Dumb & Dumber

submitted by: Alva Leon Matheson

Some days there was actually nothing of consequence going on in the AO (Area of Operations).
On one occasion I checked in with all the ground commanders and they had nothing for me to check out. Even Hotel Parachute didn’t request an air strike, so I decided to do some reconnaissance and sight seeing. I flew up to Tonle Sap Lake to look for crocodiles. When I arrived at the lake I couldn’t find any boat traffic and not one single crocodile or sea serpent made an appearance.
Rustic FACs had plenty of opportunities to practice their rocket delivery. We got rather good at it and took great pride in our accuracy. The phrase “hit my smoke” was uttered many times over Cambodia. Every so often a Rustic would have to call “wild rocket, disregard smoke” when one or more of the rocket’s fins failed to open. When that happened the rocket really had a mind of its own.
During the course of an air strike, a FAC is sometimes required to put in a mark from some pretty unusual attitudes, altitudes and air speeds. It is kind of fun and a challenge to mark a target when you are upside down and hurtling toward the earth. If one is pointed straight down on a marking pass, one must make sure that he starts his pull out early enough to not smite the earth with a couple of pink bodies and a gray airplane.
On this particular day over the Tonle Sap, I began to wonder about the trajectory of the white phosphorous rockets that were attached to the belly of my plane. You know what they say, “inquiring minds want to know,” and “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” Just how far would one of these rockets really travel if launched from a 45-degree angle? I decided that this big empty lake was the perfect place to find out. I pulled that Bronco to 45 degrees nose up and pickled off a rocket. That sucker flew up and out of sight. Shortly, a puff of white smoke appeared way up the lake. Man, those babies can really go a long way!
That answered my question about how far a rocket would go. (Did you say seven miles in 95 seconds, Gary? Ed.) Then I started wondering how far one would go straight up. I figured it was time to find out. I zoomed the bronco to as close to straight up as I could and fired another rocket. At about the time it disappeared from sight I thought “stupid, stupid, stupid.” I knew that the rocket would not come straight down because there were too many variables, but I had no idea which way to turn to get out of the way of its downward flight. I could see the headlines; “FAC Shoots Himself Down Over Cambodia.”
Well, needless to say, I cheated death again that day by plain old dumb luck. The rocket seemed to stay up there for an eternity and did impact fairly close.
That experiment ended my scientific research for the day. I did kind of wonder if a rocket would skip off of the water like a rock if it were launched low enough at a good flat angle. Oh well, I thought, maybe I could try that on a different day. So it was back to the business of fighting a war.
Mike Wilson

Right on cue, Bill Townsley chimed in with the answer to Mike’s musings:
Date: Thu, 29 Mar 2001
From: “Bill Townsley”
Subject: How Loooow can a Rocket Go.
If you were flying level five feet off the water in the bay outside Quang Tri on the way home to DaNang, how far would a rocket go/arc before hitting the water?
I know!!!!
Not very far!!!
Had to go find a rain cloud to wash off the
salt.Was I dumber than dirt, or what??
Covey 264, Jan – Dec ’69
Inquiring minds and idle hands. We may
have gotten taller than we were when we parachuted off windmills, but we never really grew up, did we?
I hope not.