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Wall of Rain

By David Freeman

One night during the monsoon season, I was flying back from a mission with Rick Slade. Just outside of Binh Thuy we ran into a wall of rain that we couldn't see through. We called Binh Thuy tower and they told us the airfield was closed due to heavy rains and limited visibility. It was a Navy tower and they had special rules concerning weather operations.

We were low on fuel, so decided to go over to the Army airfield at Can Tho to land and wait out the rain. As we approached Can Tho from the west, we could see the city, and could make out the smudge pots that aligned the runway.

Suddenly, we were in the middle of a cloudburst so heavy we couldn't see anything outside the aircraft. I was at the controls and immediately went on instruments. I wasn't a very experienced instrument pilot and it was scary. Rick kept trying to look outside for visual references. He spotted one or two of the smudge pots, but the rain had put most of the others out. It was probably just a matter of seconds before the two he saw would be snuffed out, also.

Rick called the Can Tho tower and the tower operator told us he could see us, though ground visibility was almost nothing. There was no instrument approach and no GCA, so landing visually was our only option. The tower operator helped us determine when we were over the runway.

We were two or three hundred feet in the air, when I slowly zeroed out most of our airspeed and started easing us straight down. It felt weird, but looking straight down through the plexiglass chin bubble at my feet, I could actually see the paved runway. I kept lowering collective, inching us down, while Rick called out our altitude. It seemed to take forever to reach the ground. When our skids did hit ground, we were right on the runway centerline. We just sat there until it stopped raining. Visibility was too poor for us to even attempt to hover to the ramp. Frogs crossing the runway took shelter beneath our helicopter.

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