Chickenhawk (1983) by Robert Mason is another account of flying helicopters in Vietnam. The book details flight training, flying in Vietnam and has a short chapter on the author’s life after he returned. It’s an engaging book with the author expressing more about the war he fought in than many other pilot accounts do.

Mason flew for the 1st Cavalry in Vietnam as a Huey pilot. The book recalls Mason’s training and the difficulty of initially learning to fly and then after learning the basics the very tough life of a Huey pilot in Vietnam. Flying vast numbers of hours, commonly over 8 in one day in comparison to most Air Force pilots who flew 1-2 hours only per day the life of the Huey pilots was truly remarkable. The likelihood of being killed as a pilot was high. The difficulty of flying the machines coupled with clever tactics from the Vietcong make for exciting reading. The experimental use of helicopters and the fact that the US thought they would be a force that would defeat the Vietcong are well portrayed.

The strangeness of the war and the way that US soldiers were aware that the strategy was faulty and a poor outcome was likely is well expressed by Mason as he recalls discussions between the pilots. Some of the horrors that Mason saw are also graphically included. The trips to Saigon and for R&R and the base life are also described.

In the final chapter Mason writes about his deeply troubled return to the US, the nightmares he had that grounded him and his later conviction for smuggling marijuana.

Chickenhawk is a really engaging and interesting book that is worth reading for anyone interested in helicopters and the Vietnam War.


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