By Chuck Galbach
USAF Forward Air Controller at Danang AB, SVN, May 1967 thru May 1968
Picture links are not yet operational
At the recent reunion of FACs in Fort Walton Beach in September, 2000, I observed that some FACs have fairly vivid memories supported by organized pictures and recorded mementoes of their tour. Unfortunately it is not entirely so with me. I’ve got dozens of slides and a somewhat spotty recall of that year of my life. Although I do recall a fair number of events, I have trouble with certain details of that tour in SEA as a forward air controller, especially dates or names of people and places. For over 30 years I paid little attention to that part of my life. During my tour, virtually all of it based at Danang AB, SVN, I had two call signs. The first lasted for apparently about 3 months and the second for probably 9 months. The last one was Bully 09, but I’m not sure about the first one. I think it was Snoopy, but I don’t recall the numbers at all. The call signs had to do with my specific assignments, which I’ll explain later.
Since beginning to write this report, I located my old individual flying record master. Granted those records do not directly tell the complete story of my Vietnam assignment as a FAC. But, through them, I was able to deduce a number of dates that had previously eluded me. For example, I could not remember when I left Travis AFB, CA to proceed on leave or about when I might have arrived at Hurlburt. But the flight records clearly state that they were closed on 28 February 1967 due to “Officer PCS”. The very next flight was a training flight on 17 April 1967, in an O1-G. So it had to be during that time period that I left Travis, moved my family and entered the Special Ops training.
The following material is limited to those events or situations that I still recall in a reasonable amount of detail or completeness. You may notice that most of them have to do with times that I was frightened or at least very anxious and also to times when I was amused or felt really dumb. The more mundane and thus less memorable times are what I obviously have the most trouble remembering. For example, I have some pictures I took at what is obviously a beautiful little Vietnamese village. But I no longer recall anything about them, neither time, place, circumstances, just nothing at all. I wish I could remember these more serene times. But, I cannot. I started to write about some ordinary memories and then gave up and erased them. I could no longer recall enough about them to write more than a few very disjointed snippets – nothing coherent enough to even make a few decent sentences let alone a story. I traveled from Danang to Ubon, Thailand on a number of occasions, probably at least a dozen times. I only remember anything at all about only one of those times, which I’ll refer to later.
What I have written is possibly pretty boring – I’m no writer. But it is the stuff I do remember with enough completeness to tell in a series of small stories. I hope I’ve not embellished anything. I’ve tried to be honest about my gaffes – and there were too many of those as I think back. I was not a perfect pilot or FAC. I made my share of flying and other mistakes but survived them. I was also never exposed to the same type of dangers or pressures experienced by many of the FACs that flew into North Vietnam and Northern Laos. So I certainly don’t have an equivalent story to tell. I was just a FAC. I was sometimes unthinking when dealing with some folks, like the tower operators. On the other hand, they and others helped me a great deal. Whether I was just on a mission or doing a test flight, I always tried to do the right thing with the airplanes, sometimes even taking risks to be sure the airplanes were okay for the next person to fly them. Sometimes that annoyed the ops officer, who hated when I found something wrong on a test hop and red-x’ed an airplane. But I never wanted to feel that someone else might have suffered from anything done carelessly or overlooked by me. At this point my only real regret about SEA concerns the pilot and other friends I lost there, including one former roommate and also my best friend from UPT. I wish they were still with us.
I received my FAC assignment while flying C-141’s as a co-pilot in the 75th MAS at Travis AFB in February of 1967. This occurred only about 4-5 weeks before my class starting date at Hurlburt Field in Florida. I was number 31 on a list of 32 people for this assignment and all 30 ahead of me were passed over for a variety of reasons. Some were immediately grounded either permanently or for a long term due to “sudden” medical excuses. Some had pregnant wives. My wife was also pregnant but not due within the time window they allotted. Others I just don’t know. The reason I got my assignment so late before my school date was all those in front of me on the list that personnel had to work through.
I was scheduled for one of Travis’s around the world embassy runs when I received notice of my re-assignment. I immediately cancelled that trip and began working on moving my family near my wife’s parents in New Mexico. This was about February of 1967. I no longer recall exactly nor do I have exact records of that date. My flight records indicate that in the last half of February 1967 I had a total of a single one-hour flight on 23 February; it was probably for flight pay. My flight records were terminated on February 28, 1967 because of my PCS assignment.
I attended the FAC Special Ops School at Hurlburt and checked out in the O-1 at Holly Field, as did most other FACs. The only real highlight for me was that the O-1 was the very first recip aircraft I ever flew, having gone through the T-37/T-38 Pilot training and assignment to C-141’s – all pure jets. The spring steel gear and tail dragger configuration took some getting used to, but I began to like the airplane almost immediately. One classroom type presentation that stuck with me concerned the delay of the OV-10 program due to, as I recall, the 60-knot difference between power-on and power-off stall speed. It made for a long period between the time one became airborne and the time the aircraft could fly on one engine without spinning in. We were told that the wing was being extended and that in the interim, the USAF was buying something called an O-2, based on the Cessna 337, which would be delivered sometime while we were in Vietnam. This would require a checkout in that type during our tour in Vietnam.
While at Hurburt I also learned to water ski – after dozens or maybe hundreds of attempts. I was 29 years old at the time. My wife came to Fort Walton to spend a couple weeks with me and we tried hard to enjoy that time together in spite of the unknown and scary period facing us. I flew the O-1 as much as they would let me. A couple times I even ferried an O-1 from Holly to Eglin main for maintenance. For those of us who had not been fighter pilots, they arranged a couple range sorties in the A-1E with an A-1 student. The guy I flew with was very good, the airplane was very impressive, and the night work on the range was spectacular. I still remember the strafing runs under the flares. No civilian can ever imagine what that was like. It was an experience of a lifetime. It made all subsequent trips with my kids to amusement parks seems pretty tame. I apparently left Hurlburt around 9 May 1967 according to my flight records.
Transfer to Vietnam and Initial Experiences
In May of 1967 I traveled to Clark AB, PI, for the jungle survival school that everyone attended. I liked that school more than any other survival school. I never ate that well (or at least that quantity) in any other survival school. I completed the training and left Clark, I believe, two weeks prior to the heavy rains and subsequent disastrous mud slides of 1967 in the survival school field training area. I traveled on to Bien Hoa where I waited for 2-3 days for an assignment. Some FACs talked about going to Phan Rang, but I went to Tan Sonhut and then by bus to Bien Hoa. I was then assigned to the 20th TASS at Danang and flown there on a C-123 shuttle. Upon arrival at Danang, I was further assigned as the Quang Nam Province FAC, replacing Ernie Betts (sp), whose assignment would be up in a few weeks.
I flew a couple area orientation flights with Ernie, including, I think, just one air strike and then some 2-ship VR missions west of Danang toward the Laotian border, where Ernie pointed out various things. We also had a photo mission to Ashau Valley. I flew high while Ernie took some pictures to fill in a mosaic done by a regular photo recce bird. That was the first time I was fired at, by ground fire as far as I know. I had flown a few miles to the west of but still within sight of Ernie. The sound was a pretty “heavy” automatic gunfire. I remember Ernie screaming at me to “get the f… out of there”, saying I was being shot at by 50 cal. I shoved in a rudder and slipped and zigzagged my way out of there and back toward Ernie. Ernie left for re-assignment back to the US soon after. He was a really great guy. I saw him only once after. I think he was flying C-118’s but I’m not sure now.
The routine and an opportunity for more flying
I got into the weekly routine of VR missions with irregular scheduled air strikes and an occasional unplanned air strike over the next few months. There were also occasional meetings with the province chief, some of the Special Forces units and other occasions to fly somewhere. The province chief only flew with me a few times. The flying was okay, but I hated being on the ground. It was summer, hot, muggy and mostly boring since the city of Danang was off limits. There were also almost constant rumors about attacks on the base. I flew as much as they would let me. At some point, I learned that our maintenance QC officer and test pilot was leaving and would not be replaced. I talked to the ops officer and volunteered to do the test hops, just for some extra flying. Initially he said no, but a couple days later asked if I was still interested. When I said yes, he told me I’d have to continue flying FAC missions as well. It was okay with me. I wanted to fly. We had a schedule for checking out in the O-2’s that were to be arriving before long. At the time, I had no idea how many we were to get and just assumed a 1 for 1 replacement for the 40 some O-1’s we supported for I-Corps.
The new aircraft – the O-2
Sometime in late August of 1967 I traveled to Binh Thuy for checkout in the O-2. My first flight in an O-2 there was 24 August 1967 and my last one was on 29 August 1967. There’s where I discovered that conditions at Danang AB were pretty good. At Danang we at least had hot water for showers & shaving. At Binh Thuy, there was only cold water. Most everything else was the same. Flying around Binh Thuy seemed less of a problem than around Danang though. There were no serious hills or mountains.
Since I was to test hop the airplanes when I returned to Danang, the IP tried to give me a pretty good workout, including spins and engine shutdown and restarts in the air. There was no O-2-9 or FCF checklist as yet for the airplane and no standard FCF procedure. Whichever IP at Binh Thuy was available flew any needed test hop and did whatever he felt like doing. That bothered me a bit. Upon return to Danang, I looked at the skeletal O-1 FCF checklist (one skimpy page) and decided it was not appropriate. I then went to the F-4 and Base Flight C-47 units and borrowed a copy of their FCF checklists. Using those 3 checklists as general guides for various systems, plus the O-2 Dash-1, I put together a checklist that covered the aircraft systems, (brakes, gear, etc.), flight controls, engines and props, instruments and avionics equipment. Soon after I began using my checklist, a maintenance officer from Bin Hoa, who was “over” the maintenance officer at Danang arrived for a visit. At some point he talked to me since I was more or less working in maintenance without an appropriate maintenance AFSC. He seemed satisfied that I knew what I was doing and asked for a copy of the checklist I was using, saying he would send copies to other TASS’s. I don’t know if he did. I just wrote the checklist to assure my own consistency.
The gradual change in duties
Upon return to Danang from Binh Thuy, about 29 August 1967, I continued to fly the O-1 as well as the O-2. Some time not long after returning to Danang from Binh Thuy, I learned that we were to reduce down to only 17 O-1’s, but that we would receive 92 O-2’s, for a total of 109 supported aircraft. Some of these would be positioned in Ubon, Thailand as well as all over I-Corps. I continued to FAC as well as perform FCF’s for a few more months, but before long, the 20th TASS ops was getting substitutes from the command post for my FAC missions because they needed me to do FCF’s or to ferry parts or a mechanic to some part of I-Corps and sometimes Ubon or even II-Corps. For probably the last 4-5 months I was at Danang, I did no more FAC missions at all. They got another FAC and had him take over the Province FAC duties.
One thing I did appreciate was that they let me fly both the O-1 and O-2 without question. Everyone else made pretty much a clean switch to the O-2 once they received their check out. Though the USAF did not generally permit dual qualification, and at Danang this was usually enforced, ops just didn’t raise the issue and neither did I. I just flew whatever needed flown. I know some guys out in the smaller bases also flew whatever was available, but at Danang, I was the only one to fly both aircraft, often on the same days. For example, on 3 September 1967, just a few days after returning from Binh Thuy, I flew a 3-hour FAC day mission in an O-1 and a 3-hour night FAC mission in the O-2. When I first got checked out, I continued to often FAC and test both the O-1 the O-2’s because some of the places to which I flew were not suitable for landing the O-2. When I finally left Danang, however, I think they had no one left who had flown both aircraft recently, so the test flight duties were split between different pilots.
At some point, they also began to require instrument checks of pilots in the O-2. I don’t remember exactly when this began, but there was some grumbling about it at the time. I was not required to take one, although I don’t remember why. I had done some instrument flying on my check ride at Binh Thuy, including a GCA to touchdown under the hood all the way. I can’t say I greased it on; but I did land and stop without ever seeing the runway. The evaluator took over just before I came to a stop and had me remove the hood. I asked if everyone was doing that and the evaluator said no; he said that I had to since I’d be flying test flights and might have to go out or return from an FCF in weather. That was also true of combat missions but I didn’t argue with him. I did fly a small number of instrument approaches into Danang in the O-2.
The picture below is of me doing my maintenance officer desk job. I don’t think I spent much time in that office. I think I just sat there for the picture but did most of my “paperwork” out on the flight line. Note the hi-tech “air conditioning system”.
Stuff Happens - My first experience with rocket attacks
Not too long after I returned from checking out in the O-2, probably in late September of 1967, I received a call from the command post. I was at the Danang Officer’s Club (DOOM) and had just ordered an alcoholic drink. It was after dark. I don’t recall the time, but it was probably around 10 pm. The command post said that Hoi An was under attack and I had to fly down there immediately to see if there was anything I could see or do. I said I had just started to drink some alcohol so I probably shouldn’t fly. They didn’t buy that. They had some sort of list or board there, which I don’t recall ever seeing, on which I was listed as being on call. I think I was probably always on call, since I was the only official FAC for the province. Command post pilots often filled in the pre-planned sorties I couldn’t cover. But they almost never did short notice flights, especially so at night. I went to the barracks, picked up my vest and stuff, got the jeep and drove down to the flight line. The crew chief had had a call from the command post and had an O-1 ready. I did the pre-flight, jumped in and started it up. During the day, we normally had an ordinance guy at the take-off end run up area to pull the pins on our rockets. But at night, the crew chief normally led us out to the run up area, pulled the pins for us, and went back in.
Just as I started to taxi, with me following the crew chief’s truck, rockets began to hit the northwest side of the field, across from us. Our ramp was on the east side and hadn’t yet been moved to the north end. The crew chief stopped the truck, jumped out and rolled under it. Since I had a “parked” truck right in front of me, I shut down the O-1 and started to get out. But there was nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. Getting under that truck looked like a really bad thing to do. So I pulled myself back into the O-1 and restarted it. The crew chief heard me cranking it up, jumped back in the truck and drove it off to the side into the grass. He ran behind the aircraft and pulled the rocket pins right there. I taxied out trying to contact ground or the tower. No one answered. When I got to the end of the runway, I checked the approach, tried to contact tower one more time, and just started to roll. As I was rolling, a rocket struck somewhere off to my right – still the northwest side of the field, where the Marine aircraft were parked. Red-hot sparks and pieces bounced across the runway in front of me and I was completely terrified but kept going. (I still get somewhat upset even now remembering it). As soon as I got into the air and cleared the field toward the east, I could see some rockets launch from southwest of the field. I started to head straight south so as to end up a little east of the launch point. There was a hill not too far west of that point so I didn’t want to go to that side. I’d sighted in enough artillery to know not to fly within the line of fire. Tower began to answer my calls to them shortly after I was airborne. The radios in the O-1 were old tube types and may not have “warmed up” yet when I first tried to call tower.
I knew that I had taken off in a hurry and began to check everything to see if I’d set all switches properly. Everything was okay except in my haste I couldn’t reach the shoulder belts. I unstrapped, reached back, retrieved the belts and strapped in properly. By the time I reached the vicinity of the rocket launch point, there were no more rockets launching. I contacted the command post and requested any armed aircraft available. Tower asked me to give them a report on any fires on the base. While I waited for a response from the command post, I flew over the base and reported the couple fires that were still burning, including the ammo dump on the west side. I had seen that explode shortly after I reached the south end of the field in flight. It was a spectacular explosion that created a big bulbous cloud overhead and really rocked my O-1. I sometimes saw those clouds form when napalm was used during an air strike. Often it would rain from those induced clouds. The command post called back and said the coordinates I had given were too close to an ARVN training camp for an air strike. They said there was an AC-47 not too far away. I told them to send him over. When he got there, he fired a few bursts in the general vicinity of where I had seen the rockets launched but received no return fire. The next morning, of course, it was discovered that some of the rockets had indeed been fired from only about a hundred yards or so of that ARVN training camp and the rest in a couple lines on east from there.
I flew down to Hoi An, and around the area in general, but everything was quiet. The attack on Hoi An must have been a diversion for the attack at Danang, or a smaller coordinated attack. It started less than an hour before the one at Danang. I stayed airborne for well over 3 hours, talking to tower, the command post and the AC-47. When my fuel began to run low I requested permission to land. Tower initially said the field was closed, but I talked them into opening the north end of 17L for me and landed without incident.
After returning to the AF compound, I found two people sitting on the step of the barracks in which I stayed. It was already after 4 in the morning. One of the people on the step was a young airman who lived in one of the enlisted tents on the south end of the air base that had taken a rocket hit. The person in the bunk next to him was blown to pieces and this airman didn’t have a scratch. He was in very bad emotional shape. The other fellow was the airman’s non-flying OIC who had sat with the airman for a couple hours. He was also pretty tired and frazzled. He asked me to sit with the airman, which I did for a couple more hours.
As morning approached, a gunshot echoed through the compound. Folks had been in the mess hall line around the corner and they came running past saying someone had been shot standing in the mess hall line. Everyone assumed the compound was under attack. Later that morning we found out a nervous air policeman at the gate to the compound had accidentally fired a round that ricocheted off a couple buildings before hitting an airman in the arm in the mess hall line. He had only received a slight scratch, but everyone was on edge and for a couple weeks everyone was like Wyatt Earp, carrying guns around in the compound. This was a no-no, but it took a few weeks to get people to begin obeying the rule again. We even carried guns in the DOOM for a while until they started to check for them and refused to let us in if we had our pistol. For about 2 weeks I only removed my .38 in the shower – nowhere else. Talk about spooked.
In the 11 months I was actually at Danang (12 months minus my checkout in the O-2 and my R&R to Japan) we experienced 13 rocket attacks. None were as “up close” frightening as that one during which I took off. But from that day on, I compulsively kept an eye open to where to “hide” if the rockets started to come in. I also felt much more secure in the air than on the ground, especially at night. During the attacks we were supposed to go across the street in the compound to a shelter. Only once did I actually go. A few times I awoke under my bunk with my .38 in my hand and the siren already wailing and the rockets already hitting somewhere. That was no time to go out into the street. I just seemed to automatically roll out of and under my bunk as soon as the siren went off or the rockets began to hit, whichever happened first. I carried my compulsion to keep track of a hiding place for a couple years, right into civilian life. About 2 1/2 years after leaving Danang, about 1 1/2 years after having left active duty, I was walking out of my place of civilian employment and through the parking lot when I suddenly realized I was checking around for a place to hide when the NVA rockets began to come in. There were not going to be any NVA rockets in Pittsburgh, Pa. With that realization I finally began to shed some of the psychological baggage from my worst experiences in SVN.
How does one trust their support people
When I first arrived at Danang I was pretty certain of my flying skills, but somewhat unsure of my knowledge of procedures and checklists. So, although other FACs seemed to just jump into their O-1 and go, I used the printed checklist, literally following that printed checklist step by step. I didn’t trust my memory and I didn’t just accept that the crew chief had just completed pretty much the same thing. But, after a couple weeks, and some goading from the crew chiefs that they had just done all the same checks, I decided it was probably okay to forgo the preflight.
Wouldn’t you know, with my tendency to distrust, that something would indeed go wrong. The second time I skipped the preflight, and that time I was more comfortable with having done so, I just climbed in, cranked up following my mental image of the interior checklist and startup, and taxied out. I got clearance for takeoff, wheeled out onto the runway for a rolling takeoff, got to about 30-40 knots and smelled gasoline. It was a very powerful smell. I looked around and there was gasoline pouring through the right rear window onto the rear seat. That’s where the radios were, under that seat. I chopped the power, slowed just a bit, screamed at the tower that I was aborting, and turned right through the grass back toward our ramp, which was adjacent to the takeoff point. As soon as I had rolled back onto the taxiway pavement beside our ramp I jumped out. I had killed the engine and all power as I was rolling through the grass. The crew chief came running over and then followed me as I ran away from the O-1. I couldn’t stop screaming at him for a couple minutes. It’s a wonder he didn’t deck me. Looking back, you could see that the right wing fuel cap was not secured.
Never again did I skip a preflight. Not even when we received the O-2’s. And one needed a stand to check the fuel caps on that aircraft. I insisted on doing the preflight and everyone just got used to it and had a stand ready when it was me doing the flying. I carried that distrust even into the FCF’s that I later performed. I checked “everything”. When an O-2 crew chief later objected to getting me a stand, I’d tell him what happened to me in the O-1. Nobody ever pushed the issue after my story.
Special Forces Support
There was a small Special Forces installation southwest of Danang, maybe 20 clicks, on a small knoll at the entrance to the valley west of Hoi An. I think its name was Thoung Duc. It is difficult for me to recall the Vietnamese names after 33 years. I flew to Thoung Duc pretty often. I landed there at least once and sometimes twice a week. But I flew over it and talked to them on the radio almost every day. Landing at Thoung Duc was interesting. It was the only place I flew that had no runway, not even unimproved, at all. They put two coils of barbed wire across a dirt road beside a rice paddy. The road was not much more than a wide relatively straight trail. They placed the two coils of wire maybe a thousand feet apart, to keep people and large animals from wandering onto that section of the road. A caribou and I landed there pretty regular. I had to dodge the muddy spots, since the O-1 could easily get stuck. But the caribou used to park right in the wettest spot and had no trouble taxiing out of it. Even the helicopters did not land on the road. They had a flat clear area up the hill almost right at the camp. On landing, one of the SF’s would come down in a jeep and pick me up. There was a Vietnamese soldier to guard the airplane and every so often he’d fire a few rounds into the air if any person or animal got too close to the road; mostly when I’d get ready to take off or land. There were several incidents related to Thoung Duc that now seem humorous.
The Milk Run.
One of the Special Forces guys that I knew at Thoung Duc mentioned once that he had been to Danang and the milk at the mess hall tasted pretty good. At the SF camp, they had all kinds of stuff that needed milk, but the army didn’t supply them with milk. They had corn flakes and other cereal, pudding and ice cream mixes, pancake mixes, etc. They also had refrigeration units. But there was no milk. So once, before a flight to Thoung Duc, I went to the mess hall at Danang and talked them out of two of the (five gallon size, I think) cardboard containers with a bag of milk inside for the milk dispensers. I put them in the back of my O-1 and flew on down to Thoung Duc. The SF’s went nuts. When I left, almost everyone had a bowl of corn flakes or other cereal in their hand, plus a cup of milk, and a couple guys were working on making ice cream. They certainly seemed to appreciate it. Since that was near the time when I was FACing much less, it was the only time I scrounged milk for them.
One of the things I did in support of the SF from Thoung Duc was to fly out to their patrols, coordinate any info with their base camp, check and verify their position and status, and lend any support I could. Several times they provided Intel that led to a preplanned air strike. I contacted the patrols on a pre-assigned frequency. On one of these contacts, the radioman was whispering to me and asked that I check out a particular small village. I did so and saw no signs of life except for a cow. I buzzed the place and flew around the general area for about 10 minutes and then saw a couple guys from the patrol sneak out of the woods, run over to the cow, and lead it back into the woods. I asked what was going on. They said they had been out of meat for about a week.
The LZ’s and Ranch Hand Support
Though it was not amusing at all, one other principal thing I did for the SF’s on a couple occasions was to mark preplanned spots for landing zones for insertion and extraction. We’d get 2 or 3 aircraft at a time, each with a very large, 2000-pound I think, daisy cutter. They made one heck of a helicopter LZ. We would put in four to six LZs for an insertion or extraction.
Though we didn’t have a large number of Ranch Hand missions within Quang Nam Province during my time there, we did have some. They were generally easier to work than fighters since they were low and slow and had an easier time nailing down the target area.
O-1 quirks and happenings.
Flat tail wheel tire
Hoi An was a regular stop for the Quang Nam Province FAC since it was the province headquarters. Most everyone assumed Danang was since it was so much larger. Even when there was nothing going on with the Province chief, one of the Australian advisors there, or any other official cause to land, there was the mail for the radio operator. That kept me going into Hoi An pretty regularly. On one stop there I returned to my aircraft and started it up. As I began to taxi, I found I could not turn the airplane or get it to taxi in a straight line at all. I finally gave up and shut it down. I found that the tire on the tail was flat and on the gravel, it just would not behave and turn with the rudder pedals. I had the radio operator call Danang. They sent a wheel and a mechanic down to fix it. Once I had an inflated tire, I could taxi on the gravel just fine.
Cross winds at Hoi An
Since the radio operator at Hoi An depended on me for his mail, I would often land in somewhat unfavorable conditions. On one such occasion, there was a pretty strong direct crosswind from the north – it had a 30-knot sock standing straight out steady across the runway line. I landed and had to work pretty hard to keep the thing on that dinky runway. A few minutes after I left, another FAC called the radio operator and said he was coming in. I told him the winds were pretty bad, but I guess he assumed if I made it he would. A few minutes later, on landing, he ground looped the thing right over into the cemetery to the north, broke off the entire rear end of the fuselage from his seat back and came to a rest with his seat (and butt) hanging out the front half of the airplane. He was unhurt. I had proceeded on up to Danang and didn’t hear about this incident until I landed. I’ve no idea who the pilot was and don’t want to know.
After another stop at Hoi An, I cranked the O-1 back up, did a run up, and started to take off. At some point during the roll, it seemed that I wasn’t getting a lot of power and the roll was taking pretty long. It was hot, so I figured that was the cause, but I barely got off the ground, went between two buildings beyond the end of the runway, and then dropped back down into ground effect. I had only been doing about 60 knots and the aircraft didn’t seem to want to climb. The mixture was full rich and the carb heat was off and the flaps were up. I flew a couple miles in ground effect and finally accelerated to a reasonable speed. I began a slow climb, flew on up to Danang and landed without incident. On landing I decided to repeat the mag check I’d done at Hoi An. Sure enough, one mag was dead. The runway at Hoi An wasn’t much. It consisted of 500 feet of PSP, another 500 feet of gravel, and a couple hundred feet of that red stuff that looked sort of like what we called red-dog back in the states. But there was only a single row of small and separated buildings at the east end behind which was a field and then a grassy swamp that ran for maybe 5-6 miles on out to the South China Sea. So if you needed to fly in ground effect, there at was the place to do it. To the north of the runway was a cemetery. To the south was the town. To the west was a relatively open area with a few trees, then highway 1 and fairly flat terrain for several miles.
Ground loop Charlie
Although I never ground looped an O-1, I might have snookered at least two people into doing so. One incident in the crosswind at Hoi An I already mentioned. Another occurred at Danang. When they moved our parking ramp to the extreme north end of the ramp, it was highly desirable to land in such a way as to turn off right at the takeoff entrance. This was hard to do because the taxiway was only 150 feet wide and the O-1 is not really a STOL aircraft. If there was no one right at the entrance to 17L, I would request a turnoff at Alpha. I always cheated by touching down on the overrun a few hundred feet short of the concrete. I was thus able to slow down and make the turn. One day, another O-1 driver right behind me heard me ask for a turnoff at Alpha. He requested the same thing. However he apparently did not notice where I touched down. I turned onto the parallel taxiway just in time to watch him touch down on the first couple inches of concrete – and then just as he was going to miss the turnoff, he ground looped. He dragged the wing and tail but I don’t know that there was very much damage. At that point I was still just FACing and was not yet associated with maintenance.
Functional Check Flights
The chip detector light and the O-1 glider
Since we no longer had a maintenance QC officer in the 20th TASS and the maintenance OIC was not rated, I ended up acting as the QC officer in spite of not having had any training as a maintenance officer. It worked out. The guys in the QC shop reported to me and taught me how to do the office paperwork. On one occasion two of them came to me and asked me to fly an O-1. Hue Phu Bai had recently been opened, probably a matter of weeks earlier, and we had 4 O-1’s there. One in particular had just been flown down to Danang. It had had a rough engine on the last couple missions and the maintenance guy at Phu Bai reported that the plugs had been fouled. The QC guys were unable to find anything wrong with the engine. They had changed the plugs and run it up and everything seemed okay. I trusted them, but not necessarily the airplane. I ran it up and everything seemed okay.
I took off in the O-1, but instead of heading out over the water where I usually did check flights, I proceeded to just climb over Danang, intending to get above traffic. I wasn’t sure I should trust an airplane with an unexplained engine problem. I just about reached 4000 feet and was going to level off when the chip detector light suddenly came on. Almost immediately, the engine lost all power and slowed to just a barely indicated reading on the rpm. It did not seize, but would not pull, and did not vary rpm at all with throttle. I began a glide and made sure the engine was getting fuel. But it was pretty dead.
I called Danang tower and announced “Danang, Bully zero nine requesting an SFO to the inside runway”. They cleared me and requested a call at high key. I called back immediately and reported high key. They said to call low key. Then I got to thinking – in pilot training, SFO meant “simulated flame out”. So I called tower and told them this was not simulated, I would be unable to go around, and I had no engine whatsoever. They called back and asked if I wanted to declare an emergency. I answered rather stupidly that it didn’t matter because I was going to land one way or the other. They called again and asked if I was declaring an emergency. I said roger, Bully zero nine declaring an emergency, engine out. I called low key about that time. I landed, kept the speed up and cleared the runway onto a taxiway. The engine quit turning shortly after I touched down from the loss of the slipstream. It would not run even at idle on the ground.
As I exited the aircraft, maintenance and the fire department showed up. I terminated the emergency with the fire department. I told the maintenance guys that the engine was coming apart inside – the chip detector light came on and the engine lost all power – it would not run at all. One of the maintenance guys wondered if the engine might have ingested something through the air intake. One of them pulled the air filter right there on the taxiway to see, put his had in the air scoop, and pulled it out covered with very fine sand. We had wondered how the engine, with only a little over a hundred hours since overhaul, could have something tear it up. Sand would do it.
The next day I flew up to Phu Bai. Our O-1’s were parked in sand next to some PSP. I watched as an O-1 cranked up and sure enough, a small inverted tornado like thing formed right behind the propeller sucking sand right up to the air intake. We sent a bunch of extra filters up to Phu Bai and had them wash, oil soak and drain the filters after each flight. Those fixes ended that problem and as far as I know the O-1’s were able to continue flying out of Phu Bai.
The aluminum battery bus cable on the O-2
While flight-testing the O-2’s, one check was to see if the props would actually unfeather. One could check the accumulator pressure on the ground, but that didn’t assure that everything would actually work as advertised. On a couple occasions, the prop failed to unfeather. The dash one simply called for hitting the starter button. But once, when a rear engine did not unfeather and I hit the starter button, I had an almost immediate electrical failure. No doubt with all the extra electronics on the O-2 compared to the C-337, we should have turned off some electrical devices. But I don’t recall the dash calling for it. I flew back to Danang – I had been out over the water – wagged my wings at the tower, got a green light and landed. The main battery buss cable had acted like a fuse and burned out. When we checked, we found that several other aircraft battery buss cables showed signs of having overheated. So we replaced all the aluminum bus cables with copper cable and notified the other TASS’s.
The mysterious engine stoppage on an O-2
One of the Covey pilots had trouble with his O-2 on climb out. Sometimes the rear engine would just quit. It would restart pretty readily, after a short while, but it was very disconcerting to the guy when it quit. We tried everything we could think of with that airplane. Finally, after everyone had just about given up, the SAAMA tech rep and I started discussing a return fuel line check valve for the rear engine. It was inside the right wing, as I recall, behind a small panel that was not easily removed. Everyone was reluctant to pull that panel, but we thought maybe the valve was stuck or the tubing crimped. We had checked all the other fuel lines except in that area. Maintenance finally pulled the panel and the valve was installed backwards. That never occurred to us since we assumed the engine wouldn’t run at all with the valve reversed. Apparently as the aircraft climbed out and reached a high enough altitude (it usually happened around 4000-5000 feet) the pressure would build up and the engine would quit. We fixed the airplane, inspected all the other O-2’s and notified the other TASS’s. I never heard if any more were found reversed. We had no idea how that aircraft had been ferried across the Pacific. The panel had never been removed since the aircraft left the factory.
More Things One Can Do (sometimes dumb things) and Still Survive
I’ve already mentioned a number of the dumb things I did, like taking off in an O-1 with a history of a rough running engine and landing at Hoi An way above the crosswind limit. But there were, unfortunately, other odd and sometimes dumb incidences.
The Rotating Beacon
In SEA, if someone didn’t seem to fit a job, sometimes people bent over backwards to try to accommodate him or her – even when they did something for which they would get in trouble back in the US. We had an enlisted supply clerk who fit that bill. He probably didn’t want to be there, but hardly anyone did. But this young fellow tried to make life miserable for those around him. He was surly, wouldn’t do what he was told, and just a pain to the other folks in supply. If an officer called to him for help at the supply desk his response was usually “Yeah! Wadda YOU want now!!!” Never a yes sir or a no sir. Not even the slightest hint of even being polite. But, everyone recognized he had a problem and just let it go. One day his boss, a master sergeant, asked me if I could take him for a ride in my O-1 and see if it might help his attitude. I had a night VR scheduled that night and said I’d take him along.
That evening, this young airman showed up at the airplane. I briefed him on the seatbelts, shoulder harness, mike switch, etc., and showed him how to look through the starlight scope and what we would be looking for in some rivers south of Danang. I had a piece of rope on the scope and had him put the thing around his neck like a big necklace. Throughout the briefing and the early part of the flight he was pretty surly. But gradually he got into it and seemed to like riding and actually would do what I told him when I’d ask him to check the riverbank in a certain area or anything such as that.
After about an hour of flight, I noticed an AC-47 flying a few miles south of me over what we called Antenna Valley. He was firing bursts at the ground and getting return fire. I found his frequency and in talking with him, he said he was leaving pretty soon and was dumping out a log (flare log) to mark the area from which he was getting ground fire. He said another AC-47 was on its way and would be there in about 30 minutes. He asked if I could hang around and brief the other aircraft. I agreed, he pointed out the 2 areas near the log where he had been getting ground fire and he left the area. As was usual, I had no exterior lights on and just the little blue light in the cockpit on low.
After about 15 minutes it was pretty quiet and I began to wonder if the VC were still down there. I told the kid in the back that I would be turning pretty hard in a minute. So then I reached down, flipped the rotating beacon on and off, and immediately shoved in the right rudder and slapped the stick to the right. The sky around us lit up with tracers. I zigzagged my way out of there back to the north. After crossing the north ridgeline I calmed down and tried to talk to the kid in the back. I got no response. I kept calling to him, but heard nothing. I felt like crap, thinking I must have gotten him hurt or worse. I loosened my seat belt enough to turn around and brightened up the blue light. When I looked in the back seat, the kid had his knees drawn up in a fetal position and was bent over hugging the starlight scope. He would not let go enough to push the mike button. I asked if he was okay and he slowly raised and lowered his head.
Since he seemed okay and I was eventually able to get him to calm down enough to talk to me over the mike, I continued to fly and briefed the next AC-47. I landed an hour or so later and the airman in the back was pretty quiet – just pretty much sticking with yes and no answers to questions or comments from me during that last hour. When we landed he said little and left. A couple days later his NCOIC asked me what happened. The airman had been extremely polite to everyone, yes sir and no sir to all, and was doing everything he was told. This effect lasted only a few weeks, but the airman would never fly with anyone again.
The sampan and the 13 seconds of easy rifle range
When departing Danang on a FAC mission to the west, we took off on the east side of the field and one had to climb above 3000 feet in order to cross to the west. And often you needed to drop right back down again, if going to Thoung Duc, for example or working east of the mountains. In the O-1, this climb took a while. So I got in the habit of turning out of traffic to the east, dropping down right away and diving for the river that ran from west to east a mile or so south of the airbase, and flying to the west over that river, usually pretty low – only maybe 25 feet up. I’d climb a little to cross the bridge for highway 1. But otherwise, I’d fly real low for about 4-5 miles until well clear of the Danang traffic. I’d follow the same route back in, climbing up onto the downwind after reaching the east side of the field.
On one return to Danang, I was flying low along the river. After crossing over the bridge I dropped down again, then went around a bend in the river. Though the terrain is fairly flat, there is some very high grass that obscures one’s view around a bend if you are real low. As I rounded the bend to a more open area, there was a small boat, with one person in it directly in front of me. He was turned away from me and appeared to have a rifle. All I could think of at the time was the admonition down at Holly field that an O-1 was in easy rifle range for 13 seconds when flying low. I flew right toward the guy and at the last minute realized he just had a pole. But I sweated pretty hard for a few seconds. After that I flew high enough to see if there was anyone around those bends in front of me.
The bathroom for Khesahn
FACs do not like to rough it any more than necessary. One of our FACs, I no longer remember his name, was assigned to Khesahn. I recall the ground FAC there during the siege and know his name. But I don’t recall the name of the one about whom I’m now writing. Anyway, he asked me to help him haul some stuff up to Khesahn. I loaded the back seat of my O-1 with a bunch of his stuff and he loaded, among other things, an entire toilet into the back seat of his aircraft. He had already built a shower at Khesahn, using a drop tank painted black as a source of “warm” water. He had dug a sump pit near the shower and installed a pump to empty it. His biggest problem with the shower, I think, was keeping the Marines from using up his water supply. Now he was going to install a flush toilet and would use the soapy water pumped out of his shower sump to flush it.
I don’t remember just where he was going to install the toilet – I think outside the bunker but in a shanty close by. We flew his stuff up to Khesahn and he gave me a short tour of the place. It was very rustic. Everyone (USAF) lived and worked in a single underground bunker. The radio operator had his radios in the bunker. I think the mechanic had his tools down there too. And everyone (USAF) had his bunk in there as well. I didn’t inside the bunkers of the marines, but my impression is it was even more spartan than the USAF bunker. They didn’t have any way to take a shower. They just sponge bathed and shaved occasionally from a pot. Everything was muddy. But the scenery in the surrounding area and hills was lush, green and beautiful. About a week later, Khesahn came under siege. When I flew back over the area several months later, all the beautiful surrounding scenery was gone. Nothing but bare ground and craters.
The sickly photographer and other odd passengers
For some reason, ops sent me an odd assortment of people to take out on missions. One I recall was a civilian artist. I no longer recall his name or what organization he worked for – I think it was a magazine. But he showed up in a flight suit with one small camera and a set of art materials – some large pads and pens, pencils and charcoal – material along those lines. I don’t recall a great deal about the flight. It was a pre-planned air strike. The artist seemed to take only a very few pictures, during the most active part of the flight. The rest of the time he just had a large sketchpad opened in the back seat. I don’t even remember if he showed me his sketches. I don’t recall that he was especially talkative either.
Then there was the base photographer – a young airman who seemed pleasant enough. He just showed up one day. Usually ops told me ahead of time when I was to expect a passenger. But this photographer showed up with several cameras. I asked him if he’d flown in the O-1 before. He said he had, 3 times, so I asked if he had any questions about how to strap in or use the mike. He had none. The mission was a VR flight out to the west, but within radio range of our radio operator, so it was just a single ship flight. Shortly after takeoff he told me he didn’t feel good. We had been airborne maybe 10 minutes and were still within sight of Danang. I asked what he meant – was it his stomach or what. He said he felt nauseated. I asked if he had been nauseated on his previous flights. He said yes. When I asked how nauseated he had been, he said he threw up. I asked how many of those 3 previous flights had he thrown up? He said all of them.
I always carried a couple of the plastic (or vinyl?) canteens full of water with me. I passed one back to him and told him to take a very small sip, count very slowly to 10, then take another tiny sip, then repeat. He did so and I continued west. After the first few minutes, when he seemed to be concentrating on what I had him doing, I told him to space his sips out for a slow count of 30. After a while he settled into a routine of a little sip, a pause, even frequently taking a picture, another little sip and so on. I flew for over 3 hours with him doing this – and he did not throw up. When I got back, there were about 7-8 maintenance people waiting for my plane – all laughing and pointing at my aircraft. Usually there was only one crew chief that sort of ambled over to the plane. This time the bunch of them ran over. They were surprised that the photographer was okay; he hadn’t thrown up, and was talking to me about the flight. I knew that they knew of his previous problem and they were treating it like a joke on me. But it didn’t work. The photographer flew with me one other time. He did take the canteen from me but only took a few sips during the entire flight. He had gotten more or less used to flying. I felt kind of stupid for being sucked into taking the base cookie baker up without realizing it. But it all worked out.
How to make the tower unhappy with a pilot – Number 1
At Danang, during the monsoon season, it became customary when the field went below VFR minimums for the tower to tell all VFR traffic to hold east of the field for further clearance. There must have been a change at some point in the tower personnel because they went from being fairly free with Special VFR to being very reluctant to grant Special VFR. Me, being a smart a.. at times tried to hold about a quarter mile east of the tower and tell them I had the runway in sight and was requesting Special VFR. I was close enough, and almost their level, so they could no doubt see me. That had worked a couple times but not this time. They had a fit and told me to go out over the water to hold. That was the worst place to go because there were just too many airplanes flying up and down the coastline trying to keep the breakers in sight. So I just moved a little further away so they couldn’t see me and continued to request Special VFR. Darned if they didn’t try to get me to do an ADF approach. The GCA had trouble finding me because O-1’s tended to disappear off radar when it was raining. Tower finally cleared me in.
How to make the tower unhappy with a pilot – Number 2
For a period of time at Danang, there was some construction going on that closed the north end of 17L. So tower would issue a standard clearance something like “Bully 09, maintain 500 feet over the men and equipment operating in the first 3000 feet of Runway 17 Left; cleared to land in the remaining 7000 feet”. It was pretty obvious that no one was following those instructions. Most people flew a normal approach and flew maybe 50 feet over the 3000-foot marker and landed about 1000-1500 feet beyond that. So they were probably often less than 100 feet above the men and equipment. Everybody did this – FACS, C-123’s, Caribou’s, Gooney Birds, and helicopters, anything that tended to land on the east runway.
Well one day I decided to see what it would be like to do what the tower said. I flew level at 500’ down the runway centerline watching for the 3000’ marker. As I approached it, I lowered the flaps to 60 degrees and added a bunch of power. Just as I crossed over the 3000’ marker I yanked the power back and dumped the nose. I descended very steeply at about 55-60 knots. Tower began to immediately call to me “Bully 09, are you okay”. The first time I just replied “Roger – Bully 09”. They apparently didn’t believe me and called the same thing again. So I explained that I had tried to fly 500’ above the men and equipment and that because I did so, I had to descend very steeply. They just said “Cleared to land”. They didn’t say any more, and they continued to issue the same 500’ restriction because that was their job. But they had probably never thought about what it would look like if someone did what they were saying. I tried not to annoy them any more for a while.
How to make the tower unhappy with a pilot – Number 3
Well, not exactly – when one is dealing with the Marines. Sometimes the tower just thinks you’re dumb. I used to go down to Chu Lai on occasion. I did so often enough that I knew the way to get there following the coastline pretty well. On one particular day, as I flew south, the weather kept getting worse and worse. As I passed the Hoi An river I had to descend to a very low altitude – probably well below a hundred feet – to keep the coastline in sight. I knew how to find the river that went inland north of Chu Lai. As I turned inland at the river I called tower and told them I was turning at the river and requesting Special VFR (following that river was like flying an extended base turn). They answered, “Roger Bully 09, weather measured 50 and 1/8, cleared special VFR, cleared to land, call runway in sight.” A minute or two later I saw the PSP runway off to the left, called tower, yanked the O-1 into a sharp left turn, rolled out and touched down. The tower guy then asked if I was down and when I told him I was, he asked what I was doing flying around in that stuff. He never was able to see me, even after I touched down. I didn’t tell him how dumb I felt. I no longer recall why I went to Chu Lai on that trip. It was probably to deliver a mechanic or aircraft part. Some time later the fog lifted a bit and I returned to Danang, where the weather was good.
The O-1 versus the O-2
I’ve mentioned on occasion that I didn’t care for the O-2 as a FAC aircraft. Sometimes FACs who flew the O-2 and heard me say this were perplexed. They thought the O-2 was a great airplane. Some of the FACs I knew in SEA strongly defended it because it had 2 engines, and I certainly understand and empathize with that feeling. In fact, on one of my occasional trips over to Ubon, I saw an O-2 that had been struck the previous day in the rear by shrapnel from a 37mm (I think that was the size) AAA fire. The damage was extensive. Large portions of the elevator and horizontal tail were torn away, there were big holes in the booms (especially the right one) and vertical tail surfaces and the right rudder was gone. The rear engine had been perforated and lost all engine oil and quit. That airplane made it back, barely, on the front engine. Everyone was still talking about how he had barely made it and had cleared the fence at Ubon by only a couple feet.
So, whoever appreciates the O-2 for it’s two engines certainly has a strong case in my book. The flight instruments were also a very strong element in favor of the O-2. One could actually fly a GCA in rain in an O-2 because of the IFF and one could ascend or descend through the clouds without much concern that the attitude indicator would come unglued, as it sometimes did in the O-1. I had to use the turn needle a couple times in the O-1 to turn back from a too low visibility area because the attitude indicator had tumbled.
On the other hand, I flew both aircraft many times, on all kinds of FAC missions, cross-country trips, as well as in weather and in and out of a variety of field conditions. For certain types of flight, the O-2 was superior. But for certain other types of flight, the O-1 was superior.
FAC missions – Working Fighters
I found the O-1 to be much better, at least for me, in working fighters on an air strike. It maneuvered with much better response, such that one could stay in a tight figure 8 pattern and not ever lose sight of each aircraft to be cleared, from the time they came off the perch until after the ordinance had reached the target. This was difficult or impossible in the O-2. The poorer visibility and maneuverability constantly got in the way of staying with each aircraft throughout its dive and ordnance release. If you stayed with one through the impact on the target, then you often could not get the next one in sight early because you could not get back to an appropriate point to pick him up before you cleared him in. It was important to stay in visual contact with the ordnance so you could call a correction if needed. But you also wanted to stay close to the run-ins for good visual contact with the target. This was dangerous if you couldn’t follow the path of the fighter you had cleared. So If you managed to keep all the strike runs in sight, then you tended to lose too much altitude over the course of several runs, because the slower turning capability of the O-2 kept you from climbing back up to your original altitude as you worked each fighter consecutively. By time you “horsed the airplane around, the next fighter would be almost ready to drop his ordnance. So you had to keep turning tightly instead of climbing back up. You could space out the runs, but then you risked the fighters running low on fuel.
And finally, for me, who had not been a fighter pilot before, the gun sight was problematic. I found that my accuracy with willie pete’s deteriorated somewhat compared to the O-1, the harder I tried to use it. When I simply eyeballed the firing of the rockets as in the O-1, I came closer to the target than when I tried to use that sight. I may have been the only FAC with that problem – I don’t know. The availability of the extra rockets on the O-2 often came in handy, however, if one or two went haywire. Since that happened to me more often in the O-2, than the O-1, the extra rockets were appreciated. About the only advantage of the O-2 during a FAC mission was that the fighters seemed to be able to spot you a bit easier. Sometimes they had a hard time spotting the O-1. You wanted them to see you for lots of reasons, including mutual safety and more accurate identification of the target area. You didn’t want the fighters looking in the wrong place when you fired your marking rockets.
Cross Country Flights
The O-2 was no doubt superior to the O-1 for cross-country flights. I had to go over to Ubon, down to Bien Hoa, Pleiku, and other places a number of times. These flights would have been tough or not possible in the O-1. Also, since the O-2 had both a UHF and VHF, and it was the UHF that was most often out, I could take one of the O-2’s that was written up and waiting for a UHF replacement and could not be flown on a combat mission, on a cross country flight. So, at least for me, availability of aircraft for a parts or mechanic ferry trip was better.
Takeoff and Landing Performance
The O-1 had much better takeoff and landing performance than the O-2. Granted that the O-2 had a better rate of climb. But it certainly couldn’t get in or out of a tight place as well as the O-1. I often went up to Hue citadel. The runway was inside the walled area. I don’t know how high that wall was; probably between 10 and 20 feet somewhere. The thing was, in the O-1 I never paid much attention to it. On landing, I just landed on the visibly most used part of the runway. Same for takeoff. I just taxied out to where the grass got pretty thick, turned around, and took off. I never even noticed the wall. It was way down when I crossed it. The first time I took an O-2 into the citadel, I noticed that it took a lot further down the runway to stop than in an O-1. Then on takeoff, knowing the takeoffs were longer, I went back through the grass, almost to the north wall. I turned around and shoved in the power and made a rolling takeoff. That was not the best idea. I cleared that wall by probably less than 50 feet – maybe a lot less. I still remember thinking – crap, there really is a wall here. After that, I always ran the power up with brakes applied, released them after the power was stabilized at max, and then took off. I cleared the wall better, but never as in an O-1.
I was also unable to take an O-2 into Thoung Duc or Hoi An. They didn’t want the airplanes operated on fields that poor. At Hoi An, as I recall, the concern was in the possibility of kicking up the gravel into the rear prop. No one mentioned poor takeoff performance. But I wouldn’t have wanted to take the O-2 into some of the really tiny and unimproved or barely improved places anyway.
Some effects of Tet – 1968
As the only pilot in maintenance or ops staff at Danang willing (dumb enough?) to go almost anywhere, I was asked to go up to Hue citadel with a mechanic to see what might be salvageable after the Tet offensive. As I’ll demonstrate shortly, there wasn’t much. I went up the day after the citadel was secured back from the NVA to determine the status of our aircraft. I probably should not have done that, since there had been only one sweep of the area for booby traps. But my tendency was to not say no and to just go. The people there never questioned my flight in. The following pictures were taken at the citadel the day after the field was taken back. I don’t recall exactly how many days the field was in NVA hands. I think only about 3. It will be obvious that they did not like O-1’s. However, most of the totally destroyed O-1’s belonged to the South Vietnamese, not the USAF. I’ll try to comment as best I can recall.
This first picture is, as I recall, a mixture of the remains of a couple VNAF O-1’s and I think parts of a helicopter. There is a bit of PSP that is no longer suitable for runway or taxiway use.
This next picture is a more general view of the compound inside the citadel. Though you can’t tell all that well, in the foreground are some trenches that were dug by the NVA. If you look closely, you can see that they used the wing of what I think was an O-1 as a partial cover over the ditch. They did this a couple times.
The next picture is a closer view of a different trench with a wing and fuselage over it. This one was USAF, as can be seen by the symbol on the under side of the wing. The wing was still dripping a bit of av-gas when I first saw it. There actually is a trench under it and there had actually been NVA personnel occupying that trench little more than 24 hours before. I found the destruction pretty incomprehensible. I wondered why they didn’t fly the airplanes out of there or at least preserve them for such a possibility. They didn’t destroy these airplanes as the field was being retaken. They destroyed them the very first night they were there. So they might have expected a pretty quick counter attack and just wanted to destroy the airplanes. Our Hue FACs were trapped in town in their villa for about 2 days during the offensive. Their villa was never attacked although they saw NVA in the next block. I was at the airfield and saw their aircraft before they got out there. None of the aircraft that remained relatively intact were flyable.
This next airplane flew again. I don’t recall how long the fix took. A grenade caused the damage.
The next picture was taken in front of the O-2 that I had flown up to Hue. The person on the left was a VNAF Major that I knew, but I no longer recall his name. The one on the right I think was an enlisted VNAF guy who was skittish about me taking his picture. I do recall him not wanting the picture but the Major got him to stand still. The Major was still “elated” that the South Vietnamese had regained control of the citadel so quickly and was proud to have his picture taken.
That’s all of the Hue pictures I’ll post. I have a few more, but they are repetitious.
A couple different pictures follow. The first is of an O-1 that was re-built at Danang. I’m not sure if this is the one I flew just 3 days before I left or not. But I’ll tell you about my last, unplanned, O-1 FCF anyway. The picture complements the account even if it was not the same serial number I flew. The particular airplane I’m writing about suffered considerable damage under circumstances that are best not included in this account. Suffice it to say that, when the aircraft was rebuilt, the only parts remaining from the original were the left wing, tail, and serial number. I think some of the fuselage ribs and things like that – sheet metal stuff – might have been used as well, although we had a store of sheet metal and other parts that we just didn’t track by original serial number.
The O-1 in this account took approximately 3 months to rebuild, as I recall. I would go by the hanger a couple times a week and watch the maintenance guys working on it for a little while. As the work progressed and it finally began to look more and more like an airplane, it was obvious they were quite proud of their work. Finally, two days before I was scheduled to leave Danang for my assignment back to the USA, the airplane was ready for a test hop. I had already turned in my gear (vest, helmet, etc.) and was just hanging around the flight line. The guy who was taking over O-1 test flights arrived from somewhere – he wasn’t based at Danang but somewhere north, either Hue or Quang Tri – I don’t recall that part. I was there when the maintenance guys briefed him on the FCF. He asked what the FCF was “for” and they told him the aircraft had just been rebuilt. He asked what that meant and they told him in general what had been done – rebuilt fuselage, wings from two aircraft, original and another, gear from another aircraft, rebuilt engine, instruments and radios from where ever, etc. It was pretty obvious he did not want to fly that airplane.
Finally, I asked him if he wanted me to fly it. He said yes immediately. I told him I had already turned in my “stuff” and needed his helmet and vest. He handed them right to me. I flew the airplane for an hour – most O-1 FCF’s were less than half that. I yanked it around and checked all the equipment. There were only two significant problems that I recall. A bolt was installed backward in the rudder and though it didn’t jam on the elevator, the elevator would touch it (that was a red X until fixed). The airplane also could not be trimmed laterally. It wanted to fly one wing low and the usual “jerking” and slip of the rudder cable did not bring it up. One of the wings had to be adjusted very slightly. In addition to small tabs that could be bent, the O-1’s had a cam shaped bolt at the rear of the wing. Each wing could be slightly raised or lowered at the aft end with this device. As I recall, there were also a few other write-ups. I think 22 if I remember correctly – but most were very minor.
When I returned from the flight, the other FAC scheduled to fly it took his gear back and left for his base in his own airplane. I presume he did do the FCFs as needed after I left. We no longer had many O-1’s so the need was drying up. Here is a picture of an O-1 being built in the hanger. I’m not positive, but I think this is the one I flew with the borrowed gear 3 days before I left.
For no good reason, other than I’ve got the pictures, I’ll throw in a couple pictures of part of the 20th TASS ramp area.
This following picture is of one of the members of Quality Control section.
The FCF of the O-1 just 3 days before I left was not the only thing that happened right at the end of my tour. The day before I left, an O-2 landed short of Danang, out of fuel, in the harbor, in about maybe a foot of water. We had Marine bunkers on the beach and the pilot was brought immediately onto the base. When it was recognized that the tide was coming in ops began to assemble a team to go out and try to retrieve the O-2 up onto dry beach, near a guard post so it could be guarded that night. They wanted an officer to head the team and asked if I’d go with the guys. I agreed – I was getting bored after just standing around for about 3 days with only that one-hour FCF for excitement. We took 2 trucks out the gate and around to the beach by the O-2. By time we got there, the tide had come in a good bit and the water was partway up the fuselage. We didn’t realize when we left that the aircraft might be beginning to submerge.
One of the enlisted guys, a big guy, who I didn’t know, said he would wade out and tie chains onto the airplane. The idea was to put some chains on the aircraft gear and lift points and use a truck to tow it up onto the normally dry part of the beach. I asked the EM if he was sure he wanted to go out there. The conditions were not the best. The airplane was pretty far out in the water by then, several hundred feet, although the water was only about waist height or so on the crew chief. He said sure, he wanted to go. So I let him go. While he was wrestling with the chains, trying to attach them to the aircraft out in the water, we suddenly all heard automatic gunfire close by. I wheeled around looking for the source of the sound. There were hundreds of Vietnamese scattered all over the beach watching us dumb Americans trying to retrieve an airplane. They were in a light mood, laughing, with their kids running around. About 75 yards away I spotted a South Vietnamese policeman firing his gun in the air periodically. I didn’t realize it immediately, but it was evening curfew time on the beach, and his whistle apparently hadn’t been doing any good at all. So he decided to fire his rifle.
Four of the EM’s with me had M-16’s and were doing what we expected would be perfunctory guard duty. Two were positioned on the east end of beach area of our team and two were right beside me on the west side of the team. Those two nearest me dove on the ground at the first shots and began scanning for the source of the sound. I looked down just as I realized it was a policeman and saw the man nearest me with the M-16 spot the policeman and begin aiming at him. I dove on top of him screaming “don’t shoot”. I obscured the view of the other airman a little behind him. I yelled to everyone that it was a cop and everyone gradually calmed down. I kept thinking that I’d be there for the next five years trying to explain why we shot a cop.
A lot of the Vietnamese had seen what had happened. A few minutes later, a group of Vietnamese men formed a circle around me. I wasn’t sure what was going on. They were conversing in Vietnamese, which I never really learned to understand. Then one who could speak English said “thank you for no shooting. Everyone say VC come real soon. You go.” I called the guys together and waved the crew chief in from the aircraft out in the water. We left for the air base. Next morning, as I was standing in line to board my flight back to the States, there came a flying crane from the north, carrying that O-2.
Now I thought that was the end of that story. But then, at the recent reunion, I began to talk to this big guy, a former Sgt Hasert if I got his name right. We each thought that we knew each other from somewhere. But we just couldn’t place it. Our tours in Vietnam had overlapped by about 4 months. But I was at Danang and he had been at some remote bases further north, like Quang Tri and Dong Ha. After about 30 minutes of BS’ing about Vietnam he asked if I remembered an O-2 landing in the water just off the end of the runway. Suddenly we both knew where we had met each other. He had been down at Danang just for a couple days visit from his base when that O-2 incident happened the day before I left. He was the big guy who went out in the water to try to tie chains onto the O-2.
He remembered the gunfire and told me a couple things I hadn’t known. When he heard the gunfire, he dove completely under the water. The water had been up over his waist, but I sort of remembered that when we were going back to the base, he was completely wet from head to toe and wouldn’t sit in the cab of the truck. He also told me that the aircraft we tried to retrieve never flew again and almost nothing from it was ever salvaged after it spent all night almost completely submerged in Danang harbor. I had remembered that incident many times and only told someone about it a few times. I never met anyone else who had been there. Sgt Hasert was one of the few former crew chiefs to come to the reunion.
Last two pictures.
The flying cranes drove us nuts with all their downwash. Finally, shortly before I left, we got them to start towing the cranes on the other side of the revetment to crank up and into shutting down there for a tow back to parking. But only after they blew an O-2 into a revetment wall, causing damage to a wing tip.
This was the type of chartered airplane that took folks home from Danang. I took this picture around the time of Tet but didn’t get to board such a flight home until May. I think this was about the 10th of May, 1967.
The End – Until or unless I remember some more.