1st MIBARS In Vietnam!

Instructions From the Pilot

Buckle Up, Mister!

This Is the Real Deal


Photo Credit: MIV

Above:  The US Army's badge for aerial observers and other non-aviator/non pilot aircrew members.

Photo: 1st MIBARS photographer-observer at DaNang Main Airbase wearing flak vest and survival vest

Photo Credit: MIV

Lacking both survival gear and the benefit of jungle survival training, "B" Detachment's photographer-observers had to depend upon the pilot's survival resources if the aircraft went down.  MIBARS personnel tended to assume, hopefully, that the Forward Air Controller (FAC) would look after his passenger -- either by getting him back to the airfield in one piece or by calling on the combined services' air rescue assets, if necessary, for an extraction out of  "Indian country."  There was no discussion of this; it was simply an expectation on the part of the observer.

Above:   This "B" Detachment photographer-observer at DaNang Main Airbase upon return from a Hand-held Camera Program flight in late 1966.  He is wearing a flack vest of the Vietnam War  period underneath a US Air Force survival vest, the contents of which, and their operation, were never explained to him.   It is clear from the photograph that this individual is new in-country because he is still wearing stateside fatigues rather than the jungle fatigues and subdued insignia in common use in Vietnam. 

Options In the Event of An Emergency

Parachutes were generally draped over the an aircraft's seat and were a  subject of little emphasis, except with respect to the single engine 0-1.  In the 0-1 Bird Dog, close quarters meant that the pilot had to pull his seat forward in order to afford the back-seater enough clearance to crawl forward and crab sideways to exit the airplane backwards through the single door on the right.  With this possibility in mind, guidance from the pilot to the passenger was generally this:

"If the aircraft is disabled but there is no fire and the flight controls are still responsive, I intend to ride the plane down to the ground and attempt to land it.  You may ride with me, or you may exit the aircraft.  If, however, the bird catches fire or is damaged to the extent that I am no longer able to control it, then I intend to exit the aircraft.  I cannot get through the door with my seat in the forward position, and you cannot get through the door unless I pull it forward.  Therefore, if I do pull forward and tell you to jump, you need to jump because I don't intend to be here long enough to tell you twice."

Photo: US Air Force 0-1 Bird Dog aircraft parked on the apron at DaNang Main Airbase

Photo Credit: David Andrew Sciacchitano, U.S. Air Force, was assigned to the 20th TASS in DaNang during 1966 and 1967.  His photographs may be found on the Military (dot) com Photo Center, Wikipedia (dot) org, and Wikimedia Commons.

Above:  An 0-1 Bird Dog of the 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron (TASS) undergoing maintenance at DaNang Main Air Base in 1966.  This view of the aircraft, with the door open, shows the predicament of the person in the rear seat in an emergency situation.  The open door is effectively obstructed by the pilot's seat when in its normal flying position.  Even when the seat was pulled forward, the open doorway space that resulted was minimal, and with the absence of any hand-holds for leverage or support, the passenger would have had a difficult time exiting the aircraft, even in straight and level flight.  

The military services had established an excellent and extensive flight-following capability in Vietnam by 1967, and most aircraft could easily reach a ground station by radio to report their location, declare an emergency, or request air rescue.  "B" Detachment observers were loaned survival vests by the USAF and Army air services for use on flights.  No training was provided on the included survival radio's use or on emergency extraction protocol, however, and the equipment was never tested before a mission.  For FACs, the prospect of a bail-out seemed to be remote, the odds being that the aircraft would either be destroyed in the air by fire or explosion or that the plane could be ridden down to a forced landing where the chances of a quick pick-up and survival were better.  Observers who flew regularly came to this conclusion also.

The Other Alternative In Case of Emergency . . .

"If you lose power [on take-off], try to trim the aircraft up into as shallow a glide as possible.  Bend forward and firmly take hold of both ankles with your hands.  Tuck your head down between your legs as far as it will go.  Then kiss your ass good-bye."  

Flight Instructor, Ft. Gordon (Georgia) Aero Club, 1966

Tools of the 1st MIBARS Observer's Trade

Below:  This detail of a photograph of a "B" Detachment observer, taken in 1968, shows that he is carrying an Asahi Pentax Single Lens Reflex (SLR), a 35-mm film camera, available on the commercial market and sold by civilian camera stores, on a neck strap.  The camera's normal lens, with 55-mm in focal length, is in its usual position, affixed to the camera.  To the left of the camera, there is a tubular leather case carrying a 200-mm telephoto lens used for pictures taken at altitudes above 1500 feet, the preferred minimum flight level when shots were being fired at the aircraft from the ground.  The lenses were easily changed on the camera with the use of threaded mounts.  The stronger lens produced higher magnification but also subjected images to the effects of magnified camera shake -- i.e., blurring or loss of the desired image in the viewfinder -- sometimes forcing the use of faster shutter speeds that compromised maximum detail in the resultant photographs.  Asahi was an early innovator in the application of SLR technology to small format film photography in the 1960s -- just in time for use by the 1st MIBARS and other military services for photography from light aircraft during the Vietnam War.  "B" Detachment was also in possession of a hand-held 70-mm camera designed for aerial photography.  It was rarely used, however, because the processing of 35-mm film was much easier.  At right in the photo is a flight helmet typically in use by Army flight personnel during the Vietnam War.  Internal padding could be used to adjust the helmet to an individual fit.  Headphones were mounted inside the helmet and a microphone on the outside.  In donning the helmet, the user slid his hands under the tied string-like object on the left side of the helmet to pull the earphones back to the sides to provide more clearance for ears.  Helmets could be equipped with various varieties of visors that could be extended, as shown in the photo, or retracted by sliding it back and behind the housing on which this observer's hand rests.  Visors most commonly used were of a green sunshade variety similar to that found in sunglasses.  Many individuals who flew in light aircraft did not employ the visor, preferring to use sunglasses -- almost always the macho Bausch and Lomb aviator style with wire rims and large lenses.  Clear visors, such as shown in the deployed position on this helmet, were rarely seen in use.  However, they were advantageous for observation work with one's head hanging outside of an aircraft's window, although the ability to use a camera's viewfinder was severely compromised.  This helmet closely resembles one given to "B" Detachment's Repro Officer by the 21th Reconnaissance Airplane Company at Marble Mountain Air Facility in early 1967 when the number of hand-held missions flown by 1st MIBARS had increased.  Originally equipped with a green visor, it was traded to the Delivery Platoon's pilot for his clear one.

Photo: detail photograph of a 1st MIBARS photographer-observers showing flight helmet and Pentax 35-millimeter camera with normal and telephoto lenses

Photo Credit: John Ripper, "B" Detachment, Imagery Interpretation Section, 1968

Army Bird Dog Pilot and 1st MIBARS Observer Saved By the US Air Force

Clip Credit: Howard Amour, "B" and "E" Detachments, Imagery Interpretation Section, 1968-1969

Above:  A clipping, probably from the GI newspaper Stars and Stripes, describes the rescue of "B" Detachment photographer-observer Sp4 Robin L. Harper.  The article, annotated as "Oct 3," probably dates to 1968, and the U.S. Army Forward Air Controller and his 0-1 aircraft were probably from the 21st Reconnaissance Airplane Company at Marble Mountain Airbase.  A downed Army aircraft from Marble Mountain, rescued by U.S. Air Force rescue and recovery and para-rescue units operating out of DaNang Main Airbase, demonstrated the high degree of communication, cooperation and teamwork that existed among the military services during the Vietnam War.

Hand-held Camera ORIGINS

First Mission

First Results

Flying With the FACS

On Patrol With the 21st RAC

Wings Over DaNang

The A Shau Valley

Recollections From the Back Seat

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