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Qh-50d Nite Panther

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  • Qh-50d Nite Panther

    I'd be interested to hear from any Marines who participated in the USMC deployment of three QH-50D NITE PANTHER drones in 1968. Gyrodyne modified three Navy QH-50D DASH drones in Mar/Apr 68 to the NITE PANTHER configuration with extra fuel tanks and various LLTV, optical sensors and laser designators to test the concept of DASH drone for rapid intel gathering and immediate targeting.

    The NITE PANTHER drones were delivered to San Clemente Island in early April with two M38 Jeeps configured as control vehicles. Several USMC operators were trained. Then ~18 Apr 1968, the personnel and drones were loaded onto the destroyer USS BLUE (DD-744) and left for an OPTEVAL off the coast of Vietnam. Apparently the drones didn't fair too well, because two were written off on 27/28 April. I'd love to hear "the rest of the story."

    Last edited by Dutch; 09-04-2009, 07:17. Reason: minor grammatical correstions

  • #2
    Re: Qh-50D Nite Panther

    I was on the USS Blue (DD-744) and lived with and worked
    on the three Nite Panther birds.

    > Then ~18 Apr 1968, the personnel and drones were loaded onto
    > the destroyer USS BLUE (DD-744) and left for an OPTEVAL off
    > the coast of Vietnam.

    Somewhere the story has been told that they went from
    San Clemente Island, to the USS Blue, and then across
    the bounding main to Viet Nam. I don't know where this
    version came from but it's WRONG. We (USS Blue) had
    already been home ported in Yokosuka for two years
    before we received the Nite Panthers while sitting in
    Danang harbor.

    IIRC, we spent three days there because half the crew
    took a Mike boat (LCM) filled with beer to a beach
    for a swim party one day and the second half went
    the next. It was said that we were the first warship
    to ever spend the night within the harbor limits.
    Musta been kinda tame in I Corps that Spring of '68.

    > Apparently the drones didn't fair too well, because
    > two were written off on 27/28 April. I'd love to hear
    > "the rest of the story."

    Yeah, it didn't quite go according to plan. Coulda used
    some help from Col. Hannibal Smith (A-Team) there.

    We assembled the tree birds while in harbor and
    then put to sea. It's SOP, upon launching, to move
    off to port and astern a few hundred yards and hover
    to make a few post-launch checks. The first bird
    lifted off, moved away to that position, and when
    it was supposed to transition to hover it began
    to swing wildly with increasing magnitude. By the
    fourth swing it went over the top. As you may
    know the QH-50 did not have rigid rotors and
    therefore loops are not possible. The rotor blades
    crossed and lead weights went flying everywhere.

    There were two or three H-34 helicopters orbiting
    us while all this was going on. Someone said they
    were filming the events so perhaps there's something
    packed away in the archives somewhere. Perhaps
    between that crate containing the Holy Grail and the
    one containing Obama's "real" birth certificate.
    But I digress...

    In the shipment we received a stack of yellow gear
    which was the telemetry stack. This was set up in
    the hangar and one of the civilians was supposed
    to run it. After Nite Panther 1 splashed our weapons
    officer (Lt Phil King) came flying back to the hangar
    wanting to know what happened. When he got no
    answer other than it went inverted and crashed he
    turned to the civilian and asked what the telemetry
    showed. Ahhhh, no telemetry. The two of them
    walked away together and the civilian was never
    seen again.

    Since I had played with the telemetry when I was
    at San Clemente I took it from there and we always
    got good telemetry tapes.

    FWIW: we fished one of the self-sealing fuel tanks
    out of the sea and shot at it later with a .50 cal.
    Much fun was had by all.

    Now things get fuzzy. I don't know if all three birds
    were lost, if we brought one back to Yokosuka, or
    passed one off to another ship. The passage of
    time and lack of notes often does this. Also, I don't
    recall if the following events are all from missions
    flown by one bird or from two.

    While they were under the control of the Marines
    we'd be recording video on a big Ampex video
    tape machine. I think I recall seeing an artillery
    shoot on a bridge but might have that confused
    with other combat footage seen over the years.
    I do recall -- pay attention, this is important --
    a mission where we were sitting just off the DMZ.
    When the bird was returning to the ship the
    camera was pointing directly down and it looked
    like it was flying over the surface of the moon.
    Thousands of shell craters in the DMZ. As the
    bird approached the beach, outbound, the
    camera tilted up and you could see the Blue
    off-shore. About the time it crossed the surf line
    the picture started to wobble wildly and that
    was all she wrote.

    Many years later I was watching some historical
    program about the war in Vietnam and there
    was a group of VC rolling a DASH engine out
    of the surf. Anyone who has ever seen a DASH
    engine knows you can't mistake it for anything but.
    Could it be that Nite Panther 2/3 was shot down?

    Is that enough to qualify for "the rest of the story?"

    David Bryant USN 65 - 86
    Last edited by NavyDavy; 12-28-2010, 00:02. Reason: H-19 -> H-34