Vietnam Air Force

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Vietnam Air Force
Không Quân Việt Nam
Fatherland - Space.png
Emblem.
Active 1955–1975
Country  South Vietnam
Allegiance Republic of Vietnam
Branch Air Forces
Size 63,000 personnel (at height)
2,075 aircraft (at height)
Garrison/HQ Tan Son Nhut Airbase, Saigon
Nickname KLVNCH (VNAF in English)
Motto Tổ Quốc - Không Gian (Fatherland - Space)
Anniversaries 1 July - VNAF Day
Engagements Vietnam War
Cambodian Civil War
Laotian Civil War
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Nguyễn Xuân Vinh
Nguyễn Cao Kỳ
Insignia
Flag Flag of the Vietnam Air Force.svg
Roundel Vietnam Air Force (south) roundel.svg
Fin Flash Flag of South Vietnam.svg
Aircraft flown
Attack MD 315 Flamant, T-28, A-1, A-37, AC-47, AC-119G/K
Bomber B-57 Canberra
Electronic
warfare
EC-47
Fighter F8F Bearcat, F-5A/B/C/E
Patrol Republic RC-3 Seabee
Reconnaissance RF-5A, MS 500 Criquet, O-1 Bird Dog, O-2 Skymaster, U-6, U-17
Trainer Pazmany PL-2, T-6, T-28, T-41, T-37, H-13
Transport Dassault MD 315 Flamant, C-45, Aero Commander, C-47, DC-6, C-7 Caribou, C-119, C-123, C-130, Alouette II, Alouette III, H-19, UH-1, H-34, CH-47

The Vietnam Air Force – VNAF (Vietnamese: Không lực Việt Nam Cộng hòa – KLVNCH) was the Air Force branch of the Republic of Vietnam’s Military Forces, the official military of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) from 1955 to 1975.

The VNAF began with a few hand-picked men chosen to fly alongside French pilots during the State of Vietnam era. It eventually grew into the world's sixth largest air force at the height of its power, in 1974. It is an often neglected chapter of the history of the Vietnam War as they operated in the shadow of the world’s largest air war machine. It was dissolved in 1975 after the Fall of Saigon. Many of its members emigrated to the United States.

History[edit]

See also Operation Farm Gate

In March 1949, Emperor Bảo Đại officially requested that the French help set up a Vietnamese military air arm. Pressure was maintained with the assistance of Lt. Col. Nguyễn Văn Hinh, who had flown the B-26 Marauder with the French Air Force in the Second World War. In March 1952, a training school was set up at Nha Trang, and the following year two army co-operation squadrons began missions flying the Morane-Saulnier MS.500 Criquet light aircraft. In 1954, the French allocated a number of Dassault MD.315 Flamant armed light transports to the inventory of this Vietnamese air arm. Vietnamese pilot trainees began to be sent to France for more advanced training. In May 1954, with the fall of Điện Biên Phủ, the position of France changed, and on January 31, 1955, the Vietnam Air Force (VNAF) was inaugurated. French instructors for pilots and mechanics remained until late 1956, and transferred 69 F8F Bearcat aircraft to the VNAF, which throughout the late 1950s were the main strike aircraft.[1]

Analysis[edit]

In contrast with the North's Vietnam People's Air Force, most allied air operations in the Vietnam War were conducted by the U.S. armed forces. The South Vietnamese forces operated at a fairly basic level compared to the U.S. forces, which carried out the bombing campaigns in the north. The 19th Tactical Air Support Squadron was organized on 17 June 1963. The United States in May 1956 had started to train and advise the South Vietnamese Air Force. The VNAF was supplied with H-19 helicopters, and later H-34s. Initially, they employed simple T-28 Trojan[2] prop powered trainers which could carry a small bombload.

The first jets were B-57 Canberra bombers arriving in 1965. In October of the same year the VNAF received its first modern UH-1 Huey turbine powered helicopters. Later, the US released more powerful light attack A-1 Skyraiders and jet light attack A-37 Dragonfly, and the lightweight F-5 Freedom Fighter which was developed by Northrop as an affordable export fighter for foreign air forces. By late 1972, the VNAF operated 18 squadrons with 500 new helicopters, one of the largest helicopter fleets in the world.[3]

In 1972, President Thieu asked for, but did not receive, the F-4 Phantom with its massive bombload and speed that was widely used for all roles by US air services.[4] When the Vietnam People's Army (NVA) started to install anti-aircraft missiles near Khe Sanh, the VNAF lacked the radar jamming gear, and the navigational aids required to attack the missile sites.[5] The VNAF primarily flew close support as communist forces did not fly aircraft over US-held territory, so they never had the opportunity to fight MiGs or “go downtown” in heavy fighter bombers. Consequently, the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) was at a significant disadvantage once the US air force left Vietnam due to the lack of the bombings and air support provided by the U.S.[citation needed]

Fall of South Vietnam[edit]

During the final 1975 offensive, it was not simply a case of a massive collapse. The ARVN forces in Long Khánh were fighting to the death. A cooperative effort between the ARVN and the VNAF enabled ARVN troops there to hold on. CH-47 helicopters brought in 193 tons of artillery ammunition over two days. A-1 Skyraiders flew in and C-130 Hercules transports dropped massive 15,000-pound daisy cutter bombs on enemy positions. Flying against intense antiaircraft fire, they took a heavy toll on the NVA divisions around Xuân Lộc.

On 28 April at 18:06 3 A-37 Dragonflys piloted by former VNAF pilots who had defected to the Vietnamese People's Air Force at the fall of Danang dropped 6 Mk81 250 lb bombs on the VNAF flightline at Tan Son Nhut Air Base destroying several aircraft. VNAF F-5s took off in pursuit, but were unable to intercept the A-37s.[6]

At dawn on 29 April the VNAF began to haphazardly depart Tan Son Nhut Air Base as A-37s, F-5s, C-7s, C-119s and C-130s departed for Thailand while UH-1s took off in search of the ships of TF-76.[7] At 08:00 Lieutenant General Minh, commander of the VNAF and 30 of his staff arrived at the DAO Compound demanding evacuation, this signified the complete loss of command and control of the VNAF.[8]

Some VNAF aircraft did stay to continue to fight the advancing NVA however. One AC-119K gunship from 821st. Attack Squadron, had spent the night of 28/29 April dropping flares and firing on the approaching NVA. At dawn on 29 April two A-1 Skyraiders began patrolling the perimeter of Tan Son Nhut at 2500 feet until Maj. Trương Phùng, one of the two Skyraider was shot down, presumably by an SA-7. At 07:00 the AC-119K "Tinh Long" flew by Lt. Trang van Thanh was firing on NVA to the east of Tan Son Nhut when it too was hit by a SA-7 missile, and fell in flames to the ground. Sgt. Son, one of the AC-119K gunner tried to escape but his chute tangled in the tail of the airplane.[9]

Despite sporadic artillery and rocket fire, Binh Thuy Air Base remained operational throughout 29 April and on the morning of 30 April with VNAF A-37 aircraft flying an unknown number of sorties against PAVN columns moving into Saigon, these were the last combat sorties flown by the VNAF. After the announcement of the surrender of South Vietnam by President Minh the pilots flew their stripped down aircraft to U-Tapao Air Base in Thailand, often carrying three or even four people.[10]

Aftermath[edit]

Equipment[edit]

VNAF F-5C Bien Hoa Air Base, 1971
O-1 observation aircraft of the 112th Liaison Squadron / 23rd Tactical Wing - South Vietnamese Air Force - Bien Hoa Air Base - 1971
4400th CCTS T-28 wearing South Vietnamese markings flies over Vietnam
A-1H of the South Vietnamese Air Force 520th Fighter Squadron, Binh Thuy Air Base
VNAF Cessna U-17A (USAF s/n 63-13021) at Nha Trang Air Base

Attack aircraft

Bomber aircraft

Fighter aircraft

Reconnaissance and observation aircraft

Rotary aircraft

Training aircraft

Transport and utility aircraft

Recruitment and Training[edit]

Unlike the ARVN, the VNAF was an all-volunteer service, remaining so until its demise in 1975. The VNAF recruiting center was located at Tan Son Nhut Air Base. Recruits were given a screening test, followed by a physical examination.

Basic requirements for service in the VNAF was to be a Vietnamese citizen; at least age 17; minimum age 25 for flight training; no criminal record; the equivalent of a US 9th grade education for airmen; 11th grade for those entering pilot training or a 12th grade for non-rated officer.

If a volunteer met all the qualifications, the recruit was then sent to basic training at the ARVN training base at Lam Song. Non-commissioned officer (NCO) training was held at Bien Hoa Air Base. After two months of training, or four months for aviation cadets, the recruit was given an aptitude test and progressed to specialized technical training. From there, he was sent to one of the ARVN wings for journeymen training. Aviation cadets pursued three additional months of specialized training after completing their initial four-month training course. Some were sent to the United States for advanced pilot training while non-rated officers pursued training in South Vietnam for their non-flying assignments. This training lasted about nine months, whereupon a cadet served in an operational unit for about a year before receiving a commission as a second lieutenant.

Women also served in the VNAF. The Women's Armed Forces Corps (WAFC) was formed to fill non-combat duties beginning in December 1965. Women were assigned to VNAF wings, Headquarters, the Air Logistics Wing, performing duties as personnel specialists, secretaries and other administrative roles.

Organization of the VNAF[edit]

Unit Name in Vietnamese Unit Name in English No. of subordinate units or aircraft
Bộ tư lệnh không quân Air command
Sư đoàn Air division 2+ wings
Không đoàn Wing Several squadrons and at least 2 groups
Liên đoàn Group 2+ squadrons
Phi đoàn Squadron Several flights or sections
Phi đội Flight 4–6 aircraft
Phi tuần Section 2-3 aircraft

VNAF units[11][edit]

Squadron Wing Division Base Aircraft Operated
110th Liaison Squadron 41st Tactical Wing 1st Air Division Đà Nẵng Morane-Saulnier MS.500 Criquet, Cessna O-1 Bird Dog, Cessna U-17A/B Skywagon
112th Liaison Squadron 23rd Tactical Wing 3rd Air Division Nha Trang Morane-Saulnier MS.500 Criquet, Cessna O-1 Bird Dog, Cessna U-17A/B Skywagon
114th Liaison Squadron 62nd Tactical Wing 2nd Air Division Nha Trang Cessna O-1 Bird Dog, Cessna U-17A/B Skywagon
116th Liaison Squadron 74th Tactical Wing 4th Air Division Bình Thủy Cessna O-1 Bird Dog, Cessna U-17A/B Skywagon
118th Liaison Squadron 72nd Tactical Wing 6th Air Division Pleiku Cessna O-1 Bird Dog, Cessna U-17A/B Skywagon, Cessna O-2A Skymaster
120th Liaison Squadron 41st Tactical Wing 1st Air Division Bình Thủy Cessna O-1 Bird Dog, Cessna U-17A/B Skywagon
122nd Liaison Squadron 74th Tactical Wing 4th Air Division Bình Thủy O-1 Bird Dog, U-17A/B Skywagon
124th Liaison Squadron 23rd Tactical Wing 3rd Air Division Bình Thủy Cessna O-1 Bird Dog, Cessna U-17A/B Skywagon, Cessna O-2A Skymaster
211th Helicopter Squadron 84th Tactical Wing 4th Air Division Bình Thủy Bell UH-1 Iroquois
213th Helicopter Squadron 51st Tactical Wing 1st Air Division Da Nang Bell UH-1 Iroquois
215th Helicopter Squadron 92nd Tactical Wing 2nd Air Division Nha Trang Bell UH-1 Iroquois
217th Helicopter Squadron 74th Tactical Wing 4th Air Division Bình Thủy Bell UH-1 Iroquois
219th Helicopter Squadron 62nd Tactical Wing 2nd Air Division Nha Trang Sikorsky H-34 Choctaw, Bell UH-1 Iroquois
221st Helicopter Squadron 43rd Tactical Wing 3rd Air Division Bien Hoa Bell UH-1 Iroquois
223rd Helicopter Squadron 43rd Tactical Wing 3rd Air Division Bien Hoa Bell UH-1 Iroquois
225th Helicopter Squadron 84th Tactical Wing 4th Air Division Soc Trang Bell UH-1 Iroquois
227th Helicopter Squadron 84th Tactical Wing 4th Air Division Soc Trang Bell UH-1 Iroquois
229th Helicopter Squadron 72nd Tactical Wing 6th Air Division Pleiku Bell UH-1 Iroquois
231st Helicopter Squadron 43rd Tactical Wing 3rd Air Division Bien Hoa Bell UH-1 Iroquois
233rd Helicopter Squadron 51st Tactical Wing 1st Air Division Da Nang Bell UH-1 Iroquois
235th Helicopter Squadron 72nd Tactical Wing 6th Air Division Pleiku Bell UH-1 Iroquois
237th Helicopter Squadron 43rd Tactical Wing 3rd Air Division Bien Hoa Boeing-Vertol CH-47 Chinook
239th Helicopter Squadron 51st Tactical Wing 1st Air Division Da Nang Bell UH-1 Iroquois
241st Helicopter Squadron 82nd Tactical Wing 6th Air Division Phu Cat Boeing-Vertol CH-47 Chinook
243rd Helicopter Squadron 82nd Tactical Wing 6th Air Division Phu Cat Bell UH-1 Iroquois
245th Helicopter Squadron 43rd Tactical Wing 3rd Air Division Bien Hoa Bell UH-1 Iroquois
247th Helicopter Squadron 51st Tactical Wing 1st Air Division Da Nang Boeing-Vertol CH-47 Chinook
249th Helicopter Squadron 84th Tactical Wing 4th Air Division Soc Trang Boeing-Vertol CH-47 Chinook
251st Helicopter Squadron 43rd Tactical Wing 3rd Air Division Bien Hoa Bell UH-1 Iroquois
253rd Helicopter Squadron 92nd Tactical Wing 2nd Air Division Nha Trang Bell UH-1 Iroquois
255th Helicopter Squadron 84th Tactical Wing 4th Air Division Soc Trang Bell UH-1 Iroquois
257th Helicopter Squadron 51st Tactical Wing 1st Air Division Da Nang Bell UH-1 Iroquois
259th Helicopter Squadron 53rd Tactical Wing 5th Air Division Tan Son Nhut Bell UH-1 Iroquois
314th Special Mission Squadron 33rd Wing 5th Air Division Tan Son Nhut Douglas C-47 Skytrain, Cessna U-17A/B Skywagon, Bell UH-1 Iroquois, Douglas DC-6B, Aero Commander L-26B
413th Transport Squadron 53rd Tactical Wing 5th Air Division Tan Son Nhut Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar
415th Transport Squadron 33rd Tactical Wing 5th Air Division Tan Son Nhut Douglas C-47 Skytrain
421st Transport Squadron 53rd Tactical Wing 5th Air Division Tan Son Nhut Fairchild C-123 Provider
423rd Transport Squadron 53rd Tactical Wing 5th Air Division Tan Son Nhut Fairchild C-123 Provider
425th Transport Squadron 53rd Tactical Wing 5th Air Division Tan Son Nhut Fairchild C-123 Provider
427th Transport Squadron 51st Tactical Wing 1st Air Division Da Nang de Havilland Canada C-7 Caribou
429th Transport Squadron 82nd Tactical Wing 6th Air Division Phu Cat de Havilland Canada C-7 Caribou
431st Transport Squadron 82nd Tactical Wing 6th Air Division Phu Cat de Havilland Canada C-7 Caribou
435th Transport Squadron 53rd Tactical Wing 5th Air Division Tan Son Nhut Lockheed C-130A Hercules
437th Transport Squadron 53rd Tactical Wing 5th Air Division Tan Son Nhut Lockheed C-130A Hercules
514th Fighter Squadron 23rd Tactical Wing 3rd Air Division Bien Hoa Douglas A-1 Skyraider
516th Fighter Squadron 61st Tactical Wing 1st Air Division Da Nang Cessna A-37B Dragonfly
518th Fighter Squadron 23rd Tactical Wing 3rd Air Division Bien Hoa Douglas A-1 Skyraider
520th Fighter Squadron 74th Tactical Wing 4th Air Division Binh Thuy Cessna A-37B Dragonfly
522nd Fighter Squadron 63rd Tactical Wing 3rd Air Division Bien Hoa Northrop F-5 (F-5A. F-5B, RF-5A)
524th Fighter Squadron 62nd Tactical Wing 2nd Air Division Nha Trang Cessna A-37B Dragonfly
526th Fighter Squadron 74th Tactical Wing 4th Air Division Bình Thủy Cessna A-37B Dragonfly
528th Fighter Squadron 41st Tactical Wing 1st Air Division Da Nang Cessna A-37B Dragonfly
530th Fighter Squadron 72nd Tactical Wing 6th Air Division Pleiku Douglas A-1 Skyraider
532nd Fighter Squadron 82nd Tactical Wing 6th Air Division Phu Cat Cessna A-37B Dragonfly
534th Fighter Squadron 62nd Tactical Wing 2nd Air Division Phan Rang Cessna A-37B Dragonfly
536th Fighter Squadron 23rd Tactical Wing 3rd Air Division Bien Hoa Northrop F-5 (F-5A, F-5B, F-5E Tiger II)
538th Fighter Squadron 41st Tactical Wing 1st Air Division Da Nang Northrop F-5 (F-5A, F-5B)
540th Fighter Squadron 82nd Tactical Wing 3rd Air Division Phu Cat Northrop F-5 (F-5A, F-5E Tiger II)
542nd Fighter Squadron 23rd Tactical Wing 3rd Air Division Bien Hoa Northrop F-5 (F-5A)
544th Fighter Squadron 23rd Tactical Wing 3rd Air Division Bien Hoa Northrop F-5 (F-5A)
546th Fighter Squadron 74th Tactical Wing 4th Air Division Binh Thuy Cessna A-37B Dragonfly
548th Fighter Squadron 62nd Tactical Wing 2nd Air Division Phan Rang Cessna A-37B Dragonfly
550th Fighter Squadron 41st Tactical Wing 1st Air Division Da Nang Cessna A-37B Dragonfly
716th Reconnaissance Squadron 33rd Tactical Wing 5th Air Division Tan Son Nhut North American T-28A Trojan, Douglas EC-47D Skytrain, de Havilland Canada U-6A Beaver, Northrop RF-5A
718th Reconnaissance Squadron 41st Tactical Wing 1st Air Division Tan Son Nhut Douglas EC-47D Skytrain
720th Reconnaissance Squadron 33rd Tactical Wing 5th Air Division Tan Son Nhut Fairchild RC-119 Flying Boxcar
817th Attack Squadron 62nd Tactical Wing 2nd Air Division Nha Trang Douglas AC-47D Spooky
819th Attack Squadron 53rd Tactical Wing 5th Air Division Tan Son Nhut Fairchild AC-119G Shadow
821st Attack Squadron 53rd Tactical Wing 5th Air Division Tan Son Nhut Fairchild AC-119K Stinger
912th Training Squadron Air Training Center Air Training Center Nha Trang North American T-6G Texan
918th Training Squadron Air Training Center Air Training Center Nha Trang Cessna T-41 Mescalero
920th Training Squadron Air Training Center Air Training Center Nha Trang Cessna T-37 Tweet, Bell UH-1 Iroquois

Commanders[edit]

Name Rank Dates Notes
Nguyễn Khánh Lieutenant Colonel (ARVN) 1955 Titled "Chief of Staff of the Air Force".
Trần Văn Hổ Lieutenant Colonel (1956), Colonel (1957) 1956–1957 First Air Force commander. Was promoted from Lieutenant.
Nguyễn Xuân Vinh 1958–1962
Huỳnh Hữu Hiền 1962–1963
Đỗ Khắc Mai 1963–1963 (3 months)
Nguyễn Cao Kỳ Air Vice-Marshal (1965) 1963–1965
Trần Văn Minh Major General, Lieutenant General (1974) 1965–1975 Formerly Chief of General Staff
Nguyễn Hữu Tần 1975 Commander of the 4th Air Division at the same time.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Grandolini, Albert Indo-Chinese Fighting 'Cats: Grumman's Superb Bearcat in Vietnam Air Enthusiast #70 July-August 1997 pp. 12-21
  2. ^ 1962 Aviation Week
  3. ^ VNAF Dust Off website
  4. ^ NBC Evening News for Friday, 10 November 1972, Vanderbilt Television News Archive
  5. ^ http://www.riciok.com/ Consolidating and Rebuilding
  6. ^ Tobin, Thomas (1978). USAF Southeast Asia Monograph Series Volume IV Monograph 6: Last Flight from Saigon. US Government PrintingOffice. p. 70. ISBN 978-1-4102-0571-1. 
  7. ^ Tobin, p. 81.
  8. ^ Tobin, pp. 85-87.
  9. ^ Tobin, p. 82.
  10. ^ Tobin, pp. 115-117.
  11. ^ VNAF: South Vietnamese Air Force 1945-1975 by Jim Mesko

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  • Tucker, Spencer C. (2000). Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. pp. 526–533. ISBN 1-57607-040-9.