Defense Media Network

Marine Corps Aviation Centennial: Marine Aviators In Their Own Words


  • South Vietnam
  • CH-46 Sea Knight (“Phrog”)
  • Maj. David Althoff, HMH-262

We had two kinds of Phrog helicopters in squadron HMH-262 “Old Tigers” in South Vietnam; the CH-46A model and an updated version with a little more power and a little more armor, the CH-46D. Both used two General Electric T58 turboshaft engines with 1,850 shaft horsepower.

It’s got two rotors. Boeing Vertol built it. Believe it or not, from the tip of the front rotor to the tip of the back is almost 90 feet. So when you’re sitting in the cockpit, you’ve got 70 or 75 feet of rotor behind you. When you’re going into zones with trees and stuff, that makes it pretty difficult to maneuver.

The bird had big fuel sponsons on stub wings on each side. They were self-sealing. And they had something added to them so they didn’t catch fire. I’ve taken tracer rounds and had all kinds of holes on those sponsons and they never caught fire. Once, a Viet Cong B-40 rocket with its red-hot rocket motor burning went right into that stub wing and didn’t set it alight.

Maj. David Althoff

Maj. David Althoff, “Phrog” pilot, emerges from the cockpit of a CH-46. Photo courtesy of the Robert F. Dorr Collection

The crew is a pilot in the right seat, the co-pilot in the left seat, and the crew chief, who roams back and forth to and from the cockpit. He talks you into the zone. When you’re going into a tight zone, he’s looking out the back. He’s telling you, “Forward … forward … forward …” or, “Right …” or, “Left …,” guiding you into the zone. We’re communicating on the intercom system during that whole time.

On both sides, you’ve got a gunner with a .50-caliber machine gun. Marines know about weapons because they’re Marines. Before they serve on the crew, they have some familiarization hops. We can take them out into free-fire areas where they can get some practice shooting at things while we’re traveling at 150 miles per hour.

I flew 1,080 combat missions and flew with everybody in the squadron and they were all great. Some of these guys were 18 or 19 years old. They wouldn’t hesitate when they had to go out into the elephant grass, maybe 60 or 70 yards from the chopper, under fire, and recover Marines. They would never, never hesitate. Those enlisted Marines saved my ass. Many, many nights they slept in the chopper. They’d work on repairs until they reached exhaustion, sleep for a couple of hours, then wake up and do more work on repairs.

Remarkable features of the CH-46? I was shot down four times when I had to land immediately and many other times when I could just barely make it to a landing. The aircraft has two hydraulic systems, but the backup system is located very close to the primary system. Here’s what that can mean. I was shot down one time by one round. It went through both the primary and secondary hydraulic systems. The control function is right behind the pilot’s head. So later, when I went back to Boeing and spent a week talking with their engineers, I went through this.

Also, along the very top of the back part of the helicopter, the main control cables and the hydraulic lines running through there are vulnerable to fire. You could sometimes count a hundred bullet holes in the chopper. The pattern of the holes showed that they were firing at the systems they knew were vulnerable.

The CH-46 had superb visibility forward, but there’s no visibility aft. It’s so long, there’s no way you can look out the back. You need to rely on the crew chief for that. You’ve got too many things to do to be sticking your head out and looking out the back.


  • Iraq, Feb. 25, 1991
  • F/A-18C Hornet
  • Lt. Col. Jay Stout, VMFA-451
Lt. Col. Jay Stout

Lt. Col. Jay Stout after his last flight, March 2001. Photo courtesy of the Robert F. Dorr Collection

I was an F-4S Phantom II pilot when I converted to the F/A-18A/C Hornet. After the first flight in the Hornet, there was nothing about the Phantom I missed. The Hornet was easier to fly, more modern, with reliable systems, and incredibly maneuverable. It was comfortable. The ability to see almost 360 degrees contrasted tremendously against the Phantom, where you couldn’t look out the canopy and see your own wings.

The Hornet was a little slower at the top end but I never flew the Phantom that fast.

Shooting down enemy airplanes was about all I wanted to do since I was about four. There, in [Operation] Desert Storm, the Air Force did such a good job that no enemy plane ever got near us.

F/A-18C Hornets

F/A-18C Hornet aircraft fly in formation over the desert during Operation Desert Storm. The aircraft in front is armed with cluster bombs, AIM-7 Sparrow missiles, and AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles while the Hornet to its immediate left if armed with AIM-7 Sparrow, AIM-9 Sidewinder, and AGM-88 HARM missiles. DoD photo

I flew a mission on Feb. 25: Toward the end of the war, the oil fires had just started to burn. There were a lot of clouds and thunderclouds and artillery fire in the area and there was a purple-blue sky. It was a horrible scene and a magnificent scene. I had flown up as wingman to Capt. Cary “Motto” Venden. It was after the ground war had begun. The weather was horrible. Below all the clouds and oil smoke, it was almost pitch black, yet we were able to fly around at 3,000 or 4,000 feet and find Iraqis.

We were able to use forward-looking infrared [FLIR] to continue fighting after nightfall arrived. I probably dropped five bombs total, including three bombs [Mark 83 1,000 pounders] on three different targets. We were flying around there separately below the clouds. I started to get low on gas and popped up through the clouds. I wanted to get on the KC-130F Hercules tanker to refuel. Now, the sun was just going down and the lights from the battlefield and the antiaircraft fire arcing around created an incredibly huge, wonderful light show. We got more gas, went back down, and bombed again. It was remarkable because 10 years earlier in Phantoms we wouldn’t have been able to fly that mission. It was the FLIR pod mostly that enabled us to do that.

They gave me the call sign Guinness. I thought it would have been cool to be Max. Then I could have been Max Stout [“maxxed out”]. But you never get the call sign you want.

This article was first published in Marine Corps Outlook: 2012 Edition.

Prev Page 1 2 3 Next Page


Robert F. Dorr is an author, U.S. Air Force veteran, and retired American diplomat who...