18th 54th 18th CAC Aviation Association
Since June 69, the Special Forces have relied very heavily on our unit for resupplying their eight accessible camps in the I Corps area. They consider our performance so outstanding that the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Palm was awarded to members of the unit involved in the mission.
Since the beginning of the year, the Da Nang Section has been interested in the children at the Sacred Heart Nursery and Orphanage located there. CW2 Andrew T. Sanford and other members of the section began writing home for food, clothing, toys, candy, diapers and sundry essentials. Both civic and church organizations, as well as individuals and families started sending staggering amounts of aid to these children - fine story of civic action performed by members of this unit. Esprit de Corps is very high and the Phoenix Section is proud of their accomplishments thus far in 1969.
Thanks to the professional skill not one crew member or passenger was injured this year in numerous forced and precautionary landings.
(Ted Barber photo credit)
"Reliable 319" on the runway at Marble Mountain
Incident with Reliable 703
On 12 May 69, CPT Daniel Frost and WO1 "Porky" Porter were flying Reliable 703. While climbing out of Ben Het enroute to Kontum, the Special Forces camp at Ben Het came under enemy attack. The aircraft was struck with one round from a 30 cal. It went through the main spar but was unnoticed until the aircraft landed at its home field.
As June moved in, so did the Southwest Monsoon, resulting in a drastic reduction for 3rd Flight Section in flying time.
Start the season of poor flying conditions and start of flying by nstruments. On 10 July CW2 Welsh WO Porter and SP/5 Estabrooks were on an instrument flight from Pleiku to Nha Trang. At 7000 ft, 25 miles southeast of Pleiku “Reliable 327” blew a thrust plate seal. Maintaining poise the crew declared an emergency and vectored to Camp Holloway in actual instruments conditions. The aircraft landed with incident.
The 18th Aviation Company's representatives at Pleiku fly the "Otter" with fierce pride born on the knowledge that they "Can do".
The job they acceptance by their brothers in arms is a statement enough of the job they do.
The 3rd Flight Section, 2nd Platoon flies in support of Headquarters, II Corps on a daily basis. In support of II corps the missions are of two types. When requested on missions as required basis for the 23rd RVN Division, the mission is troop shuttle. When flown as direct support of II Corps Headquarters, missions tend to be a liaison type function.
July brought in continued poor flying conditions and served as a period the 3rd Flight Section again began flying instruments. Weather time served little in helping them support the "A" Camps as they aren't known for their instrument approaches.
In the beginning of July 1969 the Da Nang Section became known as the 'Phoenix Section'. In Egyptian mythology, the Phoenix symbolized immortality. Because of its immortality, and not its beauty, the section felt the Phoenix best exemplified the "Old, Reliable Otter" which may also live for 500 years.
Unit Aircraft Grounded
On 20 July 1969, the aircraft of the 18th Aviation Company were to be grounded until modified in accordance with TB-55-1510-205-40/1. The urgent Technical Bulletin grounded all aircraft with Spartan rebuilt R 1340-61 engines because the aluminum exhaust push rods have been proven to be subject to failure due to installation procedures during overhaul. The TB allowed 64 hours per engine modification, but due to the devotion to high standards of professional competence and performance, of the Maintenance Section lead by SGT Carl M. Cessna, SGT Jess P. Hackenburg, and supervised by CPT Dan Frost, the aircraft engines were modified with 16 man hours, thus giving the unit the required aircraft for essential missions.
Reliable 703 Destroyed During Recovery
On 5 August 1969, Captain (then 1LT) Close and WO1 Porter badly damaged the landing gear on “Reliable 703” while landing at the Special Forces “A” camp at Thrang Phuc. CPT Close stayed at the “A” camp for three days waiting for a “Chinook” to lift 703. The “Chinook” finally arrived and proceeded to drop 703 from about 200’ in the air.
[No significant events recorded by unit historical supplement for this month.]
October saw improvement in flying conditions, but Eagles continued to experience problems with blown thrust plate seals resulted in three precautionary landings made in this period due to blown seals.
Reliable 294 Destroyed During Recovery
Reliable “294” met its demise on 26 October 69 at Cam Ranh Bay. CW2 Cameron was giving transition training to CPT Camp when a wheels first landing caused the aircraft to pitch out of control and come to rest between the runways with major damage to landing gear, prop and wing. True to form, when 294 was lifted to go to Don Ba Thin, it also was dropped, making it 3 for 3 on the year.
November being the month of the sieges at Bu Prang and Duc Lap found the 1st platoon Eagle operations curtailed somewhat by the closure of these strips. By the close of the year II Corps was quiet and the "Otters" of the 18th could be seen daily from Phan Thiet to Mang Buk.
Presidential Unit Citation (Navy) Awarded
On 8 December 1969, Lieutenant Colonel Robert F. McGuffin presented the 18th Aviation Company (UA) with the Presidential Unit Citation (Navy). The award was made at the Change of Command ceremonies between Major William A. Bloemsma and Major Thomas L. McCord. Significantly, the period during which the award was earned, 29 March 1966 - 30 January 1967, was during the former tours of both these officers (then Captains), with the 18th Aviation Company. The award was presented by authority of General Order #59, Headquarters, Department of the Army, for valorous service in support of the 3rd Marine Amphibious Force, I Corps, the Republic of Vietnam.
On January 27th, 1969, we were on the south leg of the afternoon courier mission. That day Reliable 691 was being flown by W.O. "Andy" Sanford and Capt. Ted Barber. Otter 691 had the head of an Indian girl stenciled on the tail, and was sometimes called the "Iroquois Princess". It was mid afternoon when we approached the vicinity of Quang Ngai and there was chatter on the radio about local ground fire. This was not unusual for those parts except that in this case it appeared that the location referenced was off the departure end of the runway.
As we landed I noticed two Huey "Slicks" parked on a grassy area near the approach. We were on the ground for some time, so I wandered over to talk to them. They confirmed hearing the ground fire reports, but didn't seem too concerned about it.
Some poor fool was sweating through his last day in country and was hitching a ride to Da Nang for his plane trip home. Two large cardboard boxes containing all of his belongings were loaded on board along with a full load of passengers. At Quang Ngai we frequently had to hold the ARVN's off at gunpoint to prevent them from storming the plane, they were so desperate to get out before nightfall.
They didn't seem to understand that the old Otter couldn't get off the ground with 75 people on board.
As we taxied to the run-up area, I asked if the pilots had heard the reports of ground fire on the way in. They said they had and I informed them that the slick crews had confirmed the reports. The tower had not mentioned a hazard when they cleared us for departure, but when queried, acknowledged that they had received unsubstantiated reports of ground fire off the end of the runway.
During the run-up I had a sense of dread (I later found that both pilots were feeling it as well). We did the world's longest run-up, checking everything twice, hoping something would blow up so we wouldn't have to take off. W.O. Sanford and Capt. Barber discussed the procedures for executing a high-performance takeoff as an evasive maneuver. They would keep clean flaps until we hit about 80-100 MPH on the ground then rotate and drop the flaps simultaneously.
It was a truly splendid takeoff and we were all in the process of congratulating ourselves on our cleverness when there was a loud bang and the engine dropped dead. We were in a very nose high attitude and I could see the pilots both struggling to push the nose over and avoid going into a tail slide. I yelled to the passengers to brace themselves that we were going to hit hard. I remember wondering if I had given my pre-flight emergency spiel and then feeling a sense of relief as all 8 passengers executed a perfect choreographed response. There was a momentary sensation of weightlessness then the wind again began whistling past the open window next to my seat.
I estimate we were at about 500 feet when we got hit. Apparently they had set up a machine gun in a perfect position directly off the end of the runway, so they could pick off a plane like a fish in a barrel right after takeoff. Usually they were more careful about the risk of giving their position away, but in our case I guess the temptation was simply too great.
One of the pilots managed to get a mayday back to the tower. After a hard but otherwise nearly perfect 3- point landing in a rice patty we skidded into a dyke, which tore off the engine and the left landing gear. The left wing then impacted the ground and bent up about two thirds of the way out. The Otter stood up on its noise and felt like it was going to flip over on its back, but then slammed back down on its belly. For the slightest moment there was complete and total silence.
I opened the cargo doors and the passengers jumped out into mud up to their knees. The crew's first concern was changing the radio frequencies, locating mailbags and other sensitive materials. We were sitting ducks in the mud, but taking refuge in an aluminum eggshell filled with several hundred gallons of 115/145-octane fuel was not an attractive alternative, so we followed the passengers out.
After what seemed like a very long time, the sweet sound of approaching Huey's filled the air. Our old buddies from back at the field had heard the Mayday and had jumped in and cranked up, still in their t-shirts. Both Huey's circled and opened fired on something we could not see, then one landed and picked up most of the passengers and the mailbags. The other Huey continued to circle and fire then the first one returned and took the upper position while the other one landed to pick up the rest of us.
I made one last pass through the plane to check for classified materials. I grabbed my Canon Super-8 movie camera that had slid to the cockpit, then slogged out to the waiting Huey. The door gunner grabbed me by the collar and physically hauled me onboard. I'll never forget the look of fear in his eyes. With no flack vest, gloves or fire retardant clothes, he must have felt naked. I wondered what he'd seen up there, circling and shooting.
The Huey leaped up as I was barely on board. Feeling the Canon in my hand I pulled the trigger and sweep the camera in the general direction of Reliable 691. When I got the film back a few weeks later it showed in the back ground a ragtag band of humanity making its way across the field, bent on reaching 691. From our position on the ground, we never even saw them. Later we learned that the Huey's had returned to the area and fired over 2000 more rounds to try and keep the plane from being ransacked, but to no avail.
Another plane from our platoon flew in and took us back to Marble Mountain. It was a very odd feeling to be again sitting in an Otter and about to repeat the same departure that had recently proved so traumatic (though this time under heavy escort by a couple of Cobras). Of course this is the great (get back in the saddle) philosophy that is necessary to banish the fear of flying. The next couple of weeks were terrible, being a crew chief without a ship, but I was eternally grateful when the 18th assigned me Reliable 282, which would prove to be a strong and faithful beast through the rest of my tour.
We never found out what exactly hit us in Quang Ngai, or precisely where the firing had come from. I imagine the machine gun and its crew had silently disappeared back into their shadowy world by the time the Huey's arrived. Later the first Americans soldiers at the site would find heavy cardboard boxes had been shredded open by what appeared to be human fingernails and their contents vanished. Several attempts by an accident reporting team to access the crash site were aborted due to sniper fire.
Reliable 691 was eventually retrieved by a Chinook and dropped off at the airfield at Quang Ngai. As an ignominious ending, the fuselage was hoisted up on supports to be used as jump practice for Vietnamese paratroopers. This sad spectacle was a daily memento for the Otter crews of the I Corps Courier henceforth.
[End Bruce Boatner story]
[No significant events noted in unit historical supplement for this month.]
Capt Spieldenner was flying Reliable 209 from Pleiku to Phu Hief AAF., While landing the aircraft hit hard on two different attempts causing damage to the main wheel housings and rear wheel housing.
Late March to May the "Otters" of the 3rd section averaged nearly 100 hours per month under good flying conditions.
Precautionary landing of Reliable 295
On the morning of 16 April 1969, CW2 Norman Baker was test flying Reliable 295 and experienced loss of RPM during the flight. He returned to Qui Nhon and made a precautionary landing without damage.
Engine Failure of Reliable 319
On 26 April 69, CW2 William Roche was flying "Reliable 319" to Hue Phu Bai when the engine began to run rough and finally failed at 1,500 feet AGL. A forced landing was made on a beach just east of Phu Bai. There was no damage or injury. The cause was a suspected push rod failure.
Reliable 319 Destroyed During Recovery
On 26 April 69, CW2 Roche and WO1 Saurset had an engine failure and made a perfectly executed forced landing east of Phu Bai on the beach. But “Reliable 319” was not to fly again as it was dropped on the runway at Marble Mountain, completely destroying it.
Crew Chief Bruce Boatner has written his own recollections of this Event!
[Bruce Boatner story]
THE LAST FLIGHT OF RELIABLE 691
I had 13 Souls on board, including My Co-Pilot: Lt.TED BARBER;
My Crew Chief: Sp5 BRUCE BOATNER; and 10 Vietnamese soldiers.
We all survived without a scratch!
"The Reliable One" remained intact long enough to shelter us thru the Forced Landing! ... Even in her final moment, she didn't let me down!
- SHE WAS A LADY -
In the cockpit of "reliable One: - 1968
OTTER Mates in the Da Nang Flight Platoon - 1968
My Otter "Reliable One"
She Never Let Me Down!
Corps Area Map Vietnam 1969
From the annual historical supplement of the 18th Aviation Company, 1 January - 31 December 1967]
The following organizational chart shows the company configuration for 1969:
The 18th Aviation Company (UA) has sixteen U-1A aircraft which were manufactured by De Havilland Aircraft of Canada Limited. The aircraft is used primarily for troop and cargo operations but can and has been used for supply dropping, casualty evacuation, reconnaissance, photographic duties, radio relay and liaison duties. The U-1A Otter was build for STOL operations. It can land on unimproved strips 700 feet long with an 8,000 pound gross load.
Qui Nhon - (13 46'N, 109 14'E) - The Company Headquarters, Operations Platoon and Service platoon were located at Qui Nhon. The mission of the Company HQ is to provide administrative and logistical support to the two flight platoons.
The Operations Platoon is to insure that aircraft are on hand with which the flight sections may meet their daily operational requirements on a priority basis and is also responsible for the communications network within the company, flight safety, flight standardization and maintenance of flight records and compiling statistical data for the submission of operational reports, awards and decorations.
"Pig Farm" and "Speed Shop"
The Service Platoon has the supply and motor sections, responsible for organizational maintenance. The platoon provides extensive on-the-job training and cross training of newly assigned maintenance personnel, the training of crew chiefs and the selection of flight platoon sergeants and maintenance personnel. This platoon does an outstanding job of supporting flight sections separated by as much as 250 miles. Because of the dislocation of the flight sections a great deal of flexibility is required by operations and maintenance. Close coordination is required by these two platoons combined with the outstanding job done by each, means cancellations due to lack of aircraft or grounded aircraft is virtually unheard of. The Motor Pool is known as the Qui Nhon "Pig Farm and Speed Shop".
For 1969, there were only two flight platoons, down from three the previous year, with the platoons divided into sections. The support of MACTHAI in Thailand was no longer the responsibility of the 18th Aviation Company, having been taken over by the 54th Aviation Company.
First Platoon “Seagulls”
The New Year saw the 1st platoon flying 3 missions daily for two headquarters and by the end of the year it had grown to 5 missions for four headquarters.
The 1st Platoon often flies the coast of Vietnam, much like the Sea Gull, on various missions for units throughout the Republic. The wear the "Sea Gull" tab above the unit patch and have adopted the Sea Gull as their mascot.
Nha Trang - (12 14'N, 109 11'E) The 1st Platoon, 1st and 2nd Sections, are located at Nha Trang. Flying in support of Special Forces, JUSPAO and 17th Group, the platoon flies from the DMZ to the tip of the Delta, from the South China Sea on the east to the islands on the west. The amazing fact is that they may do all this on any given day. 'The Seagulls', as the Nha Trang platoon came to be known, fly mostly liaison and courier type missions. As a result, their average flying time per mission is the highest in the company.
The 18th Aviation Company's 1st platoon representatives at Pleiku fly the Otter with fierce pride born on the knowledge that they "Can do" the job. Their acceptance by their brothers in arms is statement enough of the job they do.
Second Platoon, 3rd Flight Section “Eagles”
Pleiku - (13 59'N, 108 02'E) - The 3rd Flight Section, 2nd Platoon is located at Camp Holloway, Pleiku in the Central Highlands. The Eagle tab is worn by members of the 3rd Flight Section. The Eagle is a well known bird that lives in the Highlands of South Vietnam, and since the Pleiku Section does most of its flying into and out of various "A" Camps controlled by Company "B" of the Special Forces located in the mountains and otherwise inaccessible regions of South Vietnam, the nickname 'Eagle' is therefore most appropriate for this Flight Section. These strips include the likes of Dak Pek which is a 1400 foot dirt strip surrounded by hills with a D. A. usually in excess of 5500 feet. In addition there are strips like Ben Het where the RVNS repulsed the most concentrated V. C. effort this year; Plei Me, only 900 feet usable; and Tieu Atar, 1400 feet long surrounded by 100 foot trees.
Second Platoon, 4th Flight Section
Da Nang (16 02'N, 108 14'E) - The 4th Flight Section, 2nd Platoon is located at Marble Mountain Airfield, four miles east of Da Nang. Their primary mission is to provide tactical air support to the Third Marine Amphibious Force daily from the Army Aviation Element of the Tactical Operations Center, I Corps Advisory Group.
The normal daily activities of the 3rd platoon consist of flying North and South Courier missions. This courier mission is flown in support of III MAF. The purpose of the courier mission is to move key personnel and high priority cargo, to include mail and money, to the various military installations in the I Corps area.
The courier departs Marble Mountain daily and flies north to Hue Phu Bai, Hue Citadel, returns to Hue Ohu Bai and then flies back to Marble Mountain. The flight departs Marble Mountain for the southern half of the courier mission landing first at Tam Ky and then at Quang Ngai. The flight then returns north to Tam Ky and back to Marble Mountain. The afternoon courier repeats the same route of flight.
Because of the short distance between stops, maximum utilization of the U-1A's cargo and passenger carrying capabilities is obtained. A major advantage of these short haul flights is that the fuel load can be reduced, resulting in the aircraft being able to carry as many as eight passengers plus crew and several hundred pounds of cargo into and out of airfields less than 2,000 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 aircraft fly special missions for the Tactical Operations Center. These missions are flown for the Advisory Teams and the 5th Special Forces "C" Team on a regular basis. In addition, Inspection Teams and Civilian specialists often use our services.
Two transfers in short period
On 23 January 1969 I was transferred out of the 256th Transportation Detachment back to the 18th Aviation Company and then transferred to the 281st Aviation Assault Helicopter Company in Nha Trang, Vietnam.
Crash of Reliable 691
At the beginning of the year things were running normal until 27 January 69 when 1LT Theodore Barber and WO1 Andrew Sanford were flying Reliable 691. Receiving ground fire on climb out from Quang Ngai enroute to Da Nang, at 400 feet AGL, the engine coughed and then failed completely. A forced landing was made in a rice paddy. Eight passengers were aboard, yet none were injured and the aircraft was not damaged due to the forced landing. The aircraft received two rounds in the engine compartment, one hitting the carburetor causing the engine failure.
[From Andy Sanford's Old Otter Pilot website]
This Tribute will introduce you to "My OTTER".
Her Tail Number was "Six-Nine-One"
But to me, Her Name was "The RELIABLE - ONE"
and she lived up to her Name.....especially during Her Last Flight in VIET NAM, 27 January 1969.
She Loved Me ... Unto Her Dying Day!
(And I loved her too.)
She Flew Like An ANGEL!