17. Demon Maintenance - The Standard Of Excellence by Benny Doyal

This title and motto were emblazed on the sign above the entrance to the maintenance office.

I was a maverick Army officer/aviator (1LT) when I arrived at the 134th on April 29, 1968. At that point in time, I had 11 years of active service and was 28 years old. The first nine of those years was as an enlisted soldier, five years of which was in aircraft maintenance as an airplane mechanic/crew chief, maintenance supervisor, airplane technical inspector, helicopter mechanic/crew chief (OH, UH, CH), and helicopter technical inspector. I graduated from WORWAC in March 1966, and reported to C, 229 Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cav, where I served as assault helicopter pilot and assistant aircraft maintenance officer for that year.

One month prior to DEROS, I received a direct commission to 2LT, TC, at LZ English. On my return Stateside, I was assigned to Ft. Eustis, VA, as an Air Transportability Instructor. Though I learned a great deal while working as an instructor, I did not care much for the tame Stateside duty. The one good thing I learned from that assignment, and soon used in the field, was rapidly rigging helicopters for aerial recovery. I applied that knowledge early in my tour with the 134th, when we fabricated a shop recovery kit and trained how to rig UH-1s for CH-47 sling load recovery.

Because of my distaste for the peacetime Army, I volunteered for a second tour in RVN. In return, the Army sent me, along with 5 LTCs, to the Aircraft Maintenance Officer Management Course. Two of the LTCs ended up in the 17th Grp (one was LTC Orlando Gonzales, 268th Avn Bn Cdr). I also attended the UH-1 Test Pilots Course and the Cobra (AH-1G) Transition Course. Due in part to my extensive prior experience, I finished at the top of the class in the first two courses.

All the above is presented so the reader can fully understand that we had the training, talent, and experience necessary to achieve the success realized in our 134th maintenance operations.

My initial assignment was as Commander, 134th Service Platoon, which in reality, was the DCDR of the maintenance element, composed of the 618th TC Det (Direct Support Maintenance) commanded by CPT Max Wilson, 832nd Avionics Det, commanded by a non-rated SC LT (Ainsworth?), and the Service Plt. CPT Max Wilson was a class-act guy who taught me a great deal about leadership. After his departure later that year, I assumed command of the 618th and the entire maintenance operation.

There are a number of reasons why we were successful, and I will cover several in some detail, but the primary reason is that each and every one of us worked smart (planning), worked hard (long hours all night as necessary; no holidays, no weekends, no days off just 365 days of putting operational aircraft on the line for everyday missions), and we had the knowledge and determination to make it happen.

The 134th did not have a good or great maintenance element, but was, in fact, the BEST in RVN – ever. We were also recognized in a General S.L.A. Marshall book as such. Here are the numbers, and you can look them up to verify. We had 20 or 21 UH-1Hs and 8 UH-1Cs (guns) of which we were to provide 14 slicks and 6 guns every day for missions. We never missed that quota, and no other unit in RVN can make that claim. Because of our high aircraft availability rate, we sometimes (many times) had to put up our aircraft and aircrews to support other AHCs when they couldn't meet their quotas. Our operational ready rate (ORR) during my last seven months was 85% for slicks and 90% for guns. A photograph of our Aircraft Status Board is enclosed to verify these numbers. We didn't achieve that ORR by sitting on the ground – our slicks averaged 108 flying hours each per month and the guns averaged 85 hours. That means, on the average, 17 of the 20 H-Models were operational every day (we met the 14 required H Models and had three in reserve). Seven of the eight guns were always operational, with six assigned to missions and one in reserve. That equated to a PMP every month for every bird, or one every day of the month.

As our aircrews will state, we gave them highly maintained, reliable, performing aircraft – again the highest quality of maintenance in RVN. As foolish as it seemed then and still does, we had a CMMI by HQ USARV and came out on top of all other helicopter units in RVN – 97%. I must admit, we were beaten on that score by one Airplane Co (OV-1s). Our normal work day was 0600 hours to 2100 hours (15-hour days), and many of us worked much later – sometimes all night to meet the daily quota. We believed that if the grunts could do their work in the jungle all night, day after day, we could certainly do ours in a much friendlier environment. I was greatly blessed to have superb soldier-mechanics, NCOs, and officers/warrant officers. I had a brilliant DCDR, LT John Leaf, super test pilot, quality focused, caring leader who we lost to cancer back in the 80s.

Let us now go back in time and address some of the specifics.

Technical Supply. Having a Direct Support (DS) maintenance capability was a great benefit because we were authorized an ASL for DS repair parts and a PLL for organizational maintenance. We, of course, joined them into a single supply section with 1,500 line items of aircraft parts. Any maintenance officer worth his salt will tell you that a maintenance operation without an equally good supply element is next to worthless. We had a great supply cell and we (the leadership) worked closely with the supply sergeant and clerks to insure we didn't get to zero balance on a repair part. We also studied each and every aircraft logbook at least weekly to determine when a time-change component was to be replaced. We then calculated, based on aircraft hours, the actual day of the month that the item would most likely be replaced. We were authorized to order items to be replaced 45 days before date of replacement, noting on the requisition the Required Delivery Date (RDD), which was also the projected date that the time-change hours on the component/part would expire. For example, if a component (engine, transmission, 42o gearbox, etc., etc.) had 150 flying hours until time-change, we had to order 45 days early – remembering we were flying a bit over 100 hours per aircraft per month. This careful, detailed analysis enabled us to always have the components when the time came due. I absolutely hated any unnecessary downtime. Having those components on hand prior to their actual need provided another great dividend; if a component failed or was shot up, no sweat – we usually had an RDD component on hand and available. We put it on the broken bird and reordered for the time-change still coming due, now with a shorter RDD. This greatly increased our mission readiness and brought non-operational readiness to its knees.

Another supply strategy that Max Wilson put in place was to station one of our supply guys (liaison) with our D.S. Supply (79th TC) in Qui Nhon. If we went down for a part, we called him, and he would search the 79th, the 540th G.S maintenance company, and every aviation unit in that area until he found the part. Sometimes we would fly up to pick up the part, but in most of the cases, one of the flight platoon crews would stop by Qui Nhon at the end of a mission and bring it home. Everyone in the 134th was very maintenance conscious and supported the maintenance efforts.

Quick Change Assembly (QCA). A QCA in our case was a built-up engine with all components already installed. We always had an L-11 and an L-13 ready and waiting in the engine shop. We scrounged the extra components to build up the engines. I traded a captured rifle (one of our gun pilots gave it to us for trading material) to the 79th in Qui Nhon for starters, generators, and so forth. If an engine blew up (a compressor stall, for example) we could replace it and have the bird operational in one hour. We also had QCA tail rotors and complete landing gears for both birds. One day, one of our birds went down at Tuy Hoa when the compressor blew up, sending shrapnel through the tail rotor and wiping it out, too. The pilot landed hard, spreading the gear. We launched our wrecker with replacement QCA engine, tail rotor, and landing gear, and two hours later I flew the bird in operational status back to Phu Hiep.

Maintenance Shops/Teams. As stated, we had D.S. capability. Thus we had rotor, engine, and sheet metal repair shops. We integrated our D.S. and organizational maintenance mechanics into four teams, each capable of organization and D.S. maintenance without outside support, permission or supervision. Three of these teams did PMPs only no diversion to pull them away and slow down accomplishment of the PMPs. Our outside goal was three days, but many were done in one or two days depending on the age of the aircraft, components to be changed and other work required. The assigned MTP and TI always did an inspection prior to crew work to help catch serious problems. They also performed a 100% inspection again after the PMP crew had completed its work and prior to test flight. Our goal was to present a clean, nice looking, zero defect aircraft after test flight they delivered.

Our fourth team did unscheduled maintenance only. It consisted of five guys led by Sgt Parker. They did all unscheduled maintenance day and night as required both D.S. and organizational maintenance. They changed engines, transmissions, 42o and 90o GB and everything in between. They worked untold hours, turning out quality work, and freeing the PMP Teams to keep up production. This four-team setup was truly unique and vastly effective.

Maintenance Test Flying. As previously stated, I was fortunate to have had a lot of MTF experience, probably 300 hours, while in the 1st Cav on my first tour, then MTF school between tours. In fact, I was the only school trained UH-ITP in 17th Group for the first few months, and was drafted to go to Nha Trang to train five maintenance officers from other 17th Group companies for a week. That was fun. I also trained our guys even the Stork. We were good, professional, and proud, but most of all, we kept at it for many hours every day. I flew about 300 hours of night test flight time in the 134th to deliver the goods. Many mornings I turned the aircraft over to the mission pilot with it still running, having just completed a test flight. Our other MTPs, such as John Leaf, did likewise.

Aircraft Flight Scheduling. The only way to ensure an aircraft flowed smoothly through the inspection and maintenance process was to control the hours it was flown daily along with the rest of the fleet. We did this by working very closely with flight operations every night, assigning to them which 14 of the 20 slicks were to fly the next day, and which to put on the shorter and longer missions. The same scheme was employed in scheduling 6 of the 8 guns. Sometimes this did not set well with the flight platoon leaders, but they understood the need.

Aircraft Recovery. We had two crews to rig aircraft for recovery. We did four or five during that year (one or two for other units). We designed and had QM build our strap kits, and we practiced and practiced on the flight line to gather speed. One crew was LT John Leaf, a sergeant and myself. John would put us on the ground, then fly cover over us. I would rig the MR and the sergeant would rig the TR. LT Leaf would be at altitude over us, guiding in the CH-47. From the time John put us on the ground, we were ready to put the donut in the hook in one minute and fifty seconds. On two occasions, we were put on the ground in front of the CH-47 as it was on long final approach, and the CH-47 made a straight-in to us, hooked, and booked. Then John would come in, pick us up, and head for home. We never took enemy fire believe we got the birds out faster than they could move to our location.

One amusing story on the recovery of a 134th Devil Gunship: Late one afternoon, John and I heard that a Gun had gone down (shot down) not far from Phu Heip. Due to some confusion in company flight operations and impatience on our part, we jumped in an H Model and told operations we would recover the crew. I do not recall the crew's names, so fill in the blanks. We got them – they were deployed around the downed bird we picked them up and flew them home. By the time we got back to the aircraft to bring it home, it was dark and no light was left to show its location. Somehow, we found it, and pulled the rocket pods off, and loaded them into an H Model must have been two H-Models on the ground. We were stumbling around carrying the fully loaded pods, stepping on each other, and I was giving a short guy a bad time about carrying his share or get the hell out of the way. Later that night I learned that the short guy was LTC Gonzales, our Bn Cdr, who was eventually promoted to Major General. He was a great commander his HQ was across the street from our maintenance operation, and he visited us many nights, walking around and talking to the mechanics. We all loved him.

Another recovery a flyaway recovery both sad and amusing: One of the flight platoons few into a rocket propelled grenade trap on a mountaintop near Phan Rang. One ship and its crew were destroyed (Mr. Harrison). MAJ Chancellor (Cdr, 134th) and I went to see if we could assist there were others there, too we couldn't do anything to help. We then flew to Phan Rang AFB, where another bird that had been shot up landed. I inspected the aircraft (H-Model). It had a round through the swash plate or scissor assembly, a round through the elevator control tube, one in the engine's hot section, and one in the transmission input quill. I started it up and hovered it ran 20o hot due to the bullet hole in the hot end, but otherwise, it flew okay. I decided I could fly it home with just a crew chief. MAJ Chancellor disagreed, stating that he and I would fly it back together, because if it crashed, he didn't want to have to do all the paperwork. We took the crew chief along so he could watch the hole in the transmission input quill to make sure it wasn't losing a lot of oil – it wasn't. The flight went well we babied it arrived back at Phu Heip without a problem. We had to replace a lot of parts on that aircraft.

Another story: One night a mission was in progess northwest of Phu Heip, and an H-Model crew was at altitude throwing out large flares. A crewmember accidentally threw one into the M/R blade. The pilot panicked and set the bird down out in the boondocks. We were called out to recover it with the intent to sling load it back with a CH-47. The crew had been evacuated. Upon being inserted by John Leaf, my recovery sergeant and I looked the bird over and could find nothing wrong except a small dent in one M/R blade. I jumped into the cockpit and fired it up it ran great. No noises, no vibes. I picked up to a hover very smooth. I yelled for the sergeant to get in, and we flew it out of there back to base. That was one of the smoothest flying birds I have ever flown. We had no helmets to communicate with, but John Leaf figured it out and just followed us home. When we got it back, I was really hot, wanting to do physical harm to the pilot who had put a perfectly good bird down out in enemy territory, risking his crew, the evacuation team, and us, to enemy contact. LTC Gonzales happened to be in my maintenance office when I came in, ready for a fight he thought that was a bad idea, and he prevailed. Now it's amusing it wasn't that night!

I hope these bits of information will reinforce the 134th's story and give due credit to those behind the glory who did a hell of a job.

Some other winners/winning actions:

I had a maintenance warrant officer working for me who volunteered to dig a well and put in a water system in the company area. His name was CW2 Rufus R. Jones. Rufus did the job with the help of a couple of men. They found an 18,000 gallon tank and set it up in the center of the area. Using 4 or 5 feet in diameter culvert pipe as well wall liners, and joining the pipes together as they sank them while removing the soil, they dug 20 or 30 feet down through the sand and found good water. They installed a pump at the bottom of the well and another at ground level to pump water into the tank. Then they plumbed water to our hooches. We had sinks and running water in our hooches and the showers! No more using fuel tankers to haul water. A great example of a 134th can-do officer.

My platoon sergeant, can't recall his name (help), said that if we would drop him off at Cam Rahn Bay, he would get a water heater for the showers and sinks said he would call me to send a truck when he had scrounged them up. He called a few days later, saying, send convoy. He had scrounged vanity sinks and two huge water boilers one for E.M. and one for officer showers we owe him.

Another winner: WO LaFabre (?) (from one of the flight platoons) volunteered to go to an R&R site and bring back window ACs for our hooches. We gave him the money. He went, he delivered. Another of my heroes.

I suppose you guys know that the 268th was the largest aviation battalion in RVN during our tenure.

John Leaf and I survived on Chevas Regal and small cans of chili and crackers for our dinner meals. We got home late most nights.

In summary, I believe that the 134th, as it existed in the '68-'69 period, experienced one of those rare moments in history when everything came together to provide a collective entity greater than its many parts. It had noble young aviators, leaders, and soldier-mechanics, each possessing exceptional intelligence, training, skills, knowledge, professionalism, experience, and courage, and a fierce determination to do their various jobs better than anyone else could.

AM Def Ser Cam

Last modified: Monday June 27th, 2022