"Ah, yes, I remember it well".
by K.V. Hall
Well, that isn't entirely correct because as we know when we get older (much older) sometimes we don't remember so good. Since I spent over half of my USAF career (two assignments) at the USAF Helicopter School I shall relate something from that time. My helicopter flying began in 1955 at Edward Gary AFB, San Marcos, Texas in Bell H-13's and Sikorsky H-19's. After completing the training, I stayed at the School as a Helicopter Instructor Pilot assigned to teach Army helicopter pilots. At that time, the U.S. Air Force did the initial fixed wing and helicopter training for the U.S. Army as well as USAF helicopter pilot training. Ah, the times, how they have a-changed. In 1956, the School moved to Randolph AFB, San Antonio, Texas where only USAF pilots were trained.
In early 1958, a small cadre of H-19 IP's were sent to Stead AFB, Reno, Nevada to set up an advanced training course in the high, thin air of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The training was deemed beneficial and the Helicopter School moved enmass to Stead in the summer/fall of 1958. We had all new base housing, even the yards were still bare dirt. There was no other flying mission at the base except for the usual Base Flight aircraft, i.e. T-33, T-29, as the base was primarily used as the USAF Survival School. The lack of other aircraft congestion (remember, "Avoid the flow of fixed wing traffic?) and the challenge of the high altitude made it an ideal training location. The H-13 was dropped from the course since being non-turbo-charged it couldn't hack it. Even the old H-19 and H-21's gasped for air.
I had about 1500 hours of helicopter time and had instructed in the H-13, H-19 and H-21. So I thought I was a pretty good pilot by then. To re-checkout for the mountains, we would load the H-19 to max. gross weight of 7900 pounds,(disregard the max. gross adjusted for the temperature, etc.), and head for the top of Peavine Mountain at 8100 MSL. The trick was to make an approach without crashing then figure out a way to take-off using the wind and other techniques.
Bill "Whitey" Chambers was my IP and after making my recon passes, I started an approach into the wind at 90 degrees to the razorback ridge south of the peak. No Sweat! My approach was just a tad short and flat at the bottom, so I just pulled in a little power (Yeah) to ease up to the spot. The RPM only dropped off about 50-100 as the downdraft started pulling us down, short of the ridge. Of course, Whitey nonchalantly said " I've got it" as he stomped on the rudder, spun the nose around and down and dropped the collective to regain the lost RPM. He calmly pumped it a couple more times to over-rev slightly as we screamed down the mountainside with the wheels clipping the sagebrush along the way. As we flew safely away now, he uttered, "Ya got just a little low and slow there, wanna try it again?" Needless to say, I NEVER got too LOW or too SLOW again.
Stead presented the ultimate training to make you be smooth and plan ahead. It showed what your helicopter could do, and not do, and what you could with it if you exercised good judgment and planning. If you could fly well there, you could fly anywhere in the world.