ABC NEWS COMMENTARY
By Harry Reasoner
During the Viet Nam War
16 February 1971
You can't help but have the feeling that there will come a future generation of men, if there are any future generations of men, who will look at old pictures of helicopters and say, "You've got to be kidding."
Helicopters have that look that certain machines have in historical drawings. Machines or devices that came just before a major breakthrough. Record -changers just before the lightweight vinyl LP for instance.
Mark Twain once noted that he lost belief in conventional pictures of angels of his boyhood when a scientist calculated for a 150-pound men to fly like a bird, he would have to have a breast bone 15 feet wide supporting wings in proportion.
Well, that's sort of the way a helicopter looks.
The thing is helicopters are different from airplanes An airplane by it's nature wants to fly, and if not interfered with too strongly by unusual events or incompetent piloting, it will fly.
A helicopter does not want to fly. It is maintained in the air by a variety of forces and controls working in opposition to each other.
And if there is any disturbance in this delicate balance the helicopter stops flying immediately and disastrously.
There is no such thing as a gliding helicopter.
That's why being a helicopter pilot is so different from being an airplane pilot, and why in generality airplane pilots are open, clear-eyed, buoyant, extroverts. And helicopter pilots are brooders, introspective anticipators of trouble.
They know if something bad has not happened it is about to.
All of this, of course, is greatly complicated by being shot at. American helicopter pilots are being shot at more often and more accurately these days from Khe Sahn to Tchepone than at almost any other time in this whole War.
It's been a helicopter war all along. And the strange, ungainly, unlovable craft have reached the peak of being needed and the peak of being vulnerable at the same moment.
Everyone who has flown over combat zones in VN in a helicopter knows the heart-stopping feeling you get when you have to go below 2.000 feet.
Well the men going in and out of Laos rarely get a chance to fly that high.
They must be very brave men indeed.
This is a War we could not have considered without helicopters.
The pilots are beginning to feel like Mark Twain's man who was tarred and feathered.
If it weren't for the honor of the thing they would just as soon have missed it.
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