DASH Operations onboard the Fred T. Berry (DD 858)
|Most of the destroyers in DesRon 10 had a unique
weapon, a remote controlled helicopter, called a Drone Anti
Submarine Helicopter (DASH). It was ugly in aviation terms but a
marvel of innovation and so maneuverable that it won a special award
at the famous Paris Air Show in the early ‘60s. However it had one
major flaw. It could not auto-rotate, so if power was lost, it
crashed. Therefore it was never approved for manned flight.
Another troubling problem was the counter rotating blades, one
set of blades above the other and each spinning in the opposite
direction with only three feet of separation. If those blades were
to hit one another, well, you can imagine. The advantage of such a
blade configuration was the elimination of a tail rotor, maximizing
We installed a scrapped P2V nose cone over the DASH control
console which really helped fight off the cold wind during winter
ops in the North Atlantic. It also helped that I didn't tell the
Skipper about this unauthorized modification until after the
installation was complete. He hated the DASH weapon system (frequent
crashes) but when he saw this Plexiglas dome, he just laughed and
thought the innovation was not such a bad idea.
What a thrill to launch this bird off our helicopter deck, bring her
to a hover and then when clear of the ship, transfer control to CIC.
Directional control was a “stick” in my right hand, just like
the one in a manned helicopter and a small thumb wheel on the left
for altitude. That’s all that was needed, piece of cake.
|CIC, with similar controls would then direct the
drone toward a submarine contact and drop a homing torpedo. In all
our ASW exercises, we had 100% success.
These remotely controlled helicopters were incredibly responsive
and I could make them do anything I wanted. But there was one other
problem that began to surface throughout the Fleet. One of the
stabilizing gyros had a tendency to fail without warning. The
consequences were dramatic.
There is a great Naval Aviator, Admiral Dan V. Gallery. He’s
written some very funny books such as “Clear the Decks”, comical
stories about Naval Aviation accidents. One story was of an
inexperienced pilot at the controls of a multi engine transport
getting spoofed when seeing four planes showing off in an inverted
formation while between two cloud layers. Without reference to the
ground, the inexperienced pilot wondered who was right side up.
Admiral Gallery was a VIP guest onboard a Guided Missile
Destroyer (DDG) in the Mediterranean and he wanted to see this DASH
do something. Our Destroyer was selected to do the demo. I had read
some of Adm. Gallery’s books and I was ecstatic that this man
might someday write about the Fred T. Berry and what we were about
to show him. As the DDG approached our stern to watch our flight
deck operation, we warmed up one of our DASH helicopters, went
through the normal checks and then brought her to a hover.
I noticed some abnormal responses from the drone. When I twisted
the stick for the helicopter to turn, nothing happened. This was not
good. I notified the bridge that I was bringing her back onboard and
would then launch our second helicopter.
|Too late. This bird began extreme and uncontrolled
motion without any command inputs. Suddenly the drone made a steep
bank and raced across the flight deck, only missing the Berry by 20’.
Then just as abruptly it tried to reverse direction. The chaotic and
uncoordinated force on the counter rotating blades caused them to
collided, splintering in an explosion of metal shrapnel flying in
every direction. The drone splashed into the drink close aboard our
starboard side. That none of these rotor blade missiles penetrated
human bodies was a miracle.
If you are going to have a dramatic accident at sea, it would be
preferable not to have a famous Admiral taking notes.
Unfortunately this was not the only accident. The second accident
three months later was nearly an identical episode. Other destroyers
were having similar experiences. It soon became clear that one of
the onboard gyros were failing with far too much frequency. Within
five years the DASH program was DEAD.