1ST MIBARS In Vietnam!

For the 1st MIBARS --

Islands In the Sky!

Photo: U6A deHavilland Beaver aloft over Vietnam

Photo Credit: Jerry Sands, HHC and "B" Detachment, S2/S3 and Imagery Interpretation, 1969-1970

Right:  This unidentified U-6A deHavilland Beaver flies above the war zone.  Given the vastness of the skies in Vietnam, the distances between the safety of military airfields, and the many unknowns to be faced by aircrews on the ground if forced down, aircraft truly were "islands in the sky," the title of aviation writer Ernest K. Gann's classic novel of a C-47 lost in the wilderness of snowy Canada.

The U.S. Army Ramp At Tan Son Nhut Airport, Saigon, Republic of South Vietnam

Photo: US Army aircraft undergoing maintenance on the apron at Tan Son Nhut Airbase in 1967

Photo Credit: MIV

Above:  The US Army ramp at Tan Son Nhut airport in Saigon in 1967 -- a joint civilian and military facility.  The aircraft at left in the photograph, with the engine cowling removed for maintenance, is an Army U-1A deHavilland Otter, a high-wing, propeller-driven, short take-off and landing (STOL) aircraft capable of performing the same roles as the earlier and highly successful U-6A Beaver, but an overall larger aircraft.  Seating in the cabin was for 10 or 11 persons, whereas the Beaver could seat only six.  The US Army became the largest operator of the aircraft -- designated the U-1A -- 184 were delivered.

Graphic:  Hand-drawn logo for the Delivery Platoon, 1966

Graphic Credit:  Michael Tymchak, Commanding Officer, 1st MIBARS, HQ, 1965-1966

"I told him!  We were the Good Guys!"

"By the end of February 1966 we had developed several delivery techniques for getting intelligence packets to locations that did not have an airfield, such as a tennis court or soccer field. These required removing antennas from aircraft flying as slow as 50 knots and throwing intelligence information out the door. Our crew chiefs were very successful as I only remember one film canister that missed hitting a drop zone. It was near the New Zealand compound. Near My Tho. While we were dropping several film canisters in a tennis court and chatting over the radio with the advisors on the ground, a major battle was under way and this was our third delivery of the day. The guy on the ground said "who do I thank for all the information?" I told him we were the Good Guys.

As it was just down the block, we found that breakfast at the 3rd field hospital was a good chance to unwind. One Sunday morning I was there with Bud Graves and Curt Burton and mentioned the request for our unit identity from My Tho advisory folk. We decided we needed to place something in our intelligence summaries packets that said who we were. Picking up a white paper placemat and using some government magic markers we got from the 3rd field hospital staff officer, we sat down and I drew the famous stork delivery platoon patch. If you look you can see the basic marker colors; black, yellow, red. We added the colors of Vietnamese flag along the edge. We took the placemat to the flight line and showed it to our maintenance crew and they seem to like it. Bud Graves said it looked like a tall bird carrying a purse, so as an afterthought I inked in "Film" on the "purse". The headquarters ES-38 bunch, if I remember correctly, Larry Letzer got the patches printed in color, quite a feat for him at that time. When it was completed, we included a patch in every delivery pouch.

Donald McMillan, Delivery Platoon, Fort Bragg, NC and Saigon, Republic of South Vietnam, 1965-1966

Photo: "A" Detachment's U6A deHavilland Beaver being readied for a mission in III Corps, perhaps at the airstrip in Bien Hoa

Photo Credit: Richard B. Siccama [1941-2010], Reproduction Section, "A" Detachment

Above:  "A" Detachment's Delivery Platoon U-6A, Good Guy 822, being readied for a mission at its tie-down.

Disembarking In Vietnam -- With Duffle Bags, Field Gear and Eight Very Large Crates . . .

"The battalion received its classified orders around mid 1965 to Southeast Asia. It was decided to replace our O-1's with a total of eight U-6's. We were proud of receiving and flying this aircraft and I spent most of late summer training our pilots to fly the Beaver with emphasis on short-field work and spiraling approaches and descents. This was designed to enable us to elude small arms fire by remaining overhead at friendly locations. We spent late summer bringing organization to combat readiness and started turning in our Birddogs and going to pickup a replacement U-6 Beaver. 

As we turned in the 0-1's we noticed the U-6's being transferred to us were not the best so we spent lots of time completing maintenance and clearing aircraft write-ups. We also got approval to replace any high-time components, such as propellers and engines. If I remember correctly we swapped and installed five zero-time rebuilt engines right out of depot storage and came to Bragg aviation field maintenance in sealed containers packed with around ten two pound bags of desiccant to remove excess moisture. Field maintenance then installed the engines, some of which had been hemispherical sealed for years. In fact some engine cases were stamped with overhaul dates of 1948. Everyone called this process "pickling" . . .

Alerted for movement, we immediately started applying our knowledge of the environment and facilities in SEA. We started building must-have lists and ordering and packing items to be shipped into CONEX containers; stacks of marine plywood, bundles of 2" x 6" x 8' studs, water coolers, refrigerators, rolls of tar paper, kegs of nails and screws, hand tools like hammers, pry bars, saws. Working with field maintenance we found old documentation used by Air Force for shipping the L-20 (older designation for the U-6) in a oversized 42' x 12' x 12' crate. The aircraft propeller, wings, horizontal stabilizer, and main gear were removed and fuselage was bolted to floor. The prop, wings and tail pieces were placed in padded stands alongside the aircraft fuselage. After walls and roofs were attached we had access to the aircraft though a small 3' square door, which we could lock, but we also screwed this access door shut. Entry into the crate was near the nose of the aircraft. We built these Beaver boxes out of ĺ" marine plywood framed the interior and placed all the aircraft gear inside the airplane in each crate; parachutes, crew chief's toolbox and spare parts. This allowed more room in our CONEX's for our goodies; materials we planned on having immediate access to be what was inside the crates. We planned each step to get our aircraft into flying condition after arrival. . . . We had eight Beavers in crates (Beavers in Boxes), along with our vehicles and all our CONEX's.

There was a big speed bump trying to assemble the Beavers, first we had 8 crates as big as a semi-truck and no space to open the crates up. We finally found an area near the departure end of the only runway available. We were located within 60' of the edge of the runway and got to watch every take-off.  The re-assemble went like this: retrieved crew chiefs toolbox from inside crate, rigged cables to four corners of the crate, lifted crate from lowboy trailer, drove trailer out from under crate, lowered crate to ground, wrecker crane kept tension on crate cables, unbolted roof and set it aside, unbolted one side and front of crate and set them aside, rigged cable to lifting shackles on aircraft and raised fuselage high enough to attach landing gear, lifted fuselage from crate and moved it to a cleared area, attached prop to engine, attached wings and horizontal stabilator to fuselage, placed all engine and trim panels into truck, and towed aircraft to MIBARS ramp. We then completed technical inspections, checked torque on all bolts making sure they met specifications, installed all inspection panels, fueled aircraft and checked the oil.  We also unloaded items shipped inside each aircraft, 12 parachutes, all seat cushions, tie-downs, and such. We completed a detailed preflight inspection of aircraft, filed a flight plan and test flew the aircraft along with a maintenance pilot from 34th Group field aviation maintenance. We were using "Army and aircraft serial number" as our call-sign (Army 16859).

As aircraft were completed, we started flying to our detachments and placing one Beaver, pilot, crew chief and a CONEX at each detachment site; Can Tho, Nha Trang, Da Nang, and for III Corps, Saigon. We then went on to fly to our supported units to get a feel for what our daily routine would be; this also gave me an opportunity to complete an in-country pilot qualification check on all pilots assigned to MIBARS.  Aircraft were required every 25 flying hours a minor maintenance inspection. These were completed by the flying crew chief at the detachment, however the next inspection, at 50 flying hours required that we flew in to the detachment and picked up the aircraft and flew it to Saigon for the major maintenance inspection, leaving a fresh aircraft at the detachment. At Saigon we averaged four 50-hour inspections per month, plus we would swap aircraft with a detachment if something difficult needed to be fixed at Saigon delivery platoon headquarters."

Donald McMillan, Delivery Platoon, Fort Bragg, NC and Saigon, Republic of South Vietnam, 1965-1966

Right:  In this striking photograph, which seems to exemplify the frailty and isolation of a small aircraft in an expansive and sometimes hostile environment, an O-1 Bird Dog of the Black Aces of the 21st Reconnaissance Airplane Company at Marble Mountain Airfield, DaNang, plies the skies somewhere over the Republic of South Vietnam.  Before deployment to the war zone, the 1st MIBARS' Delivery Platoon was equipped with this type of aircraft.

Photo: 0-1 Bird Dog reconnaissance aircraft alot over Vietnam in 1968

Photo Credit: Gene Zwarycz, "B" Detachment, Imagery Interpretation, 1968-1970

Memories of Flight In the Good Guy

"[In response to questions regarding the radio equpiment used in the U6A Beaver aircraft]  "About our avionics and, as a crew chief, I didnít really do much with them [radios installed in the aircraft], other than using them.   Whenever we had a problem, I just wrote a work order, or whatever the Army called them, and turned the problem over to the avionics people at Marble Mountain.  I don't even recall if they were Marine or Army.

I do recall different airplanes came with different radios. Good Guy  182, my favorite bird, had UHF [ultra high frequency], VHF [very high frequency] and FM [frequency modulation]  [radios], which I think all Army Beavers had anyway.   Good Guy 427, which replaced 182 after it was blown up, also had a HF radio.  We did have 'flight following' [a practice where a ground station maintains contact with an aircraft in flight] but I don't recall which radio was used for this.  I do know the pilots I flew with only used it for practice.  As far as a flight plan, I never made one. The pilot had that responsibility, but I don't recall if there ever was one made.  I do know we'd divert from our planned routine from time to time, for example, we might be at a small field and somebody would hitch a ride somewhere we were not going.  We'd usually accommodate; we were the good guys, after all.

I think all package pickups were prearranged from the compound [B Detachment headquarters on the I Corps Compound in DaNang] and someone would usually be at whatever airfield we were headed to and pick them up.  I'm just guessing but I think if we had to communicate with and ground unit it would be with FM.  Just a guess.  We did not communicate with Saigon while in the air in I Corp.  Too much distance.  While flying, we were in contact with wherever we left from to wherever we were going to. Rarely with anybody else.  I don't recall if 'B' Detachment [headquarters] had flight capable radios or not.

When we had our 'mayday' [inflight emergency resulting in a forced landing] the Phu Bai control tower somehow got the message to 'B' Detachment that we would not be home.  Could have been by landline.  I seem to remember when pulling CQ [charge of quarters, one assigned to receive communications and monitor the installation at night] we communicated with HQ in Saigon by land line.

I don't remember a thing about antenna configuration.  Sorry.  I remember only a few radio failures.   And I think they were the ones we used to communicate with 'the tower'.  Then we could communicate our intention to depart or arrive by flashing our landing light at them. The tower would respond by flashing a green light for go, or a red light for hold in place. There was an emergency frequency which would override everything else, but I don't remember what it was.  I do remember when we hollered 'mayday' it was on the Hue radio tower frequency.   Their response was rather cute: "Uh, what seems to be the problem, Good Guy?"   All aircraft were equipped with transponders [an electronic device that emits a strong signal to identify a plane on radar screens -- an important feature in a war zone for identifying oneself as a friendly aircraft.]

My training was at Fort Rucker, Alabama.  Ten weeks total on the Bird Dog and the Beaver.  I had about a month training in Saigon as a mechanic before being shipped to 'B' Detachment.   I was an assistant mechanic for Bob Dobson, who left about a month after I arrived; then I was assistant for Carlos Gonzales for around five months before he  DEROSíed.   At that point, I was the crewchief.  Doug Perrill was the pilot.  I liked the job so much I extended and didn't leave Vietnam until late June 1968.  Except for a leave during Christmas 1967.

I look back on it all and flying in Vietnam was a real gas.  It really felt like I was doing something and I'm not sure I've ever felt that free since.  Hard to explain.  Not all the flying was a piece of cake and there was more than one time we almost crashed.  We were shot at pretty frequently after TET and only a few times before TET.  We did pick up a good bit of shrapnel  from mortars after TET.  Also, flying got pretty hairy for a bit, and I was glad to come home when I did.  Still --- .   There are a couple of scary flying stories, but they are lengthy and I probably remember them differently than they really happened."

Bob Crowell, "B" Detachment, Delivery Platoon, 1966-1968

Delivery Platoon MAIN PAGE

Hauling Brass

"D" Detachment and the Baby Huey

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