Aviation has a concept called "readiness level" or "RL". When a new pilot arrives at a unit he is designated as RL-3. After a period of training he becomes fully mission qualified, or RL-1. An RL-2 pilot can only fly certain missions with certain pilots. The plan on Friday was for me to fly Saturday and Sunday and then be RL-1. This was necessary because we are not planning many, if any, training flights in July or August. Unfortunately, on Friday afternoon the Colonel decided not to make us fly on Sunday. Everyone but me was happy about not losing thier entire weekend.
My flight on Saturday was a "live fire" exercise. I flew "chalk-4" (the 4th aircraft) of a 4 aircraft formation. Our mission was to fly low, at night, with night vision goggles into an unimproved landing zone (LZ) while our door gunners practiced firing their M-60s with live ammo. This was the most realistic training mission I have flown and is not very common in the army because it combines a lot of risky elements -- live ammo, night flying, formation flying, goggle flying, unimproved areas. The night was foggy, adding to the excitement.
I had a blast (no pun intended)! My adreneline was aready high as I flew my helicopter within 2 rotor disks of chalk 3. Then the command to fire at will was given. All four helicopters began spitting tracers into the night from both gunner's windows. I could hear the staccatto reports of the guns over the roar of blades and dual turbine engines. I had to concentrate very hard not to be distracted by the pyrotechnic display and continue to fly. My heart was probably beating at least as fast as the machine guns were spitting out thieir 7.62 mm ammunition.
The instructor pilot let me have the controls 99 percent of the flight. I had some trouble guaging the distance between birds so, as a rule I hung back farther than a more experienced pilot would fly. At one point the Colonel came on the radio, apparantly watching from below as I lagged behind, and yelled "You call that a Formation, Lancers? You better pull it together." Oh well, at least they can blame it on the new guy.
We finished flying at about 0300 and ate breakfast together at waffle house. I got home at 0500 where I was finally able to crash.
I am attaching some photos that I took at the airfield before take-off. One of them was taken though my goggles. It does not really do the night vision justice and is skewed at an odd angle but gives you some idea of the view I get from the cockpit.