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Old 11-05-2019, 08:18 AM
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Some thoughts on “Apocalypse Now”.


Haven’t seen in it many years. I’ve a few questions that are coming up. Some hardcore historical, some dramatic.

The first one’s seemingly easy. I just don’t know this.

Why are the tops of the tips of the helicopter blades painted white? I’d think you’d want them invisible from above, not obvious.


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Old 11-05-2019, 08:36 AM
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It's not a question of stealth. Hueys aren't at all stealthy. It's so other pilots can tell where the rotors are when maneuvering around a formation.
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Old 11-05-2019, 08:36 AM
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When you have more than one helicopter in the air, you don't want them invisible. You want the pilots to be able to see the other helicopter's blades so that you don't have friendly helicopters running into each other's blades under poor visibility conditions.
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Old 11-05-2019, 08:37 AM
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My guess? To reduce decapitations.
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Old 11-05-2019, 08:52 AM
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You also generally didn't want to literally broadcast your approaching air assault by blasting Wagner out of your helicopter's PA system either. I'm not sure of the historical accuracy of Apocalypse Now.


A casual Google image search of "helicopter + Vietnam" produces pictures of helicopters painted with all kinds of stuff - blade tips painted white or yellow, various colored bands on the tail or fuselage, unit insignia, shark teeth.

The US had air superiority over the country. Definitely in the areas where helicopters would be conducting operations. So I don't think being spotted from above was a serious risk.
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Old 11-05-2019, 08:58 AM
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My guess? To reduce decapitations.
Of what? Giraffes? The main rotor for a UH-1 probably sits a good 12 feet above the ground.
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Old 11-05-2019, 09:14 AM
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Of what? Giraffes? The main rotor for a UH-1 probably sits a good 12 feet above the ground.
Let's say you're right. (I don't know how high the rotor dish spins.) It wouldn't be a problem if helicopters only landed on flat ground. Inclines, even subtle ones, can change things.

In addition, the dish doesn't spin at a constant height. When adding collective, the blades rise. When flattening out the blade angle, the dish drops. It also doesn't spin at a consistent angle relative to the ground. When the cyclic is pushed forward, the dish tilts forward, which is how a helicopter moves in other directions besides purely up and down.

All of those factors combined can easily turn 12 feet of clearance into a big hazard for people walking around.
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Old 11-05-2019, 09:16 AM
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Why are the tops of the tips of the helicopter blades painted white?
You haven't seen it in years and this is what you remember?
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Old 11-05-2019, 09:20 AM
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That said, I think the reason is so other pilots can see the rotor blades more easily, and thereby avoid colliding with them.

From Robert Mason's excellent memoir of his experiences as a Huey pilot in Vietnam, Chickenhawk, he mentions how helicopters in an assault would often fly very close to each other. Occassionally overlapping rotor dishes. Landing Zones were small, and the more helicopters that could be crammed into the space, the faster the grunts could get out, and the faster the helicopters could get away from ground fire.
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Old 11-05-2019, 09:34 AM
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You also generally didn't want to literally broadcast your approaching air assault by blasting Wagner out of your helicopter's PA system either.
A bunch of helicopters flying in close formation would probably be a pretty good clue on its own, though. See the historical events preceding the Battle of Mogadishu and "Black Hawk Down" for an example.

I donít think stealth was an important aspect of such large scale air assaults during the Vietnam War. Operational surprise, sure, but thereís nothing stealthy about a UH-1.
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Old 11-05-2019, 10:02 AM
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Let's say you're right. (I don't know how high the rotor dish spins.) It wouldn't be a problem if helicopters only landed on flat ground. Inclines, even subtle ones, can change things.

In addition, the dish doesn't spin at a constant height. When adding collective, the blades rise. When flattening out the blade angle, the dish drops. It also doesn't spin at a consistent angle relative to the ground. When the cyclic is pushed forward, the dish tilts forward, which is how a helicopter moves in other directions besides purely up and down.

All of those factors combined can easily turn 12 feet of clearance into a big hazard for people walking around.
That's why soldiers are trained to crouch whenever near a running helicopter. It probably isn't necessary, but it's good policy nonetheless.
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Old 11-05-2019, 10:19 AM
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I'm not sure you could even hear Wagner over that distinctive Huey whomp whomp sound. I think you'd hear the helis before the speakers.
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Old 11-05-2019, 10:25 AM
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I hope you don't mind if I ask a question too.

My Apocalypse Now question is, in the attack on the river , what was the enemy supposed to be firing at the PBR? Bottle rockets? Was Coppola just being cheap or was it a legitimate tactic (like maybe masking the positions of the larger caliber weapons)?
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Old 11-05-2019, 10:36 AM
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I'm not sure you could even hear Wagner over that distinctive Huey whomp whomp sound. I think you'd hear the helis before the speakers.

Then again if someone were to cram a stack of Spinal Tap class Goes-to-Eleven amps into one of his Hueys, that would be Kilgore.
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Old 11-05-2019, 10:59 AM
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Then again if someone were to cram a stack of Spinal Tap class Goes-to-Eleven amps into one of his Hueys, that would be Kilgore.
I think he'd need a dedicated generator on board. Or two!
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Old 11-05-2019, 11:04 AM
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I hope you don't mind if I ask a question too.

My Apocalypse Now question is, in the attack on the river , what was the enemy supposed to be firing at the PBR? Bottle rockets? Was Coppola just being cheap or was it a legitimate tactic (like maybe masking the positions of the larger caliber weapons)?
WAG- movie version of tracer bullets?
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Old 11-05-2019, 11:14 AM
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I hope you don't mind if I ask a question too.

My Apocalypse Now question is, in the attack on the river , what was the enemy supposed to be firing at the PBR? Bottle rockets? Was Coppola just being cheap or was it a legitimate tactic (like maybe masking the positions of the larger caliber weapons)?
I think it was just a way to underscore the craziness that was war in Vietnam.
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Old 11-05-2019, 11:17 AM
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They look like rockets to me. I can't find any listing of small rockets used by the North. The Russians gave them stuff they captured in WWII.
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Old 11-05-2019, 11:19 AM
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I hope you don't mind if I ask a question too.

My Apocalypse Now question is, in the attack on the river , what was the enemy supposed to be firing at the PBR? Bottle rockets? Was Coppola just being cheap or was it a legitimate tactic (like maybe masking the positions of the larger caliber weapons)?
Quote:
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WAG- movie version of tracer bullets?
Either that, or the Viet Cong had a Gyrojet regiment on that section of the river.
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  #20  
Old 11-05-2019, 11:31 AM
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WAG- movie version of tracer bullets?
From IMDB:
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The Viet Cong's tracer bullets, seen quite often throughout the film, notably when the PT boat is "sprayed" with enemy fire, appear to be red in color. In reality, the Viet Cong used green tracer ammunition while the American's used red tracer ammunition.
I'd also guess that they're meant to be tracer bullets, filmed in a time when safety procedures were lax. Here, one of them strikes a guy's helmet - a couple of inches lower and it would have hit him in the face. I guess they could have painted the red tracers in afterwards, like the lasers in Star Wars.
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Old 11-05-2019, 01:09 PM
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I hope you don't mind if I ask a question too.

My Apocalypse Now question is, in the attack on the river , what was the enemy supposed to be firing at the PBR? Bottle rockets? Was Coppola just being cheap or was it a legitimate tactic (like maybe masking the positions of the larger caliber weapons)?
They use a similar effect during the final battle in Platoon.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vUO0YjF9jWA

I think they are just using bottle rockets or roman candles as a "tracer" effect. Except in both films, they put in a "woooossshhhh" sound effect which would imply a rocket, as opposed to a "zip" or "crack" that a bullet might make.

Both films were made before people decomposed every frame of a movie, so maybe it's just meant to be a generic "mixed incoming ordinance" effect.


A lot of people complain that the red and green tracers in the tank movie Fury look a little too "Star Wars"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q21AazXT9xo
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Old 11-05-2019, 01:25 PM
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They use a similar effect during the final battle in Platoon.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vUO0YjF9jWA

I think they are just using bottle rockets or roman candles as a "tracer" effect. Except in both films, they put in a "woooossshhhh" sound effect which would imply a rocket, as opposed to a "zip" or "crack" that a bullet might make.

Both films were made before people decomposed every frame of a movie, so maybe it's just meant to be a generic "mixed incoming ordinance" effect.
I think the "tracers" in Platoon are probably real tracer bullets, as, unlike Apocalypse Now, they aren't being fired directly at live actors/stuntmen. They look faster and straighter than the Apocalypse Now tracers, and are without smoke plumes. The whooshing sounds are probably meant to be rocket-propelled grenade launchers (RPG), and Charlie Sheen's character shouts "RPG!"
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Old 11-05-2019, 01:46 PM
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They look like rockets to me. I can't find any listing of small rockets used by the North. The Russians gave them stuff they captured in WWII.
NVA loved to use what the US first termed "B-40" rockets, and later called RPG-2. They also used RPG-7, IIRC. Easily portable explosive firepower, and very useful against the M113 APCs and ad hoc armored gun trucks the US often used.

That said, B-40s move a lot faster than that (85 m/sec is what's mentioned in the wiki), and indeed, a lot faster than most of Hollywood's attempts to show the RPG. The -7 moves faster still, up to ~300 m/sec at sustainer burnout.

Great looking scene, even if it didn't correspond to much in reality. Though that could be said for the movie as a whole.
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Old 11-05-2019, 01:56 PM
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RPG rockets explode on impact, while the "tracers"/"rockets" fired at the patrol boat in Apocalypse Now hit the boat with a sound effect akin to a bullet pinging off metal.
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Old 11-05-2019, 01:58 PM
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...A lot of people complain that the red and green tracers in the tank movie Fury look a little too "Star Wars"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q21AazXT9xo
I'm LOL'ing at the comments in that youtube link; specifically someone talking about 'wehraboo' rage. I'd never heard of that word before, but it just fits.
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Old 11-05-2019, 02:11 PM
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I'm not sure you could even hear Wagner over that distinctive Huey whomp whomp sound. I think you'd hear the helis before the speakers.
Search and Rescue fly them around here. You can hear them before you can see them.
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Old 11-05-2019, 02:17 PM
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That's why soldiers are trained to crouch whenever near a running helicopter. It probably isn't necessary, but it's good policy nonetheless.
I was never trained this, and I worked near helicopters fairly frequently. Crouching was just friggin' instinct, man. It took a conscious effort and actual willpower to force ourselves to stand erect.
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Old 11-05-2019, 02:25 PM
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I think it was just a way to underscore the craziness that was war in Vietnam.
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Great looking scene, even if it didn't correspond to much in reality. Though that could be said for the movie as a whole.
Had a friend who served "in country" who said that while much of it was impressionistic, the firefight at the bridge was very realistic, down to, "Soldier, who's in command here?" "Ain't you?"
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Old 11-05-2019, 05:32 PM
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Let's say you're right. (I don't know how high the rotor dish spins.) It wouldn't be a problem if helicopters only landed on flat ground. Inclines, even subtle ones, can change things.

In addition, the dish doesn't spin at a constant height. When adding collective, the blades rise. When flattening out the blade angle, the dish drops. It also doesn't spin at a consistent angle relative to the ground. When the cyclic is pushed forward, the dish tilts forward, which is how a helicopter moves in other directions besides purely up and down.

All of those factors combined can easily turn 12 feet of clearance into a big hazard for people walking around.
FWIIW I flew Hueys in the Army from 80-85. The blade tips were painted on the top so we could see them while formation flying. Rotors hitting in flight is not a good thing. I don't remember the exact numbers but the rotor is about 14-15 feet off the ground and almost 50 in diameter. At any type of operational speed the rotor cant change position enough to hit a person. At very low speeds when coasting to a stop if there is a strong wind from the right direction the blades can flex down to about 5 or 6 feet. Very seldom would one operate on a slope steep enough that hitting a person would be possible. Tail rotors of course are a different matter. they are about head high.
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Old 11-05-2019, 09:17 PM
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The tracers do not have a straight trajectory. That is why I thought they might be imitating 25 year old rockets.
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Old 11-06-2019, 02:02 PM
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The tracers do not have a straight trajectory. That is why I thought they might be imitating 25 year old rockets.
They are flat at the ranges being portrayed in Platoon and Apocalypse Now.

This is what actual tracer fire looks like:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B7y9XaCawj0

In any event, IMHO, rather than use actual live fire or animate tracer fire (which would have looked like crap back then), they used less dangerous pyrotechnics to simulate the effect.
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Old 11-06-2019, 02:32 PM
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FWIIW I flew Hueys in the Army from 80-85. The blade tips were painted on the top so we could see them while formation flying. Rotors hitting in flight is not a good thing. I don't remember the exact numbers but the rotor is about 14-15 feet off the ground and almost 50 in diameter. At any type of operational speed the rotor cant change position enough to hit a person. At very low speeds when coasting to a stop if there is a strong wind from the right direction the blades can flex down to about 5 or 6 feet. Very seldom would one operate on a slope steep enough that hitting a person would be possible. Tail rotors of course are a different matter. they are about head high.
Thanks for clueing us in from someone who's actually been there and done that. I appreciate the info.

Playing with trig, and the numbers you gave, it looks like the whole dish would only have to incline forward about 20 degrees below parallel for the end of the dish to dip 9 feet relative to parallel, which would bring the rotor tip near 6 feet from the ground.

Have you read Chickenhawk, and if so, what did you think, relative to your own military service flying Hueys?

Last edited by Gray Ghost; 11-06-2019 at 02:33 PM.
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Old 11-06-2019, 03:31 PM
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Thanks for clueing us in from someone who's actually been there and done that. I appreciate the info.

Playing with trig, and the numbers you gave, it looks like the whole dish would only have to incline forward about 20 degrees below parallel for the end of the dish to dip 9 feet relative to parallel, which would bring the rotor tip near 6 feet from the ground.

Have you read Chickenhawk, and if so, what did you think, relative to your own military service flying Hueys?
When I said flex down I should have said tilt. the rotor is like an old fashioned see-saw that pivots on the mast. It can tilt enough at low speeds to get around six feet but not while the engine is running.

I have read Chickenhawk and thought it was great. They took more chances then we were allowed too. Things like taking off with too big a load for the conditions. A lot of the Viet-Nam vets used to tell some hairy stories.

Last edited by rsat3acr; 11-06-2019 at 03:32 PM.
  #34  
Old 11-07-2019, 08:57 AM
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They took more chances then we were allowed too.
and needed a faster boat.
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