Ed Byra, BG U.S. Air Force, (Ret.)

This is the text of a speech that BG Ed Brya gave to an Airlift convention about the C-130 tactics they used at An Loc:

In April 1972 as the war in southeast Asia was winding down the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) launched their spring offensive. This caused a major build up and reinforcement of air force, navy, and marine air from both the cones and pacific theater. In late 1971 and ’72 we had been withdrawing forces from southeast Asia. The C-130 wings at Clark, Mactan, and Naha had been deactivated and the airplanes returned to the states. The 374 taw at CCK in Taiwan, with its four squadrons, was the only pacaf asset for C-130 airlift in sea. At the start of the spring offensive the wing had 27 aircraft, 43 crews and 260 maintenance personnel deployed to Vietnam, or in-country as we called it. During April we surged to 44 aircraft, 60 crews and 370 maintenance personnel. In response to the NVA spring offensive our short-filed operations increased from the occasional landing at an out of the way field to major operations on a 24 hour basis. Early in April we brought arvn troops from the 3000-foot strips in the delta to bien hoa for defense of the Saigon area. Other aircraft went to long-forgotten places to pull out men, land and equipment. We operated in the DMZ and quang tri until the enemy forced us out. The major areas of operation were at Kontum, in the highlands, and in the south surrounding bien hoa and Saigon. During the month of April we made 358 short field landings including 51 at night. In the south the centerpiece battle of the spring offensive was fought in bien long province. The communists boasted that An Loc would become the seat of government for the liberated provinces. Col. Ray Bowers in his excellent air force history of tactical airlift, describes the battle for An Loc as “the most trying time of the war for the C-130 crews.” An Loc was a small provincial capital 60 miles NW of Saigon which lies on a plateau surrounded by plantations with tall rubber trees. In early April the area was cut off and surrounded by the nva. The northern half of the town was captured… The raven and their American advisors were forced into a small area in the southeast corner of town. The command element was inside a bunker, which was located by a soccer field 200 meters square. The vnaf had tried without much success to resupply the beleaguered troops; during this time, a c-119 was lost to ground fire. On Saturday, 15 April, two C-130’s were sent in. They used the then approved method of a descending slow down into the DZ. They were briefed by 7th air force to approach up the road from the south, as all the vnaf drops had been flown, and drop on the soccer field. The first aircraft made a successful run taking only a couple of hits from ground fire. The second aircraft came in approximately 15 minutes later and was under constant fire. One 51 cal. round came through the right hand circuit breaker panel, killed the engineer and went on to shatter the windows on the left side of the cockpit. Other shells ripped the cargo compartment and ignited part of the ammo load. The loadmasters jettisoned the load, which landed on the DZ. Number one and two engines were shut down. The navigator and Co-pilot were both wounded and incapacitated. With the Loadmasters fighting the fire and manually cranking down the Landing gear, the pilot, bill Caldwell. Managed to get the aircraft Back to tan son nhut. Around the 10th of April I had gone in-county with our wing Commander Col. Andy Iosue. That day we had been out flying a Leaflet drop. We returned to Saigon shortly after Capt. Caldwell landed. Col Iosue directed me to get with our chief nav, Maj. Bob Highly, and plan a better way – and that the three of us would fly it the next Day. That night we got together with the airborne FACS and devised some ways, which would hopefully get us through with minimum damage. The FAC would serve as our combat controller. To avoid the appearance of the C-130 from the same heading, we drew a circle around An Loc and laid

out six different inbound Tracks into the DZ. The FAC would assess the situation and choose The track which would be the safest for us to enter. He also gave us a recommended outbound track to escape on. We proceeded to an orbit point approximately 10 minutes from the Drop zone. In this orbit at a safe altitude of 5 to 10,000 feet, we completed the 20,10 and 6 minute checklists. After depressurizing, the bleed valves were closed – this item was not mentioned anywhere in our manuals except for assault Landings and takeoffs. We were having a problem with the aft cargo door. The up lock did not always work and thus the door would not stay up. While Still in the orbit, we opened the door from the back of the Airplane and left the aux pump on. After the loadmaster completed his checklist. The load was hot, all restraint had been removed, and it was being held in only by the Cds gate. But if the aircraft were hit and the load needed to be jettisoned. The ramp could be opened and the gate cut. Another new checklist item we instituted was for the pilot and Co-pilot to lock their shoulder harness to prevent one of them from falling on the yoke if he was hit. When the FAC cleared the crew into the DZ. They would start a Low level dash at approximately 100 feet and 250 kts. Inside two Minutes, the slowdown was started. While maintaining the low Altitude, the power was reduced to idle. Flaps were lowered on Air speed to the proper cds setting. At approximately 170 kts the engineer started down the ramp; 30 seconds out, the pilot attained his 600 foot altitude and airspeed in order to identify the drop area. The navigator drew three circles around the DZ, a slowdown, a one minute warning, and a Release line. The pilot and co-pilot were too busy flying the aircraft to be looking for the DZ. The engineer was watching his panel so the Navigator was the only one who could make the drop. Of course during all of this time from two minutes in, the aircraft was under attack from ground fire. As soon as the load was clear the pilot increased airspeed, Descended, and turned to his escape heading. During the escape maneuver, the FAC, who was flying up behind the 130 during the run in, gave directions to help the escape. He would tell you to break left or right as required; then clear you To pop up when out of the threat area. Once out of the area, the crew reviewed the checklist and turned off the green light, which was iNVAriably left on. Unfortunately, we were required to return again and again to the same DZ, at roughly the same altitude and airspeed. Even Though we made the drops that day, they had us in their sights and the aircraft were hit. Two days later, the first plane in was hit in the right wing by 23 mm while about one minute out. They continued on, made the drop, and then turned on their escape. They tried to climb for bailout but couldn’t get high enough. Proceeding on toward lay kHz. The Pilot, Doc Jensen realized he couldn’t make it. The intercom system was out. Number three engine was out. Number one and two engines were in flight idle, number four engine was at max power, but still the aircraft was in a right turn. The reason was a fire on the right wing, which had already burnt off the aileron and flap. The pilot, still unable to hear anything, decided to put it into a Swamp. Fortunately two air cavalry choppers saw them impact and immediately rescued the crew. The only serious injuries were the loadmasters and they were hurt because of the flying debris in the cargo compartment. Here we learned to take the unnecessary equipment out: all the seats, stanchions, chains, devices, tool boxes, etc. while we were flying around the country our resourceful crews were acquiring, some defensive equipment. Later on the supply system finally authorized us ballistic helmets, flak vests and some amour-plated vests. However in the early stages of the battle, we were scrounging for equipment anyway we could. Let me tell you about the way the loadmaster went to war. He would put that armored vest on, take a flak vest apart, tape it around his legs, lay chains on the floor, put the garbage can on the chains, get in and from that position activate the static line retriever as back up for the drop. Next we tried the MLRADS or the mid level radar air drop system, which used Charlie Brown reef cutters on the parachutes. We felt we could increase the accuracy of the deliveries by employing the sac msq radar bomb procedures, which the b52s Used for the arc light mission, and the C-130 for the commando Vault mission our blu 82 10,000 lb bomb. The navigator would give a t & Ground speed and drift angle to the msq site and they in turn Could place you within 50 ft of a requested point by means of a Gca. However we still had to compute an accurate carp for use by The msq site. The problem as always was the wind, so we took readings each thousand feet on the way up. We made the drops from 8000 ft using the 40 second cutters. A few Of the bundles hit the DZ but a majority fell long. We found out later the chutes were opening early due to improper rigging of the cutters.

After two days macv stopped the high drops and directed us to go Back low. Down we went. But this time we went at night and we had gunships to help us. The gunship was much better for our purposes than a Fighter. He could loiter in the area and deliver continuous fire on a target while we made our run-in. A side note on how we got the gunships– 1 was over at 7th af one Morning and saw a friend from pope, Howard Rowland (who by the way is here at the convention). He was pulling a 30 day tdy from Ubon as the gunship liaison. The rest is history because the crews couldn’t see the obstacles, at night. We flew 500 ft above the terrain. We hoped that at night they wouldn’t see us until we were at the target. But of course with a bright moonlit night, they saw you anyway. We had pretty good success putting the bundles on the DZ from low altitude. But once we got in 2 or 3 per night they wanted more. A requirement for 10 sorties a night was laid on. During this time kampon treach in Cambodia came under attack and was surrounded. We ran a drop to the DZ in the daytime and the T Aircraft sustained 86 hits. The next night we took in three successful sorties. But this same night we lost our second plane at An Loc. He was hit and downed approximately 2 kliks southwest of town. The following night the FACS would not clear any more 130s into the An Loc area. They considered the fire to be murderous. 23 and 37 mm were active; 51 cal was everywhere. Meanwhile at kamphon treach the first aircraft in was hit by 51 Cal from a 4-sided box pattern. The next two airplanes were sent back by the FAC. We had lost any element of surprise. New ground rules were laid down by 7th AF. We would have either gunships or fighters for all night drops and fighters for all day drops. Then 7th AF directed planning for a 10 ship daylight standard level – one minute in trail airdrop to be supported by fire power from A-37s. Col, Iosue considered this plan suicide and when he was unable to get Macv to shut it off, somehow he got word to the Cinc at pacaf and Gen. Clay turned it off. Again the drops were renewed using night low level procedures. However, some day drops were scheduled to make up for those we could not complete at night.

In a few more days we lost the third airplane, this time just east of the town. By now the higher echelons of command were convinced of the danger inherent in our mission and we were allowed to go back to high altitude. But due to defenses of the enemy such as 37 mm and the new SA-7 Strella missile, we were being forced to go to higher altitudes. The SA-7 downed AC-119 gunships over An Loc and hit a

C-130 gunship at 7500 ft. By this time help was on its way from the states. TAC deployed two 130 squadrons, the 61st from Little Rock and the 36th from Langley. The 61st was an AWADS squadron, which along with a newly developed high velocity airdrop. Using thousand-pound bundles fitted to fifteen-foot slotted parachutes, provided the needed airdrop accuracy. The successful airdrops turned the tide and by mid-May the NVA had ceased ground attacks on An Loc. However highway 13 from Saigon remained closed until late June. From mid-April to mid-May C-130 crews made 57 low level and 90 mid or high level drops at An Loc. During that time at least 56 airplanes were hit plus the five we lost. 17 crew members were killed or MIA and another 10 wounded. At night, planes who knew they were hit would come back to Saigon. shut down, and discover fuel streaming out of all four main tanks.

While the battle of An Loc was a major event in the history of Tactical airlift, perhaps the most important outcome was a series of conferences that led to development of an Airlift Tactics Manual. Representatives from PACF, USAFE, and TAC were drafted to write MCM 3-4 which recorded and improved upon the tactics developed at An Loc. It was events such as this and those experienced by the fighter community that led TAC to develop the red flag activities that we are so familiar with today. One final story from the manual writing phase: as we researched the available documents and talked with older pilots who had been there, we heard the same experiences from Dien Bien Phu, Korea and WWII. The crime was that they were only hanger talk and had never been put down on paper as authorized tactics. With the sophisticated weaponry of the 70s and 80s, the tactics of naDZab, Corrigidor, Sicily and Normandy – which we continued to fly at demonstrations and exercises for our military and government leaders, were not only outdated but suicidal. Let me go back a few months to January when I arrived PCS from Pope to CCK for my third tour in sea. As I was signing-in at wing headquarters, the vice commander, Col. John Dunn, saw me and said, “Major are you an IP?” After I said, “Yes sir,” he stated. “You’re going to Stan-Eval.” I said, “No sir. I don’t want to do that. I just want to fly my 15 month tour and go home.” People were rotating back and forth so many times that the experienced C-130 crew members had all found a way not to go back again. Arriving in mid-January I was the first IP to come into the wing since October. This was an isolated tour and 80 of the crew members were on a 15-month rotation cycle. Well I went to Stan Eval and on my upgrade ride to be an Evaluator, I busted the two pilots and navigator for airdrop procedures. They had gone through the pipeline, CCTS at Little Rock and RTU at Pope, over to CCK and onto the routine air land Mission in-country. Once in a while an experienced crew would be sent into a short field, but by and large it was milk run flying as the war wound down. Back home at CCK they would do some basic training, get the laundry done and if their birthday cycle was wrong, and their check ride from CCTS-RTU had expired, they would have to get a TAC or instrument check. Unbeknownst to me, the tactical training was more orientation than standardization. As I debriefed that poor crews squadron Commander and later the wing dude, who by the way was a sac pilot, with no airlift background, I said if they ever had to make an airdrop in Vietnam they would be lost. Around the 10th of April I went in country with our wing Commander, Colonel Andy Iosue. After we flew a couple of short Field missions he told the mission commander to ensure only the best qualified pilots were going to the tough lZs, especially at night. The solution was to go back to a system of pilot qualification used earlier in the war: Category I, II, or III pilots.

Category I were Ips who could go to any a C-130 strip, Category II pilots were good steady aircraft commanders who could go to the mid range strips around 5000 ft., and Category III was for the newer pilots who did the rest. When Col. Dunn told me I was going to Stan Eval, what I really told him was that I was a Category IIIpilot, only qualified for Saigon, Banquok. U-tapao, Clark, and Yokota. Along about this time Reed Mulkey, who I’m sure is wandering around here somewhere, went into Kontum During off load the field was attacked and an engine was hit. The crew was evacuated to Pleiku by helicopters. Four days later after the engine was changed, his crew went back to fly it out. At the start of take off roll they were hit again losing another engine. He continued with a successful three engine take off.