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Patch on the tail rotor

I was once stationed aboard the USS Guadalcanal (LPH-7), an amphibious helicopter carrier, which is similar to a regular aircraft carrier, only about ¼ the size. The ship was designed to carry Marines and the helicopters used to transport them to shore. The only time the Marines and their helicopters were on board was during training exercises or during deployments. This incident occurred while the Marines were not onboard and did not involve one of their helicopters. If it had, there would probably have been bloodshed.

A helicopter was permanently assigned to the ship by the Navy. It was the responsibility of the Air Department, which was run by the Air Boss, a commander who, of course, was a pilot. One morning as I walked down a passageway toward a hatch that led to the hanger bay, the hatch slammed open and the Air Boss came raging through it. He was red-faced and yelling things that would make a sailor blush. I knew the best thing for me to do was to scramble into the nearest compartment until he passed. After the Air Boss had passed by, I went into the hangar bay to see what had happened.

As the Air Boss was making a morning inspection of the ship’s helicopter, he found a patch had been placed on the helicopter’s tail rotor. The tail rotor is the small propeller at the end of the helicopter’s tail that keeps the fuselage from spinning around in circles because of the torque from the main rotor blades. These fast-spinning blades must in perfect balance or the rotor will break apart. What the Air Boss found was what appeared to be a four-inch square, thin, metal plate bolted at its corners to one of the tail rotor blades. If the helicopter was started with the plate bolted to the blade, the rotor would have been damaged and possibly people injured by flying debris. Finding this patch had infuriated the Air Boss.

As it turned out, the metal plate was a prank. Some sailors had cut off four bolts, screwed the short shafts into four nuts, and then glued the nuts to the corners of the plate. When the plate was laying on a table, it appeared to be bolted to the table. The sailors then sprayed the plate with primer and used grease to attach it to the rotor blade. There was no damage to the rotor and it was not dangerous since, if the rotor moved, the plate would fall off the blade.

I don’t know what happened to the sailors responsible for the stunt. I did not see them at Captain's Mast, so they were not charged with any crime, but I imagine the Air Boss made their lives miserable for a while.

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