18th 54th 18th CAC Aviation Association
(Lloyd Works photo credit)
Theodore Gustin in barracks
As of 1 May 1967, the 18th Aviation Company has flown over 69,500 hours in support of counter insurgency operation. This is approximately 6,500,000 air miles. We have carried 305,000 passengers and 17,500,000 pounds of cargo. During 5 + years in Vietnam, the 18th Aviation Company has demonstrated that no challenge is too great nor any task too difficult. The 18th will continue to uphold its reputation of being Low, Slow and Reliable.
Organizational Day for the 18th Aviation Company
The 18th held an organizational day on 6 May 1967, with milestones and significant events which highlighted the esprit de corps and professionalism of the 18th Aviation Company from the unit establishment on 1 May 1959 at Fort Riley, Kansas, until present day at Qui Nhon.
The 18th is a unit of many accomplishments, some of the first for the unit are:
1. The first U-1A "Otter" was received from the De Havilland Corporation on 18 March 1959 prior to the unit being activated.
2. The first Commanding Officer was Major Robert D. McClanahan.
3. The first 1st Sergeant was MSG Donald L. Rees.
4. The first operational mission was a MEDEVAC from Fort Riley to Fitzsimmons Army Hospital.
5. The first reenlistment was by SGT[SFC] Adam E. Naives for 6 years in an "Otter" at 1,500 feet.
6. In May 1961, the unit had completed one full year of accident free flying, a truly outstanding accomplishment.
7. The 18th Aviation Company boarded the USNS Core at Alameda Naval Station on 15 January 1962 for transportation to an unknown destination in the South Pacific.
8. The company disembarked at Saigon Vietnam on 6 February 1962.
9. The 18th became the first operational fixed wing company in Vietnam.
10. By 2 March 1963 the company had flown 10,000 Combat Support Hours.
11. The Platoons were located in Pleiku, Da Nang, Ban Me Thout, and Saigon.
12. The company was supporting all the Corps areas and Special Forces covering all of Vietnam.
13. In 1963 the 18th was providing support all over Vietnam and Thailand.
14. Initially the company was under the 45th Transportation Battalion.
15. On 1 April 1963 the newly formed 52nd Aviation Battalion in Pleiku home to the 18th.
16. The 14th Aviation Battalion became home to the 18th on 1 November 1964
17. And finally on 1 November 1964 the 223rd became the parent unit of the 18th.
As the unit history records:
256th Transportation Detachment (Aircraft Repar) assigned
On 3 September 1965, the 256th Transportation Detachment (Aircraft Repair) was assigned to the 18th to help with the maintenance program by providing direct field maintenance support. A month later, our sister unit, the 54th Aviation Company, arrived in country with 8 aircraft. By 1 January 1966 the 18th had relinquished control of 8 aircraft to the 54th giving each unit an operational 16 aircraft.
The company operated out of Nha Trang until 7 August 1966 when it moved to Qui Nhon. The move resulted in the formation of a provisional platoon to remain at Nha Trang and the additional assignment of the 163rd Medical Detachment here.
In summary, the 18th Aviation Company has continued it outstanding support of ground combat elements engaged in stemming the tide of Communist aggression in South East Asia. As the year closed, many more days of unceasing effort in this struggle against communist aggression, faced the oldest Army Aviation Unit in the Republic of Vietnam As in the past the Officers and Enlisted men of this unit will continue to devote themselves to freedom of mankind and uphold the fine traditions of "Low, Slow and Reliable"
The memorial was transferred from Nha Trang to Qui Nhon on 24 May 1967 to stand in front of Company Headquarters as an external reminder of the service they gave the 18th Aviation Company and their country. It is with a deep sense of gratitude and respect that we rededicate this memorial today to those 5 courageous soldiers.
On 22nd of June a second special mission to be flown for B-57 was initiated. It was during this mission that Capt Coutoumanos, CWO Mims and SP/4 Chavis were instrumental in the rescue of a Special Forces Long Range Reconnaissance patrol in the vicinity of Quan Loi.
On the night of June 28 at 1100 hours the crew made brief contact by flashlight. It was noted that the patrol was being pursued by the Viet Cong and that they were on the move. For the next 8 hours there was no radio contact. Then at 1900 hours contact was made and the leader states that they are surrounded on all sides and required extraction. The search now requires that the aircraft fly into area of thunderstorm activity with ceilings as low as 300 feet. They continued to fly low over the area despite the heavy ground fire, to establish positive identification and maintain contact until extraction of the patrol was accomplished. For his part of the mission CWO Mims was recommended for the DFC Capt Coumanous and SP/4 Chavis have been recommended but are still pending.
In the fall with the coming of the coastal monsoon season and with strong, northeasterly winds, the platoon continued its long, hard courier flights to Da Nang. The Southern route was flown in primary good weather. The platoon continued its leaflet drops foe JUSPAO in Support of "Open Arms Program".
The second Project Delta support was rendered and flying conditions were excellent.
Change of Command
Major James T. Bridges assumed command of the 18th from Major John L. Yunker on 21 August 1967.
Tragedy struck the second platoon
Loss of crew and Reliable 702
On the morning of 17 August 1967, Chief Warrant Officer Wayne E. Jones, Warrant Officer Don R. Harger and crew chief Specialist Five Joseph Benson departed Pleiku, flying the north courier mission as is the standard procedure each Thursday to Tuy Hoa and Nha Trang. Due to operational requirements, the crew changed aircraft 5-1712 for aircraft 5-81702 at Nha Trang.
The flight departed Nha Trang at approximately 1430 hours to complete the north courier route, making their last stop at Cheo Reo to pick up a messenger courier. Upon departing Cheo Reo, they contacted the MACV compound at that location, stating that they were leaving the Cheo Reo frequency and switching over to Pleiku Center. This was the last contact with the flight.
When the aircraft became overdue at Pleiku, a communications search was initiated. At 2000 hours it was determined that they had not landed at any of the established airfields and a massive search operation began. The weather enroute from Checo Reo to Pleiku was reported as "numerous thunderstorms, heavy rain showers and limited visibility". By the time that the communications search had been completed, weather conditions had deteriorated to such a point that search missions were impossible until the following morning.
The bond that binds the men who fly was fully evidenced the next morning. By 0615 hours, a flight of 15 Birddogs from the 219th RAC "Headhunters" departed Holloway enroute to the search area although at the time of their take-off, the reported ceiling at Holloway was 100 feet. Fate was kind to the "hunters" in that the low cloud conditions had dissipated by 0900 hours and excellent flying weather then existed in the area.
By the end of the day, more than 53 aircraft had participated in the search. Involved in the search were the sister units of the 223rd Battalion. These units were the 229th RAC, 185th RAC and the 183rd RAC. The Special Forces "C" Camp which the second platoon supported also provided a MIKE Force Company which was standing by for a para-drop in the event that security was required at the crash site.
At 0700 hours on 19 August, all the aircraft of the 18th Aviation Company had assembled at Cheo Reo to continue the search. Because of the wide dispersion of the company's aircraft, this was the only time this year that all of the company's flyable "Otters" had been assembled at one location. Each Otter flew in excess of nine hours during the second day of the search. Due to the presence of known enemy forces in the area, rear doors were stripped from the U-1A aircraft and door gunners posted. Despite a dawn to dusk search, the crash site in the dense jungles and mountainous terrain eluded the searchers.
The search continued fruitlessly for another 19 days, and the disappearance remained a mystery until 7 September 1967. A helicopter instructor pilot from the Fourth Infantry Division was giving a newly arrived aviator an in-country check-out around Dragon Mountain, four miles southwest of Pleiku. He was pointing out to the new aviator the eight aircraft that previously had crashed into the mountain during low visibility conditions.
He counted nine. The fate of “Reliable 702” sadly became apparent. The bodies of the four personnel later were recovered from the burned fuselage.
A special memorial service honoring the 17 August 1967 loss of Chief Warrant Officer Wayne E. Jones, Warrant Officer Don R. Harger and Specialist Five Joseph Benson was conducted at the unit.
Inclosing the year end the troops of the 18th Platoon continue to give excellent support to the Special Forces and to II Corps.
Third Project Delta
Under Captain Bacon's command of the 1st Platoon, the third "Project Delta" was initiated on 1 September 1967 for forty five days. A U-6A Beaver aircraft from the USARV's Flight Detachment in Saigon was used to augment the flight capability of the platoon on this mission, relieving the tremendous strain previously experienced. It was found that this type of aircraft could do equally as well as the "Otter".
The Platoon closed the year knowing they had carried more passengers and cargo, Flown more hours and sorties and obtained the best utilization of the design characteristics of the U-1A than other "Otters" in the country.
Reliable 702 Recovery
Another significant event occurred early in September during the recovery of downed Otter 702 on Dragon Mountain. Receiving word on 7 September 1967, that the missing aircraft 702 had been found on the mountain, Major McNutt organized a recovery team consisting of himself, SP4 Paul Simon, SP5 Clarence Manseill, and SP6 Esquival Salazar. They were accompanied by the flight surgeon, Captain Ronald F. Crown from the 163rd Medical Detachment.
On the morning of 8 September1967, they proceeded to the crash site on Dragon Mountain by helicopter. Due to low clouds and rain showers that obscured the crash site, they were forced to land several hundred meters down the mountain and cut their way through the dense jungle to the wrecked aircraft.
USAF O-1 Bird Dog Crash
As the team started recovery operations, the jinx of Dragon Mountain struck another fatal blow. Some 200 meters below their position, a USAF O-1A Birddog crashed into the mountain.
Major McNutt immediately requested an emergency evacuation helicopter then organized and led a rescue party down the side of the mountain. After traveling about 100 meters, Captain Crown accidentally unearthed an anti-personnel mine while traversing the mountainside. It immediately became apparent that the entire recovery party was in the middle of an abandoned mine field.
Without hesitation and demonstrating exceptional courage, the recovery team continued through the mine field to the flaming wreckage of the O-1 Birddog. By the time they arrived at the aircraft, rockets and small arms ammunition was exploding, subjecting them to the intense heat and exploding ammunition, pulled an observer from beneath a burning wing to safety.
They immediately returned through the flaming undergrowth and courageously persisted in an attempt to rescue the pilot from the flaming cockpit. It was only when the fuel tanks began to explode, spraying burning gasoline that they were forced to withdraw.
All members of the party were “recommended” for the award of the Soldiers’ Medal.
The 3rd platoon closed out their highly successful year without accident or incident.
The weather conditions at Nha Trang were typical of the monsoon weather which prevails throughout the coastal region of the Republic of Vietnam. As the third platoon's mission takes them throughout all four Corps areas, their normal daily operation presents them with all the hazards of weather to be found in Vietnam.
Pleiku – 2nd Platoon – “Eagles”
Second Platoon is located at Pleiku and operates out of Holloway in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam; its primary mission is to provide air support to II Corps Headquarters and "B" Company, Fifth Special Forces Group. The distribution of documents to MACV Sector and sub-sector advisors via courier routes also is part of their mission. The platoon receives missions daily from the S-4, II Corps Headquarters and from the Air Liaison Officer, "B" Company, Fifth Special Forces.
The weather conditions in the Central Highlands at the first of the year were most favorable.
Da Nang – 2nd Platoon – “Phoenix”
First Platoon Based at Marble Mountain airfield, four miles east of Da Nang, and its primary mission is to provide tactical air support to the Third Marine Amphibious Force in the I Corps area. The normal daily activities of the platoon consisted of flying north and south courier missions, to move key personnel and high priority cargo, including mail, to the various military installations in the I Corps area. The courier route is flown twice a day, morning and afternoon. The morning courier departs Marble Mountain at 0830 hours daily and flies north to Hue Phu Bai, Hue Citadel and returns to Hue Phu Bai and then back to Marble Mountain. At 1030 hours the flight departs Marble Mountain for the southern half of the courier mission, landing first at Tam Ky and then Quang Ngai. The flight then returns north to Tam Ky and Marble Mountain. The afternoon courier is repeated using the same route of flight.
Because of the short distance between stops, maximum utilization of the U-1As cargo and passenger carrying capability is obtained. The fuel load can be reduced, resulting in the aircraft being able to carry eight passengers and several hundred pounds of cargo into and out of airfields less than two thousand feet in length. One aircraft flying both north and south courier missions throughout the day is capable of carrying 128 passengers and 3,200 pounds of cargo. Additionally, the platoon's aircraft fly special missions for the Tactical Operations Centre. These flights carry critically needed materials into the Special Forces camps located on the Laos-Vietnam border or near the DMZ.
On Jan 6 The Viet Cong unleashed a 200 round mortar attack against the Americans at Camp Holloway AAF. On this night two of the three "Otters" sustained major damage. The following day sufficient repairs were made to evacuate one of these aircraft. The other aircraft was in General Support in Pleiku for two months. The next night another mortar attack occurred again but this time no other aircraft was found to be damaged.
The first platoon participated in the extraction of a Special Forces long-range reconnaissance patrol in the Shaw Valley. With Maj Hensler and Capt Bacon at the controls the aircraft departed Marble Mountain at 1900 hours on 16 March to initiate Search and Rescue of this patrol. The aircraft remained aloft for 5 1/2 hours, coordinating protective fire from C-47 Dragon Ships and directing Marine helicopters into the extract area.
The men of the second platoon found suitable quarters living on the Special Forces compound at Marble Mountain.
Recovery of downed aircraft
The 256th Transportation Detachment (Aircraft Repair) also has the responsibility of recovering downed aircraft. During the year, several daring recovery missions were accomplished.
On 7 April 1967, a combined recovery team consisting personnel from the 256th Transportation Detachment and members of the Service Platoon, 18th Aviation Company, participated in the recovery of a downed U-1A.
The recovery team was headed by Chief Warrant Officer James Fyock and consisted of Staff Sergeant James R. Goodwin, SP4 Harrison P. Gilbert, SP4 David E. McCorkle, SP4 Robert K. Petzer, SP4 George N. Simon, SP4 Joseph Benson and SP5 David L. Schmitt.
At approximately 1500 hours, the 256th Maintenance Detachment received word that an aircraft from the 18th Aviation Company was down on an unimproved isolated airstrip in an insecure area near Ba Gia.
Upon notification of the downed aircraft’s disposition and location, CWO Fyock immediately began organizing a crew of mechanics to repair the aircraft. After correctly analyzing the nature of the damage, arrangements were made to have the recovery team and the necessary repair equipment delivered to the downed aircraft site.
As soon as the team arrived on location, they began receiving hostile ground fire, requiring all but three of the mechanics to be utilized as security guards, while the remaining three worked on the aircraft. Even though the team had already put in a full day’s work, they continued their operation throughout the night, with only a flashlight for illumination, while exposed to hostile fire.
Faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles while under constant threat of enemy attack, the recovery team, under the expert guidance and supervision of CWO Fyock, repaired the damaged aircraft overnight. It was flown to Qui Nhon airfield without incident the following morning.
As a result of the recovery team’s courage, determination, and professional accomplishments, a critically needed and very valuable aircraft was returned to service. For their outstanding work a well deserved Army Accommodation Medal with “V” device was awarded to all eight members of the recovery team.
On 9 May 1964, a memorial was dedicated to these Officers and two Enlisted men of the 18th Aviation Company, who gave their lives in Combat Operations, while serving their country in the Republic of Vietnam. The men so honored were: Captain Curtis J. Steckbauer, Captain Clarence L. Moorer, Second Lieutenant Louis A. Carricarte, Specialist Five Michael P. Martin, Jr. and Private First Class Duane E. Limberg.
Change of Command
Major John L. Yunker assumed command of the 18th from Major Billy J. Bartle on 15 April 1967.
First Project Delta
The first platoon participated in its first "Project Delta" mission for the year. The mission was to provide constant radio communications and relay with intelligence gathering reconnaissance patrols. This was a strain to the members of the mission as the next story will reflect it. On 27 April Maj Bridges and CWO Bernhardt departed Marble Mountain at 0700 on a normal radio relay. As the day processed it became readily apparent that the ground patrol was constantly evading the enemy forces and required continuous radio communications. As a result we flew from 0700 to 2200 -- logging 15 hours only to see the next crew relieve us for a total of 22 hours continuously.
Second Platoon’s CWO Shellenberger and Glasscock approached the Special Forces camp at Dak Pek, hydraulic failure experienced, causing the flaps to lock in the landing configuration. SP/5 Garrett determined that the problem was a severed hydraulic Line. A call for parts replacement and found none available. So SP/5 Garrett repaired the line using green tape and a pen knife.
"Project Delta" Support
In the spring of this year, the third platoon flew its first "special" mission in support of Detachment B-57, First Special Forces, Fifth Special Forces Group.
Due to the classified nature of this mission, pilots Captain Thomas C. Murray and Chief Warrant Officer Aldon E. Brown were completely unaware of the nature of their mission when they departed Nha Trang for Saigon on 13 April. Returning 10 days later, they could only relate that their experiences included many night missions and being fired upon by 50-caliber machine guns. However, all reports from Fifth Special Forces Group Headquarters indicate that outstanding support was rendered and excellent utilization of the Otter was obtained. Plans were made for future use of the Otter on this type of mission.
The first platoon participated in its first "Project Delta" mission for the year, to provide constant radio communications and relay with intelligence gathering reconnaissance patrols. During the sixty day period of this project, an average of fourteen hours a day flying was required.
An example of the tactical importance and the unfailing support rendered by the first platoon is the mission flown on 22 April 1967.
Major Bridges and Chief Warrant Officer Henry Bernhardt flew a mission from Marble Mountain beginning at 0700 hours on a normal radio relay flight. As the day progressed, it became readily apparent that the ground patrol was constantly evading enemy forces and required continuous radio communications with their coordinating agency. As a result, the crew members flew from 0700 to 22 hours, logging 15 hours of flight time in a single day. In turn, Major Bridges and CWO Bernhardt were then relieved on station and the mission continued for another seven hours, giving a total of 22 hours continuous support. While “Project Delta” was in progress, the first platoon’s normal courier missions were accomplished simultaneously.
Although the crew chief of the Otter flight team is often considered the unsung member, Specialist Five Theodore Gustin of the first platoon emphasized his importance by his heroic actions on 10 May 1967.
An Otter departing a Special Forces camp three miles west of Hue Phu Bai experienced a partial power failure on take-off. The aircraft descended and became entangled in barbed wire which was strung across the departure end of the airstrip, causing it to pancake several hundred feet from the runway. Upon impact the aircraft immediately burst into flames. Special Gustin, seeing the sheet of flames enveloping the aircraft, immediately attempted to open the rear exit door. Due to the impact, the door had jammed and did not release by normal measures. After he had physically forced the door open, Gustin assisted his passengers from the burning aircraft before taking into consideration his own personal safety. Both pilots, Chief Warrant Officers Warren Griggs and Charles Smith, escaped the flaming Otter through the cockpit doors with second and third degree burns. They were medically evacuated to Japan. CWO Griggs returned to duty three months later and CWO Smith was evacuated to the United States for further treatment. Specialist Gustin, for his heroic actions in evacuating the passengers without injury, was recommended for the Soldier’s Medal by the Special Forces Camp Commander.
As a result of a move of the Headquarters Section, Operations Section, Service Platoon, and 256th Transportation Detachment from Nha Trang to Qui Nhon, Vietnam in August, the unit was required to organize a provisional Flight Platoon at Nha Trang. Also resulting from the move, the company was assigned a medical detachment, the 163rd. Following the move, the unit was operating with almost the same degree of dispersion as was required in 1962 to 1965 with aircraft located at Qui Nhon, Nha Trang, Da Nang, Pleiku and Bangkok, Thailand.
The authorized strength of the 18th Aviation Company and assigned support units is as follows:
18th Aviation Company - 16 Officers, 38 Warrant Officers, 120 Enlisted Men
163rd Medical Detachment - 1 Officer & 8 Enlisted Men
Total of 18 Officers, 39 Warrant Officers and 178 Enlisted Men
The total authorized aviator strength for the unit is 17 Officers & 39 Warrant Officers for a total of 56.
Despite the fact that the unit was always at less than authorized strength; the aviators assigned cheerfully doubled their efforts and made 1966 a highly successful year.
Company Headquarters at Qui Nhon
The 18th Aviation Company Headquarters is located in Qui Nhon with the mission to provide administrative and logistical support to the three flight platoons. It consisted of a Headquarters Section, Operations Platoon, Service Platoon and the attached 256th Transportation
Detachment (DS) and the 163rd Medical Detachment.
The Headquarters Section provides the necessary administrative support for all elements of the company. Also under the headquarters section is the responsibility for supply, motor maintenance and mess.
The function of the Operations Platoon is to insure the availability of aircraft to the three flight platoons so that operational requirements and priority missions of the Company are met. Additionally they are responsible for the communications network within the Company. Other responsibilities of the Operations include flight safety, flight standardization, and maintenance of flight records and compiling of statistical data for the submission of operational reports, awards and decorations.
The Service Platoon's primary responsibility is the performance of organizational maintenance. This platoon also provides on-the-job training for newly assigned maintenance personnel in the 67C20 MOS, the training of crew chiefs and the training and selection of flight platoon sergeants.
The mission of the 256th Transportation Detachment is to provide direct support maintenance and limited general support maintenance to the 18th Aviation Company.
Nha Trang – 1st Platoon – “Seagulls”
First Platoon is located in Nha Trang; its primary mission is to provide tactical air support to HQ, Fifth Special Forces Group, and to the Joint United States Public Affairs Office (JUSPAO).
They fly north and south courier missions on alternating days for Fifth Special Forces. The north courier departs Nha Trang for Pleiku and Da Nang returns to Nha Trang. The south courier departs Nha Trang for Bien Hoa and Can Tho in the Delta region, returns to Nha Trang. The combined length of these two courier missions is slightly over 1,000 miles. They are also responsible for transporting key staff personnel at Group Headquarters to any Special Forces Camp from the DMZ to Phu Quoc Island, located 40 miles off the southwest coast of Vietnam.
The third platoon has the unique role of supporting the counter-insurgency effort from all aspects. Missions flown for JUSPAO included psychological war leaflet drops and carrying TVs and radios to help in the educational programs for the local population called the "Open Arms Program". On any given day, the same aircraft of this platoon may carry emergency resupplies of ammunition to a remote Special Forces Camp that is under threat of attack.
[From the annual historical supplement of the 18th Aviation Company, 1 January - 31 December 1967.]
In unit history and in Army aviation history to this point, gives the 18th Aviation Company the honor of having the longest continuous service of any aviation unit in Vietnam to date. This history reflects the effort required to supply the daily direct combat support necessary in operation of an "Otter" Company.
The Mission of the 18th is to provide logistical airlift for movement of supplies and personnel in the combat zone and to provide tactical airlift of combat units and air resupply of units engaged in combat operations. Its specific mission in the Republic of Vietnam is to provide air resupply, medical evacuation and limited troop movement to the First Field Forces, Vietnam, Third Marine Amphibious Force, U.S. Special Forces, JUSPAO and MAGTHAI.
The 18th is augmented with an attached direct support maintenance element, the 256th Transportation Detachment and the 163rd Medical Detachment.
The unit is assigned to the 223rd Combat Support Aviation Battalion, 17th Aviation Group.
The scope of this history will be concerned with phases of the unit's operation over the past twelve months to include the mission and resources, operations in Vietnam, maintenance support and problem areas.
Each flight platoon's contribution towards fulfillment of the company mission will be presented and the total effect of the company's contribution to the counter-insurgency effort in the Republic of Vietnam will be summarized at the conclusion of this historical supplement.
Unit history reports:
During 1966 the 18th Aviation Company (AIR MEL FW) operated under TO&E 1-59D as amended by USARPAC GO #127 and unconfirmed order VOCO 12th Aviation Group. From 1 January to 7 August 1966 the unit operated with a headquarters section, operations section, two airlift platoons and a service platoon. The 18th continued to be augmented with an assigned Direct Support Maintenance Detachment - the 256th Transportation Detachment (ACFT REP).