In July 1968 a No. 9 Squadron ‘in-house’ Gunship Development commenced, led by (then) Squadron Leader Brian Dirou DFC, Pilot. The prototype aircraft was UH-1H A2-773 (displayed at the AWM in Canberra). Flight trials commenced and development continued until November. The Australian government approved purchase of some weapon kits in December 1968. Through January 1969, there was further No. 9 Squadron ‘in-house’ Gunship Development; 7 sets of gunship equipment were in location and the modification of six aircraft began. In March 1969, ‘in-house’ Gunship Aircrew and Maintenance training began.
Showing off the 9 Squadron Bushranger Gunships
This film above, recorded on December 22 1969, shows one of 9 Squadrons newly converted ‘Bushranger’ gunships being demonstrated before newly arrived troops of 8 RAR in Phuoc Tuy Province.
Converted from the standard transport Iroquis, the Bushranger was equipped with heavier armament in the form of two 7.62mm mini-guns, two seven-tube 2.75 inch rocket pods, and twin M60 side guns.
The original version of the bushranger (RAAF serial A2-773) was a standard UH-1H, which is believed to have itself been a factory conversion of the UH-1D model. After arriving in Vietnam on July 4 1968, the helicopter was given to 9 Squadron. At this time, Iroquis were already outfitted with upgraded armaments by US forces.
From 1962 onwards, American forces had begun converting their Iroquis into gunships to better support troop transports travelling into ‘hot’ zones. These were commonly referred to as “Cobras”, while troop transporting Hueys were known as “Slicks”.
This continued throughout the Vietnam war, with US forces continually upgrading their Iroquis. An extreme example of this is the “Heavy Hog” gunship, converted from a UH-1C and equipped with M60s, mini-guns, M3 or XM159 rocket pods, and even an M5 grenade launcher protruding from the centre of the cockpit.
In contrast, 9 Squadron had little problem using the standard troop transport UH-1H, however the benefits of having a gunship variant were evident as the war continued. Conversion to the helicopter A2-773 took place in 1969, with the new armaments being fitted. A2-773 would act as the proof of concept for the bushranger. Its ability to suppress dangerous landing zones was beneficial for medivac or troop carrying helicopters, which up until this point had to rely solely on door gunners.
Following its success, it was decided that three more Hueys from 9 Squadron would be converted, along with small changes such as the mini-guns would be refitted further forward on the helicopter.
Just a few months later, on the afternoon of Saturday June 20 1970, a bushranger was hit by enemy ground fire and forced to make an emergency landing on a beach some 10 kilometres north of Vung Tau. The following day a group was sent to retrieve the helicopter, only to find that it had been half submerged in the ocean by the tide. After removing the rockets, a Chinook was called in to fly the Huey back to Vung Tau. Heavy structural damage resulted from its submersion in seawater, and the tail boom had to be refitted after it broke off.
The bushranger would stay with 9 Squadron for the rest of their time in Vietnam. The adoption of these upgraded helicopters both sped up insertions and extractions, while also making them safer for troops and pilots.