Other Post Prop starting a Huey


Sergeant Major
MI.Net Member
May 31, 2004
It might read like I sit in a closed room with a hookah and dream this stuff up, but it really happened.

Prop starting an aircraft, and I detail this for the un-initiated, involves getting the prop positioned in the ten o-clock - four o-clock position, placing your hands on the forward facing side of the blade palms down. Do not wrap the tips of the fingers over the blade, they may tend to linger too long and get hit by the other blade as it comes around, also if the blade kicks back, you may get thrown in the air. After proper placement of the hands, make sure the magneto switch is on, then swing the right leg forward and back pulling down on the prop on the backswing. Expect anything and get the heck out of the way. From the time I was 15 I was privileged to work around airplanes and I became quite adept at this prodedure.

Moving forward in time to early March of 1967, I was crewchief on UH-1D 65-12863, an excellant aircraft in all respects, fairly new with less then 400 hours total time and a new engine, the previous one having taken a bullet in February. We were flying Command and Control for the Korean White Horse division commander out of Nihn Hoa who was visiting his regiments south towards Phan Rang.

His nibs was not a happy camper starting early on, because a Huey had crashed recently when the cargo door came off and flew up through the rotor blades, an edict had came down from some chair bound genius that when flying, all cargo doors were to be locked open, and to insure this, the small door that was at the front of the cargo compartment and locked the large cargo door in place was ordered removed from all aircraft and stowed on the ground.

Normally this would not have mattered, but this morning the weather happened to be rainy and cold and the General, through apropriately situated underlings kept requesting the doors be shut. The doors could not be shut and I could not get said underlings to fathom this. I informed my pilot about this but he subtely allowed me to conclude that it was my problem, deal with it. The language barrier did not help.

As the day progressed the General continued to evoke displeasure at me as though the situation was entirely my fault. How my illustrious aircraft commander remained under the radar, I will never know. A situation like this is humorous, the General obviously witholds a friendly nod in my direction, immediately the next highest underling gets a clue and frowns at me and so it goes down the chain of command until some idiot LT actually behaves like he would like to stick out his tongue at me. When I turned my back, he probably did. Same situation exists in the American Army. I found out the head guys were really pretty good people when you scraped off the crap, it was the bootlickers that caused the problems.

Late in the afternoon we were at the last stop, there had been many during the day, with short flights in between, when the aircraft would not start. Because of the large number of engine starts with short trips in between, the battery had no been able to recover to full charge and now did not have enough left in it to turn the engine. So here we were, in the middle of nowhere, sun going down, actually in danger of enemy mortars and everybody, including my low level pilot, was looking at me for a solution. The Korean infantry unit was getting edgy also, a certain bell goes off in Charley's mind when a helicopter sits on the ground for too long. However, our options were limited. The average Korean infantry unit does not typically carry an auxilliary power unit for starting limping Hueys on its TO&E. About all that was left was to try and raise another aircraft who could land beside us, swap batteries until we started and then head home. More mortar bait. I could see the headlines now, "Stupid crewchief causes death of Korean General and destruction of helicopter. Pilot points finger of blame." I'm sure it would have at least deserved a
Congressional investigation.

Quick thinking as I am, I thought through the construction of the jet turbo shaft engine on the Huey and remembered that it actually has two sets of turbines. The compressor turbines in the front of the engine compress the air for combustion. These are powered by one set of blades behind the combustion chamber. The rest of the turbines behind the combustion chamber power a shaft that runs to the transmission to turn the rotor blades. When an engine starts it has to quickly develop enough power to get all of the mass turning at the same time. I concluded that if I could get the weight of the transmission and rotor system off the compressor blades, they might be able to develop enough RPM to enable combustion.

With all eyes on me, boring through me actually, I took the tie down, threw it over the main blade closest to the tail boom, walked it to the left side of the tail boom and told the pilot to hit the starter. He thought I was crazy. He obviously did not want to be implicated with me in front of a Congressional investigation, so with a disclaimer that would have been the envy of any car salesman he reluctantly turned to the task and with less then total enthusiasm went through the startup checklist.

When I heard the starter winding up I grabbed the tie down and started running, pulling the blade behind me. As I ran around the front of the aircraft tryin not to be pulled off my feet I realized I had another problem looming like the cliff in a cheap western movie. If I could not get the tie down to slip off the blade prior to my arriving at the tail boom the tie down was going to hit the tail rotor and cause even more problems. If that happened, I certainly would not be going home with a CMH (Congressional Medal of Honor) but probably in a CMH (casket with metal handles).

But my planning was perfect, as I knew it would be, just before I got to the impact point with the tail rotor I slipped the tie down off the blade, it continued on its merry way, and lo and behold, the engine was developing enough RPM to start. I heard the satisfying "poof" that confirmed combustion and breathed a sigh of relief. In my most heroic manner I wound up the tie down as I walked to the aircraft. I was so excited I could have jumped for joy, but John Wayne never did that so neither did I.

The pilot, of course, took the credit. That boy was going to be a successful lawyer someday. The General smiled and nodded his head and by the time that crap had slid down the chain of command the LT
looked like he was going to give me a bearhug. God, what a way to run an Army. sal;


As a non military person, I take it you mean of course, that you figured out another way to hit the starter button, and everyone else took credit for it?
Way to go Buddy, that's life, ain't it?
By the time we got back I think the pilots figured out we were all tarred with the same brush and there was no credit to be taken, BUT, I had the smug satisfaction of knowing I got us out of a tight spot that otherwise would have resulted in major embarrassment and an interesting night. I am not sure those particular pilots ever figured out why what I did worked.

I guess to say I actually started the engine by running the blade is a bit presumptuous, can you imagine turning the crank on an 1100 hp engine? The rotor system had a built in disconnect so that when rotor speed was greater then corresponding engine speed, the rotor freewheeled allowing us to autorotate in an emergancy. I simply removed the drag of the rotor system and transmission so the engine would not require as much starting power. Sort of like the difference between starting your car in gear or in neutral.

Before I got to the unit I heard first hand accounts of two other guys who had interesting experiences. One aircraft simply ran out of fuel. They autorotated to a road in the boondocks and walked to the nearest firebase, fuel was flown to the aircraft, it was started and flew home.

Another crew had a bearing fail in the rotorhead. They developed a sever vibration and landed in a dry ricepaddy. The crewchief had the necessary tools to make repairs, so they took things apart and began the fix. Shortly, three or four VC walked out of the jungle and sat down a couple of hundred feet away on a paddy dike to watch. One of the crew decided to work on international relations, picked up a part case of C rations and walked halfway, sat down opened a can and started eating. He took a couple bites, stood up with his open can and walked back to the aircraft leaving the rest. Soon the VC moved to the rations, sat down and started eating. Eventually, both parties left, successful and full, in that order, although it might have been taking a chance using C rations to cement international relations, could have backfired.