Return to Hidden Stories


Rotary Wing: Miles of Smiles-Army Aircraft 16161

The German word for helicopter is "Haubschrauber" and it rhymes with ... well ... really nothing. This wouldn't stop CWO 2 John Converse calling from the airstrip on a Friday morning at Daley Barracks in the late 1970s and having fun with the Border Officer. In his best exaggerated Texas drawl he would start,

  Warrant Officer John Converse  

"Hey LLLLLLLLt! 'Ya wanna coming flying in the ' treee-scrubber ' .... I aaaah .... mean my greeen ' hoob scrooubbber ' .... 'ya didn't know I could talk that German talk did ' ja??!!".

I knew what was coming ... but I went anyway. The squadron was allocated two flight observer slots for the border observation mission. One was held by the S2, the Border NCO traditionally took the majority of the flights, and held the second spot. As Border Officer, I would fill in as needed.

Leaving the Squadron Headquarters, I ran into the former S2, now promoted to Major and the HHT commander. Remarking that I am making the border flight today and he gives me his best "children must be tolerated" look and flatly says,

"Oh by the way .... if perhaps in the vicinity of Bad Neustadt ... you happen to see the 8th Soviet Guards Army dashing south .... please ... do give us a call .... so I can move my car!".

The Eaglehorse portion of the border had a few long and comparatively straight runs of barrier fence in the central region but much of the border actually followed a very tortured path of sudden right angles, hard cuts to left and right, fingers that extended into East Germany and then suddenly ran back to West Germany. Those pilots certified as "border qualified" were top rated fliers from Air Troop in Fulda and when sent to "fly the border" that is exactly what they did. The East German helicopter pilots seemed to plow sedately along in their Hoplites, 1200 feet up and one or two kilometers back from the actual trace. US cavalry pilots and certainly Mr. Converse, saw things differently. He was an air scout, he would put that right skid on an imaginary line about ten feet back from the border, never get above forty feet and run it as fast as he could safely control the aircraft. Too much fun for words!

  A Blackhorse OH 58 and DDR aircraft move parallel down the trace. Air observation played a key role on both sides of the boder.
--Gary Braman
  An OH 58D scout, the much improved model over what we had in Germany. Frank ... is that you??!
--J. Greiner

One FM radio was set to his air control frequency, one to the border mission frequency and the aux. was on AFN from Frankfurt. As we approached the one kilometer zone, he'd call in the code words that he was flying the border, turn up the rock and roll and drop the ship to the deck. With a broad grin, he'd give a hard twist and push to the collective, shove the cyclic forward and off we went.

I was supposed to call in the spot reports of observed East German activity, there was a hand set and a floor button to key either the intercom or the FM radio, it took some practice to get the sequence down, manage the map, write the notes necessary to make a full report and so on. As I would start the first report, Frank would cut in on the intercom:

"EELLLLTTT!! I think I just saw a guard dog!! Did you see that dawwggg???!".

As soon as I looked up, he'd pitch the OH 58 through a few sharp turns and say ...

"Maybe it was just a shadow ... are you going to finish that first report ..... EEEELLLTTT, I think I just saw a TRUCK!".

All this was great sport, because we were now at least two kilometers past where the first, unfinished spot report was supposed to be delivered from. I would try and finish the report, would look down at the map and Frank would start in again, he'd call in his checkpoint then find yet another East German dog in the tree line ...."wait, I think it was a truck .... no ... never mind, HEY is that a truck, was that a guy in the tower ... did you see that GIRL!!??"

Now running fast down one of those narrow fingers with the DDR on both sides of the ship and I am beginning to think that this time, he will run us over the border. Then through the windscreen a blur of green and blue sky as he dumps the air from the main blades and you get that THWUUPP-THWUUUUPPP sound as they seem to flail at the sky and find no lift and I manage to take a photo of my foot and Frank kicks the left rudder pedal and throws the cyclic hard left and the aircraft suddenly starts to recover and seems to be turning on a dime and on AFN Linda Ronstadt is covering Smokey Robinson and singing, "ohhhh ..... baby ... baaabyy ...." and a second later, you hear the engine spool up and the hydraulic motors behind your head are whining as the pitch of the blades is driven back to cut into the sky and all the while .... Frank is singing:

"Duuuddda .... duddddaa ......Duuudddaa ..... BAT TURN!!!"

Then we are slashing low and fast along the trace through the forests at the northwestern end of the border and the towns click by .... Willmars, Ober Fladungen and Birx and somewhere we pass above the US patrol and suddenly the aircraft pitches up and to the left and in his best radio voice,

".... Army aircraft aaahhh 16 ... 161 is Lima-Mike at 26 .... out!"

... as the voice from border air traffic control repeats his last transmission, Frank was already off on the new tangent .... no more tree scubing as he broke away from the border.

"Hey LLTTTEee, lets go see the nudist camp, 'ya ever seen it, sunny today, they might be out there .... HEY! Did you just see that ' engine over-heat lamp ' flash on .... I just might have to set down at the camp .... you know .... for safety!! When we get back to the strip, let's play cards, the Support Platoon leader owes me a few bucks and I'll ... give him a chance to get it back ... wanna sit in .... I just got a new stereo, I'll show 'ya .... I got a new motor in my Taunus ... let's go for a RIDE!!"

I followed the advice of the new S2, another victim, just make notes with grease pencil on the map case and call the spot reports in by telephone .... from the air strip .... when the flight ended. CWO 2 John Converse loved his job!

It Fell From the Sky

In 1985, someone with a lot less skill got his hands on a Cobra and flew it into the ground in the Eaglehorse border sector by Hendungen. The images are great, troopers from border camp were called out to secure the area as the pilot was recovered and quickly removed from the area after an "unauthorized flight". We are still researching the story but believe it began in Schweinfurt. I am long gone by that point and out of the information loop. In passing through Fort Leavenworth a few years later, I did not have the presence of mind to ask one of the trustees from the Disciplinary Barracks now bagging at the commissary whether by any chance, he was the guy who went flying one day in the border sector.

  AH 1P Cobra hard on the deck in an open field.
--Erwin Ritter
  Another view of the same aircraft.
--Scott Huffman


  Some of the interior contents spilled out on the field.
--Scott Huffman
  Slightly different view.
--Scott Huffman


  And a view of the nose.
--Scott Huffman
  Here is what they looked like most of the time.
--Erwin Ritter

On the other side of the border on 17 June 1983, by Eschwege in the 3/11 ACR sector, a Soviet crewed MI 24 was acting in an aggressive fashion towards a BGS helicopter conducting a normal border flight. The BGS reported the on going incident and a pair of Blackhorse Cobras entered the area to show support. Ted Prescott reports that "low passes" in the border area and long hovers in front of OP Tennessee were not uncommon once the MI 24 had been widely fielded in the DDR.

  Series of German newspaper fotos from the story detailing the crash of the Soviet HIND near Eschwege.
--Erwin Ritter

Aviator blood runs fast and hot and someone started the game of "can you do this?" ... all well and good for a while until the HIND, apparently under too much structural stress, snapped its tail boom and spun into the ground within meters of the border fence. No one was going to the Russian version of the Disciplinary Barracks that day ... the issue ended with the smoldering wreck.

      A pair of Russians check out the wreckage prior to removal.
--Gary Braman

The West German newspapers reported that immediately after the crash, the Soviet helicopter unit commander came out to survey the wreckage; the following day, the bodies of the two crewmen were recovered and the remains of the HIND were shoveled into East German trucks.

  A good view of an OH 58 scout minus doors in Germany in the mid 1980s. Commercial rights reserved.
--Michael Skinner

Return to Hidden Stories