restricted access 11. AC-119 Units and Combat Operations in Vietnam
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C h a p t e r 1 1 AC-119 Units and Combat Operations in Vietnam F or two years before the AC-47 flew its final USAF mission in December 1969, USAF leaders were looking for a replacement. For all intents and purposes, by the spring of 1967, the choice had been narrowed to the C-119 and the C-130. Although the C-130 had obvious advantages, the cost of modification and concerns over diverting such an important tactical airlift aircraft from the already overtaxed airlift forces led Secretary of the Air Force Harold Brown to select the C-119. Since the aircraft were so readily available in USAF reserve units, plans called for them to serve as an interim aircraft until sufficient C-130s could be obtained. Officials intended to reconfigure two models: the G, with twin prop engines, and the K, also with twin prop engines but augmented by two J-85 jet engines. In spite of the strong concerns of many USAF generals about the G model’s marginal combat performance tests, in June 1967 Brown gave the go-ahead to modify the G model fleet. Following a protracted and difficult modification process, the G models were deployed by early 1969 and the K models a year later. Once in-theater, it was up to their crews to make sure the new gunships performed the way they were supposed to.1 214 Shadow and stinger Fourteenth Special Operations Wing At this point, it would be worthwhile to review the history of the Fourteenth Special Operations Wing and the three squadrons that flew the AC-119s: 71SOS, 17SOS, and 18SOS. The 14SOW began as the Fourteenth Fighter Wing on 29 July 1947. It commenced operations as the Fourteenth Air Commando Wing when reactivated on 28 February 1966 under Pacific Air Forces. It was transferred to the 2nd Air Division on 8 March 1966 and to the 7AF on 1 April 1966. On 1 August the U.S. Air Force redesignated the unit as the Fourteenth, and it remained so until it was inactivated on 30 September 1971 as part of President Nixon’s drawdown of U.S. forces, better known as Vietnamization. According to the official record, the 14SOW “performed combat operations from 8 March 1966 to 30 September 1971.” Redesignated as the Fourteenth Flying Training Wing (14FTW) on 22 March 1972, it was activated under the Air Training Command on 1 June 1972 and remained thus until it was transferred to the Nineteenth Air Force (19AF) on 1 July 1993.2 During its time in Southeast Asia, the two main operating bases and headquarters of the 14FTW were located at Nha Trang AB, South Vietnam, from 8 March 1968 to 10 October 1969 and at Phan Rang, South Vietnam, from 15 October 1969 to 30 September 1971. The squadrons assigned to the 14FTW included the 1st–6th, 9th, 14th, 15th, 17th, 18th, 71st, and 20th Special Operations Squadrons. Of significance to this story are the 71st and the 17th, which operated the AC-119G gunships, and the 18th, which operated the AC-119K gunships. The other squadrons, at one point or another, flew A-1 Sky Raiders, AC-47 gunships, C-47 and HC-47 Skytrains, C-123 Providers, C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft, UH-1 Hueys, U-10 and CH-3 helicopters, and O-2 observation aircraft.3 The AC-119Gs in Action On 8 February 1968 Brown, under pressure from field commanders, approved a mixed fleet of 16 G models and 16 K models, with one prototype, 10 G models, and 10 K models to absorb attrition losses. The U.S. Air Force took most of the aircraft and crews from the Air Force Reserve’s 434th Troop Carrier Wing stationed in Ohio. While the workforce at Fairchild and Warner Robins turned the cargo aircraft into ac-119 and combat operations 215 gunships, the new crews trained for their mission under the 434TCW at Lockbourne AFB.4 Following this initial training, in the summer of 1968 the crews transferred to Eglin AFB, Florida, for jungle training, but the tight schedule made it necessary to accomplish the basics as soon as possible before they deployed to Southeast Asia. According to the 71SOS history: The hurried design of the new training program also created some problems—no mock-ups and few training aids were available . Flight crews, familiar with hauling men and cargo, had to learn how to use sophisticated electronic gear and to...