Phù Cát Air Base
|Part of Vietnam People's Air Force (VPAF)
South Vietnamese Air Force (SVNAF)
Pacific Air Forces (USAF)
Phu Cat Air Base, South Vietnam 2006
|Type||Air Force Base|
|Seized 1975 by PAVN, in use as military airfield|
|Controlled by||United States Air Force|
82d Tactical Wing (SVNAF)
|IATA: none – ICAO: none|
|Elevation AMSL||101 ft / 31 m|
The base was one of four new major air bases constructed by the United States in 1966-1967 during the Vietnam War and it was used by the South Vietnamese Air Force (SVNAF) and the United States Air Force during the Vietnam War in the II Corps Tactical Zone of South Vietnam.
It was seized by the Vietnam People's Army in April 1975 and has been in use by the VPAF ever since. Along with its use as a military airfield, a regional civilian airport operates from the facility, serving Qui Nhon.
- 1 Overview
- 2 History
- 2.1 37th Tactical Fighter Wing
- 2.2 12th Tactical Fighter Wing
- 2.3 USAF Inactivation
- 2.4 VNAF use of Phu Cat Air Base
- 2.5 Capture of Phu Cat Air Base
- 2.6 Post 1975 VPAF use
- 3 See also
- 4 References
- 5 External links
Phu Cat Air Base is located along the coast, with the airfield located about 14 miles (23 km) inland. After April 1975, the Vietnam People's Air Force operated various captured SVNAF aircraft from the base, including Cessna A-37a and Bell UH-1 Huey. These were replaced in the late 1980s by aircraft from the Soviet Union. Today, the base is home to the 940th "Tay Son" Fighter/Air Training Squadron, 372nd Division of the Vietnam People's Air Force, operating a fleet of Su-27SK/UBK/PUs.
On 16 February 1966, during the initial survey to locate a new air base on the coastal plains of central Vietnam, Lt Col William H. Bordner, a USAF civil engineer officer, was killed when he triggered a phosphorus mine on Hill 151, an elevation rising out of the plain a kilometer west of the future airbase site. He and a party of engineers had been transported to the hill from Qui Nhon by a helicopter of the Army's 161st Aviation Company. The main thoroughfare of the base site was named "Bordner Boulevard", and Hill 151 became unofficially known as "Bordner Hill".
The site for the new air base was selected in March and designated Base X. In April, troops of the Republic of Korea Army's Capital ("Tiger") Division cleared the base area of Viet Cong forces. On 1 May, a Korean subcontractor of the RMK-BRJ construction consortium (Raymond International, Morrison-Knudson; Brown and Root; J.A. Jones Construction), arrived to build a camp for contractors and ROK security units. By 1 June, a temporary 3000-foot dirt airstrip and a few barracks were completed. Construction of roads, utilities, the airfield complex, bomb dump, and control tower continued until the northeast monsoon temporarily halted work in September.
The RED HORSE contingent constructed a camp for the 819th CES (Heavy Repair), tasked to build the base but still training at Forbes Air Force Base, Kansas. A 55-man advance party from the 819th CES arrived directly from the United States on 6 August, followed by the entire squadron a month later, and began construction of all vertical structures on the base.
On 20 December 1966, concrete pouring commenced on the main runway; although several records were set for the most concrete poured in a single day in Vietnam, the runway did not open for operations until May 1967, and temporary runway remained in use until August. By October, all military personnel were living in permanent structures. During January 1967, as construction of the main runway, taxiways, barracks, and other infrastructure progressed, more Air Force personnel and units arrived.
With its opening in 1967, Phu Cat became a major operational base. The USAF forces stationed there were under the command of the Seventh Air Force, United States Pacific Air Forces (PACAF). Phu Cat was the location for TACAN station Channel 87 and was referenced by that identifier in voice communications during air missions. Its military mail address was APO San Francisco 96368.
37th Tactical Fighter Wing
On 1 March 1967, the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing was organized at Phu Cat to become the host unit. The 37th TFW received its manpower and equipment from various units transferred from the United States and elsewhere, and tactical operations did not commence until mid-April when headquarters components became operational.
Its attached squadrons were:
- 416th Tactical Fighter Squadron: 15 April 1967 - 27 May 1969 (F-100D/F Tail Code: HE)
- Det 1, 612th Tactical Fighter Squadron: 8 June 1967 - 13 April 1969 (F-100D/F Tail Code: HS)
The 416th TFS was deployed from the 3d TFW at Bien Hoa AB, Det 1, 612th TFS from the 35th TFW at Phan Rang. On 15 April, the 37th TFW began combat operations with strikes by 416th TFS en route from Bien Hoa Air Base to their new home. On 8 June, Det 1., 612th TFS began operations, also after flying a mission en route from their former home at Phan Rang. By 28 February 1968, the F-100 squadrons of the 37th TFW completed 18,000 combat hours and 13,000 combat sorties without a major aircraft accident.
In the spring of 1968, these two squadrons were augmented to a total of four by two additional squadrons deployed from CONUS:
- 174th Tactical Fighter Squadron: 14 May 1968 - 11 May 1969 (Iowa Air National Guard) (F-100C Tail Code: HA)
- 355th Tactical Fighter Squadron: 3 February 1968 - 15 May 1969 (F-100D/F Tail Code: HP)
The 174th TFS consisted of federalized Air National Guard personnel and 22 F-100C aircraft from the 185th Tactical Fighter Group of the Iowa ANG at Sioux City MAP. The draw on assets to the 185th TFG was such that it was unable to continue operations CONUS.
The 355th TFS was a regular Air Force unit of the 354th TFW at Myrtle Beach AFB, South Carolina, 50% of whose personnel assets were composed of activated ANG members from the 119th TFS (New Jersey ANG) and 121st TFS (D.C. ANG). The 355th deployed TDY to Phu Cat on 14 May 1968, with 13 of its 30 pilots ANG members. The transfer became permanent on 26 June 1968, at which time all TDY members were offered the opportunity to volunteer for a full year's tour. All 13 ANG pilots volunteered, one of whom was killed in action a month later. By Christmas 1968, 87% of the squadron's support personnel were ANG members. Five of the ANG pilots also volunteered as Misty FACs. In all, air guard pilots were awarded 23 Silver Stars, 47 Distinguished Flying Crosses, and 46 Bronze Stars for valor while stationed at Phu Cat.
"Misty" Forward Air Controllers
The wing gained forward air controller on 25 June 1967, under the classified project Commando Sabre. The use of airborne forward air controllers (FACs) to direct and correct the efforts of tactical aircraft close air support aircraft had proved invaluable in Vietnam, although their piston-engined 0-2 Skymasers were slow and vulnerable, The obvious solution was to put a FAC in the back seat of two-seat F-100F aircraft, and in 1967 the Commando Sabre programme was instituted to do just that.
Pilots were temporarily detached from their parent units for four-month tours, flying reconnaissance, FAC, and search-and-rescue missions over Laos and North Vietnam using the call sign Misty. The aircraft were crewed by a pair of volunteer pilots, both of whom had to have logged at least 25 combat sorties and 1,000 flying hours before joining the programme. The back-seater carried a comprehensive set of detailed maps, a handheld 35-mm 'strike camera' (actually an SLR with a telephoto lens), and handled communications with the fighter-bombers. The front-seater found the targets and marked them, using the Misty F-100F's armament of two seven-shot white phosphorus rockets. The Misty FAC F-100Fs also flew reconnaissance and ResCAP missions, acting as on-scene controllers and co-ordinators during combat SAR missions. Missions often involved inflight refuelling and could last up to six hours, with four inflight refuelling contacts.
Misty pilots were an elite group, their number including two future USAF Chiefs of Staff (Ronald Fogleman and Merrill McPeak), the round-the-world record breaker, Dick Rutan, and the Medal of Honor holder Bud Day.
The mission was hazardous, and many aircraft were hit by ground fire as they orbited the target area at low level. Seven Misty FAC pilots were killed in action and four more became POWs. The Misty "Fast FACs" of Project Commando Sabre transferred from Phu Cat AB on 1 May 1969 when the F-100s were being phased out of Phu Cat in favor of F-4 Phantom IIs.
Phu Cat was notable as the testing ground for Project Safe Side, an Air Force initiative to defend its own installations by restructuring its air base defense forces. During construction, internal base security was provided by the severely understrength 37th APS, then having only 240 APs assigned and forced to augment its ranks with 100 non-security airmen from the 37th Combat Support Group and 162 from the 819th CES. The 1041st Security Police Squadron (Test), an experimental infantry-type air police unit, was deployed to Phu Cat in the first half of 1967 to increase ground defense security.
14th Special Operations Wing
- C Flight, 4th Special Operations Squadron (AC-47 Spooky, Tail Code EN) from April 1967 to November 1969;
- B Flight, 18th Special Operations Squadron (AC-119K Stinger) from 31 December 1969 to 1 March 1970; and
- A Flight, 17th Special Operations Squadron (AC-119G Shadow) from 12 April to 29 December 1970.
From Phu Cat, the detachments performed close and direct air support, interdiction, unconventional warfare, counterinsurgency operations, escort for convoy and defoliation operations, and flare drops. The 4th and 17th SOS detachments operated in-country in support of U.S. and ARVN troops in contact and for airbase defense. The 18th SOS Stingers were used in a truck-hunting role to interdict the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Because their one-hour loiter time flying from Phu Cat was unacceptable, the 18th SOS was relocated to Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base after less than two months of operations.
315th Tactical Airlift Wing
The 315th Tactical Airlift Wing, based at Phan Rang Air Base, operated a detachment of UC-123 Operation Ranch Hand aircraft at Phu Cat AB between May 1967 and December 1970 to conduct aerial herbicide spraying for vegetation defoliation. Its parent organization went by several designations while based at Phu Cat: 12th Air Commando Squadron (Defoliation), 12th Special Operations Squadron (1 August 1968); and A Flight, 310th Tactical Airlift Squadron (30 September 1970) as units were reorganized and consolidated in Southeast Asia.
F-4 Phantom II
During 1969, approximately 90 aircraft were assigned to Phu Cat AB. Those included the fighters of its tactical fighter squadrons, AC-47 Spooky gunships, C-7 Caribou airlifters, EC-47N/P electronic warfare planes, UC-123 Ranch Hand aircraft, RF-101C and RF-4C Phantom II photo reconnaissance planes, and two HH-43B Pedro rescue helicopters of Detachment 13, 38th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron.
1969 also marked the transition from F-100 to F-4 combat aircraft at Phu Cat. In April, the 416th TFS and its F-100s, including the Misty FACs, were transferred to Tuy Hoa Air Base, while Det 1., 612th TFS was returned to the 35th TFW, now at Phan Rang. The Iowa ANG personnel and aircraft returned to CONUS in May. Personnel of the 355th TFS (almost entirely air guardsmen) completed their tours that same month, and replacements were assigned to Tuy Hoa, where the 355th now bedded down.
Two F-4D squadrons were transferred with personnel and aircraft from Da Nang Air Base:
- 389th Tactical Fighter Squadron: 15 June 1969 - 31 March 1970 (F-4D Tail Code: HB)
- 480th Tactical Fighter Squadron: 15 April 1969 - 31 March 1970 (F-4D Tail Code: HK)
12th Tactical Fighter Wing
Continued drawdown of United States forces from Vietnam resulted in the inactivation of 37th TFW at Phu Cat AB on 31 March 1970. The wing assets remained and were re-designated as the 12th Tactical Fighter Wing when the 12th TFW was moved without personnel or equipment from Cam Ranh Bay Air Base on 1 April 1970, to replace the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing and its units.
Its assigned squadrons were:
- 389th Tactical Fighter Squadron: 31 March 1970 - 15 October 1971 (F-4D Tail Code: HB)
- 480th Tactical Fighter Squadron: 31 March 1970 - 17 November 1971 (F-4D Tail Code: HK)
On 8 October 1971, the 389th TFS flew its last scheduled combat sortie in Southeast Asia. On 15 October, the 389th TFS moved without equipment and personnel to Mountain Home AFB, Idaho. On 26 October, the deployment of 389th TFS aircraft to Holloman AFB, New Mexico started when the first cell of six F-4Ds departed Phu Cat AB at 0645 local time, with the second cell of six leaving 30 minutes later. Crews for the CONUS redeployment were selected from F-4 units throughout Southeast Asia, with 13 of the 24 crew members from the 12th TFW.
On 20 October, the 480th TFS flew its last combat mission, which was also the last combat sortie for 12th TFW. 480th TFS F-4Ds were also originally scheduled for redeployment to Holloman AFB, however, instead were distributed to bases throughout Southeast Asia: Clark AB, Philippines; Ubon AB and Udon AB, Thailand; Da Nang AB; and Inspection and Repair as Necessary facilities (IRAN) at Ching Chuan Kang Air Base Taiwan.
The 12th TFW was inactivated in place on 17 November 1971.
460th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing
On 10 September 1969, the 460th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing's 361st Tactical Electronics Warfare Squadron and EC-47N/P aircraft (Tail Code: AL) moved from Nha Trang to Phu Cat, operating in conjunction with Detachment 1, 6994th Security Squadron on Airborne Radio Direction Finding (ARDF) missions. Tactical control of the 361st TEWS transferred to the 483rd TAW (see below) on 31 August 1971, and the squadron was inactivated two months later.
The 460th TRW also used Phu Cat as a forward operating location (FOL) for RF-101C Voodoo and RF-4C Phantom aircraft of Detachment 1, 45th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, attached to the wing for photo reconnaissance of North Vietnam, from May 1967 to 31 December 1970.
483rd Tactical Airlift Wing
The 483rd Tactical Airlift Wing was activated on 15 October 1966 as the 483rd Troop Carrier Wing, operating six squadrons of C-7 Caribou light transports to provide intra-theater airlift of cargo and personnel to specified organizations, including remotely-located U.S. Army Special Forces camps. Two squadrons were based at Phu Cat AB beginning 1 January 1967 and were the first flying units at the base, operating from the original 3000-foot dirt strip. The original tent maintenance area was known colloquially as "Ellisville" until August 1967, when the 483rd TAW units moved to permanent ramp space and facilities.
Operational airlift squadrons at Phu Cat were:
The 537th Troop Carrier Squadron was formed from aircraft of the former U.S. Army 17th Aviation Company at An Khe, with a detachment remaining at that location. The 459th Troop Carrier Squadron was formed from the 92d Aviation Company at Qui Nhon, with detachments of five aircraft at Da Nang and four at Pleiku. These troop carrier units were all redesignated tactical airlift units on 1 August 1967. The 459th TAS ceased operations on 15 May 1970 as part of the U.S. drawdown of forces in Vietnam and inactivated in place on 1 June, while the 537th TAS (which used the call sign "Soul") remained until its inactivation 31 August 1971.
With the inactivation of the 12th Tactical Fighter Wing, the 6259th Air Base Squadron and 6259th USAF Dispensary were activated at Phu Cat AB on 18 November 1971 to administrate services provided to the Air Force personnel remaining at the base.
The 537th TAS was inactivated at Phu Cat AB on 31 August 1971 and its C-7 aircraft were transferred to the South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF). A number of former 537th TAS C-7 crews remained at Phu Cat AB after 1 September 1971 as instructors to the organizing VNAF 429th Transport Squadron (TS), activated at Phu Cat AB on 1 March 1972.
Phu Cat AB was officially turned over to the Vietnamese Air Force on 1 January 1972. A number of US Air Force instructors were relocated to Phu Cat AB to train VNAF A-37 Dragonfly light attack units.
The 6259th ABS was inactivated in February 1973 after the signing of the Paris Peace Accords.
VNAF use of Phu Cat Air Base
When the Vietnamization program ended USAF control of the base in 1971, Phu Cat was turned over to the South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) on 1 January 1972. As part of the transfer of the base, the remaining USAF C-7 Caribou aircraft were transferred in place to the newly formed SVNAF 427th Transport Squadron. As the inventory of Vietnamese Caribous increased, additional C-7 squadrons, the 492nd and 431st, were formed. In March 1973, the 427th and 431st squadrons were transferred to Da Nang Air Base.
During the 1972 NVA Easter Offensive, VNAF units at Phu Cat Air Base were effective in halting the attacks down Highway 19 from Kontum/Pleiku toward Qui Nhon. Several VNAF units in other regions shifted detachments to Phu Cat AB. Phu Cat AB VNAF units also provided support for the South Vietnamese ground counteroffensive which began in July. During another NVA offensive into Binh Dinh province in 1973, Phu Cat Air Base VNAF units responded aggressively and effectively, both in stemming the attacks and in the subsequent South Vietnamese ground counteroffensive.
By 1974, Phu Cat Air Base was under the command of the SVNAF 6th Air Division, Headquartered at Pleiku Air Base. SVNAF units at Phu Cat included:
- 82d Tactical Wing
- 532d Fighter Squadron A-37
- 241st Helicopter Squadron CH-47A
- 243d Helicopter Squadron UH-1
- Det A 259th Helicopter Squadron Bell UH-1H (MEDEVAC)
- 429th Transportation Squadron C-7
Capture of Phu Cat Air Base
In early 1975 North Vietnam realized the time was right to achieve its goal of re-uniting Vietnam under communist rule, launched a series of small ground attacks to test U.S. reaction.
By 14 March, South Vietnamese President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu decided to abandon the Central Highlands region and two northern provinces of South Vietnam and ordered a general withdrawal of ARVN forces from those areas. Instead of an orderly withdrawal, it turned into a general retreat, with masses of military and civilians fleeing, clogging roads and creating chaos.
By 6 March 1975 Route 19 between Pleiku and Qui Nhon was cut in several places by NVA forces. That forced retreating ARVN and refugees columns onto undeveloped roads leading out of the highlands. VNAF 6th Air Division planes from Phu Cat Air Base dropped supplies to the columns and provided fire support to slow the NVA advance.
During evacuation of Pleiku throughout the night of 14 March, VNAF C-130s shuttled in and out of Pleiku moving equipment and people to Phu Cat Air Base. When VNAF 6th AD commander arrived at Phu Cat Air Base from Pleiku he was designated the senior military commander for the area. Thus the base became a focal point for South Vietnamese ground and air combat operations.
VNAF troops fought as soldiers in defending the airfield at Phu Cat after ARVN soldiers pulled out. Targets struck by the A-37Bs were so close to the airfield that pilots hardly had time to get the gear up before dropping bombs. As the area became untenable, aircraft were evacuated to Bien Hoa and Phan Rang. Phu Cat Air Base and Qui Nhon fell to NVA forces on 31 March 1975.
Post 1975 VPAF use
With its capture, Phu Cat Air Base became a Vietnam People's Air Force base. It is unclear what extent the former USAF facilities were used, although aerial imagery shows that a large amount of the station was torn down over the years, the large base simply being too big for the VPAF. Many former streets remain transversing what is now brush and other vegetation where the base buildings once stood. A few of the hangars remain standing, others have been torn down. The large aircraft parking ramp and all of the concrete aircraft shelters remain, although the shelters appear to have been left unused. Steel and sand revetments also remain on the ramp. A new structure, apparently the civil airport terminal has been constructed along with a car parking lot is located on one end of the ramp.
- Republic of Vietnam Air Force
- United States Air Force In South Vietnam
- United States Pacific Air Forces
- Seventh Air Force
- "William H. Bordner". Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. Retrieved 1 September 2009.
- Speed, Maj. Joseph B. "Forgotten Heroes: U.S. ANG Fighter Squadrons of Vietnam". Air University. Retrieved 6 Sep 2010.
- The 354th TFW had deployed to South Korea and the 355th TFS was attached to the 113th TFW of the DCANG activated to replace it.
- Fox, Lt. Col. Roger P. USAF (ret.) (1979). Air Base Defense In the Republic of Vietnam 1961-1973, Office of Air Force History, Washington, D.C. ISBN 978-1-4102-2256-5, pp. 82, 82n and 112n.
- Chinnery, Philip D.(1997). Air Commando: Inside The Air Force Special Operations Command, St. Martin's Paperbacks, ISBN 978-0-312-95881-7, pp. 232-233.
- Named for the supervisor of construction for the temporary base, CW4 Ellis. The 459th TAS also operated under the call sign "Ellis". Caribou Association Newsletter July 1999, Vol. 1 Issue 9.
- Endicott, Judy G. (1999) Active Air Force wings as of 1 October 1995; USAF active flying, space, and missile squadrons as of 1 October 1995. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. CD-ROM.
- Martin, Patrick (1994). Tail Code: The Complete History of USAF Tactical Aircraft Tail Code Markings. Schiffer Military Aviation History. ISBN 0-88740-513-4.
- Mesco, Jim (1987) VNAF South Vietnamese Air Force 1945-1975 Squadron/Signal Publications. ISBN 0-89747-193-8
- Mikesh, Robert C. (2005) Flying Dragons: The South Vietnamese Air Force. Schiffer Publishing, Ltd. ISBN 0-7643-2158-7
- Ravenstein, Charles A. (1984). Air Force Combat Wings Lineage and Honors Histories 1947-1977. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-912799-12-9.
- USAF Combat Security Police Forces for Air Base Defense: SAFE SIDE, Final Report, USAF Directorate of Security Police, 1 October 1967.
- VNAF - The South Vietnamese Air Force 1951-1975
- The 355th TFS at Phu Cat Air Base in 1968
- C-7A Caribou Association - John Stymerski's Phu Cat Photos'
- Phu Cat AB Passenger Terminal
- 1967-68 Pictures of Vietnam - Phu Cat
- Phu Cat Air Base, 1966-1968 (Video)
- 1968 Phu Cat Vietnam Air Force Photos (Video)
- The short film STAFF FILM REPORT 66-29A (1966) is available for free download at the Internet Archive [more]