174th Assault Helicopter Company

Scratch One-each New Flare Ship

(All three photos below property of Sam Sours. Duc Pho, 1969)

Dolphin 529 was a new UH-1H (68-15529) in the company in May 1969. On the morning after it's first night as flare ship, the pilot was moving 529 from the flare stand-by revetment over to the flare storage bunker to unload them. It was assigned to a different mission that morning and the crew had to unload the previous evening's flares to prepare for its next mission.

Well, as Murphy would have it, things went wrong as they were maneuvering close to other aircraft (let's blame it on a sleepy pre-dawn get-up), and their tail rotor made contact with the main rotor blade of the aircraft behind them. The tailrotor assembly left the aircraft and it started "spinning 360's." The helicopter clearly landed very hard, collapsing the skids. Note that the flares are still in the cargo section of the Dolphin. It appears one flare was thrown out onto the ground by the left skid and another flare has fallen partially from the aircraft.

Also, note the erosion to the "penaprime" surface, the thin asphalt covering over the dirt landing area, caused by the skids breaking the surface of the covering during routine aircraft landings, then being further eroded by the helicopter's repeated rotor wash.

Below is the main rotor blade of the "other" Dolphin, the one that 529's tail rotor made contact with. Note it missed the leading edge of the main rotor and chewed up the honeycombing behing the leading edge. It doesn't take much, however, to cause the tail rotor of a helicopter to come completely apart, which is what 529's did.

This photo below shows 529's tail. Note the entire tail rotor assembly and 90-degree gearbox are completely gone, leaving only about half of the 90-degree gearbox housing. It also took the tail rotor drive shaft about 18-inches down the vertical tail fin. Note also the damage to the left horizontal stabilizer. According to data from the aircraft tail number page here on the Website, Dolphin 529 arrived in the 174th as a brand new zero-hour aircraft in May 1969 and "departed" the 174th also in May 1969, with just 127 hours on the airframe. While the aircraft does not look that badly damaged overall, a tail rotor strike like this will require removal and replacement of the main rotor, assembly, transmission, engine, and all drive gear. In addition to the damaged landing gear, It also sustained structural damage to the tail boom. If you look closely to the alignment of the body of the aircraft and engine, you can see that the tail boom is broken and has been displaced to the right. This fits with an aircraft spinning to the right and making contact with the ground while still spinning. The tail boom was broken and "dragged" behind the direction of rotation. Scratch one-each new flare ship!