Memorable First Flight
The morning of 11 May 1965 I was scheduled to fly US Army Aviation Test Board UH 1D (6034) to put additional hrs on the turbine that was well past the fleet’s 1000 hrs Time Between Overhaul (TBO) mark. The object was to build up multiple samples of turbines that had successfully flown beyond the fleet TBO, and following analytical teardown and inspections, a TBO Board would be convened to determine if the fleet’s TBO could be increased. We were hopping to get a turbine to 1400 hrs without overhaul. As best I remember the installed turbine had logged somewhere between 1200-1300 operating hrs putting it 200 to 300 hrs beyond the fleet TBO.
Sometime before the scheduled flight I was asked if I could take a newly posted soldier who had never flown for a familiarization flight (my log book has the name Pte Latsko). He was in fact an aeronautical engineer fulfilling his draft duty as a Test Board engineer; the US draft was in effect at that time. He elected to serve two years as an enlisted member rather than a commissioned officer which would have incurred a three-year obligation.
I briefed him on the flight then signed out the Huey. After engine start and run up we air taxied to the take-off pad. Pre-take-off check completed, Cairns tower cleared us for take-off. I pulled up collective power and started a normal take-off. At about 60 ft and passing through translation I heard a loud bang and simultaneously experienced a turbine power surge, a hard yaw kick, and smoke in the cockpit. A quick correction for yaw and down collective we got on the ground with only a few feet of skid on the grass. After quick call to Carins tower that I had an engine failure and fire I told Pte Latsko to get out and get clear of the helicopter, then completed a hasty shut-down and exited the Huey. Fire trucks quickly arrived and sprayed the smoking turbine.
A few days later Lcol La Haie from Aircraft Maintenance Division informed me we were lucky that the turbine had been shut down before too much damage occurred. Inspection revealed that the #5-6 bearing package failed allowing oil to spray into the combustion chamber which in turn caused the sudden power surge and yaw, smoke, and fire.
I’m sure Pte Latsko will forever remember his first flight.