The advance party of No 9 Squadron arrived at Vung Tau, South Vietnam on 03 MAY 66; a month later eight UH-1B Iroquois aircraft, A2-1018, 1019, 1020, 1021, 1022, 1023, 1024 and 1025 arrived via HMAS SYDNEY on 06 JUN 66. The immediate problem facing the maintenance flight was the organization of suitable spares arrangements through the US Army and the preparation of temporary living and working quarters. Initially there were no hangar facilities and maintenance was carried out in tents or out on the hot dusty airfield. The temporary maintenance area was located on the position of the later aircraft revetments; the aircraft were parked on the PSP taxiway.
The first SENGO of 9 Squadron in Vietnam was FLTLT K.J. Taylor.
Conditions were primitive and although morale was high, members suffered numerous privations. Meals were served from a mobile kitchen, mail services were poor and PX facilities inadequate. Supply of spares from the US Army was poor and the RAAF CHRS system was difficult to relate to the US Army historical records. The arduous Vietnam climate soon had a noticeable effect on maintenance; water and dust took a heavy toll on bearings, radios, and engines. In OCT 66 the squadron undertook aerial spray operations over Nui Dat; these operations were to continue over 5 years.
The first aircraft destroyed was A2-1018; this aircraft was accidentally lost on 18 OCT 66 some 12 miles NW of Vung Tau. The wreckage was destroyed by explosives. A UH-1D aircraft, A2-041, (later known as 085), was obtained as a replacement.
The Bellman hangar was completed in November 1966 by ACS. Also during November 1966 the first reported battle damage to an aircraft occurred to A2-1021, when a friendly anti-personnel mine was detonated by rotor downwash.
SQNLDR C.F. Cotter assumed the duties of SENGO on 27 MAR 67.
In APR 67 compressor failures of two L11 engines caused heavy damage to both aircraft. A2-1019 was written off in APR 67 and a replacement UH-1D A2-1166, (later known as 649), obtained. A2-1019 was subsequently rebuilt.
In SEP 67 A2-1023 and 1025 were badly damaged by ground fire. A2-1025 received 7 hits and required 100-man hours of work. Revetments for the aircraft were completed in October 1967. An aerial spray rig was manufactured by the squadron in November 1967 and the equipment was successfully used until June 1971.
During January, February and March 1968, RAAF maintenance personnel attended L13 engine courses of various US Army establishments in preparation for the receipt of UH-1H Iroquois. The first of these aircraft were received by the squadron in March 1968 and numbered eight aircraft in serial numbers A2-376 through A2-383. The ‘B’ models were then progressively dispatched to No. 5 Squadron.
SQNLDR R.H. Tucker became SENGO on 25th March 1968.
On 23rd April 1968 Vung Tau base was subjected to a heavy rocket attack and although squadron equipment and aircraft were not damaged, a US Caribou was destroyed some 50 yards from the 9 squadron hangar. One aircraft suffered battle damage from ground fire in June 1968. During September 1968, a further eight UH-1H aircraft were accepted by 9 Squadron; the aircraft were numbered A2-766 through A2-773. In September 1968, A2-769 suffered Cat 4 damage after engine failure; the aircraft was subsequently rebuilt at a local US Army maintenance facility.
In February 1969, a maintenance team supported the operation of 3 aircraft out of Long Binh. A2-772 was assembled as the first 9 Squadron gunship during March 1969.
SQNLDR D.A. Tidd became SENGO on 18th March 1969.
Gunships became operational on 21st April 1969. During October 1969, the squadron lost two aircraft A2-769 and A2-379 and A2-376 suffered battle damage as a result of a mine detonation; A2-376 had 32 holes patched.
SQNLDR K.J. Taylor took over as SENGO on 7th March 1970.
A2-770 received two rounds of ground fire on 26th March 1970. ‘E’ servicing were deleted by HQSC for Iroquois in April 1970. On 4th May 1970, A2-110 auto-rotated onto a mudflat just north of the Vung Tau airfield after engine failure; the aircraft was almost completely immersed in salt water and fortunately extracted by ‘Chinook’ aircraft before nightfall. On 9th May 1970, aircraft were flown in formation over Vung Tau and Nui Dat to celebrate 4 years in country.
In June 1970, three aircraft suffered battle damage; A2-768 received 18 rounds and required 5 days of repair work. A2-377 was hit in a fuel tank and A2-382 force-landed on the beach near the Long Hais after being hit. The aircraft could not be retrieved before nightfall and during the night, an incoming tide broke portion of the aircraft. The damage was finally categorized as Cat 5 because of the corrosion which developed after the saltwater immersion and the aircraft returned to 5 Squadron as a training aid. The 40,000 hours in country was flown on 28th June 1970. The Forward Servicing Party was established at Nui Dat in June 1970.
A2-768 crashed in July 1970 and was written off. Crewman LAC D. McNair subsequently died of injuries received in the incident. Replacement aircraft A2-703 and A2-723 were collected from Pleiku. A fourth gunship was put online on 31st July 1970. Tail boom cracking in 4 aircraft was a problem in July 1970. A 5’6” snake defied ingenious attempts using air, hot water and finally CO2 to be forced from the ‘hell hole’ of A2-110. The snake finally escaped into the hangar and was finally killed by a shovel. The snake was ‘delicious’ in Dau’s in the foreman labourer’s words. Special ground handling wheels were manufactured to enable movement of gunships with rocket pods fitted.
Aircraft were modified in November 1970 to carry stokes litters on undersides of aircraft. Air transportable cabins were received in November 1970 for use with the FSP at Nui Dat.
FLTLT M. Weller took over as SENGO on 30th November 1970.
In December 1970, A2-773 received ground fire whilst operating in support of 7 RAR some 5 miles east of Xuyen Moc. Damage to fuel, instruments and electrical systems resulted in the aircraft being extracted by ‘Chinook’ aircraft. In the same operation, A2-377 received one hit which resulted in skin repairs and a main rotor change.
During a ‘D’ servicing on A2-771, the laminated honeycomb centre work deck was found to be badly deteriorated; the item is a structural member and, in the US Army, was replaced at a Depot level facility. The deck was replaced within 9 Squadron. The replacement involved jigging of the aircraft and metalworkers, led by SGT Jim Vanderkyl, expended many man hours on intricate, tedious repairs. The re-alignment of the engine is particularly note-worthy; three engine fitters, led by SGT Spike Bicker, worked continuously for over 20 hours.
February 1971 was a bad month for engine failures; three aircraft made forced landings. Two aircraft, A2-773 and A2-110, (both gunships), made hovering autos on Kanga Pad, Nui Dat, after compressor failures.
A2-110 settled very heavily and a heavy landing inspection revealed bent skids and a broken fifth mount in addition to the engine change. The working party directed by SGT Bob Oliver and Spike Bicker, commenced work at 11 am and the aircraft was test flown and returned to Vung Tau by nightfall. A2-376 made an auto onto a paddy field about a mile from Sanford after engine failure. The aircraft was recovered by ‘Chinook’ aircraft to Vung Tau, where the cause was finally diagnosed as FCU failure.
March-April 1971 was the most difficult period for the maintenance flight since 9 Squadron commenced operations in Vietnam. Battle damage, combined with a spate of tail boom failures led to some extraordinary efforts by maintenance personnel. Some people worked on occasions all day, through the night and part of the next day. That these members were able to maintain such intensive work and high standards of maintenance reflects credit on the individuals, but also on the training and standards of RAAF maintenance personnel generally. WOFF Bruce Harris was outstanding during this period in maintaining morale and directing hangar activities. At 1900 hours one particular evening, seven aircraft with varying degrees of battle damage and tail boom failures were being worked on in the hangar; six of those aircraft were serviceable by 0730 the following morning.
During this period, 9 aircraft received battle damage. Gunship A2-383 received 16 rounds of ground fire and caused severe damage to skin, structural components, flooring, windows; PLTOFF Ron Betts was killed in this occurrence. A2-110 was holed six times in the same action in windows, flooring and skid and brought forward into a ‘D’ servicing. Both aircraft were recovered by ‘Chinook’ aircraft. A2-379 also took one round. On 31 MAR 71, three aircraft were severely damaged in an action some 8 miles east of Nui Dat. A2-767, whilst on a ‘Dust Off’ mission, received ground fire in main rotor, fuel tanks and engine combustion chamber; Crewman Alan Bloxsom was killed in this incident. The aircraft was recovered by ‘Chinook’ aircraft from FSB Beth. A2-110, just two days out of D servicing, was again severely damaged, when a round carried away more than half of the LH fuselage tail boom attachment beam and required ‘Chinook’ recovery from Nui Dat. The repair of this damage involved much work by metalworkers in designing and manufacturing a spliced-structural repair; the team was capably led by SGT Stan Moss. A2-773 was also hit in this action in the tail boom and support structure.
On 17th April 1971, A2-767 crashed and was completely destroyed in a subsequent fire after being hit by ground fire whilst on a ‘Dust Off’ mission in the Long Hais. Army Medic LCPL John Gillespie was trapped in the wreckage and was killed. A2-149 and 772 received minor battle damage. The loss of A2-767 strained maintenance resources in meeting the daily online requirement of 13 aircraft.
A notable feat for the maintenance flight was achieved during MAY 71, when nil engine changes were carried out. On 7th June 1971, A2-723 crashed whilst on Operation Overlord. FLTLT Lofty Lance and LAC Dave Dubber were killed in this incident. During Operation Overlord, the squadron flew all 15 aircraft on strength operationally on 5th June; on 6th June, 15 aircraft were again serviceable. A forward Servicing party, led by SGT Kev O’Neill, operated at FSB Jane. The squadron established a record serviceability of 90.4%. Replacement aircraft A2-455 was collected at Heli 3, Saigon.
In July 1971, A2-915 was collected as a replacement aircraft from Tuy Hoa. A2-455 had a tail boom severed by ground fire and A2-772 had a fuel tank holed by friendly fire.
In October 1971, the squadron received a record serviceability of 90.7%. Also, the first scheduled engine change was made in country on A2-766; the engine had run maximum “time between overhaul” (TBO) hours of 1030 hours. Every preceding engine change (& there was at least one every month on average) occurred because engines were simply wearing out before they reached time for overhaul due to the operating conditions – the most frequent causes for an engine change were loss of power or excessively high exhaust gas temperatures.
Sixteen aircraft were flown in formation on 09th November 1971, to mark the departure of No 9 Squadron from Vietnam.
Records show that seven aircraft were destroyed during the five and a half years of service of 9 Squadron in Vietnam. There were 23 recorded incidents of aircraft receiving ground fire; more than half of these occurred in the period November 1970-November 1971. A total of 250 ‘D’ servicing and 28 ‘E’ servicing were performed in country. The 5,000th hour as flown in country on 8th March 1971 by Albatross 01; the crew were FLGOFF G. Christian pilot and FLGOFF R. Redman co-pilot.
Generally, the opportunity of servicing with 9 Squadron in Vietnam has provided maintenance personnel with very worthwhile experience of activities in a wartime environment. Maintenance personnel have generally given outstanding performance in difficult and demanding conditions; the efforts really validate the standard of training given to maintenance personnel and reflect creditably on the overall standards. Airmen and NCO’s have shown great resourcefulness and ingenuity in developing modifications for local conditions and repair schemes for battle damage. An ENGO finds himself in technical information, research laboratories at aircraft depots. He learns during a tour the need to accept final responsibility for local mods and repair schemes. The assistance of local Lycoming and Bell Helicopter representatives has been of value in this regard. The ability of a member to work hard under difficult conditions and live in relative harmony reflects creditably on the moral fibre of the RAAF.
The working conditions for 9 Squadron were always difficult. In the early stages, the conditions were most primitive with tents as both living and working quarters. Through ‘self-help’, the squadron personnel gradually built up a reasonable level of living and working conditions. The notion of self-help has been both noticeable and effective whether it has been directed to construction of an engine repair section, or in the improvement of one’s small domain in a living quarter. Air conditioners were essential for the servicing of airframe, instrument and radio components. Three air transportable air-conditioned cabins were of inestimable value in this regard.
9 Squadron was logistically supported for aircraft spares by the US Army. Generally, the quantity of spares available was satisfactory; in fact, during the period 1970-71, the supply was outstanding, although this could be attributed to the ingenuity of the 9 Squadron equipment staff in obtaining the spares. The quality of spares was another story; they were consistently of a poor standard, particularly for radios, engines, airframe, and armament components and led to many minor unserviceabilities and at times, more serious failures of engine fuel systems. The effect was to force 9 Squadron to increase the personnel establishment and to obtain GSE and test equipment so that these items could be either checked or serviced to ensure freedom from fault. The underlying reason for the different standards of serviceability is simple; the US Army will perhaps put half aircraft strength online daily, whereas 9 Squadron had to get 88% serviceability to meet 1ATF tasks. 9 Squadron demanded therefore, a far greater degree of aircraft and component’s reliability.
Morale was normally good amongst the troops. Certainly, they consumed vast quantities of alcohol and some made frequent visits to the pleasure spots of Vung Tau, but generally no major problems occurred. R&R and R&C leave was beneficial, and some consideration ought to be given to the idea of six month tours on future occasions; in the last few months of a tour, members seem to disassociated from the task at hand. Morale was not helped by the requirement for technical personnel to do guard duty; they already had duty crew, forward servicing party and stand-by duty. The RAAF should have a suitable defence establishment in an operational area without resorting to taking maintenance personnel for defence duty.
It’s salutary to note that apart from one, all of the aircrew battle casualties occurred in that final year of Vietnam operations of 1971. As the US announced its intention to downsize its Vietnam involvement, the North Vietnamese & Viet Cong became much more aggressive in 1971, particularly towards helicopters in Phuoc Tuy province with a consequent impact on helicopter battle damage & aircrew casualties. GPCAPT Bruce Martin (OC RAAF VUNG TAU at the time) said that he had advised Air Force Office accordingly.
Some 9 Squadron Statistics…
- Aircraft destroyed: A2-1018 – 18 OCT 66, A2-381 -15 OCT 69, A2-769 – 26 OCT 69, A2-382 – 30 JUN 70, A2-768 – 02 JUL 70, A2-767 – 17 APR 71, A2-723 – 07 JUN 71.
- 50,000 hours flown in country on 08 MAR 71.
- The highest servicing rate of unscheduled engine changes; 10 in MAY 69.
- The minimum number of engine changes; Nil MAY 71.
- The first scheduled engine change in country; OCT 71.
- The maximum recorded aircraft load; 21 pax, 450 lbs of freight, 1100 lbs of fuel 04 OCT 69 28deg OAT.
- The 100th engine change A2-770 on 17 NOV 69.
- The maximum number of hours run by an L13 engine was 1030.20.
- 16 aircraft were serviceable and flown on formation; 09 MAY 70 and 09 NOV 71.
- 16 aircraft were serviceable and flown operationally; 27 JUL 71.
- Aircraft flown every day of JUN 71: A2-376 and 379.
- The maximum number of rounds expended by GPM 60 was 200,504 and by M134 645,940.
- The value of M1 34 ammunition usage over 6 months was $512,640:00.
Air Vice Marshall Elliot ‘Mac’ Weller, AM, RAAF (Ret’d).