The Bell Hotel

Ken Carlton slept here, yes he did.  I am a happy, frequent sleeper in the Bell Hotel. I first started using helicopters to sleep, in 1969.  At night one of the RLO’s (Real Live Officers) a derisive term coined by young Warrant Officers to describe the Commissioned Officers, had to be on the ready reaction flight.  It often turned out that my turn as Aircraft Commander of a Charley Model Gunship, would occur after I’d already flown eight or ten hours.  It wasn’t uncommon to over 100 hours per month, and several months I flew 150 hours.  The ready reaction flight was for counter rocket and mortar attack.  As Dong Tam was attacked several times a week it we were often flying around the Dong Tam perimeter shooting rockets back at the VC at three AM.

After a less than wholesome dinner, at the Boomerang Mess Hall, I’d strap myself in the helicopter gunship, push my chicken plate forward (15 pound ceramic body armor), adjust my shoulder straps so I leaned forward, and fold up my flight gloves for a pillow under my chin.  From this position I occasionally got four uninterrupted hours of sleep, but often my dreams stopped when the first 122 MM rockets impacted our base.  When the explosions woke me, I hit the battery switch, started up that Huey and was often airborne with-in three minutes of rocket impact.

What has this to do with fighting fires?  I’m still sleeping in the Bell Hotel after all these years.  As I don’t have a Chicken Plate anymore and my manly physic doesn’t allow me to lean that far forward, I have adjusted.  Now I fold up the one of the rear bench seats and lay in the floor with out a BOO BOO or pillow.  I may sleep under the tail boom (just not in Alaska as its to wet here).  No mater how I sleep in the Bell Hotel, God has blessed me with the ability to sleep almost anywhere and fall asleep at the drop of the hat.

Speaking of sleep and helicopters, once in about 1973, was able to sleep and fly the Hiller Helicopter.  I was Chief Pilot for Kern County sheriff’s Dept.  I had worked a full shift on my Friday and didn’t go to bed that morning, I got home about 4 AM, as I could sleep that night.  That evening I got a call from Shasta Helicopters in Porterville CA, who I often moonlighted for.  They needed Frost Protection pilots to hover over orange orchards to keep the temp above 32 degrees.  I needed the 100 bucks cash offered more than sleep, or so I thought!  Maybe I could get some sleep sitting in a pick-up truck, while waiting to fly.  I flew 11.5 hours that night, no sleeping for me until about 5AM just before sun up.  I’d refueled at 4AM and was so sleepy.  I was singing and landing the helicopter to get out and run around, and chewing gum.  Hovering about 30 to 50 feet above the orange trees, my eyes were so heavy and then…I woke up.  I was sitting in the pasture at the end of the orange grove, helicopter at full throttle, and my hands on the controls.  I had no idea how I got there.  I looked down at my watch and realized it was now 5:30 AM!  I had been flying and landing for 30 minutes while asleep!  Adrenalin surged through my body and I was no longer asleep but now wide-awake.   I got ready to take off and start frost protection again.  As I took off, I saw a semicircle of Holstein cows peering at me, how long had the cows been watching me sleep in the running helicopter?

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