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Author Topic: The Robin Hood Break and Combat Assault  (Read 8796 times)

Bud

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The Robin Hood Break and Combat Assault
« on: December 22, 2009, 08:58:06 pm »
The Robin Hood Break and the Combat Assault   

The 173rd Assault Helicopter Company arrived in Vietnam in the spring of 1966 and were assigned to the 11th Combat Aviation Battalion at Phu Loi, north of Saigon and part of the 111 Corps Tactical Zone. Their actual base camp was Lai Khe, some fifty miles north of Saigon and at the time, home of the 3rd Brigade 1st Infantry Division, the Big Red One.

What the "Robin Hoods" became later was begun by those in the unit's first year in Vietnam. Nobody is more remembered then the first company Commander Major Glenn "Dutch" Ebaugh.

Dutch was a pretty hard taskmaster but he was considered to be more than fair and a rabid dog when it came to speaking up for his men. When they first arrived in country, the Robin Hoods had 34 Majors assigned to the unit and Dutch was Commander only because he out ranked all the others. Once they actually arrived in country, most of the Majors were transferred to other units and their empty slots were filled by new Warrant Officers from the Aviation School at Fort Rucker and a cadre of experienced pilots and aircraft commanders from other units already in country.

Dutch Ebaugh was an experienced Army Aviator which says a lot because at the time, becoming an Army Aviator was in addition to all the other duties an Officer was assigned in his chosen branch. Many were Infantry Officers, Artillery Officers or Engineer officers and had come to Army Aviation either because of a love for flying, a desire to learn a marketable skill for a pending retirement or, sometimes, because their Army careers had stagnated within their assigned branches and they hoped to reenergize a sagging career.

But, by April, Major Ebaugh had his full complement of pilots, most of whom were young Warrant Officers and he began to train them how to not only serve the Army as aviators but how to survive in combat..

Flying formations of helicopters is quite a bit different than flying a formation of fixed wing aircraft. The major problem of course, is the rotating rotor blades. Early on, it was learned that a pilot in an aircraft to the right or left rear of the lead aircraft could maintain his exact position by watching the rear cross member of the right or left skid and lining it up to form an "X" with the leading cross member of the opposite skid. This would place the trailing aircraft exactly 45 degrees from the flight leader and enable all of the trailing aircraft to maintain a perfect stagger trail formation:

Stagger Trail right                            Stagger Trail left

X                                                            X
   X                                                      X
X                                                             X
   X                                                      X
X                                                             X

A stagger trail formation was necessitated when the landing zone (LZ) was too small to accept a flight of five (or more) aircraft at one time.  The left and right trails were dictated by the topography of the landing zone with the most aircraft lined up where the greatest threat was perceived. This would allow the most door gunners to engage because it was decided early on that the door gunners located on the 'inside' of the stagger trail formation could not fire unless they could see the target that was actually firing on them.
Before that decision, an awful lot of pilots were surprised by tracer fire from their wingman's door gunner that was passing right across the front of their aircraft and some excited conversations ensued.

Stagger Trail:


Insertion of the troops into a landing zone was always dictated by the shape of the landing zone.

There were times that the landing zone was only big enough for a single aircraft. These were almost exclusively long range recon patrols (LRP) or Special Forces  special operations group insertions which were recon, ambush or even "hit" teams.

Some times, when the ground commander wanted to put all of his troops on line facing a tree line, we used an echelon formation either right or left heavy:


Echelon right                                   Echelon left
    X                                                         X
X     X                                                  X      X
            X                                          X
                 X                                   X

Echelon:

But the favorite formation was trail which was just like it sounded, everyone playing follow the leader. But, there were rules and maintaining your exact place was emphasized over and over because that is how accidents were prevented. If everyone knew and operated by the rules, then aircraft didn't collide and no one was short changed in a landing zone. Short changed in an LZ meant that the aircraft was left hanging, hovering, above the trees and in a "hot" landing zone, that was death defying.

Major Ebaugh decided early on is that the only way to enter and exit a landing zone was everybody together. This way, the combined fire power of all the door guns and the Crossbow light fire teams on either side as you were coming in or climbing out, guaranteed that the enemy would probably have to keep his head down. So he came up with the Robin Hood descent.

Dutch studied the problem from every angle and then decided that an insertion into a potentially hot landing zone needed to be as fast and violent as possible. So, instead of make a long final descent into a landing zone which telegraphed to the enemy exactly where you were going and when you were going to get there. Dutch decided that a company autorotration into a landing zone from altitude was a much better way to make an entrance and that method would insure shock to the enemy as well as permitting all of the doorgunners the maximum amount of time to shoot suppressive fire.

Let me explain what an auto rotaion in a helicopter entailed. Helicopter flight crews did not carry or wear parachutes. Mainly because we normally flew to low to use them but also because there was no need. When anything happened and you had to set down quickly, the pilot lowered his collective lever located on the left side of his seat. The collective controlled the pitch of the rotor blades and was the method that you you used to go up or down. The cyclic, between the pilot's knees, controlled forward and aft movement and left and right lateral movement. The pedals controlled where the tailboom was in relation to the aircraft's movement. If a pilot moved the cyclic lever to his left and depressed the left pedal, the aircraft turned to the right. But if he kept the pedals equal and moved the cyclic to the left, he slid the aircraft left. You could make a climbout or descent using only the cyclic but it was frowned upon because you were changing the angle of the rotor head which could put the blades dangerously close to the cockpit (diving) or the tai lboom (climbing).

Now during an auto rotation, the pilot bottoms out the collective (and rolls the motorcycle like throttle in his left hand to off) and the aircraft blades flattened out, that is they are no longer 'lifting' and the aircraft falls.

Like a rock.

At the last minute, seemingly at the very moment that the aircraft was going to impact with the ground, the pilot would pull the collective right up into his armpit and roll the engine throttle all the way back on. This changed the angle of the blades so they were suddenly attempting to grab the air and climb out and with the sudden thrust of the turbine engine power the aircraft would come to a complete halt and start attempting to climb back out. A good pilot would then land the aircraft, the troops would be jumping off the skids and the flight lead would order "Robin Hood Lead on the go" and the entire formation would take off as if they were flown by a single pilot.

It was really impressive to see this.

Because our grunt passengers normally sat on the floor facing out (three on each side) with their feet on the skids, we had to warn them ahead of time because when the aircraft falls, so do all the occupants and it was entirely possible to float right out the door if you weren't restrained or hanging on.

This was HUGELY great fun for the flight crews. I liked it as a crew chief if for no other reason then  it cleared out all the dust and debris on the floors and from the crooks and cranny of the aircraft.

After a while, all the grunts of the 1st Infantry Division recognized our distinctive nose markings and knew what they were in for and for the most part appreciated it. That's because the whole intent of the maneuver was to lessen the amount of enemy fire directed at the aircraft.

What Dutch did was practice with two aircraft, then the two became four and then four became eight and soon all of the company pilots were experienced and well trained.

It must have been a shock for the enemy every time they saw a flight of ten slicks in a trail formation circling an area and knowing that they would have time to set up by the time the aircraft finally made a circling descent headed for a an open area. But then, suddenly, all ten (or 15 or 20) aircraft appeared to be falling in formation, they all opened fire on the way down and holy moly they were landing right here!

This is the way legends were created.

Another thing that Dutch did was emphasize and emphasize over and over again that the flight crews of the Robin Hoods had only one purpose in life and that was without question, immediately offer up their lives in sacrifice in order to save another American.

No matter what and no matter when if some one called for help a Robin Hood was required to go and we had to accept the motto of the 1st Infantry Division, " No Mission to Difficult, No Sacrifice to Great, Duty First". Dutch believed that and he was such a great leader that he made all of us believe it, even those that came long after him and never had a chance to meet or see him.

He believed formation flying was always better than gaggle flying. Invariably, if two Robin Hoods happened to meet enroute home to Lai Khe, they formed a formation and even if it was only two of them, upon approach to Lai Khe, they had to do the Robin Hood break.

Now, truthfully, the Robin Hood break was a Carrier break. That is, it was utilized by Naval Aviators when approaching a carrier and it allowed a formation to lengthen out their distance between aircraft to allow one aircraft to approach and land on a carrier at timed intervals. That is, to alow an aircraft to land, snag an arresting cable, be released and move forward in time so the next aircraft can repeat the landing.

This is a thing of beauty when seen from another ship.

Dutch liked the whole idea except that it allowed for timed intervals between aircraft. Dutch was a pretty much one way to go kind of guy and a very tight formation was the only thing he believed in.

So, the Robin Hood break came to be. When approaching Lai Khe, Dutch, in the lead ship, would call for landing with the Lai Khe control tower. He just announced the Robin Hoods were inbound and that they would be entering the landing pattern in formation and would land as a single unit. He didn't ask permission of the tower, he announced his intentions and it was up to the tower to clear the airspace and the runway.
So, out about five miles out, Dutch would come up on the unit UHF radio frequency and say,

"Robin Hood Flight, Robin Hood 6, go trail.....now" and all the ships that were usually in a stagger trail formation would suddenly line up behind each other. Not onesies and twosies, all at once at the exact same time.


Robin Hoods inbound to a cold LZ( door guns are stowed):


Then, the fun part started. Early on, one of the crew chiefs had come to Dutch with an idea. Dutch, ever mindful of the importance of high morale, immediately gave his permission.

Every Robin Hood aircraft, including the Crossbow gunships, had an ordinary CoCa Cola can wired to the either the M60 doorgun mount on the slicks or from n M60 machine gun barrel on the bungee cord mounted door guns of the Crossbows. It would seem that an ordinary smoke grenade would fit exactly into a Coke can if the top had been cut out. If a significant amount of cuts had been made into the bottom of the can, then when the spoon from the grenade was released, appropriately colored smoke would spew from the can (remember, one on each side) and trail behind the aircraft.

Now white smoke grenades , named "HC" smoke, would burn the longest so that's what would be used. It was tricky making the timing work so the smoke stopped just before landing but it wasn't really that hard.

So, Dutch would say on the radio, "Robin Hood Flight, Robin Hood lead. Prepare smoke for my mark" and all the crew chiefs and door gunners would pull the pins on smoke grenades and hold the grenades over the cans until they hard, ?Robin Hood Flight, Robin Hood lead, ignite smoke....NOW!" and beautiful streamers of white smoke would all of sudden stream from the aircraft in a trail formation at 1,000 foot altitude as they crossed right down the center of the runway and then followed Dutch as he made a hair raising left descending turn in a carrier break around in a circle and then into a final approach to the runway. Once there, Dutch would run the length of the runway to allow the whole flight to line up, still at a hover. Once down, we heard,

"Robin Hood Lead, Robin Hood Trail, the flight is down" then
"Robin Hood Flight, Robin Hood lead, left (or right) ......FACE!" and we would all turn to face the revetments. Then

"Robin Hood lead, moving to the revetment" and "Yellow One moving to the revetment" and this was all done while the flight hovered in perfect formation waiting there turn.

After this was all well in place, an incident occurred that changed the smoke deployment.

On a Robin Hood break into Lai Khe, Major Ebaugh was startled to see one of the Robin Hood aircraft trailing red smoker from the gunner's side. He amanged to maintain radio discipline until everyone was landed and safely in their revetments but then he stormed the length of the flight line to find out about the red smoke. A courageous Warrant officer, the aircraft commander, told the commander that the door gunner had killed an enemy soldier firing at them during the assault so in honor of that, he allowed him to trail red smoke. That was all it took.

A new Robin Hood tradition had been established.
MissouriBud
Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death! Patrick Henry

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    cpaspr

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    Re: The Robin Hood Break and Combat Assault
    « Reply #1 on: December 25, 2009, 01:47:17 pm »
    Well told, sir.  Well told.
    Oregon

    Splodge Of Doom

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    Re: The Robin Hood Break and Combat Assault
    « Reply #2 on: December 28, 2009, 05:22:39 am »
    Thank you, sir.

    I love reading your stories.  You really bring the whole thing to life for me.

    RevDisk

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    Re: The Robin Hood Break and Combat Assault
    « Reply #3 on: December 29, 2009, 12:58:10 am »
    Quote
    Let me explain what an auto rotaion in a helicopter entailed. Helicopter flight crews did not carry or wear parachutes. Mainly because we normally flew to low to use them but also because there was no need. When anything happened and you had to set down quickly, the pilot lowered his collective lever located on the left side of his seat. The collective controlled the pitch of the rotor blades and was the method that you you used to go up or down. The cyclic, between the pilot's knees, controlled forward and aft movement and left and right lateral movement. The pedals controlled where the tailboom was in relation to the aircraft's movement. If a pilot moved the cyclic lever to his left and depressed the left pedal, the aircraft turned to the right. But if he kept the pedals equal and moved the cyclic to the left, he slid the aircraft left. You could make a climbout or descent using only the cyclic but it was frowned upon because you were changing the angle of the rotor head which could put the blades dangerously close to the cockpit (diving) or the tai lboom (climbing).

    Dude, I work for a place that builds helos.  Using autorotate as a standard landing procedures is...  so near insanity that I have no doubt it worked beautifully.  And probably dinged up the birds quite quickly.  How often did you guys bend the struts?  Or hell, torque the damn airframe?

    To you non-aviation folks, the closest analogy I can make is stopping at a red light by shifting into park while pulling the e-break.   You'll stop alright...    ;D
    To know the darkness is to love the light,
    to welcome dawn and fear the coming night.
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    JesseL

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    Re: The Robin Hood Break and Combat Assault
    « Reply #4 on: December 29, 2009, 01:07:35 am »
    Since they still had power, I imagine it probably wasn't quite as rough as an emergency autorotation.
    Arizona

    Outbreak

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    Re: The Robin Hood Break and Combat Assault
    « Reply #5 on: December 29, 2009, 05:52:47 am »
    No, because there's this part:
    Quote
    At the last minute, seemingly at the very moment that the aircraft was going to impact with the ground, the pilot would pull the collective right up into his armpit and roll the engine throttle all the way back on. This changed the angle of the blades so they were suddenly attempting to grab the air and climb out and with the sudden thrust of the turbine engine power the aircraft would come to a complete halt and start attempting to climb back out. A good pilot would then land the aircraft

    It's more like speeding toward a brick wall, then just before you hit it, you throw it into reverse and floor it to stop inches short of the bricks.
    TexasOutbreak

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    sohmdaddy

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    Re: The Robin Hood Break and Combat Assault
    « Reply #6 on: January 07, 2010, 03:26:16 am »
    I guess the priority was minimizing exposure to enemy fire, and not preserving the airframes.

    That's freaking bad a$$

    StewartEbaugh

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    Re: The Robin Hood Break and Combat Assault
    « Reply #7 on: November 10, 2017, 03:19:09 pm »
    I know this story is a number of years old now, but I just came across it.  Thanks for sharing.  In case you missed it in my name, Robin Hood 6 was my father!  Thanks for the awesome story and the kind words.  I had the honor and privilege of following in his footsteps and becoming an army aviator as well, flying Blackhawks after training in Hueys in during flight school.  If anyone is interested, my father passed away just days after his 84th birthday in July 2011, was cremated and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.  Keep the stories coming.  Fly Army!
    Georgia

    coelacanth

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    Re: The Robin Hood Break and Combat Assault
    « Reply #8 on: November 10, 2017, 05:17:49 pm »
    I'm sure Bud will be around and pick up on this soon but in the mean time thanks for stopping by and posting.  Our condolences on the loss of your father.   We thank you both for your service and sacrifice to our country and way of life.   

    Please feel free to share any of your own stories here as well.   :thumbup1
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    ZeroTA

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    Re: The Robin Hood Break and Combat Assault
    « Reply #9 on: November 11, 2017, 10:41:23 am »
    I'd call "zombie thread" but in this case I think it's allowed.  :cool Very cool connection. Welcome to the forum and thanks for your family's service.
    I'm not saying you should use an M1A for home defense, but I'm also not saying you shouldn't.

    Bud

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    Re: The Robin Hood Break and Combat Assault
    « Reply #10 on: November 11, 2017, 09:50:19 pm »
    I joined the Robin Hoods after Colonel Ebaugh had left for home. His legend and his tactics remained in effect the entire 32 months that I flew with the "Hoods. My condolences on your loss and the loss for all of us who followed his lead
    MissouriBud
    Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death! Patrick Henry

    BlackScarf67

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    Re: The Robin Hood Break and Combat Assault
    « Reply #11 on: October 14, 2018, 02:09:58 pm »
    Stumbled upon this thread when looking for the "Robin Hood" unit. I was not in Aviation then, that came late.
    I was in B Co. 1st Bn, 2nd Inf, BRO, the Black Scarf battalion, out of Phuoc Vinh then Qual Loi.
    I usually sat on the floor behind the pilot, since I carried the radio. Remember once reading the slogan on the back of the pilot's helmet.
    It said "I use to couldn't spell PIE LET, now I are one". I believe we never made a Hot LZ, thankfully. 
    I just wanted to say "Thanks".

    John (JJ) Adams
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    coelacanth

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    Re: The Robin Hood Break and Combat Assault
    « Reply #12 on: October 15, 2018, 08:28:20 pm »
    Stumbled upon this thread when looking for the "Robin Hood" unit. I was not in Aviation then, that came late.
    I was in B Co. 1st Bn, 2nd Inf, BRO, the Black Scarf battalion, out of Phuoc Vinh then Qual Loi.
    I usually sat on the floor behind the pilot, since I carried the radio. Remember once reading the slogan on the back of the pilot's helmet.
    It said "I use to couldn't spell PIE LET, now I are one". I believe we never made a Hot LZ, thankfully. 
    I just wanted to say "Thanks".

    John (JJ) Adams
    Glad you made it home safely and glad you found us.   :thumbup1
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    RMc

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    Re: The Robin Hood Break and Combat Assault
    « Reply #13 on: October 16, 2018, 06:31:43 am »
    Glad you made it home safely and glad you found us.   :thumbup1

    Indeed so!
    Alabama

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