Larry Rider - USAF
Jack Phillipps - Heloplane Prototype Test Pilot
During the period 1967-70 I contorted myself into the right seat of many AAM Helios while working out of L-11 in southern Laos. Sometime during the dry season of 1968 or 1969 I scheduled an early flight into L-10 (Attopeu), loaded whatever it was I was transporting and took of with George Benolken (spelling?) in PBY or maybe PBZ, can't remember for sure what the tail number was.
After an uneventful flight we landed, George throttled back, spun the tail around and came to a stop at the end of the strip and a Lao co-worker and I started unloading my cargo. An older Lao gentleman came up to me and asked if he could right back to Pakse and just as I got him strapped into the back seat I heard a loud "pop" on the other side of the river (I think it was the Se Kong or maybe the Se Kamane, the strip ran right along it).
Seconds later a mortar round hit just in front of the Helio. Another "pop" and another round hit off to the right. George gunned it and disappeared into the cloud of dust raised when the first round hit the laterite strip. Several more rounds came whirring in but by this time we were sprinting for the slit trenches at the side of the strip.
We inspected the red dirt in the trench at nose length but heard George get off and snarl on toward the Plateau and, we hoped, safety.
The mortar rounds eventually stopped and everyone slowly raised their collective heads out of the trench and my co-worker and I started down the road toward town.
A jeep with some FAR staff came up to see how everyone was and gave us a ride into headquarters. The process to shake loose an aircraft that was already in the area was cranked up but it was going to be awhile. We hiked back out to the strip to arrange for my cargo to be delivered into town just in time to see several F-4's roar in over the far river bank and shoot the snot out of the jungle with their guns. Whoever had given us our exciting welcome that morning were probably long gone.
We located the impact points and dug some tailpieces from the Chinese made mortar rounds out of the hard laterite. An hour or so later a jeep came out to pick us up and take us to a chopper pad in the middle of town. The AAM H-34 took us to strip on the southeast rim of the plateau and told us a CAS Porter would be along to pick us up.
After ten minutes or so the Porter landed, picked us up and took us back to L-11 where I was told in no uncertain terms by a gentleman whose name shall remain unspoken that L-10 had been closed several days earlier because the bad guys had been shelling everything that landed. He also added some other sage pieces of advice and admonitions and made several references to my state of consciousness.
Somehow the word that L-10 was closed did not get passed to all customers. I had scheduled the flight several days in advance and the flight schedule was supposedly reviewed by people who knew what was friendly and what was not.
A week or so later I saw George in Vientiane and he said things had been quite exciting as the rounds came in. He did not want to stick around (and he should not have) but did not know where the next round was going to hit but figured the best place for him was in the air. I was too busy inspecting ant tracks but I figure he leaped into the air about thirty yards after he hit the throttle.
Bob Gleason, Former USAF Air Commando Pilot - Recounts a mishap with battery
I had flown the U-10 in and out of many jungle strips. We also found the castering main gear very useful for operation off of slanted beaches. It was designed for crosswind landings but served other purposes.
I have many memories of flying the old Helio. Two come immediately to mind.
One day I was flying happily along and heard a loud explosion from behind me. At the same time I lost electrical power and the A/C started to yaw to one side. What happened was this. The crew chief had just installed a new battery and forgot to remove the vent plugs. The batt heated up and exploded sending the battery cover up through the top of the fuselage where it protruded vertical out the top and acted like a small vertical stabilizer. As I recall we had one set of plugs firing from the battery and another set from a mag. so I still had one set of plugs firing. There was no real problem but until I figured out what happened I was a little tight.
Nathan Mackey - First Airplane Ride, 2/1/1999
The air was crisp and clean, but cold, on that first day of February 1997, as I walked up the sidewalk with my friend Roger Rowe. I was ready for action, wearing my U.S. Air Force issue Nomex flight suit, with U.S. Air Force issue flight jacket. Roger had invited me to go with him to the Jungle Aviation And Radio Service (JAARS), near Waxhaw, North Carolina, for “JAARS Day” (JAARS’ open house) to fly in an airplane. Of course I jumped at the chance. After looking at the airplanes in the hanger, and watching a Short Take Off and Landing (STOL) demonstration flight, Roger and I bought our tickets to fly in a Helio Courier.
The Helio was designed especially for STOL flight. It seats up to five people, including the pilot. Able to fly at a minimum airspeed of 30 miles per hour, and cruise at 145 miles per hour, the Helio (with one pilot) is able to take off in approximately 120 feet, and can land in shorter distances. In a good headwind, I've seen it done in 80 feet. These STOL capabilities make the Helio ideal for jungle operation, and more importantly, missionary aviation. JAARS has a fleet of 19 Helios around the world, from the rugged Philippine Islands, to the dusty sands of Cameroon, Africa.
A “loader” put Roger and another man behind me, in the middle seats; and two other willing participants in the back seats of the Helio. I jumped into the right seat of the airplane and strapped on the harness. I was excited, but scared. The pilot, Chuck Piepgrass, donned his helmet, not offering me a headset, which was disappointing to me because I would not get to talk to him during the flight, or get to hear the transmissions from the other aircraft. Chuck ran through the pre-engine startup checklist, then opened the pilot’s window and yelled, “Helio Two Two Alpha Charlie CLEAR PROP!” He turned the key, bringing the engine to life. It started with a jolt, and then smoothed out.
He spoke into the microphone mounted on his helmet as we taxied to the end the taxiway, and stopped the airplane. From my left came a roaring noise, the huge radial engine of an AT-6, a World War II training aircraft. Chuck waited until the airplane was parked, and then he turned onto the runway, taxiing to the end, then turning off onto the sunup pad. Pre takeoff check completed, he taxied back onto the runway, the entire length of black asphalt in front of us. Parking brakes set, Chuck pushed the throttle full in, and the engine roared, parking brakes off, the airplane started moving faster, faster, faster. At 70 knots of airspeed Chuck pulled back on the yoke and we were airborne, on my first flight.
Wow! The feeling I got when the airplane left the ground was something I will never be able to totally describe, but it was sort of like weightlessness for a few seconds, then the view increased to an amazing 30 miles. Everything was below, and getting smaller. The trees, houses, cars, and roads looked like models. It was neat to see the ground, the red clay of North Carolina, the forests and the fields. Chuck turned the Helio 90º (the crosswind leg of the traffic pattern). The Charlotte skyline, approximately 20 miles north, and was a beautiful view with the sun shining off the Nations Bank Tower. I knew I had discovered my passion. It made the earth seem so small, the sky so big, and God so beautiful, powerful, and gracious to me.
Chuck banked the plane left, another 90º, and we were now on the downwind leg of the traffic pattern. The airport was off to our right, and we were flying parallel with the runway. After about one nautical mile, and two minutes flying at 040º, we turned another 90º to the left, on the base leg, the end of Runway 22 now to our right. One more 90º left and the runway was stretched out in front of us, all 3,300 feet of it. Pulling the power back, and reaching up to crank the flaps down, Chuck nosed the plane over to point at the end of runway. At 15 feet over the runway, he pitched the nose up, and landed on the front two landing gear, and as the Helio slowed down, the tail-wheel made contact with the runway. (JAARS pilots have a competition to see who can bring the plane to a stop faster than the other pilots. For the dangerous mountainous flying the missionary aviators do, this is good practice, and breeds healthy competition.) With a screech of rubber, we were back on terra firma.
Chuck turned the plane onto the taxiway (exiting the runway), parked the Helio, and turned the magnetos (ignition) to “OFF.” The engine stopped with the force in which it started; jerking suddenly, then smoothing out, and finally the propeller stopped spinning. I unhooked the harness, and followed Chuck out of the airplane. “Thank you, that was a rush! It was great,” I said with great elation. “I know you enjoyed it,” Chuck responded. “Always glad to take somebody on their first flight,” he added. Roger had already gotten out of the back of the plane, and he also asked how I liked the flight. I was somewhat speechless, and I think that made his day, knowing that he had given me that opportunity.
That ride added a new dimension to my life. One that I think will captivate my interest for the rest of my life. Sitting there in the sky seeing so many houses and cars made me wonder how many of those people who lived in those houses, and drove those cars personally knew the God who had given them life. And his son, the Savior, Jesus Christ, who promises to give them Life, and give it more abundantly. From the ground we cannot see the world, how expansive the earth is, we often get caught up in our own social groups, our limited world. From 2,000 feet in the air, only the haze stops our view, and our fields of people stand ready for the harvest.
The flight that day made more of an impact on me than just wanting to become a pilot, it made me want to reach those thousands and thousands of people who may not know Jesus Christ. It made me want to fulfill the Great Commission to the best of my ability. And yes, I do get bogged down in the affairs of this world, forgetting my purpose, my ultimate goal; but all I have to do is go back up, either physically or mentally, and look at the world from 2,000 feet. The view is awesome, and so is the task.
Jim Lane ~ Counting Crocs
Sometime during the summer of '91 I took my boss at that time in his LearJet 55C to Aspen, Colorado where he had a home. I was wandering about the airport when I noticed a somewhat strange looking aircraft on the ramp. It looked kinda like a Cessna, but I knew it was not. As I got closer and noted the slats, big flaps, big vertical stabilizer, big rudder and huge prop (comparatively speaking) I knew it had to be a STOL aircraft of some kind. The owner (Buzz Dopkin) was there and was kind enough to answer my questions about the aircraft and its performance. Then I remembered seeing a Helio Courier’s amazing flight demo at Oshkosh back in the mid 80’s. Sometime later that year the boss’s grown son decided he wanted to learn to fly. He wanted a strong safe aircraft to operate out of some of the ranches unimproved strips. I immediately thought of the Helio Courier. I contacted Larry Montgomery of Larmont Aviation in Spartanburg and he sent me some information on the Helios as well as a guy’s name in Oregon who had a HT-295 for sale with a little over 1000 Hrs TT, original paint and interior for sale.
It was s/n 1718 N68889 which had the optional 120 gallon fuel tanks which gives you about 8 hours range. The Helio Aircraft Company in Pittsburg, Kansas first weighed it on 09-11-74. The colors were Lucite Lacquer Dupont Beige and Sea Scope Green. Anyway, in December 91 I ended up buying it for the company. Almost immediately at the boss’s request I had a KLN-90 GPS and S-TEC 50 autopilot installed both of which worked great. I first flew the airplane on 12-17-91 and last flew it on Christmas Day 1993.
I absolutely fell in love with that airplane. I only flew it for 142.9 hours, but enjoyed every minute. In the past 30+ years I have flown 93 different makes/models of aircraft – 28 SEL, 1 SES, 22 MEL Piston, 22 MEL Turbo Prop, 20 MEL Jets and I have to say some of the most enjoyable time was flying the Helio. I have many fond memories of flying it – way too many to list here. I really miss it. The ranch strips were one 900’ grass, a 1000’ concrete and a 1200’ dirt. However, once I talked an Air Force Controller at SPS to let me land sideways on the 13,101’ X 300’ runway. One of the elder boss’s favorite things to do was to fly about 50’ altitude or less slow (about 40-45 MPH IAS) with the flaps full down over his South Texas ranch while he counted his gators (alligators). A couple of years after I left that job on 11-01-95 the younger boss’s instructor/Helio pilot managed to crash the airplane on takeoff! How, I am not sure since I have been in that same basic situation (NTSB Report FTW96LA035) several times.
However, the Flight Manual does have an IMPORTANT WARNING that says, “The most common cause of Helio crashes and major damage – though never with serious injury to occupants – has been from efforts to pull the aircraft off the ground prematurely at too low a speed and/or concurrently to try to climb out with too low an airspeed with flaps down so that the resulting high-drag exceeds the reduced thrust of the propeller at low forward speeds. Thus, with power full-on, the aircraft may either sink back to the ground or fail to clear otherwise easily-surmountable obstacles”. Plain old basic aerodynamics. It is my understanding in this case that the only serious injury was to the pilot when he broke his leg after falling out of the tree that he landed in! The Helio protected him and his passengers right up to the last. Almost funny. However, N68889 caught fire and burned. A crying shame.