The Hard Life of Snake 298
Bell Helicopter delivered our Bell AH-1G Cobra to the Army on October 1967. Its serial number is 66-15298, indicating that it was ordered in 1966. In February 1966, the 298 arrived in Vietnam. Instead of being assigned to a division, it was assigned to a nondivisional company unit, the 235th Aviation Weapons Company, known as the “Delta Devils.” This was the first gunship company in Vietnam to be completely converted to AH-1G Cobras, which quickly became known as “snakes.” There were many similar nondivisional company units. They were attached temporarily to battalions or divisions as needed. For administrative purposes, these companies were “homed” in Aviation Groups. The 235th was homed in the 166th Aviation Group.
Our snake’s time with the 235th was stressful. During her first month in Vietnam, the 298’s base came under mortar fire. As its crew’s rushed to get into the air from a revetment, one of her pilots over-revved the engine. This caused the tail to swing around into the revetment wall.
Fortunately, she could be repaired in theater. On March 11, our snake was attacking from 1,000 feet at 180 kts when she took her first hit. Her armament system was damaged, but she was able to complete her mission. The next day, on an armed reconnaissance mission, she was flying at 200 feet and 120 kts when she took her second hit. She was repaired and sent back to work. On June 6, she ran into heavier fire and took five hits to the transmission, main tail rotor, and oil system. This time, she was forced to land. She was repaired sufficiently to take off and divert to another base.
In January 1969, Viet Cong sappers damaged her with a satchel charge while she was parked. In February, she was again downed by fire but was recovered. She took more hits in February and March but continued the mission both times. On May 26, she took another three hits during a close air support mission. Although her cockpit and fuel system were damaged, she continued her mission. However, she was then moved to a maintenance unit to repair her damage and to be completely overhauled.
In June 1970, she reentered the fight with another nondivisional unit, the 3/5 Cavalry squadron. Cavalry units call their companies “troops” and their battalions “squadrons.” The 3/5 (pronounced third of the fifth) was the third squadron of the 5th Cavalry Regiment. Regiments were no longer active units in the Army hierarchy, but the 5th was nevertheless the titular home of the 3d.
The 3/5 was officially the Black Knights, but they called themselves the “Bastard Cav” because of their nondivisional status. Our snake was assigned to the D troop, known as the Crusaders. At the time, the Black Knights were under the 1st Cavalry Division’s 3d Brigade. After only 7 hours with the 3/5, however, our snake suffered an undocumented accident and went back into maintenance.
Photo credit: Vaughn Banting
After she returned to service, she first flew briefly with the famous 1/9 cavalry squadron of the famous 1st Cavalry Division. This was the “Air Cav’s” cavalry reconnaissance unit, and it called itself the “Real Cav.” The 1st of the 9th typically flew “pink” missions with a low-flying “white” observation helicopter seeking out the enemy and a higher-flying “red” Cobra providing protection and firing on enemy their partner identified.
However, our snake was quickly moved to the Air Cav’s 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, known as the “Stacked Deck.” The 229th was tasked with moving assault troops into and out of landing zones and resupplying them during combat.
The 229th had three companies of assault Huey troop ships, each with about 20 helicopters. It also had one company (D) of about a dozen gunships, one of which was our snake. This company was known as the “Smiling Tigers.” There is no record of any damage during our snake’s time in the 229th until the accident that ended her service in Vietnam on 28 November, 1971. A warrant officer instructor pilot was giving a Captain a 90-day check ride.
The ride required the Captain to do several maneuvers simulating aircraft failure conditions. In one maneuver, the Captain overcorrected a nose-down condition caused by a simulated failure. The snake reared back, losing RPMs. She landed hard, damaging her right-side landing skid, then jumped back into the air. The instructor pilot immediately took over, but the aircraft landed hard, ending up on her left side, her blades having shattered as the hit the ground. Her long tour of duty was over.
Our snake spent most of her Army time after the war at Fort Knox, with the 1st and 5th Divisions. In 1974, she moved to Hawaii, where she was stationed at Schofield Barracks. The next year, she retired from active duty and moved to the Hawaii Army National Guard. Below is a picture of her doing a fly-by in 1999. This was the final flight of the Cobras in Hawaii.