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U.S. Aircraft In Vietnam

 

While the single most overwhelming image of the Vietnam War remains that of the helicopter, there can be little doubt concerning the massive contribution made by fixed-wing aircraft of the US Army, USMC and USAF. The aerial battlefield of South Vietnam was so completely dominated by the United States that they had total and uncontested  air supremacy - there is no record of air interdiction of communist aircraft in the skies over South Vietnam. With this supremacy came a freedom of operations rarely seen in modern warfare and the United States unleashed an unprecedented air campaign against the forces of the NVA and Viet Cong in the South. Wherever and whenever US ground troops required air support, it was forthcoming on a massive and almost unlimited scale and in spite of increasingly sophisticated anti-air tactics, the enemy was invariably forced to resort to the simple expedient of 'hugging the belt' of the Allied forces in order to avoid the overwhelming firepower that could be brought to bear from US fixed-wing aircraft.

North American T-28D Trojan


The North American T-28 was the last propeller trainer made in the United States. Known as the Trojan, it was designed in 1948 to replace the by-now ancient T-6 Texan. The first prototype flew on September 26, 1949, and deliveries of the T-28A version (destined for the USAF) began the following year. Up to 1956 in all, 1,194 machines were used in front line units, and up to 1959 in reserve units. In 1952 the US Navy also ordered the T-28 in the B version (more powerful engine, 489 planes) and the C version (299 planes). These aircraft went into service in 1953 and continued until the late 1960s. The T-28, however, was not only used for training: it was transformed in 1962 into a ground attack and anti-guerilla plane, the T-28D version. Many of these aircraft were used in Vietnam, but most of them were taken over by the French Arme de l'Air which, by 1950, had bought 245 of them - when withdrawn from the USAF - putting them into service under the name of Fennec.

The first eight T-28 Trojans reached Vietnam in March 1958, being handed over by the USA to the small South Vietnamese Air Force, which had been formed officially on July 1, 1955 as successor to the collaborationist air force set up by the French during the last phase of their stay in Southeast Asia. The planes were used for training pilots, as were the other 30 delivered to the VNAF at the same time as the first USAF unit to arrive in Vietnam, namely the 4400th CCTS (Combat Crew Training Squadron), which from October 20, 1961 was given the job of teaching the new South Vietnamese recruits. The 4400th Squadron was equipped with eight T-28s, four SC-47s and four RB-26s. But in 1962 Viet Cong pressure within the country began to make itself felt strongly, with ambushes on government columns and surprise attacks on villages and garrisons, so much so that it was considered indispensable to have aerial support ready to give assistance to the ground forces. At that point the T-28, because of the absence of true COIN (Counter Insurgency) aircraft, was transformed into the T-28D, with wing attachments for offensive purposes, in the form of bombs and rockets. In March 1962 the VNAF received another 30 of these; all were employed in action, sometimes even with a crew consisting of a South Vietnamese trainer pilot and an American instructor. Nevertheless the old and trusty Trojans proved well up to the new task and constituted the backbone of the strike forces of the VNAF up to 1964, when they were replaced by the Douglas A-1H Skyraider.

T-28 Trojan Front View

T-28 Trojan Top View

T-28 Trojan Side View

 

T-28 Trojan Schematic

Technical Specifications

Aircraft: North American T-28D
Year: 1962
Type: trainer-attack
Manufacturer: North American Aviation
Engine: Wright R-1820-86 9 cyl. radial, air cooled
Power: 1445hp
Wingspan: 40ft 7in (12.37m)
Length: 32ft 9in (9.98m)
Height: 12ft 7in (3.84m)
Wing area: 268sq ft (24.90ml)
Max take-off weight: 8,250 lb (3,742 kg)
Empty weight: 6,420 lb (2,912 kg)
Max speed: 352mph at 18,000ft (566km/h at 5,490m)
Service ceiling: 37,000ft (11,280m)
Range: 1,200mi (1,93lkm)
Crew: 2
Load-armament: pods with GE minigun, 500 lb (bombs, rockets on six under-wing pylons)

Douglas A-1 Skyraider


The Skyraider was the last great single-seater combat plane with a piston engine. Designed during the last years of World War Two as a dive-bomber, and torpedo-carrier, it proved itself more versatile and efficient than even its makers had imagined. The Douglas AD (as it was designated) proved its worth during the jet era, first in Korea, where it covered itself with glory, and then in Vietnam, so much so that in 1966 (nine years after the closure of the production lines which, from 1947 to 1957, had turned out 3,180 aircraft in seven basic versions) serious consideration was given to resuming production. The first prototype flew on March 18, 1945 and operational service began in December 1946, with the AD-1 (277 machines). There then followed 178 AD-2s, 193 AD-3s and 1,051 AD-4s. All these versions had four main roles: daytime and all-weather attack, radar patrol, and electronic countermeasures. In 1951 the variant two-seater AD-5 appeared, with a bigger cabin, and a year later production resumed of the single-seater AD-6 (713 machines). The last series was the AD-7 (72 planes) in 1955.

The Skyraider played a key role in the Vietnamese conflict, especially in the early years. Powerfully armed, slower than a jet aircraft, it came the closest to having the same characteristics as the anti-guerilla COIN, which at that time was desperately in demand. The A-1Hs were originally designated the single-seat AD-6s, and the A-1Es the two-seat AD-5s, last generation of the Skyraiders. At the time of the Gulf of Tonkin crisis, in August 1964, all aircraft carriers of the 77th Task Force had attack squadrons of Douglas A-1Hs, which were among the first sent into action against targets in North Vietnam. Two of them even achieved the incredible feat of shooting down two jet-engined MiG-17s. The US Navy Skyraiders remained at the front until April 1968, earning the nickname of 'Workhorse of the Fleet' and losing 48 machines, mainly from anti-aircraft fire. A number of aircraft of this type (25) surplus to Navy requirements, were also assigned to the VNAF, the first six in September 1960, the other ones in March 1961, as replacements for the obsolete North American T-28. But even the USAF sent a few twin-seater A-1Es to the front in summer 1963, when the 1st Air Command Squadron was formed. Useful for low-level attacks, and ideal as escorts for rescue missions, during the early years of the war they did everything and flew everywhere, being given the familiar name of 'Spad' from the famous World War One fighter. Skyraider, the last piston-engined fighter aircraft of the US Navy, carried out some 100,000 missions in the skies of Vietnam prior to its final disappearance .

Douglas A-1 Skyraider Front View

Douglas A-1 Skyraider Top View

Douglas A-1 Skyraider Side View

Douglas A-1 Skyraider Schematic

Technical Specification

Aircraft: Douglas A-1H
Year:1952
Type:
attack
Manufacturer:
Douglas Aircraft Co.
Engine:
Wright R-3350-26WA, radial, 18 cyl., air cooled
Power:
2738hp
Wingspan:
50ft (15.24m)
Length:
39ft 2in (11.83m)
Height:
15ft 8in (4.77m)
Wing area:
400.33sq ft (37.19m)
Max take-off weight:
25,000 lb (11,340 kg)
Empty weight:
11,968 lb (5,429 kg)
Max speed:
322mph at 18,000ft (518km/h at 5,846m)
Service ceiling:
28,510ft (8,690m)
Range:
1,142mi (1,840km)
Crew:
1
Load-armament:
4x20mm cannon; 7,960 lb (3,630 kg)

North American F-100  Super Sabre


First supersonic fighter in the West, the F-100 originated in the early 1950s as direct successor to the famous F-86 Sabre. The USAF ordered two prototypes on November 1, 1951, and the first of these took off on May 25, 1953. Mass-production began immediately with the initial A variant (203 machines). In the second C version the role of interceptor was transformed into that of fighter-bomber: ordered in February 1954, 476 machines were built. Then followed the F-100D version (first flight January 24, 1956), produced in largest numbers, with 1,274 machines. The last was the F-100F, a two-seater training plane (first flight March 7, 1957), of which 339 were built. The Super Sabre, in service from 1954, first saw action ten years later in Vietnam, where it remained in service until 1971. These planes were used principally for tactical support work.

The F-100Ds, last single-seater version of the first American supersonic fighter, provided with an autopilot and also armed with bombs attached to the underside of the wings, played an important role in the Vietnam war, with over 300,000 missions from August 1964 to July 1971, when the 35th Tactical Fighter Wing finally left Phan Rang to return to the United States. The 615th TFS was the first unit furnished with F-100Ds to reach Da Nang on August 5, 1964, followed on August 17 by the 401st TFW, stationed at Tan Son Nhut. The Super Sabres, familiarly known as 'Huns', a shortened version of 'Hundred', were immediately used for low-level night bombing missions, and during the first years of the war pounded objectives in South Vietnam where suspected concentrations of Viet Cong had been sighted. For this type of mission the F- 100Ds were armed with two CBU-24 bombs which, on opening, released a large number of anti-personnel devices, and two 750lb (340kg) napalm bombs. Once they had dropped their load, the Super Sabres proceeded to spray the zone under attack with their four 20mm cannons to complete the 'cleaning up' work. Because of their adaptability and, even more, the lack of a real alternative, numerous F-100 Wings were used in Vietnam, some of them consisting of squadrons of the Air National Guard, called up for front line service. The 3rd TFW alone carried out more than 100,000 missions in 1969! From the end of 1965 a number of two-seater F-100Fs, the Wild Weasel 1, carrying anti-SAM electronic equipment, were in action, operating from the Korat base in Thailand.

North American F-100  Super Sabre Front View

North American F-100  Super Sabre Top View

North American F-100  Super Sabre Side View

North American F-100  Super Sabre Schematic

Technical Specifications

Aircraft: North American F-100D
Year:
1956
Type:
fighter-bomber
Manufacturer:
North American Aviation
Engine:
Pratt & Whitney J57-P-21 A
Power:
16,950 lb (7,688 kg)
Wingspan:
38ft 9in (11.81m)
Length:
50ft (15.24m)
Height:
16ft 23/4in (4.95m)
Wing area:
400sq ft (37.16m)
Max take-off weight:
34,832 lb (15,800 kg)
Empty weight:
21,000 lb (9,526 kg)
Max speed:
864 mph at 36,000ft (1,390km/h at 10,973m)
Service ceiling:
36,100ft (11,003m)
Range:
534mi (859km)
Crew:
1
Load-armament:
4x20mm cannon; 2 missiles; 7,500 lb (3,400 kg)

Lockheed F-104 Starfighter


First USAF fighter to fly above Mach 2, the F-104 Starfighter made its appearance in the 1950s when it was decided to replace the still airworthy F-100 Super Sabre with a fighter which could be used mainly as an interceptor. Planning started in 1952 and the first of two prototypes took to the air on March 4, 1954. Seven months later came the initial order for 153 machines of the F- 104A series, followed by 26 two-seater F-104B trainers. Despite its exceptional qualities, however, the USAF considered it unsuitable for interception alone, and with the C version (77 machines, first delivery October 16, 1958), the F-104 was transformed into a fighter-bomber. This aircraft had a brief operational life in Vietnam. However, the Starfighter's fortunes were lifted by production of the next G version for the NATO allies. From 1960 to 1973 some 1,127 of this variant were produced under license in Canada, Japan, Belgium, Italy, West Germany and Holland. Italy, too, built 245 of the final F-104S version.

Almost all the F-104s in the fighter-bomber version, assigned the letter C, were used in Vietnam, for 21 months, during which time they performed important, far-ranging work. The first fifteen Starfighters arrived in April 1965, with the 476th Tactical Fighter Squadron and the 479th Tactical Fighter Wing: from April 20 to November 20 of the same year they carried out 2,927 missions of machine-gunning, bombing and escorting strike aircraft, sometimes in North Vietnamese air space, before returning to the United States. The 476th was back, however, in June 1966, operating from the Udorn base in Thailand. The F-104Cs were now camouflaged in accordance with operational needs and in July were handed over to the 436th TFS and in October to the 435th, still belonging to the 479th TFW. From June 1966 to July 1967 the F-104Cs carried out escorting and bombing missions on North Vietnam, with over 5,290 sorties. The last Starfighter left Thailand before the end of 1967, its duties being taken over by the Phantom F-4D. Although not much has been written and said about the F-104C, it seems to have given a good account of itself, but the shortage of machines obviously limited its use.

Lockheed F-104 Starfighter Front View

Lockheed F-104 Starfighter Top View

Lockheed F-104 Starfighter Side View

Lockheed F-104 Starfighter Schematic

Technical Specifications

Aircraft: Lockheed F-104C
Year:
1958
Type:
fighter-bomber
Manufacturer:
Lockheed Aircraft Co.
Engine:
General Electric J79-GE-7
Power:
15,800 lb (7,167 kg)
Wingspan:
21ft 9in (6.62m)
Length:
54ft 8in (16.66m)
Height:
13ft 6in (4.11m)
Wing area:
196.1sq ft (18.21m)
Max take-off weight: 27,853 lb (12,634 kg)
Empty weight:
12,760 lb (5,788 kg)
Max speed:
1,150mph at 50,000ft (1,85lkm/h at 15,240m)
Service ceiling:
58,000ft (17,678m)
Range:
850mi (1,368km)
Crew:
1
Load-armament:
1x20 mm cannon; 2,000 lb (907 kg)

Grumman A-6 Intruder


One of the finest all-weather attack planes of the US Navy, the Grumman A-6 Intruder is still in front line service, in increasingly up-to-date versions, particularly as regards electronics and armament. In 1957 the Grumman emerged as the winner in competition with eleven other rival designs entered by eight companies. The first prototype flew on April 19, 1960, and the first A-6A of the series went into service on February 1, 1963; 488 of them were built by the end of 1969. The second basic version was designed exclusively for electronic warfare. Named EA-6B (and stemming from an initial sub-series of 27 models), the prototype appeared on May 25, 1968; the fuselage and cabin were modified to accommodate four crew members as well as a highly sophisticated electronics system, so that it was soon recognized as the best carrier-based aircraft for this type of warfare. The final variant of the Intruder was the A-6E, dating from February 1970, even further improved and more powerful.

When it first went into action in Southeast Asia, the Grumman A-6A Intruder was the most modern and sophisticated warplane then operating from the US fleet's aircraft carriers. Thanks to its advanced electronic equipment, it was a plane capable of spotting and attacking an objective, even one as small as a truck or a tank, if necessary in poor light or even at night. As the war spread, Intruders were used in ever greater numbers, often as escorts to A-4 Skyhawks, homing in on the target with greater effectiveness. Other variants of the Grumman A-6 went into production, notably the one specialized in electronic warfare. This type of plane suffered relatively heavy losses, 51 machines being shot down by enemy fighters or anti-aircraft, and eleven as a result of operational accidents. The intruder is still one of the best all-weather attack aircraft in the US Navy.

Grumman A-6A Intruder Front View

Grumman A-6A Intruder Top View

Grumman A-6A Intruder Side View

Grumman A-6A Intruder Schematic

Technical Specifications

Aircraft: Grumman A-6A
Year:
1960
Type:
attack
Manufacturer:
Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corp.
Engine:
2 x Pratt & Whitney J52P-8A
Power:
9,300 lb (4,218 kg)
Wingspan:
53ft (16.15m)
Length:
54ft 7in (16.64m)
Height:
15ft 7in (4.75m)
Wing area:
529sq ft (49.15m)
Max take-off weight:
60,626 lb (27,500 kg)
Empty weight:
25,684 lb (11,650 kg)
Max speed at sea level:
685mph (1, 102km/h)
Service ceiling:
41,660ft (12,700m)
Range:
1,920mi (3,090km)
Crew:
2
Load-armament:
15,000 lb (6,804 kg)

 

Douglas A-4 Skyhawk


Almost 3,000 of these aircraft were built in 25 years between 1954 and 1979. This figure alone gives some idea of the enormous success (both at home and abroad) of the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk, one of the most effective carrier-based attack planes, operational from 1956 and used in all the major engagements of the 1960s and 1970s. The program was launched when the US Navy decided it wanted a modern replacement of the Douglas A-1 Skyraider. The requirements were most exacting, but Ed Heinemann, chief designer at Douglas, managed to satisfy them all, proposing a plane whose maximum weight at take-off was practically half of the Navy specification weight, giving it increased payload capacity. The first prototype flew on June 22, 1954 and the first production model of the A4D-1 (designated A-4A after 1962) on August 14. There were many subsequent variants and sub series derived from this model. The prototype of the A-4F version appeared on August 31, 1966, and deliveries of the 146 planes ordered by the US Navy took place between June 1967 and June 1968.

Ideal successor to the marvelous Skyraider, the Douglas A-4, a daytime fighter-bomber, was the favorite plane of land-based Marine units and was also widely used by US Navy squadrons, particularly after 1968. Some idea of the Skyhawk's capabilities can be judged by the fact that a single Marine squadron, the VMA-311, carried out a record number of 47,663 sorties between June 1965 and May 1971. The US Navy was so convinced of the aircraft's adaptability to this type of warfare that in 1966, after the initial experiences on the battlefield, it gave the order for production to be resumed so as to take delivery of a further 146 examples of the A-4F. Of all the planes used by the US Navy and US Marine Corps to carry out strike missions in Vietnam, the Skyhawks alone were responsible for over 50 percent; and they suffered the highest battle casualties, losing 196 machines, mainly because they were most often exposed to anti-aircraft fire and enemy fighters.

Douglas A-4 Skyhawk Front View

Douglas A-4 Skyhawk Top View

Douglas A-4 Skyhawk Side View

Douglas A-4 Skyhawk Schematic

Technical Specifications

Aircraft: Douglas A-4F
Year:
1966
Type:
attack
Manufacturer:
Douglas Aircraft Co.
Engine:
Pratt & Whitney J52-P-8A
Power:
9,300 lb (4,218 kg)
Wingspan:
27ft 6in (8.38m)
Length:
40ft 3 1/4in (12.27m)
Height:
15ft (4.57m)
Wing area:
260sq ft (24.16m)
Max take-off weight:
24,500 lb (11,113 kg)
Empty weight:
10,000 lb (4,535 kg)
Max speed at sea level:
675mph (1,086km/h)
Service ceiling:
49,000ft (14,935m)
Range:
2,000mi (3,200km)
Crew:
1
Load-armament:
2x20mm cannon; 10,000 lb (4,500 kg)

 

Vought F-8E/J Crusader


The Vought F-8E was central to the Tonkin Gulf incident, which led to America's direct intervention in the Southeast Asian crisis, when on August 2, 1964, aircraft defended US Navy units from attack by North Vietnamese motor torpedo boats. Four Crusaders of the VF-53 Squadron from the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga, sunk an enemy vessel with missiles and gunfire, thus initiating a war that did not end until 1973.

From 1964 to 1969, during which time the Crusaders were gradually replaced on US Navy aircraft carriers by F-4B Phantoms, the F-8s, designed as daytime supersonic fighters, were also largely employed in strike missions mostly over North Vietnam, carrying up to 5,000 lbs (2,268 kg) of bombs under the wings. The first encounter between F-8Es and MiG-17s took place on July 12, 1967, and after that date the Crusaders frequently took on the North Vietnamese fighters, emerging from battle with a tally of fifteen MiG-17s and three MiG-21s shot down in dogfights, for the loss of only three planes. However, another 53 F-8Es and F-8Js fell victim to North Vietnamese anti-aircraft batteries, and a further 58 were destroyed while in action as a result of various causes.

An important support role was also played by the RF-8 reconnaissance planes, 38 of them being lost through anti-aircraft fire, SAM missiles or accidents. All US Navy aircraft carriers engaged in the war were equipped with Crusader squadrons, the most successful of these being the VF-121 which chalked up six victories in fights with MiGs. Although there was no cause for regret in their replacement by the McDonnell F-4B Phantoms, the Crusaders ranked third as 'MiG killers' in Vietnam, after the Phantoms themselves and the Republic F-105s.

The first daytime supersonic carrier based interceptor, the Crusader was conceived in 1952, built to the order of the US Navy. The prototype flew on March 25, 1955, successfully testing the original solution of a wing of variable incidence, designed to reduce the velocity and improve landing capability. Production started soon afterward and, up to 1965, 1,259 machines of various series were built, increasingly powerful and up-to-date. The principal types were the F-8A interceptor (first flight September 30, 1955, with 318 machines), which went into service in March 1957; the F-8C air-superiority (187 machines, first flight August 20, 1958); and the F-8D all-weather fighter (152 planes, first flight February 16, 1960). The final version was the F-8E (first flight June 26, 1964), also designed as an all-weather fighter, of which 286 were built. The Crusader remained in front line service until the late 1970s, thanks to a massive modernization program starting in 1966, involving 375 planes from all series: 136 F-8Es, in particular, were transformed into F-8Js, the modifications applying mainly to certain structural components, the wings and the electronics.

 

Vought F-8E/J Crusader Front View

Vought F-8E/J Crusader Top View

Vought F-8E/J Crusader Side View

Vought F-8E/J Crusader Schematic

Technical Specifications

Aircraft: Vought F-8E
Year:
1964
Type:
fighter
Manufacturer:
Chance Vought Inc.
Engine:
Pratt & Whitney J57-P-20A
Power:
18,000 lb (8,165 kg)
Wingspan:
35ft 8in (10.87m)
Length:
54ft 3in (16.53m)
Height:
15ft 9in (4.80m)
Wing area:
375sq ft (34.83m)
Max take-off weight:
34,000 lb (15,422kg)
Max speed:
1,120mph at 40,000ft (1,802km/h at 12,192m)
Service ceiling:
58,000ft (17,678m)
Crew:
1
Load-armament:
4x20mm cannon; 5,000 lb (2,267kg)

 

McDonnell F-4B Phantom


Unanimously recognized as the best fighter-bomber ever built, the F-4 Phantom II was designed in 1953 with a view to providing the US Navy with an all-weather supersonic twin-jet capable of combining speed, maneuverability, bomb-load capacity, weight and power. No easy task, but the McDonnell designers succeeded brilliantly; when on May 27, 1958, the first prototype (F4H-1) took to the air, its qualities were so obvious that the US Navy chose it in preference to its direct rival, the LTV F8U-3 Crusader III, ordering its mass-production. The first basic version, designed for shipboard use by the US Navy and the Marines, was the F-4B (first flight March 25, 1961), and 649 of these planes were delivered up to 1967. In addition to the many variants adopted by the USAF, the US Navy took 522 of a second version, the F-4J Phantom II (first flight May 1966). In Vietnam the F-4s were first sent into action from the aircraft carrier USS Constellation on August 5, 1964.

Unquestionably the leading role in the air war in Vietnam was played by the McDonnell F-4 Phantom, which was used by the US Navy and the US Marine Corps in the B and J versions, and by the USAF in different versions. The earliest arrivals in the Southeast Asia theater of operations were the F-4Bs of the VMFA-531, on April 11, 1965. They were followed by those of many other Marine squadrons, based on land, and by squadrons of the US Navy operating from aircraft carriers. It would be unfair to single out the exploits of any particular unit because such a list would fill the pages of a sizeable book and because all distinguished themselves both in the attack/bombing role and in their demonstration of aerial supremacy. During direct encounters with the enemy, F-4Bs and F-4Js shot down 55 MiGs, of which eighteen were MiG-21s, two MiG-19s and the rest MiG-17s. Even so, it is fitting to mention the name of the US Navy Commander Randall H. 'Duke' Cunningham, and of his radarman, Lieutenant William P. 'Willie' Driscoll, with one MiG-21 and four MiG-17s to their credit, and to point out that the squadron boasting the biggest number of enemy planes downed was the VF-96, with eight certain victims and two probable. From the moment they went into action until the last day of the war, the Navy and Marine Phantoms never let up, gaining a reputation that they were later to emulate in other parts of the world.

McDonnell F-4B Phantom Front View

McDonnell F-4B Phantom Top View

McDonnell F-4B Phantom Side View

McDonnell F-4B Phantom Schematic

Technical Specifications

Aircraft: McDonnell F-4B
Year:
1961
Type:
fighter-bomber
Manufacturer:
McDonnell Aircraft Corp.
Engine:
2 x General Electric J79GE-8A
Power:
17,000 lb (7,711 kg)
Wingspan:
38ft 5in (11.70m)
Length:
58ft 3 3/4in (17.78m)
Height:
16ft 3in (4.95m)
Wing area:
530sq ft (49.23m)
Max take-off weight:
44,600 lb (20,231 kg)
Empty weight:
28,000 lb (12,70l kg)
Max speed:
1,485mph at 48,000ft (2,390km/h at 14,630m)
Service ceiling:
62,000ft (18,898m)
Range:
400mi (644km)
Crew:
2
Load-armament:
6-8 missiles; 16,000 lb (7,275 kg)

McDonnell F-4C Phantom


The Phantom II, among its other achievements, was the first fighter designed specifically for shipboard use to be adopted by the USAF as well . Its successful 'ground' career began on March 30, 1962 (after a single F-4B had proved itself far superior to a Convair F-106A) when the USAF placed an order for an air-superiority and tactical support version. The prototype of this, the F-4C, took to the air on May 27, 1963, and 583 were eventually built. Then followed 503 RF-4C photoreconnaissance planes (delivery commencing June 1964), 825 F-4Ds (first flight December 7, 1965), and about 1,500 F-4Es (first flight June 30, 1967), of which almost one-third were exported. Overall production ended in October 1979, by which time over 5,100 Phantom IIs had been built in the USA and 140 under license in Japan. The F-4 flew under the USAF insignia for practically the entire period of the Vietnam War. From 1975 the Phantom IIs were gradually replaced by F-14s, and although mainly consigned to reserve units, they are still used for front line duty in many countries.

The first F-4C Phantoms of the USAF arrived in Vietnam at the same time as those of the Marines, in April 1965, with the 45th Tactical Fighter Squadron, followed by those of the 12th TFW, in November, and of the 8th TFW, which was stationed at the Ubon base in Thailand in December of the same year. The Phantoms were detailed to play a defensive fighter role, escorting the F-105s weighted down with their bomb-loads, but when the ranks of the latter began to thin out, the Phantoms also took on attacking roles, achieving excellent results with their precision bombing. Although many units covered themselves with glory in eight years of war, it was the 8th TFW, among the first to reach Vietnam, which was most highly distinguished in battle. On January 2, 1967, F-4Cs of this Wing played a key role in the biggest aerial encounter of the war, shooting down seven MiG-21s without loss; and the 555th TFS (which with the 432nd and 433rd formed the 8th TFW) achieved more victories than any other USAF squadron, with a tally of 39 MiGs. In such dogfights the radar-controlled Sparrow air-to-air missiles and heat-sensitive Sidewinders proved invaluable, but the lack of a traditional cannon, notably for strike missions, soon became evident. It was for this reason that the F-4E version, sent into action toward the end of the war, was equipped with a rotary 20mm cannon, soon proving its worth not only in hitting the enemy on the ground but also in shooting down six enemy jets. By the end of the war the F-4s of the USAF boasted a record of 82 victories in air duels with MiGs, the success ratio in favor of the Phantom pilots being more than two to one.

McDonnell F-4C Phantom Front View

McDonnell F-4C Phantom Top View

McDonnell F-4C Phantom Side View

McDonnell F-4C Phantom Schematic

 

Technical Specifications

Aircraft: McDonnell F-4C
Year:
1963
Type:
fighter-bomber
Manufacturer:
McDonnell Aircraft Corp.
Engine:
2 x General Electric J79GE-15
Power:
17,000 lb (7,711 kg)
Wingspan:
38ft 5in (11.70m)
Length:
58ft 3 3/4in (17.78m)
Height:
16ft 3in (4.95m)
Wing area:
530sq ft (49.23m)
Max take-off weight:
51,441 lb (23,334 kg)
Empty weight:
28,496 lb (12,926 kg)
Max speed:
1,433mph at 40,000ft (2,306km/h at 12,192m)
Service ceiling:
56,100ft (17,099m)
Range:
538mi (866km)
Crew:
2
Load-armament:
4 missiles; 16,000 lb (7,275 kg)

 

 

 

Republic F-105 Thunderchief


Designed in 1954 as an all-weather supersonic attack aircraft, capable of carrying nuclear or conventional armaments, the F-105 was the culmination of the series of warplanes built by Republic since the early days of World War II. The prototype had its first flight on October 22, 1955, and production began with 71 F-105B, which started to be delivered in May 1958. On June 9, 1959 the prototype appeared of the second, more powerful version, the F-105D, with a more powerful engine and improved electronic equipment. This went into service in 1961, with 610 machines built. The last variant was the two-seater, advanced trainer F-105F, delivered from 1963 (143 planes). During its busy operational career, 350 F-105Ds were continuously strengthened and modernized, particularly in the electronic field.

The F-105 Thunderchief, familiarly called 'Thud' by its pilots, received its baptism of fire in Vietnam and is indissolubly associated with that war, even though it was never used for the tactical atomic bombing for which it had been designed. In action in Vietnam from 1964 to 1970 was the single-seat F-105D, modified so as to carry bombs of the traditional type both in the hold and in under-wing pylons, and also the two-seat F-105G, Wild Weasel, widely used for locating the radar emissions of SAM batteries, which they would either neutralize with their own electronic equipment, making enemy tracking impossible, or by means of direct bombing. All USAF squadrons furnished with the F-105 served in rotation in Southeast Asia, carrying out more than 20,000 offensive missions, and losing 330 planes, over a third of the total Thunderchief production. Employed without respite in strikes, mainly against North Vietnamese territory, the Thunderchiefs paid a heavy toll at the hands of anti-aircraft batteries, SAM missiles and enemy fighters, for they were easy prey unescorted and with a full bomb-load. It was rare for an F-105 pilot to complete his rotation of 100 missions without being shot down at least once. On October 5, 1965, for example, in the attack on the Lang Met bridge, out of 24 F-105Ds of the 562nd Squadron of the 23rd TFW, only eight found their way back to their departure base in Thailand. Yet with their bombs they destroyed the objective. Free of their bombs, on the other hand, the F-105s were no sitting ducks for enemy fighters; from 1966 to 1967 they shot down 26 MiG-17s and one MiG-21 in air duels, a tally second only to that of the Phantom F-4s. The first F-105Ds arrived at Korat, in Thailand, in August 1964 with the 36th Squadron of the 7441st TFW, followed by those of the 18th, 355th and 388th TFW. To assess the importance of the Thunderchiefs as a strike force during the early part of the war, it is enough to point out that during 1965 three-quarters of all attack missions against North Vietnam were carried out by this fighter-bomber, sometimes guided to its target by the Douglas EB-66 and subsequently escorted by Phantoms when the latter were thrown into action.

Republic F-105 Thunderchief Front View

Republic F-105 Thunderchief Top View

Republic F-105 Thunderchief Side View

Republic F-105 Thunderchief Schematic

Technical Specifications

Aircraft: Republic F-105D Year:1959
Type: fighter-bomber
Manufacturer:
Republic Aviation Corp.
Engine:
Pratt & Whitney J75-P- 1 9W
Power:
26,500 lb (12,020 kg)
Wingspan:
34ft 11in (10.64m)
Length:
64ft 3in (19.58m)
Height:
19ft 8in (5.99m)
Wing area:
385sq ft (35.76m)
Max take-off weight:
52,546 lb (23,835 kg)
Empty weight:
27,500 lb (12,474 kg)
Max speed:
1,372mph at 36,000ft (2,208km/h at 10,973m)
Service ceiling:
32,100ft (9,784m)
Range:
900mi (1,448km)
Crew:
1
Load-armament:
1x20mm cannon; 14,000 lb (6,350 kg)

 

General Dynamics F-111


The first warplane with variable geometric wings to be mass produced, the F-111 was built by General Dynamics at the beginning of the 1960s against an initial contract for delivery of eighteen planes to the USAF and five to the US Navy. Although the prototype had already flown on December 21, 1964, subsequent phases of development were fraught with difficulties, leading to the abandonment of the program by the US Navy. Production, therefore, was reserved for the USAF, which took delivery of the first machines in 1968. The first variant was the F-111A, and after seventeen pre-production models, 141 of these planes were built. Then followed 76 FB-111As, with more powerful engines, larger wings and more sophisticated electronics, which went into service in 1969. Successive variants were the E (94 planes in service from September 1970); the D for tactical support (96 machines, operational from October 1971); and the F, the final version which appeared as prototype in May 1973 and of which 106 were made, the last in November 1976. Total production of General Dynamics F-111 was 562 aircraft, including 24 F-111Cs which were exported to Australia.

The first F-111As, hot off the assembly lines, were sent to Vietnam in March 1968 for the Combat Lancer operation. Six tactical bombers of the 428th TFS had the chance to prove their worth in the battle zone, but the experiment was disastrous: three of the six were destroyed during unescorted missions at various times. Initially it was assumed they had been shot down by the enemy, but it later became clear that they had crashed because of structural faults. The detachment, having carried out 55 missions, was recalled to the US, where criticism of this already controversial aircraft reached a new peak. Yet the F-111A did eventually prove itself, again in Vietnam. On September 27, 1972, 48 F-111As of the 429th and 430th TFS of the 474th TFW arrived in Southeast Asia; they immediately went into action to help check the accelerating advance of the North Vietnamese. In five months, that is up to the end of the hostilities, they carried out over 4,000 sorties dropping about 74,000 tons of bombs with high results, and the loss of only six machines. It is worth noting that 3,980 of these 4,000 missions were effected by means of TFR (Terrain Following Radar), a radar system capable of guiding the plane at a height of only a few meters, encompassing the slightest unevenness of terrain, without intervention by the pilot, and flying beneath the net of the SAM missile radar systems. Such feats in Southeast Asia were crucial in establishing and later restoring the reputation for quality which this variable-sweep wing fighter-bomber from General Dynamics was intended to possess from the start. In action once more in April 1986, attacking targets in Tripoli and Benghazi, Libya, the F-111s confirmed their right to be considered the spearhead of the USAF tactical bombing operations.

General Dynamics F-111 Front View

General Dynamics F-111 Top View

General Dynamics F-111 Side View

General Dynamics F-111 Schematic

 

Technical Specifications

Aircraft: General Dynamics F-111A
Year:
1964
Type:
fighter-bomber
Manufacturer:
General Dynamics
Engine:
2 x Pratt & Whitney TF30-P-1
Power:
18,000 lb (8,165 kg)
Wingspan:
63ft (19.20m)
Length:
73ft 5 1/2in (22.40m)
Height:
17ft 1/2in (5.18m)
Wing area:
525sq ft (48.77m)
Max take-off weight:
98,850 lb (44,838 kg)
Empty weight:
46,172 lb (20,944 kg)
Max speed:
1,435mph at 53,450ft (2,338km/h at 16,292m)
Service ceiling:
56,650ft (17,267m)
Range:
1,330mi (2,140km)
Crew:
2
Load-armament:
1x20mm cannon; 30,000 lb (13,608 kg)

 

Vought A-7 Corsair II


Planned in 1963 as the successor to the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk for the US Navy and Marines, the A-7 Corsair II proved so effective that it was also chosen by the USAF to replace the F-100 Super Sabre and F-105 Thunderchief. The prototype flew for the first time on September 27, 1965, and production commenced on 199 of the A-7A version. This was followed by the more powerful A-7B (196 machines, first flight February 6, 1968). The variant designed for the USAF was the A-7D, which took off on April 5 furnished with a different kind of engine and modified both with regard to armament and electronics. Deliveries of the 459 models of the A-7D which had been ordered took place from September 1970 to December 1976. In 1969 a new version was produced for the US Navy, the A-7E, which became the principal type built (after the first 67 machines, known as A-7C), with 529 planes up to March 1981. Among minor variants were the TA-7C and the A-7K, two-seater trainers for possible operational use by the US Navy and the US Air National Guard; and the A-7H and A-7P for Greece and Portugal. It was much used in Vietnam; the first A-7As received their baptism of fire on December 4, 1967.

On August 15, 1973, the day when hostilities ended between the United States and North Vietnam, an A-7D Corsair of the USAF carried out the last attack on territory north of the 20th parallel. Although this was coincidental, there can be no doubt that this type of aircraft was, during the second half of the war, the most effective instrument of American tactical bombing of North Vietnam. Designed by Vought at the behest of the US Navy, both for its own requirements and those of the Marine Corps, who used it in the A, B and E versions, it was also chosen to replace the Thunderchief by the USAF, who deployed it in Vietnam in the D version, with the 354th TFW, based at Korat in Thailand, from the end of 1971. The first Marine A-7As went into action in December 1967, being assigned to the VA-147 Squadron on the aircraft carrier USS Ranger, and soon proved themselves worthy of the name Corsair, given them in memory of the famous World War Two fighter. Furthermore, the A-7s could be used more intensively than other carrier-based planes because, for the first time, they were equipped with a round-the-clock landing system. Even before the A-7Ds of the USAF became operative, the US Navy A-7Es, improved versions, had reached Vietnam. From the beginning of August 1973, Marine Corsairs carried out more than 90,000 missions, losing only 54 machines as a result of enemy action. The USAF, whose first A-7Ds only went into action on March 29, 1972, had no time to exploit their exceptional qualities.

Vought A-7 Corsair II Front View

Vought A-7 Corsair II Top View

Vought A-7 Corsair II Side View

Vought A-7 Corsair II Schematic

 

Technical Specifications

Aircraft: Vought A-7D
Year:
1968
Type:
attack
Manufacturer:
LTV Aerospace Corp.
Engine:
Allison TF41-A-1
Power:
14,250 lb (6,465 kg)
Wingspan:
38ft 9in (11.80m)
Length:
46ft 1 1/2in (14.06m)
Height:
16ft (4.88m)
Wing area:
375sq ft (34.83m)
Max take-off weight:
42,000 lb (19,051 kg)
Empty weight:
19,781 lb (8,972 kg)
Max speed at sea level:
698mph (1, 123km/h)
Range:
951mi (1,762km)
Crew:
1
Load-armament:
1x20mm cannon; 15,000 lb (6,804 kg)

Northrop F-5A/E Freedom Fighter


In August 1964 the USAF took its first delivery of F-5As and immediately decided to send a few machines to the combat zone in order to test their capabilities. The so-called 'Skoshi Tiger' program was organized in October 1965, coinciding with the arrival of 12 F-5As, partially modified for war purposes and furnished with 'proboscis' equipment for refueling in flight. The fighter-bombers operated at first with the 4503rd TFW, and in the course of 2,500 hours of tactical support and reconnaissance missions gained experience that proved extremely valuable for launching the next, more powerful F-5E version, which took the name Tiger II in recognition of the aircraft's contribution to the Skoshi Tiger operation. The 12 F-5As of the 4503rd TFW, together with six new machines, were handed over to the 10th Fighter Command Squadron, attached to the 3rd TFW at Bien Hoa, and in 1967 the USAF delivered them to the VNAF. The F-5s were the first and only jet aircraft belonging to the newly formed South Vietnamese Air Force, which later received a number of F-5Es, used in action until the final collapse. Many of these F-5Es were captured by the North Vietnamese in perfect working order.

Planned at the start of 1955, the Northrop F-5 has become one of the most popular tactical fighters of the 1980s. Designed primarily for export, the aircraft's success is mainly due to its simplicity, lightness of weight and low cost, which, united with excellent performance and good armament, make it a worthy rival of bigger, stronger and more sophisticated planes. The F-5 prototype flew on July 31, 1959, and production was soon in full swing. About 1,300 of the early A and B variants (single - and two-seaters respectively, first flights July 31, 1963 and February 24, 1964) were built and sold to some twenty countries. Toward the end of the 1960s Northrop brought out the improved and more powerful F-5E Tiger (first flight August 1 1, 1972), which sold as successfully as its predecessors. The F-5As went into service with the USAF in August 1964, and in October 1965 a few machines were sent experimentally to Vietnam.

US Army Northrop N-156F

The Northrop N-156F light strike fighter prototype was one of three jet-powered, fixed-wing attack aircraft selected by the Army in 1961 for competitive evaluation in the forward air control (FAC), tactical reconnaissance, and ground attack roles. The N-156F was chosen for testing primarily because of its relatively simple design, impressive load-carrying capacity, and ability to operate from unimproved forward airfields.

Northrop had begun development of the N-156 family of low cost, lightweight supersonic aircraft in 1956, with the first design being that of the N-156F single-seat fighter version. Much to Northrop's chagrin the Air Force showed no real interest in the N-156F, though in June 1956 the service's Air Training Command did adopt a two-seat trainer variant as the T-38 Talon. In the spring of 1958 the Department of Defense renewed Northrop's hopes for the fighter version by directing the USAF to procure three N-156F prototypes for engineering and operational evaluation. The first of these aircraft (serial 59-4987) made its initial flight in July 1959, less than four months after the maiden flight of the first T-38. The Air Force's attitude towards the N-156F did not change appreciably despite the aircraft's excellent showing in the evaluations, however, and work on the number three prototype was halted prior to completion because the USAF did not feel that the remaining tests required a third aircraft. At the end of the test period the Air Force announced that it would not procure the N-156F, and Northrop was forced to temporarily suspend work on the fighter version. The company thus viewed the Army's 1961 decision to evaluate the N-156F as a possible reprieve and gladly supplied the first prototype machine and a complete ground support staff for the tests.

US Army Northrop N-156F undergoing testing
Northrop N-156F 

The N-156F was of fairly conventional layout with thin, slightly-swept, low-set wings, a fuselage characterized by a narrow area-rule section amidships, a one-piece 'all-moving' tail plane, a rather large vertical fin, and tricycle landing gear. The aircraft was built primarily of aluminum, and Northrop made considerable use of adhesive-bonded honeycomb as a stiffener in critical areas. The N-156F was powered by two afterburning General Electric J85 turbojets mounted side-by-side in the aft fuselage, and could be fitted with up to four 1,000 pound JATO (Jet-Assisted Take Off) bottles for operation from extremely short fields. More than a quarter of the aircraft's total fuselage area consisted of easily-removable access panels to simplify field maintenance, and both engines were attached to built-in overhead tracks for easy removal.

The Army's evaluation of the N-156F found it to be a well-built and capable aircraft, easy to maintain under field conditions and capable of carrying a significant offensive load while operating from the most rudimentary forward airstrips. These abilities were ultimately rendered meaningless, however, by the Army's decision to accede to Air Force pressure and abandon the quest for fixed-wing jet aircraft. The sole N-156F tested by the Army was subsequently returned to Northrop, and was eventually converted into the prototype YF-5A Freedom Fighter.

 

Northrop F-5A/E Freedom Fighter Front View

Northrop F-5A/E Freedom Fighter Top View

Northrop F-5A/E Freedom Fighter Side View

Northrop F-5A/E Freedom Fighter Schematic

Technical Specifications

Aircraft: Northrop F-5A
Year:
1963
Type:
fighter
Manufacturer:
Northrop Corp.
Engine:
2 x General Electric J85-GE-13
Power:
4,080 lb (1,85l kg)
Wingspan:
25ft 10in (7.87m)
Length:
47ft 2in (14.37m)
Height:
13ft 2in (4.0lm)
Wing area:
170sq ft (15.79m)
Max take-off weight: 20,677 lb (9,379kg)
Empty weight:
8,085 lb (3,667kg)
Max speed:
925mph at 36,089ft (1,489km/h at 11,000m)
Service ceiling:
50,500ft (15,392m)
Range:
558mi (898km)
Crew:
1
Load-armament:
2x20mm cannon; 6,200 lb (2,812kg)

 

Cessna A-37B Dragonfly


In the first part of the 1950s Cessna went in for military production, designing the first jet trainer for the USAF, the T-37. From this machine (of which 1,268 models of three basic versions were built between 1955 and 1977), an efficient attack plane was derived in 1963, the A-37, which was also successfully exported. The prototype flew on October 22 and the first 39 A-37As were produced by direct conversion of other T-37Bs. The definitive version was the A-37B, which first appeared in September 1967 and of which 577 were built with the majority of these going to the USAF.

One of the few aircraft designed from the start for tactical support, the A-37 arrived in Vietnam toward the end of the 1960s and was mainly used in support of helicopter operations. Capable of mounting a wide range of weapons, it proved highly adaptable to diverse operational needs. Particularly effective were its low-level napalm bomb attacks. A fairly limited number of machines, under the colors of both the USAF and the VNAF (the illustration shows the VNAF insignia), were used in action.

US Army

During the late 1950s the Army Aviation Test Board and the Aviation Combat Developments Agency (ACDA) began to jointly explore the feasibility of using Army-operated fixed-wing jet aircraft in the artillery adjustment, tactical reconnaissance, and ground attack roles. Operational necessity dictated that any such aircraft be easy to maintain under field conditions and capable of operating from unimproved forward air strips, and these prerequisites indicated that any jet procured for Army use would have to be simple and relatively small, yet at the same time be of robust construction and able to offer a performance significantly better than that of the various piston-engined machines then in Army service. Cessna's diminutive T-37 twin-engined primary trainer admirably fulfilled all these requirements, and in early 1958 three examples borrowed from the Air Force were sent to Fort Rucker to begin a one year Army evaluation program dubbed Project LONG ARM.

US Army Cessna T-37s in formation during Project LONG ARM
US Army T-37

The Cessna Model 318 had been adopted by the Air Force as the T-37 after winning a 1953 USAF-sponsored design competition for a new primary jet trainer. The first of two prototype XT-37s had made its maiden flight in early 1954, and the first eleven production T-37As had entered USAF service in 1955. The three aircraft evaluated by the Army were all -A model machines of the fourth production batch, and carried the serial numbers 56-3464 to -3466. The T-37, widely if unofficially known as the 'Tweetybird', was characterized by low-set, non-swept wings, side-by-side crew seats, and a broad forward fuselage. The type was equipped with ejection seats for both crewmen, and its cockpit instruments and controls were identical to those found in frontline USAF aircraft. The T-37A was powered by two Continental J69 turbojets, one buried in each wing root, and was quite maneuverable and relatively easy to fly.

The Army's evaluation of the T-37 found the aircraft to be ideally suited for Army use and both the Aviation Board and the ACDA recommended quantity procurement of the type. However, mounting Air Force opposition to Army ownership and operation of fixed-wing jet aircraft eventually forced the Army to abandon the planned T-37 acquisition and all three machines used in the Project LONG ARM tests were returned to the Air Force in early 1959.

Cessna A-37B Dragonfly Front View

Cessna A-37B Dragonfly Top View

 

Cessna A-37B Dragonfly Side View

 

Cessna A-37B Dragonfly Schematic

Technical Specifications

Aircraft: Cessna A-37B
Year:
1967
Type:
attack
Manufacturer:
Cessna Aircraft Co.
Engine:
2 x General Electric J85-CE-17A
Power:
2,850 lb (1,293kg)
Wingspan:
35ft 10 in (10.93m)
Length:
29ft 3in (8.92m)
Height:
8ft 10 in (2.70m)
Wing area:
183.9sq ft (17.09m)
Max take-off weight:
15,000 lb (6,804kg)
Empty weight:
5,873 lb (2,670kg)
Max speed:
478mph at 15,000ft (769km/h at 4,572m)
Service ceiling:
32,100ft (9,785m)
Range:
450mi (724km)
Crew:
2
Load-armament:
1x7.62mm minigun; 5,4001b (2,450kg)

 

 

Douglas A-1 Skyraider


The Skyraider was the last great single-seater combat plane with a piston engine. Designed during the last years of World War Two as a dive-bomber, and torpedo-carrier, it proved itself more versatile and efficient than even its makers had imagined. The Douglas AD (as it was designated) proved its worth during the jet era, first in Korea, where it covered itself with glory, and then in Vietnam, so much so that in 1966 (nine years after the closure of the production lines which, from 1947 to 1957, had turned out 3,180 aircraft in seven basic versions) serious consideration was given to resuming production. The first prototype flew on March 18, 1945 and operational service began in December 1946, with the AD-1 (277 machines). There then followed 178 AD-2s, 193 AD-3s and 1,051 AD-4s. All these versions had four main roles: daytime and all-weather attack, radar patrol, and electronic countermeasures. In 1951 the variant two-seater AD-5 appeared, with a bigger cabin, and a year later production resumed of the single-seater AD-6 (713 machines). The last series was the AD-7 (72 planes) in 1955.

The Skyraider played a key role in the Vietnamese conflict, especially in the early years. Powerfully armed, slower than a jet aircraft, it came the closest to having the same characteristics as the anti-guerilla COIN, which at that time was desperately in demand. The A-1Hs were originally designated the single-seat AD-6s, and the A-1Es the two-seat AD-5s, last generation of the Skyraiders. At the time of the Gulf of Tonkin crisis, in August 1964, all aircraft carriers of the 77th Task Force had attack squadrons of Douglas A-1Hs, which were among the first sent into action against targets in North Vietnam. Two of them even achieved the incredible feat of shooting down two jet-engined MiG-17s. The US Navy Skyraiders remained at the front until April 1968, earning the nickname of 'Workhorse of the Fleet' and losing 48 machines, mainly from anti-aircraft fire. A number of aircraft of this type (25) surplus to Navy requirements, were also assigned to the VNAF, the first six in September 1960, the other ones in March 1961, as replacements for the obsolete North American T-28. But even the USAF sent a few twin-seater A-1Es to the front in summer 1963, when the 1st Air Command Squadron was formed. Useful for low-level attacks, and ideal as escorts for rescue missions, during the early years of the war they did everything and flew everywhere, being given the familiar name of 'Spad' from the famous World War One fighter. Skyraider, the last piston-engined fighter aircraft of the US Navy, carried out some 100,000 missions in the skies of Vietnam prior to its final disappearance .

Douglas A-1 Skyraider Front View

Douglas A-1 Skyraider Top View

Douglas A-1 Skyraider Side View

Douglas A-1 Skyraider Schematic

Technical Specification

Aircraft: Douglas A-1H
Year:1952
Type:
attack
Manufacturer:
Douglas Aircraft Co.
Engine:
Wright R-3350-26WA, radial, 18 cyl., air cooled
Power:
2738hp
Wingspan:
50ft (15.24m)
Length:
39ft 2in (11.83m)
Height:
15ft 8in (4.77m)
Wing area:
400.33sq ft (37.19m)
Max take-off weight:
25,000 lb (11,340 kg)
Empty weight:
11,968 lb (5,429 kg)
Max speed:
322mph at 18,000ft (518km/h at 5,846m)
Service ceiling:
28,510ft (8,690m)
Range:
1,142mi (1,840km)
Crew:
1
Load-armament:
4x20mm cannon; 7,960 lb (3,630 kg)

 

Rockwell OV-10 Bronco


More like a helicopter than an airplane, the Rockwell Bronco was the ideal example of a tactical reconnaissance plane designed to work in close cooperation with ground forces. Planning of the OV-10 began in 1962 with orders from the USAF, the US Navy and the US Marine Corps, the objective being to produce an armed reconnaissance plane specialized in anti-guerilla operations. The definitive prototype flew on August 15, 1966, and the first OV-10A production model appeared on August 6, 1967. Up to April 1969, 271 of these planes were built, 114 for the Marines and 157 for the USAF. In Vietnam the Bronco was operational from 1967.

The only real COIN (Counter Insurgency) plane to take part in the Southeast Asian war was the Rockwell OV-10A Bronco. The first of these were sent with the Marines to the operation zone as soon as they came off the assembly line. Subsequently used both by the US Navy and the USAF, this tactical reconnaissance plane proved extremely useful and-well suited to the requirements of the FAC (Forward Air Control). Very often, confident of its own fire power, the Bronco would strike a target without even waiting for other warplanes to arrive. It went into action in 1968, barely two years after the first flight of the prototype, but did not have the chance to be used in such numbers as other planes which were admittedly less suited for the difficult and dangerous job of being the advance 'eye' of the DASC (Direct Air Support Center).

Rockwell OV-10 Bronco Front View

Rockwell OV-10 Bronco Top View

Rockwell OV-10 Bronco Side View

Rockwell OV-10 Bronco Schematic

 

Technical Specifications

Aircraft: Rockwell OV-10A
Year:
1967
Type:
observation
Manufacturer:
Rockwell International
Engine:
2 x Garrett AiResearch T76-G-10/12
Power:
715shp
Wingspan:
40 ft (12.19m)
Length:
39 ft 9in (12.12m)
Height:
15ft 1in (4.62m)
Wing area:
291sq ft (27.03m)
Max take-off weight:
14,444 lb (6,550 kg)
Empty weight:
7,190 lb (3,260 kg)
Max speed:
244mph at 10,000ft (452km/h at 3,048m)
Service ceiling:
18,000ft (5,486m)
Range:
165mi (306km)
Crew:
2
Load-armament:
4x7.62mm machine guns; 4,600 lb (2,086 kg)

 

Cessna O-1 Bird Dog


The Cessna Bird Dog was the most popular light aircraft used by the US Army for liaison and observation in the post-war period. More than 3,500 machines left the assembly lines from the end of 1950 and remained in service until the late 1970s, taking part in the Korean War and Vietnamese War (see also History of the O-1 Bird Dog). The Bird Dog was derived directly from the Cessna 170, a commercial model in production in 1950. From the first order for fourteen planes in June 1950, the numbers increased dramatically, until by October 1954 the total production of L-19As (as they were originally designated) was 2,486. Two years later another 310 TL-19D training planes were ordered, while in 1957 the final version appeared, namely the improved and more powerful L-19E, which brought the total production to 3,431 machines. In 1962 the different versions were renamed, in sequence, O-1A, O-1B, TO-1D and O-1E.

Few aircraft were as important for the efficient conduct of war operations in Vietnam as the small, unarmed Cessna O-1B, previously known as the L-19. Spearhead of the FAC (Forward Air Control), it formed part of the US Army organization until 1965, when all fixed-wing observation aircraft were turned over to the USAF. Flying at low level and reduced speed, their duty was to discover objectives, for the most part concealed in the jungle, such as groups of guerillas, convoys traveling along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, or enemy units lying in ambush for unsuspecting government troops. Having spotted the enemy, they would immediately radio the DASC (Direct Air Support Center) which, as a rule, would be able to get attack aircraft to the spot within half an hour (see also Fire Support Coordination - Tactical Air Support). The latter were again guided by the Bird Dog pilots who, in addition to pinpointing the objective with smoke or magnesium flares, would check the effectiveness of the strikes, if necessary correcting the aim. However, the O-1s were an easy target for the enemy, who could often hit them with ordinary rifle fire, without recourse to heavy anti-aircraft fire. Many Bird Dog pilots lost their lives while carrying out their duty; they were usually officers with years of experience, veterans of many battles. Among the finest fighters, they succeeded in converting their little unarmed planes into formidable offensive weapons.

Cessna O-1 Bird Dog Front View

Cessna O-1 Bird Dog Top View

Cessna O-1 Bird Dog Side View

Cessna O-1 Bird Dog Schematic

Technical Specifications

Aircraft: Cessna O-1E
Year:
1956
Type:
observation
Manufacturer:
Cessna Aircraft Co.
Engine:
Continental 0-470-11, 6 cyl., air cooled
Power:
216hp
Wingspan:
36ft (10.97m)
Length:
25ft 10in (7.87m)
Height:
7ft 4in (2.23m)
Wing area:
174sq ft (16.16m)
Max take-off weight:
2,400 lb (1.090 kg)
Empty weight:
1,614 lb (732 kg)
Max speed:
130mph (209km/h)
Service ceiling:
18,500ft (5,640m)
Range:
530mi (853km)
Crew:
3

 

History of the Cessna O-1 Bird Dog


The Army's long association with the Cessna Bird Dog began as the result of a design competition held during the period April-June 1950. The competition itself was a result of the Army's increasingly urgent need for a modern fixed-wing, two-place observation and liaison aircraft to replace the obsolescent World War II-vintage types still in service at that time. A rigorous evaluation showed the high-winged Cessna Model 305A to be exceptionally well-qualified for the job, for its performance far exceeded the Army's original requirements as well as the abilities of the other competing designs. The Model 305A was duly declared the winner of the competition, and the first production Bird Dog was delivered in December 1950. The Army ultimately procured nearly 3000 aircraft in the following variants:

L-19A: First production version, 2222 of which were acquired. This variant was powered by a 213 hp Continental engine. All surviving examples were redesignated O-1A in 1962.

US Army L-19A Bird Dog
L-19A

L-19A-IT: Designations given to the last sixty-six L-19A machines built after they had been modified for use as instrument flight trainers. Modifications included the installation of full instrument panels and blind flying curtains in the rear cockpit.

TL-19A: Dual control trainer modification of the standard L-19A. The exact number of aircraft so modified is unknown, but is thought to have totaled no more than ten examples.

XL-19B: Designation allocated to a single L-19A (serial 52-1804) experimentally fitted with a 210 shp Boeing XT50-BO-1 turboprop engine. This aircraft flew for the first time in November 1952, and in 1953 set a world light aircraft altitude record of 37,063 feet.

XL-19C: Two standard -A model Bird Dogs (52-6311 and -6312) fitted in 1954 with 210 shp Continental (Turbomeca) XT51-T-1 Artouste turboprop engines.

TL-19D: Production version of the commercial Model 305B used by the Army as an instrument flight trainer. Similar to the L-19A, but equipped with dual instrument panels and powered by a 210 hp 0-470-15 engine driving a constant-speed propeller. The Army purchased 310 examples beginning in 1956. In 1962 surviving machines were redesignated TO-1D.

L-19E: In 1958 the Army began taking delivery of the first of some 450 L-19Es, which were based on the commercial Model 305C and incorporated a strengthened airframe and other detail changes. These aircraft became O-1Es in 1962.

TL-19E: Army records indicate that some twenty L-19E aircraft were modified for use as trainers through the addition of full flight controls in the rear cockpit. These machines were redesignated TO-1Es under the 1962 Tri-Service designation system.

O-1F: Early Army combat experience in Vietnam pointed out quite forcefully the need for a fixed-wing Forward Air Control (FAC) aircraft to replace the OH-13 Sioux and OH-23 Raven helicopters initially used in that role. The two ageing helicopters were quickly found to be totally unsuited for observation work in the 'hot and high' conditions routinely encountered in Southeast Asia, and both the Army and USAF therefore fell back on the much more capable O-1. The Bird Dog's performance was excellent in comparison to that of the Sioux and the Raven, and the Cessna also had a far better maintenance record and considerably lower operating costs.

US Army O-1F Bird Dog
O-1F

The Army, for its part, decided to use the O-1 in the FAC role until a more suitable light helicopter could be introduced into service, and therefore procured limited numbers of O-1F and O-1G Bird Dogs on loan from the USAF. The O-1F was essentially a standard TO-1D that had been converted first to USAF O-1D FAC configuration through the deletion of its dual controls, and had later been further modified through the addition of underwing hardpoints and a VHF radio. Most O-1F aircraft operated by the Army were returned to the Air Force or turned over to the South Vietnamese following the November 1966 introduction into Vietnam service of the Hughes OH-6 Cayuse observation helicopter. However, some examples of the O-1F remained in the Army inventory through the mid-1970s.

O-1G: Essentially a standard O-1A converted for USAF FAC use in the same way as the O-1F. As mentioned above, some examples of this type were loaned to the Army for FAC use in Vietnam pending the arrival in that country of the Hughes OH-6. A few examples of the O-1G remained in the Army inventory until as late as 1974.

 

Tactical Air Support - Part 1


1. BACKGROUND AND ENVIRONMENT.

a. TACAIR support available to ground commanders in the RVN far exceeds that which has been available in any past conflict in which US forces have been involved. The almost complete lack of sophisticated enemy air defense in the RVN has allowed the use of TACAIR en masse with extreme accuracy. TACAIR aircraft in use in the RVN are provided by the USAF, the USMC, the USN, the Royal Australian AF, and the VNAF. The Commander, 7AF, in his role as single manager for air in the RVN, controls all FWMAF and US TACAIR assets, except those of the USN. The Navy provides 7AF with a daily number of sorties that will be available for commitment and these aircraft are provided to 7AF for employment. The VNAF manages and controls all of its assets. However, US, FWMAF, and VNAF TACAIR assets are all controlled and single managed by a joint combined 7AF/VNAF TACC at Tan Son Nhut Air Base. Figure C-1 shows the geographical deployment and location of facilities which control and direct TACAIR in the RVN.

b. In addition to the CAS provided to ground forces, 7AF conducts a DAS program designed as an interdiction campaign against enemy lines of communication and base areas in the RVN.

c. A most important type of air support, other than TACAIR, in the RVN is the massive B-52 strikes in a saturation bombing role. These B-52 strikes are under the operational control of SAC. The detailed planning of the B-52 strikes is done by SAC representatives at 7AF HQ. The decisions on where to place B-52 strikes are made at MACV.

d. Most TACAIR strikes are controlled by an airborne FAC. In the RVN, the FAC is airborne so that he can see both the target and the strike aircraft. He uses the O-1 Bird Dog, O-2A, and OV-10 Bronco light aircraft equipped with FM, VHF, and UHF radios and armed with flares and target-marking smoke rockets and smoke grenades. The other method of providing CAS is by the use of radar-controlled all-weather strikes, referred to as Combat Sky Spot. This method can be used under adverse weather conditions and at night and is executed similar to the B-52 strikes, i.e., with no warning to the enemy.

2. THE TACAIR CONTROL SYSTEM.

a. Introduction.

(1) TACS in the RVN is designed for comprehensive and responsive control of all TACAIR. It is a closely-knit composite of 7AF/VNAF/ USMC personnel, equipment, and operations centers. In addition to controlling 7AF, VNAF, and USMC (strike and reconnaissance only) air operations, the TACS coordinates and integrates USN and SAC operations in the RVN.

(2) A separate but allied system, the AAGS, provides for processing preplanned requests for air support and rapid exchange of battle information. The two systems, TACS and AAGS, so parallel each other that there is rapid coordination of all air and ground operations.

b. Organization of the TACS.

(1) The TACS has the characteristic and advantage of flexibility to fit any tactical situation. It provides for centralized direction while still permitting decentralized execution of specific operations. The system has proved its responsiveness to ground commanders; the reaction time to requests for immediate air strikes is usually less than 40 minutes.

(2) The TACS is centered around a joint combined VNAF/USAF/USMC operations center at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, the TACC. The schematic outline of this system is shown below, in Figure C-5.

Figure C-5 : Tactical Air Control System (TACS)

Its purpose is to coordinate and control the total US and RVN air effort. There are several units and agencies below the TACC level that are involved in daily execution of air-ground operations. The 7AF provides the equipment and the TACP personnel who work closely with ground commanders. The USMC uses its own equipment and personnel. There are four DASCs operationally subordinate to the TACC. Three of them are combined USAF/VNAF centers (I DASC, II DASC, and III DASC) which support US, FWMAF, and ARVN ground commanders in ARVN I CTZ, II CTZ, and III CTZ. There are no US or FWMAF ground forces supported by US TACAIR in ARVN IV CTZ and IV DASC is entirely under VNAF control.

(3) USAF TACPs, operating under each DASC, are positioned with the ARVN corps , divisions, and regiments and the I and II FFORCEV divisions and brigades, as shown below, in Figure C-6. The responsibilities and manning of the TACPs vary, depending on the level of assignment. Each TACP includes an ALO and/or FAC, radio operators, FAC aircraft, and a vehicle with UHF, VHF, FM, and SSB radios.

Figure C-6 :

(4) The USMC provides its own ALOs, TACPS, and FACs to work with its ground units.

(5) Radar coverage is basic to the operation of the TACS. Sites are located throughout the RVN for complete coverage. For radar control purposes, the RVN is divided into two sectors; each sector contains a large high-performance radar at a CRC. Aircraft track data at the CRC is augmented by similar information provided by outlying radars at CRPs. The USMC operates one CRP and several TPQ-10 sites (the USMC equivalent of the USAF MSQ-77 radar bombing equipment).

c. Functions and Operations of the TACC.

(1) The TACC, acting for the 7AF commander in his capacity as MACV Air Force Component Commander and the DEPCOMUSMACV for Air Operations, has responsibility for running the air war in the RVN. The TACC performs several functions:

(a) It plans, directs, and coordinates all US, VNAF, and FWMAF TACAIR operations in the RVN.

(b) It publishes fragmentary (frag) orders to the agencies concerned, including the lst MAW in I CTZ whose strike and recon aircraft are tasked by the TACC.

(c) It directs, monitors, and diverts strike aircraft as necessary.

(d) It establishes policies and procedures governing the operation of the TACS.

(2) The four DASCs are operationally subordinate to the TACC and serve primarily as extensions of the TACC. They provide a fast reaction capability to satisfy immediate requests from ground commanders for CAS, TACAIR recon, and emergency airlift (not considered further here). They also provide minute-to-minute coordination between the ground commanders in their area and supporting air elements, not only strike aircraft but recon, herbicide, PSYOP, and B-52 aircraft as well.

(3) To fill an immediate request, the DASC may, with Army/USMC approval, divert TACAIR from preplanned missions enroute to the target. In many cases there will be enough airborne aircraft on missions of lower priority to provide diverts, and these result in a quicker response than scrambled aircraft. With one exception, the DASCs do not have authority to scramble alert aircraft - I DASC is allocated USMC ground-alert aircraft for scramble purposes and need only inform the TACC of their launch. If a DASC cannot fill an immediate request by diverts within its area of responsibility, it will request the TACC to scramble ground-alert aircraft. The TACC may elect to scramble aircraft or to divert strikes from an adjacent CTZ.

(4) The TACP provides an AF communication system down to the brigade level. An ALO, who is a key member of the brigade commander's staff, heads the TACP. The ALO attends the brigade commander's meetings, briefs on air activity in the area of interest, and advises on the use and capabilities of TACAIR. Also, the ALO is a senior FAC and the supervisor of the FACs in his TACP. These FACs are AF pilots who perform several vital missions from their airborne positions in light observation aircraft. The FACS:

(a) Maintain close contact with local ground commanders.

(b) Help keep ground commanders in contact by providing airborne radio relays.

(c) Direct air strikes.

(d) Perform BDA and forward BDA reports.

(e) Perform VR during daily airborne patrols of their sectors.

(5) The radar and extensive communication network of the TACS make possible the quick responsiveness of the system. All aircraft on strike missions are picked up on radar and identification is usually established within five minutes after takeoff. Radar direction is provided to the pilot to the rendezvous point with the FAC. After the strike, radar contact is reestablished with the controlling radar facility for the return to base. Should an aircraft need emergency assistance, the radar network can provide vectors to the nearest suitable base or bailout area. Strike aircraft are also provided in-flight radar advice on possible conflicting air traffic and warnings on artillery fires.

Tactical Air Control System : Areas of Responsibility