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War Stories

Shark's Teeth Tale

Bruce Powell

D Troop's first Cobra and how it got the Shark's Mouth artwork.

Besides the text below a recently recovered reel to reel audio tape made by Bruce Powell in Vietnam on 7 July 1968 also tells the story.

During 1967 I had flown scouts (OH-23G), Maintenance/Medevac (Stable Boy UH-1D), Slicks (AeroRifles UH-1H), but mostly Guns (UH-1B and C models). Being an extremely avid, excited and aggressive Gun Pilot, I just about lost it when I first saw the AH-1G Cobra Prototype. It was on display at Cu Chi. It had the original hydraulic TAT 102 single flex mini-gun on the nose. I think the pilots name was WO Davis (who later became one of my instructor pilots during the transition course in Ben Hoa). Some days later two Cobras from the Playboys replaced us on a fire mission; so I got to see them in action for a few minutes.

My tour with D Troop, 3/4 Cav was about up but I was ready to do anything to get my hands on that beautiful machine. Where do I sign, what do I have to do? Remembrances of my favorite book as a kid, "God Is My Copilot", and the fabulous history of Claire Chennault and his Flying Tigers hung heavy on my mind. Was it my turn to have the fantastic adventure of a lifetime? To be the one to develop new tactics to fit the aircraft? The excitement, the exhilaration, keeps a spring in my step to this day.

Why in the world did they call it a Cobra? It's a Shark not a Snake! Never understood that.

It was hard to think about any other subject. The teeth on Chennault's P-40's were painted the walls of my mind. On my six month extension papers I requested immediate transition to the Cobra and transfer to the 334th or any unit anywhere in combat that had Cobras. I know that my parents were not real happy but they always supported me no matter how wild the venture.

It turned out that the 25th Division was going to get some AH-1Gs, but not until into the next year. But I could, and did, get signed up for the in country transition right away. As the months went by I drew many drafts of the Sharks Teeth that were destine to be on my Cobra. At the transition course in Ben Hoa I was able to use the actual aircraft to finish the final design sketches. The template was made from light cardboard. The Squadron S-4 (3/4 Cav) scrounged some red, white and black gloss paint for me, and kept it quiet.teeth

In early 1968 I got word that the Cobras for the Division were coming into Vung Tau and I could hitch a ride up there and pick up the first one. It was the newest model with the XM-28 nose guns (electric mini gun and 40 mm). They could not release it to me because none of their test pilots were rated to fly it! No problem! I am totally rated in this aircraft and we need it today!!" The NCO gave me "the look" that gun pilots sometimes get from their ground counterparts (crazy SOB) and handed me the test pilot requirements for this aircraft. No one there would go up with me so we had to strap some sand bags in the front seat to meet the weight and balance requirements. It was a memorable flight that makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck when I think of it. But we, 540 and myself, survived. That is when I began to think of 540 like a cowboy thinks of his horse. I just broke him and we are now an inseparable team.

I wasn't sure if our new Troop Commander would authorize me to paint the teeth, so I bypassed that and just hoped he had his hands full enough that he might not notice for a while or maybe he would think they just came that way.Jim

Artist and Slick driver
Jim Filiatreault

To the best of my knowledge 540 was the first Cobra in the Division, I was the first active Cobra pilot, and SP5 Warren Waite was the first Cobra Crew Chief. We painted the teeth. It was so exciting! My nickname, which is another story, was painted below the backseat cockpit (Crazy Bruce) by Jim Filiatreault, we had that sucker ready for a combat mission in a couple days. I liked SP5 Waite and decided to enlist him as copilot in my devious plan to terrorize the 25th Division area. Turns out he was just as gung-ho as I was.

Here was the plan: Each day, for as long as we could get away with it, we would log out for maintenance and armament test flights. Flying at about 9000 feet we monitored the Tropic 66 frequency (I think that was the name. Anyway the FM frequency that ground troops used to call for gun support). Our intent was to intercept a call for help and be on station in seconds with our full hog armament (76 seventeen pound rockets plus mini gun and 40 mm grenades). Then when the scrambled gun team (either Centaurs or Diamond Heads) arrived we would already have coordinated with the ground guys, marked the target, beat Charlie up and showed him our TEETH.

It was the second or third beautiful day. We were cruising above the spotty clouds at 9000 feet, enjoying this spectacular view. A ground unit in the Hobo Woods called in for support. Pinned down and had pulled back Southwest of a creek line. I had been scouting and shooting in the Hobo for over a year. I knew exactly where they were. I don't remember the unit call sign …"This is Moon Doggie 6 gunship on station for support" (that was my bogus call sign until I got nailed later for unauthorized missions). I got the sit-rep (wind direction, friendly position, etc), lined up enfilade to the creek, began to zero out my airspeed, and called for identifying smoke. I told the guy on the ground I would fire white phosphorous (Willy Pete) to mark the target and I needed an immediate correction based on his position. My high altitude attack began at zero airspeed to give me maximum time on target. "Willy Pete's off." Call from ground "On target!!" Nineteen pairs of rockets obliterated that side of the creek. We pulled out of the dive a needle width over VNE (Velocity to Not Exceed) and about 5 pounds over torque. (Just consider this the first real test of how far we can push 540 and survive). "How's That?" I said. The ground commander says "On Target! and what the F… are you flying?" "This is the new Cobra Gunship."
"Sure carries a lot of ordinance!" "That was only half my load, where do you want the rest?" "Shit Fire!" he says, bring it on. He gave us some corrections and we shot the place up good. I told Warren we were going to go down to 50 feet, 50 knots and show our teeth. He was free to empty the 40mm as we did that. He did so with great vigor. The VC were trained to always led the aircraft by three lengths based on UH-1C speeds. So they were either shooting way behind me or well out in front. That low, slow pass, became my modus operandi for quite a while until sometime later Charlie finally figure out how to start hitting me.

I don't remember when the Centaur gun team (UH-1C's) arrived on station or whether they saw us clip a few tree tops on our last rocket run. Maybe Pat Eastes will remember because it was he and Jeff "Doc" Halliday flying. One of them said something like "How are you liken it?" and my response was "You can't even imagine how great this is."

There are many more stories about 540, like the one that caused us to expedite the painting of the same teeth on all the Cobras. And the maintenance NCO that helped Tom Meeks and I get the mini-guns wired to where I could fire them from the back seat simultaneously with the rockets.

After I had my second extension turned down, I had to leave my trusty 540. I spent my last 2 weeks in country on 24 hour standby with a fully loaded hog, 540, with sandbags in the front seat. I was back up to any gun team that needed some more firepower. Anywhere. Anytime.

bookCheck out Dan Spaldings book "Centaur Flights"; my teeth are on his cover. It says the teeth were painted over at some point and rediscovered during his tour. That didn't happen but it sounded like a good idea for the book. It is a fictional book based on his experiences and some historical facts; so give it a chance. It is a good read.

I changed the design a bit on my 1972 tour with the 129th AHC (Cobras and Bulldogs). The fangs are a bit bigger on these teeth. I thought they looked more ferocious.

This data is copyrighted but can be used for any 25th Division, 3/4 Cav, or D/F Troop non profit endeavor.

©2011 Bruce Allen Powell
Centaur Society