South Vietnam Air Force
The South Vietnam Air Force (Vietnamese: Không lực Việt Nam Cộng hòa – KLVNCH), officially the Republic of Vietnam Air Force (sometimes Vietnam Air Force – VNAF) was the aerial branch of the Republic of Vietnam 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 United States Air Force. It was dissolved in 1975 after the Fall of Saigon; many of its members emigrated to the United States.
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 during 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 Dien Bien Phu, the position of France changed, and on January 31, 1955, the Vietnam Air Force (VNAF) was inaugurated.
The RVNAF initially consisted of 58 aircraft and about 1,300 personnel. Aircraft consisted primarily of C-47 Skytrains, and Grumman F8F Bearcats. 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. In May 1956, by agreement with the South Vietnamese government, the United States Air Force assumed some training and administrative roles of the RVNAF. Teams from Clark Air Force Base began in 1957 to organize the RVNAF into a model of the USAF when the French training contracts expired.
Recruitment and training
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 U.S. 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.
Near the end of the Vietnam War 1st lieutenant Pham Quang Khiem of the VNAF saw the fall of Saigon. He rushed to get his family to safety and needed an escape plan. Khiem was a co-pilot assigned to a Lockheed C-130a flying transport missions. He planned to meet his friend from his sister squadron (Khiem was in the 435th and his friend was in the 437th) at DaLat which is the capitol of a province in Vietnam. He knew that once a pilot managed to steal an airplane and escape that the VNAF would tighten security and make further escapes impossible. Khiem told his friend "If we are not number one to escape, we will never be number two!"
His family was in DaLat, and he wanted to get them to Saigon before leaving. April 2 DaLat was overrun by communists and he lost contact with his family. April 3 all the C-130's were being used for bombing missions. They planned an escape at Long Thanh airport which was a U.S. military base abandoned since the U.S. withdrawal in 1973. Khiem called his family to go to Long Thanh air base. Loading into the plane his wife watched her 2 year old daughter get trampled over on the rush to escape. As Khiem's wife was passing out she dropped her 5 month old son on the runway thinking her daughter was dead. Khiem's sister in-law saw her nephew laying on the runway so brought her on the C-130a.
As they were driving to the takeoff part of the runway the load master started talking to many ARVN soldiers who came in a jeep. They soon confronted the plane and pointed a M-79 grenade launcher at the cockpit but did not fire as they took off. They got to Singapore at around 7 PM as it was getting dark. Nobody at the country knew what to do with them because they had never dealt with a problem like this. The Prime minister was out of the country for 2 weeks and they were just put in the local prison for a little more than that (Until the Vietnam War ended April 30, 1975).
They got everyone out except for his younger brother who was in the ARVN and was sent to a reeducation camp of brainwashing for 2 years after the communist took over. 16 years later, three months before Khiem's father's passing, they were reunited in America, where all of Khiem's family currently stays. Khiem was reunited with his plane 10 years later in 1985 at the Selfridge Air National Guard Base where it was being used prior to the Smithsonian getting their hands on it where it will soon be moved to a New York Air museum where it will be casted publicly. On March 30, Khiem received his flight suit after 35 years from the son of the military attache who kept his personal items from the C-130a in Singapore. In the spring of 2013, he was again reunited with his plane and her 2 year old daughter, all grown up, with some of his grandchildren.
Fall of South Vietnam
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 three 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 Northrop F-5s took off in pursuit, but were unable to intercept the A-37s.
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 the U.S. Task Force 76 offshore. At 08:00 Lieutenant General Trần Văn Minh, commander of the VNAF, and 30 of his staff arrived at the American DAO Compound, demanding evacuation. This signified the complete loss of command and control of the VNAF.
Some VNAF aircraft did stay to continue to fight the advancing NVA however. One AC-119K gunship from the 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 pilots 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 was hit by a SA-7 missile, and fell in flames to the ground. Sgt. Son, one of the AC-119K gunners tried to escape but his chute tangled in the tail of the airplane.
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.
In contrast with the North Vietnamese air force, most allied air operations in the Vietnam War were conducted by the U.S. military. 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 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 U.S. 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.
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 U.S. air services. 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. The VNAF primarily flew close support as communist forces did not fly aircraft over U.S.-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 U.S. Air Force left South Vietnam due to the lack of the bombings and air support provided by the U.S.
In April 1975 some 1,100 aircraft were absorb into the Vietnam People's Air Force with the collapse of the South Vietnamese Government.
Approximately 175 aircraft were flown to Thailand before the surrender.
Organization of the VNAF
|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|
|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|
|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||Colonel (1963 Nov)||1963 Nov–1964 Jan (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.|
- Nguyen Quy An was a Major in the Republic of Vietnam Air Force who risked his life to rescue four Americans in a downed chopper while he was on a different mission. For his actions he was awarded the United States Distinguished Flying Cross.
- Nguyen Van Cu, Pham Phu Quoc- pilots in the VNAF, bombed the South Vietnamese Presidential Palace in 1962
- Republic of Vietnam Navy
- Army of the Republic of Vietnam
- Republic of Vietnam Marine Corps
- Vietnamese Airborne Division
- Khmer Air Force
- Royal Lao Air Force
- Air America
- The untold story of the last defenders of Saigon: AC-119K Tinh Long
- Dirty thirty, U.S. Air Force pilots sent to Vietnam in 1962 and 1963, to assist the South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) in military airlift and transport missions
- Grandolini, Albert Indo-Chinese Fighting 'Cats: Grumman's Superb Bearcat in Vietnam Air Enthusiast #70 July–August 1997 pp. 12-21
- 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.
- Tobin, p. 81.
- Tobin, pp. 85-87.
- Tobin, p. 82.
- Tobin, pp. 115-117.
- 1962 Aviation Week
- VNAF Dust Off website
- NBC Evening News for Friday, 10 November 1972, Vanderbilt Television News Archive
- http://www.riciok.com/ Consolidating and Rebuilding
- "World Air Forces 1975 pg. 314". Flightglobal Insight. 1975. Retrieved 24 November 2017.
- "Peace Research Institute". Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. 2017. Retrieved 30 November 2017.
- "World Air Forces 1971". Flightglobal Insight. 1971. Retrieved 24 November 2017.
- VNAF: South Vietnamese Air Force 1945-1975 by Jim Mesko
- Tucker, Spencer C. (2000). Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. pp. 526&ndash, 533. ISBN 1-57607-040-9.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Air force of South Vietnam (VNAF).|
- The South Vietnamese Air Force 1951-1975 Pictures, stories
- CanhThep website Pictures, stories, Forum
- The Vietnamese Air Force, 1951-1975. An Analysis of Its Role in Combat and Fourteen Hours at Koh Tang. Volume 3, Monographs 4 and 5
- USS Midway photos from Operation frequent Wind and transport of ex-VNAF aircraft from Thailand to Guam
- Arrival of ex-VNAF aircraft in Guam and their subsequent disposal
- VNAF Pilots and Crews homepage