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  Early Army Aviation in Vietnam

   The Vietnam conflict had a huge impact on helicopter development and use.  An entire new generation of helicopters saw service there.

  In December 1961, elements of the 8th and 57th Transportation Companies (Light Helicopter) arrived at the Port of Saigon.

h-21helos in formation

H-21 Shawnees fly in formation over South Vietnam, circa 1962.

    The 8th and 57th flew CH-21 Shawnee helicopters to support and advise the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) soldiers.  Within days of their arrival, both units were in operations moving ARVN forces into combat.

   It was quickly evident that the climate and weather conditions of Vietnam had negative affects on the CH-21.

   The Shawnee was underpowered, limited in range and in need of defensive armament.  Even with its limitations, the helicopter proved to be the perfect tool for circumnavigating the rough and impassive terrain in Vietnam. 

   By the end of 1962, three more Transportation Companies - the 33rd, the 81st and the 93rd - arrived to boost the lift support.

pilots of Shawnees

Pilots of the 33rd Transportation Company stand in front of a Shawnee just prior to departing for Vietnam, 1962.

disassembled, sealed, and packed on USN Croatan 1962

En route to Vietnam on the USN CROATAN, 1962

initial fielding in 1962

Initial fielding in Vietnam, 1962


    As US presence in South Vietnam grew, so did the helicopter fleet.  Utility Tactical Transport Helicopter Companies (UTTH) were issued new UH-1B Huey helicopters.  The Hueys were armed with weapons systems and dedicated as fire support for the CH-21 companies.

The crew of #034, an H-21 Shawnee, pose with their aircraft, Vietnam 1963.


crew of H-21 Shawnee

   The new Huey helicopter quickly became the aircraft of choice.  While the UH-1B carried fewer troops, the new turbine engines provided greater power and longer range than the CH-21.  By the end of 1964, all CH-21s were replaced by UH-1B Hueys.

taking off from Vung Tau

   Hueys from the 118th Aviation Company line up for takeoff on the airstrip at
Vung Tau, Vietnam.  Hueys from the 114th Aviation Company
are coming in for landing.  March 1965.

flying over rice paddies

H-21s over rice paddies, Vietnam, 1963.

81st TC patch

81st Transportation Company             

93rd TC Patch

93rd Transportation Company


flight line of 33rd TC

 Flight line of the 33rd Transportation Company

Loading for departure, 1963



loading for departure



Departing, 1963.

* * *


   On January 2, 1963, a major operation was launched by the ARVN 7th Division supported by helicopters from the 93rd Transportation Company (Light Helicopter) and armed UH-1Bs from the Utility Tactical Transport Helicopter Company.

   The mission was to sweep a suspected Viet Cong command center.  The objective was heavily defended, and enemy spies had alerted the NVA forces who were waiting when the ARVN troops arrived.

   As the ARVN troops approached, they came under heavy fire from a tree line and called for reinforcements.  Ten H-21 Shawnee helicopters from the 93rd began unloading South Vietnamese troops near the ARVN soldiers and pounded the tree line with artillery fire.  The enemy forces were well hidden and waited out the barrage.

   When the 93rd approached for the fourth time to unload more troops within 200 yards from enemy bunkers, they were instantly engulfed in withering fire.  One H-21 was quickly shot down, and as another aircraft swept in to rescue the downed crew, it, too, was shot down and its crew chief killed.  Two more H-21s were badly damaged and landed further away in the field.

   The armed Hueys immediately flew in and launched rockets and machinegun fire into the tree line.  The NVA held firm and returned fire.  One Huey attempted to rescue the downed crews and was also shot down, losing one crew chief in the crash.

   A frantic US advisor demanded that ARVN forces enter the attack, but they refused to engage the determined foe.

   By days end, a record seven US helicopters had been shot down and two crewmembers killed while several wounded crewmembers remained trapped on the field of battle.

   The enemy withdrew under cover of darkness and remaining crews were all rescued.  The next day maintenance recovery teams from the 93rd, 80th Cargo Helicopter Field Maintenance Detachment, 45th Transportation Battalion and 611th Transportation Company (DS) all braved sniper fire to recover the downed aircraft.

H-21 helos

   Two H-21s of the 93rd Trans Helicopter Co shot down. 
Recovery by the 611th Trans Co (DS).

recovery of shot down helos

Both H-21Cs of the 93rd and the UH-1B of the UTT positioned where they fell when shot down.  The enemy was in the treeline in the background.

An unusual view of the downed UH-1B of the UTT, awaiting recovery.  The violence of the crash is readily apparent.

damage to UTT shot down helo


preparing for recovery

H-21C being prepared for recovery by the 611th Transportation Company.



North Vietnamese stamp for attack at Ap Bac

 Commemorative stamp issued by Vietnam about the attack at Ap Bac.

 * * *

    With the increasing role of helicopters in the conflict, Transportation companies were renamed to reflect their increased role in troop movements and their secondary role in supply.

8th Transportation Co (Light Helicopter) to the 117th Aviation Co (Airmobile Light)

33rd Transportation Co (Light Helicopter) to the 118th Aviation Co (Airmobile Light)

81st Transportation Co (Light Helicopter) to the 119th Aviation Co (Airmobile Light)

57th Transportation Co (Light Helicopter) to the 120th Aviation Co (Airmobile Light)

93rd Transportation Co (Light Helicopter) to the 121st Aviation Co (Airmobile Light)


Huey in medevac

Left, a versatile Huey picks up wounded soldiers from a mountaintop clearing, unreachable by vehicle.

Right, infantry soldiers leap from a
Huey as the crew chief keeps a
watchful eye for enemy soldiers.


airmobile insertion


   By March 1965, when US forces began arriving in increasing numbers, large scale units were dedicated to the new airmobile tactics made possible by the helicopter.

   The US 1st Cavalry Division became the first airmobile division to arrive in country.  It was followed by the 1st Aviation Brigade and other major aviation commands to control the increasing roles of Army aviation.


1st Cav patch


1st Avn Bde patch

      Other aircraft were entering the fleets.  These included the CH-47 Chinook and the CH-54 Tarhe "Skycrane."  These larger aircraft provided for larger missions moving troops and supplies, or in recovery operations.


crew priot to mission

Flight crew ready to launch a
recovery mission.  Pilot wears the two piece Nomex flight suit.


machine gun position

Machine gun with C-ration can used to keep the rounds from binding, and a makeshift auxiliary ammunition box with 1500 rounds.  “Never could have too much ammo,” said Spec 4 Anthony R. Lazzarini, Company A (Little Bears),
25th Aviation Battalion, Vietnam, 1967-68.

    The Transportation Corps maintained a critical role in Army aviation by providing advanced maintenance support for the aviation units.  Every aviation battalion was augmented with a TC Aviation Detachment whose primary mission was to provide critical maintenance support.

Maintenance personnel perform phased maintenance on a CH-54 Tarhe.  The massive rotor blades
have been removed to facilitate
the overhaul.

maintenance on CH 54 Tarhe

   One of the most important missions was to recover and repair downed aircraft.  It proved to also to be the most dangerous.  Maintenance teams were required to spend prolonged periods of time in clearly hostile areas, determining whether to repair the aircraft, or prepare for an aircraft evacuation.

CH 47 in recovery of UH-1D

A CH-47 hovers over a downed UH-1D while a ‘hook’ man attaches the sling to the cargo hook.

25th Infantry Division soldiers run for cover as a Huey from the 116th Assault Helicopter Company prepares to lift off from the
Landing Zone.

airmobile insertion

helo assault formation

A formation of UH-1 Hueys of the 68th Assault Helicopter Company (AHC), the "Top Tigers."

A UH-1D from the Casper Platoon, 173rd Airborne Brigade, made an emergency crash landing in a rice paddy.  The crew was soon rescued after walking to the
small hamlet in the
background, 1970.

emergency landing of Huey
Huey door gunner in operation

A door gunner suppresses enemy fire while a UH-1D Huey from A Company, 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion (AHB) departs.

C 54 recovers C 47

A CH-54 Tarhe "Skycrane" from the 478th Aviation Company recovers a CH-47 Chinook.


airmobile insertion

Soldiers leap from their aircraft under fire.  The Hueys were tempting targets for the enemy, so little time was spent in the LZ.

Air Cavalry Scout OH-6 Cayuse helicopters prepare for takeoff in support of an air assault mission. 
The agile OH-6 was the Scout's
choice aircraft for these
dangerous missions.

Cayuse scouts take off


helo maintenance

Maintenance personnel inspect an OH-6 Cayuse Light Observation Helicopter, "Loach."  Note the crates being used to hold the jack supporting the tail boom.

H-13 prepares to lift off

An H-13 Scout helicopter from Troop B, 1/9th Cavalry prepares to lift off at Bong Son Plain, 1967.


Ch 47 recovers and M113 stuck in a paddy

A CH-47 Chinook from the 242nd Assault Support Helicopter Squadron ("Muleskinners") uses its external lift hook to pull a M113 Armored Personnel Carrier out of a muddy rice paddy.


CH 47 delivers arty rounds in a pallet

1st Cav patch

A CH-47 Chinook delivers
ammunition to a gun position of the
1st Cavalry Division.

inspecting for damage after a fire fight

A crew inspects their Chinook after it was hit by enemy fire during a combat mission in Central Vietnam.


C-54 Tarhe

A CH-54 Tarhe sits at an airbase in Vietnam ready for another mission.

Cockpit of a CH-54 Tarhe,
nicknamed the "Sky Crane."

cockpit of C 54 Tarhe


C-47 picking up a platoon

1st Cavalry Division CH-47 Chinooks were capable of ferrying full platoons of infantry soldiers into combat.

Huey delivering supplies via slung cargo hook

A UH-1 Huey hovers over an isolated mountaintop LZ as
the crewchief watches
the delivery of
supplies being unhooked
from the Huey's cargo hook. 
 August 1965

The gunner's position in a Huey.  Crew Chief SP5 Z. Szoke marked his equipment with the tail number of the aircraft, # 564.  Visible is his M-60 machinegun with detached barrel and on the rear wall the mitt to change out M-60 barrels that become hot when fired for long periods.  Also on the rear wall are smoke grenades and under the seat, flak jackets.

gunner position


   One of the most overlooked and under-reported aspects of Army aviation is the fixed wing element.  Army airplanes were barred from carrying weapons and restricted in size and weight by agreement with the Air Force.  However, they did provide depot level maintenance for Army aviation, logistical supply support and fixed wing support throughout the country.  

388 TC Maint hangar

Above, the 388th Trans Co maintenance hangar in Vietnam. 
The level of their responsibilities is shown by the
aircraft visible - the OH-1, the UH-1 and the CV-2 on the ramp.

OV-1 Mohawk waiting maint

The maintenance ramp at Na Trang, RVN shows the level of work that was performed.  An OV-1 Mohawk is in the foreground, while a U-8 is parked across from it.

  Army airplanes performed intelligence, signal, liaison, scouting, and cargo missions. 

   Unlike helicopter units, fixed wing aviators often found themselves spread out in small numbers across Vietnam.  The 73rd Aviation Company had 32 L-19 Bird Dogs spread out to 15 different airfields.

L-19 sitting in berm An L-19 used for scouting and Forward Air Control (FAC) sits in a protective burm in Vietnam.
pilot and his L-19 Bird Dog A pilot in the 25th Infantry Division stands next to his L-19 Bird Dog, 1966.
Pilot and his Bird Dog A Bird Dog pilot stands with his Cessna L-19/O-1 airplane.  The captain is with the 1st Aviation Brigade.

   Army aircraft were small and able to use landing strips that were unusable by larger aircraft flown by the Air Force.  They were also less maintenance intensive than helicopters.

   Some of the early Transportation companies replaced their H-13 Sioux helicopters with the L-19/O-1 Bird Dog because they proved more capable in the Vietnam environment.

Bird Dog at Soc Trang

An L-19 of the 93rd Transportation Company at Soc Trang airfield, 1963.

Tuffy, the Tiger, mascot of 93rd TC

Tuffy, mascot of the 93rd Trans Co, was donated to the Toledo, Ohio zoo.  The 250-pound Bengal tiger was working toward his full growth of 600 pounds.


The L-20 Beaver, a light cargo aircraft, served as a resupply craft, personnel carrier, medical evacuation platform and as an aerial observer.

L-20 Beaver
U-21 Ute

A U-21 Ute aircraft, sites behind a protective burm at an airfield in South Vietnam.


An OV-1 Mohawk is readied for a mission.  The crew has it hooked to a Ground Power Unit (GPU) that provides power and air to the plane to allow it to start.

OV-1 preparing for mission

The U-1A Otter, whose primary mission was light cargo.  It also served as a courier, radio relay, medical evacuation, and observation aircraft.

U-1A Otter

   The largest of the Army planes, the CV-2 Caribou, routinely landed on short, unimproved landing strips. 

   In supply missions, the airplanes provided a vital link to the remote outposts that were unable to be realistically supplied any other way.

   In 1966, the CV-2 was transferred to the Air Force, followed soon after by the L-19 Bird Dog.  Although this was a blow to Army fixed-wing aviation, it opened the door for an increasing variety of rotary-wing aircraft.

124th Trans Terminal Command, Cam Ranh Bay

The 124th Transportation Terminal Command area at Cam Ranh Bay.  This location allowed cargo discharged from vessels to be loaded onto Caribou aircraft and flown out to forward areas.

maint on CV-2

Maintenance on the CV-2 engines.  

  Crew of 33rd Aviation in front
of CV-2


crew in front of CV-2

unloading CV-2

A CV-2 is unloaded by ARVN soldiers supervised by Special Forces.


C-47 recovering fixed wing acft

A CH-47 Chinook recovery of a fixed-wing aircraft.

   * * *


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