Memorial Day - Vietnam Air War Remembered
Among fixed-wing aircraft, more F-4 Phantoms were lost than any other type in service with any nation. The United States lost 578 UAVs (554 over Vietnam and 24 over China). There were about 11,835 U.S helicopters that served in the Vietnam War. The U.S records showing 5,607 helicopter losses. In total, the United States military lost in Vietnam almost 10,000 aircraft, helicopters and UAVs (3,744 planes, 5,607 helicopters and 578 UAVs.
All told, the U.S. Air Force flew 5.25 million sorties over South Vietnam, North Vietnam, northern and southern Laos, and Cambodia, losing 2,251 aircraft: 1,737 to hostile action, and 514 in accidents. 2,197 of the losses were fixed-wing, and the remainder rotary-wing. The USAF sustained approximately 0.4 losses per 1,000 sorties during the conflict, which compared favorably with a 2.0 rate in Korea and a 9.7 figure during World War II.
The F-4 Phantom II was the premiere USAF jet lost a total of 445, 382 in combat. First loss: operational (non-combat), F-4C 64-0674 (45TH TFS, 15th TFW) which ran out of fuel after strike in SVN on 9 June 1965; first combat loss F-4C 64-0685 (45th TFS, 15th TFW) shot down Ta Chan, NW NVN on 20 June 1965. 9 of the losses were parked aircraft struck by rockets. Final loss: F-4D 66-8747 (432d TRW) on 29 June 1973.
The CH/HH-3 Jolly Green Giant—34 total, 25 in combat. First loss: CH-3E 63-9685 (38th ARRS) to AAA North Vietnam on 6 November 1965, three crewmen POW, one rescued. Final loss: HH-3E 65-12785 (37th ARRS) 21 November 1970, combat-assaulted inside Son Tay POW camp (Operation Ivory Coast) and deliberately destroyed by U.S. Special Forces.
CH/HH-53 Super Jolly—27 total, 17 in combat. First loss: HH-53C 66-14430 (40th ARRS) in Laos, damaged by gunfire 18 January 1969 crew rescued and aircraft destroyed by bombing to prevent capture. Last losses: four CH-53s (68-10925, −10926, −10927, 70–1627, all from 21st SOS, 56th SOW) to AAA on 15 May 1975, Koh Tang, Kampuchea, (Mayaguez incident final aircraft losses of Vietnam War),UH-1 Iroquois or “Huey”—36 total, A-4 Skyhawk—282 total, 195 in combat. First loss: A-4C 149578 (VA-144, USS Constellation), AAA 5 August 1964, Lt.J.G. Everett Alvarez POW (second longest held prisoner).Final loss: A-4F 155021 (VA-212, USS Hancock), AAA 6 September 1972, pilot rescued.
For the US Navy, F-4 Phantom—138 total, 75 in combat. First loss: F-4B 151412 (VA-142, USS Constellation), operational loss (non-combat) 13 November 1964, crew rescued. Final combat loss (also last USN combat loss of war): F-4J 155768 (VF-143, USS Enterprise), AAA South Vietnam 27 January 1973, Cdr H.H. Hall and LCdr P.A. Keintzer POW. Final loss: F-4J 158361 (VF-21, USS Ranger), operational loss (non-combat) 29 January 1973, crew killed.
U.S. Marine Corps aircraft lost in combat included 193 fixed-wing and 270 rotary-wing aircraft. The Corps experienced among the fixed-wing; A-4 Skyhawk—81 lost, F-4 Phantom—95 lost, 72 combat, AH-1G—270 lost.
The US Army paid an overwhelming price as it hosted the premier rotorcraft, the UH-1 “Huey”. Army UH-1—60 lost, UH-1A—1 lost, UH-1B—357 lost, UH-1C—365 lost, UH-1D—886 lost, UH-1E—90 lost, UH-1F—18 lost, UH-1H—1,313 lost. The most iconic image of the war wasn’t an armed combatant, but an actual aircraft.
The UH-1A, or “Huey” first entered service with the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, the 82nd Airborne Division, and the 57th Medical Detachment. Although intended for evaluation only, the Army quickly pressed the new helicopter into operational service, and Huey’s with the 57th Medical Detachment arrived in Vietnam in March 1962. The UH-1 has long been a symbol of US involvement in Southeast Asia in general and Vietnam in particular, and as a result of that conflict, has become one of the world's most recognized helicopters. In Vietnam primary missions included general
support, air assault, cargo transport, aeromedical evacuation, search and rescue, electronic warfare, and later, ground attack. During the conflict, the craft was upgraded, notably to a larger version based on the Model 205. This version was initially designated the UH-1D and flew operationally from 1963.
During service in the Vietnam War, the UH-1 was used for various purposes and various terms for each task abounded. UH-1s tasked with ground attack or armed escort were outfitted with rocket launchers, grenade launchers, and machine guns. As early as 1962, UH-1s were modified locally by the
companies themselves, who fabricated their own mounting systems. These gunship UH-1s were commonly referred to as "Frogs" or "Hogs" if they carried rockets, and "Cobras" or simply "Guns" if they had guns. UH-1s tasked and configured for troop transport were often called "Slicks" due to an absence of weapons pods. Slicks did have door gunners, but were generally employed in the troop transport and medevac roles.
UH-1s also flew "hunter-killer" teams with observation helicopters, namely the Bell OH-58A Kiowa and the Hughes OH-6 Cayuse (Loach).Towards the end of the conflict, the UH-1 was tested with TOW missiles, and two UH-1B helicopters equipped with the XM26 Armament Subsystem were deployed to help counter the 1972 Easter Invasion. USAF Lieutenant James P. Fleming piloted a UH-1F on a 26 November 1968 mission that earned him the Medal of Honor.
In October 1965, the United States Air Force (USAF) 20th Helicopter Squadron was formed at Tan Son Nhut Air Base in South Vietnam, equipped initially with CH-3C helicopters. By June 1967 the UH-1F and UH-1P were also added to the unit's inventory, and by the end of the year the entire unit had shifted from Tan Son Nhut to Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base, with the CH-3s transferring to the 21st Helicopter Squadron. On 1 August 1968, the unit was redesignated the 20th Special Operations Squadron. The 20th SOS's UH-1s were known as the Green Hornets, stemming from their color, a primarily green two-tone camouflage (green and tan) was carried, and radio call-sign "Hornet". The main role of these helicopters were to insert and extract reconnaissance teams, provide cover for such operations, conduct psychological warfare, and other support roles for covert operations especially in Laos and Cambodia during the so-called Secret War.
USAF UH-1s were often equipped with automatic grenade launchers in place of the door guns. The XM-94 grenade launcher had been tested on Army aircraft before being used by the USAF. The unit was capable of firing 400 grenades per minute, up to 1,500 yards effective range. The United States Air Force's (USAF) competition for a helicopter to be used for support on missile bases included a specific requirement to mandate the use of the General Electric T58 turboshaft as a powerplant. The Air Force had a large inventory of these engines on hand for its fleet of HH-3 Jolly Green Giant rescue helicopters and using the same engine for both helicopters would save costs. In
response, Bell proposed an upgraded version of the 204B with the T58 engine. Because the T58 output shaft is at the rear, and was thus mounted in front of the transmission on the HH-3, it had to have a separate offset gearbox (SDG or speed decreaser gearbox) at the rear, and shafting to couple to the UH-1 transmission. The US Navy began acquiring UH-1B helicopters from the Army and these aircraft were modified into gunships with special gun mounts and radar altimeters and were known as Seawolves in service with Navy Helicopter Attack (Light) (HA(L)-3). UH-1C helicopters were also acquired in the 1970s. The Seawolves worked as a team with Navy river patrol operations.
Four years after the disestablishment of HA(L)-3, the Navy determined that it still had a need for gunships, establishing two new Naval Reserve Helicopter Attack (Light) Squadrons as part of the newly formed Commander, Helicopter Wing Reserve (COMHELWINGRES) in 1976. Helicopter Attack Squadron (Light) Five (HA(L)-5), nicknamed the "Blue Hawks", was established at Naval Air Station Point Mugu, California on 11 June 1977 and its sister squadron, Helicopter Attack Squadron (Light) Four (HA(L)-4), known as the Red Wolves, was formed at Naval Air Station Norfolk, Virginia on 1 July 1976.
In 1962, the United States Marine Corps held a competition to choose an assault support helicopter to replace the Cessna O-1 fixed-wing aircraft and the Kaman OH-43D helicopter. The winner was the UH-1B, which was already in service with the Army. The helicopter was designated the UH-1E and modified to meet Marine requirements. The major changes included the use of all-aluminum construction for corrosion resistance, [N 3] radios compatible with Marine Corps ground frequencies, a rotor brake for shipboard use to stop the rotor quickly on shutdown and a roof-mounted rescue hoist.
The UH-1E was first flown on 7 October 1963, and deliveries commenced 21 February 1964, with 192 aircraft completed. Due to production line realities at Bell, the UH-1E was produced in two different versions, both with the same UH-1E designation. The first 34 built were essentially UH-1B airframes with the Lycoming T53-L-11 engine producing 1,100 shp (820 kW). When Bell switched production to the UH-1C, the UH-1E production benefited from the same changes. The Marine Corps later upgraded UH-1E engines to the Lycoming T53-L-13, which produced 1,400 shp (1,000 kW), after the Army introduced the UH-1M and upgraded their UH-1C helicopters to the same engine.