wrote back to him, “Was the movie realistic?”
His answer: “It was.”
Later on he wrote to me, “Why u ask about the movie?”
I replied, “I watched it with Mom. I kept thinking of you and I felt sad.”
He texted back, “another good but sad movie is lone survivor very realistic.”
I wrote back, ” Okay. By the way, I miss you.”
His response: “Miss u to.”
He called me a little after that.
I answered the phone, “Hey, what’s up?”
“Oh, not much”, he said in his Texas drawl.
Hans then proceeded to bitch about work. I listened. He has a number of legitimate complaints. His pump truck broke down on the way to a concrete pour, and the customer and the salesman were upset about that. Hans vented for a while. It’s good for him. Then his mind wandered back to the subject of the movie.
I told Hans, “That was ugly when the Black Hawk got its tail rotor shot off. The pilot just drilled that thing into the dirt. We always trained what to do if we lost a tail rotor. It’s not too bad if you are at cruising speed, say 140 knots or so. Then the airflow around the helicopter will straighten it out. But if you are at a hover, you’re fucked. The rotor spins one direction, and the rest of the helicopter wants to spin the opposite way.
In the movie, they tell the Black Hawk pilot that he has smoke coming from around the tail rotor, and that was not good news at all. Then, when the pilot says, ‘I got some vibration in the pedals’, I knew that was bad. Really bad. He needed to get out of there. Like right now.”
Hans told me, “Yeah, the movie was realistic. I felt for the guys on the ground. I did stuff just like that. Remember in the movie those guys were stuck in that building on the corner, and they couldn’t get to the crash site?”
“Yeah, I remember that part.”
Hans went on, “I was in places like that. Just waiting and hoping that the support shows up. There were a couple times when I thought it was all over. We were out manned and out gunned. I thought it was the end.”
Then Hans said, “I learned to love the sound of a Warthog (A-10 jet), or an Apache helicopter. That was the sound of a good day.”
“Warthogs make kind of a mess on the ground.”
“Yeah, but they also let me know that I had some fire power up above.”
Then Hans told me, “Other realistic movies are ‘Lone Survivor’ and ‘American Sniper’. ‘American Sniper is about Chris Kyle, a Texan.”
“Yeah, I remember reading about when he got killed.”
Hans said, “Yeah, he was helping a guy with PTSD. They were at the shooting range and the guy killed Kyle.”
“When I first read abut it, I thought it was crazy that Kyle went shooting with a guy who had PTSD. Then when you came home from Iraq, and we went shooting at that range in Caledonia, it all made sense to me.”
Hans replied, “You remember how focused I was?”
“Oh yeah. You were relaxed and totally focused. It was just you, the weapon, and target.”
“It was like that over there too. When things went south, and it was just me and the people shooting at me, time slowed down. I mean the bullets kept my attention, but it was like time just slowed down.”
“I believe that.”
“Well, I’ll let you go. Love you, Dad.”
“Love you too.”