“Find the enemy and engage them.” That’s how Sun Lakes resident George Abernathy described his missions as a helicopter door gunner in Vietnam during a presentation to the Sun Lakes Aero Club gathering January 21 at the Sun Lakes Country Club. More than 80 club members and guests attended. Abernathy flew with Apache Troop 1-9th Calvary Division in Vietnam from June 1970 until February 1971. He said he flew as a torque (scout-door gunner), although initially he started flying as an Oscar (enlisted man co-pilot).
The scouts’ primary mission was to fly slow, right-hand circles at tree-top levels with the intention of drawing enemy fire, he said. Objective was to bait the enemy into a fight. Flying in coordination with a Cobra gunship was referred to as a “Hunter-Killer Team.” Cobras flew circles 1,500 feet above the scouts, waiting to attack whatever scout found. By February 1971, Abernathy said he had flown scouts for several months, logging more than 700 combat hours and was only 24 hours before going home. That day, he flew his last hunter-killer mission near the Cambodian border. Once across the border, his flight located a base camp of battalion to regiment size. He said the aircraft began taking small arms fire from several locations, and he began firing back. “A few seconds later, we began taking fire from multiple .51 and .31 caliber locations. The enemy fire was so heavy that we began climbing, finally reaching 4,500 feet before the enemy ceased firing. By then, I had expended more than 1,000 rounds.”
The helicopter headed home, and within 18 hours, Abernathy was processed out of the country. Three days later, he was back in the U.S. and was discharged as a civilian at the ripe old age of 19-1/2.
Abernathy’s presentation is the third in a series of aviation-related topics given at monthly Sun Lakes Aero Club gatherings. Next speaker will be Casa Grande resident Phil Brewer who will talk about his experiences flying the A-10 Warthog attack aircraft, currently based at Davis-Monthan AFB at Tucson.