THE SNIFFER WORM Denny Turner
Crewmembers will remember the "Sniffer" missions we would fly to detect places of recent enemy presence on the ground. For folks that don't know: A "Sniffer" was a heavy, portable, rectangular, electronic machine that would be secured to the Huey's cabin deck and operated by 1 or 2 specialists for the machine. Occasionally the temperature, weather, terrain elevation and mountainous terrain etc would restrict the operator crew to 1 person, due to weight limitations on the Huey for those conditions. In flight, 2" hoses would scoop up outside air and feed it to the machine. The machine would read the amounts and ratios of amonia and carbon (if I remember correctly) in the air and give the operators information about things on the ground such as campfires, body wastes, body sweat, body gasses, etc. The air would have to be collected at the lowest possible altitude to get the samples as undiluted and close to it's origin as possible. "As low as possible" can only be comprehended by people who crewed helicopters in vn. And since the missions were flown directly above suspected enemy locations, as much speed as the sniffer machine could handle was also critical for survival against small arms, RPGs, hand grenades, rocks and sticks thrown, etc. The Sniffer operator had a radio channel through which he would report indications of recent human presence to a partner map marker in another high flying Huey. The partner in the high flying Huey would also steer the pilots in the low Sniffer Huey along the course desired ... with "commands" such as turn right and along that treeline, or turn left into the next valley, etc. The pilots in the high Huey would listen closely, provide upcoming terrain info to the pilots in the low Huey and try to warn them when they were being steered into dangerous valleys, etc. It was not unusual to be steered into a valley too narrow and steep to get out of with normal turns, and therefore have to use the airspeed energy and last bit of power to hammer-head-turn a reverse course to escape. Not enough reserve airspeed and/or power could be fatal. How radical we could maneuver the Huey as a mission profile was balanced with the experience of the sniffer operators ... their ability to take the ride and still operate the machine. Needless to say, the ride was quite an experience for someone new or soft to it. It was not uncommon for an extra person to show up with the operators and wanting to ride along, obviously for the thrill or to test their bravado, etc.
(Trivia: Monkey Mountain east of Bao Loc got it's name after a sniffer mission detected a large enemy force there and called in the wrath of hell upon the small mountain. When Infantry recon went in afterwards for an arms-and-legs count, all they found was the remains of a large tribe of monkeys.)
One day just after lunch we were loading up for a sniffer mission ... and an extra 3rd person with a "PX" camera slung on his neck came accompanying 2 operators. I remember distinctly that we had just had spaghetti for lunch. We told the operators that the mission was in a mountainous area and that our company had informed their bosses before that we would not take unneccessary people which added unneccessary weight. After a bit of arguement about the 3rd person's neccessity for the mission, and radio calls to our Operations to get the obvious thrill seeker removed, our Ops informed us to take him along at the orders of the mission's commanding officer. After determining that the third guy's "mission" was not involved with taking pictures, we made it clear to the operators that we did not want to see that guy taking pictures (a sign of joy-riding) during the mission. We also made it known that the CE had just cleaned his Huey, and the Sniffer team would clean it up if any of them lost their cookies.
Well, right after we started the sniffer runs the Crew Chief informed us that the 3rd guy was back there casually taking pictures. Smiling at me, the AC (Command Pilot) (can't remember who) told the crew to tighten our seatbelts. He then "adjusted the profile" as low as we could go, below tree-top level, and of course we were doing the 90 degree bank yank thang to fit between some of the trees. After about 5 minutes of this, a white worm creature about 3" long splattered and hung jiggling and bleeding on THE INSIDE of my windshield ! I looked over at the AC and pointed to the worm, shrugging my shoulders palms up. He glanced at it quickly and did a double-take stretched-neck. About that time the CE announced "better slow it down guys, this guy back here just lost his spaghetti all over the place".
When we got back to Bao Loc, the Sniffer operators packed up and started to walk away with their equipment. We stopped them and reminded them that they had to help the CE wash down and clean up his Huey. They made the "tourist" stay, and the CE made him do the cleaning. No sniffer I flew from then on wanted to bring an extra rider.
(Hopefully, I can now fill in the memory blanks by hearing who the rest of the crew was that day.)