Caribous were operated by the Army during the early years of the Vietnam War to transport medium-sized loads of troops, supplies, and equipment, farther and faster than large helicopters. The Air Force was upset because it felt that the Army was infringing on their mission with the Caribous, and took possession of them in exchange for permitting the Army to provide their own rotary wing (helicopter) support in tactical situations.
Granted, my one and only experience in a Caribou was not the optimum flight to judge. I was the sole passenger on a flight carrying mail to the Mobile Riverine Base at Dong Tam. I was trying to watch the scenery from a small round porthole during takeoff when the cargo shifted and pushed me away. They were just bags of paper and the cargo master apparently was not concerned that there was anything delicate inside. He had forgotten about me.
Forget seat belts; there were no seats. I had hitched a ride on the runway and was invited to make myself comfortable among the bags. I have flown in many small twin-engine propeller-driven aircraft and the Caribou in flight is no more or less comfortable than them. The most alarming aspect of the trip was the landing and my problem could have been alleviated with a little warning.
Dong Tam did not enjoy free-fire around its perimeter and the Viet Cong were able to infiltrate quite close and take pot shots at approaching and departing aircraft. Thus, our pilot choose to begin his descent directly over the airfield. He simply dipped the wing and pointed it at the ground, and we began a rapid spiral. The cargo shifted violently, capturing me in its flow towards the downward most porthole and pressing my face against it. Now I had a view.
Prepared to meet my maker as the ground approached, I was surprised when we suddenly leveled off momentarily. My relief was short-lived as the pilot then pointed our nose at the ground. At least, I thought, he would die before me.
My second surprise came when he applied full power to the engines. Unbeknownst to me, he had reversed pitch on the propellers and they were now braking our descent. It felt as though a giant had tied a rope to the tail of the aircraft and holding us aloft like a yo-yo. The load of mail now shifted forward with me in its grasp and I was pressed against the bulkhead separating the cargo bay from the pilot's compartment. There is no doubt in my mind that he was imagining my plight and laughing manically as we plummeted those last few feet.
Our crash was averted when we leveled off and landed with a thump. I don't believe that the airplane rolled forward more than its own length before coming to an abrupt halt, not too dissimilar from running into a brick wall.
I was tempted to walk back to Camp Bearcat.