1st MIBARS In Vietnam!

MIBARS On Patrol 

"B" Detachment's Observers

Ride With the

United States Army's 

Forward Air Controllers

Photo: view through the windscreen of a US Army 0-1 Bird Dog aircraft on final approach for landing at Marble Mountain Airbase

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

Downwind, Base Leg, Final Approach and Touchdown:  In the flight pattern for Marble Mountain Air Base, this Army 0-1 Bird Dog reconnaissance aircraft has just turned into its final approach for landing, providing a view over the pilot's shoulder that always elicited a feeling of relief for those in the back seat of a returning aircraft in the combat zone.  The muzzle of the pilot's M-16 or CAR-15 rifle, with its slotted flash suppressor, is visible in the center of the photograph, stowed within easy reach on brackets attached to the window frame.  The horizontal tin-can looking device at the top of the photo, partially obscured by the structural support brace, is a fresh air vent.

1st MIBARS and the Black Aces -- -- The 21st Reconnaissance Airplane Company
Flying Hand-held Camera Missions

"I arrived in DaNang in March 1968.  I was a 96B20 and was assigned as an Imagery Interpretation Specialist  to Detachment B.  I canít remember the Command Officerís name, but I do remember Sgt. Ferris and Sgt A.C. West as being there when we arrived.

I met John Ripper who at that time was very active, if not the only one, in the hand held program, and I asked a lot of questions about how to go about getting into it.  He helped me along the way.

The areas we covered in our missions were primarily I Corps, from the DMZ (De-Militarized Zone) south to the Central Highlands, around Kontum, and west as far as Laos and Cambodia.  The 21st Reconnaissance Airplane Company normally flew two missions per day, one into the mountains to the west with 2 aircraft, one high and one low, and another solo mission along the coast from about the DMZ south to Chu Lai.

[Combat] units requested the 21st RAC to fly missions through the G-2 (i.e., the Intelligence Officer), I Corps, who, in turn, would contact the 21st RAC.  Missions were requested based on information of military intelligence value derived from ground troops, the aerial imagery that 1st MIBARS interpreted, or the Army Of the Republic of Vietnam's (ARVN) intelligence sources.  We also flew missions on request for the Marines, Air Force, Special Forces and the ARVN.  

Besides the hand held photos that we took while flying, we were often involved in the direct support of ground troops.  Units needing assistance were helped by the available assets of all of the American and allied forces.   We marked targets with white smoke, directed air strikes conducted by aircraft of the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Army, the U.S. Navy or the U.S. Marine Corps.  We directed naval gun fire from war ships cruising off of the coast of Vietnam, and we directed artillery bombardments from U.S. Army, U.S. Marine or Army of the Republic of Vietnam fire bases scattered throughout the countryside.  During these engagements, we were in constant radio contact with the bomber pilots and artillerymen -- adjusting the accuracy of the munitions for maximum benefit to military ground forces in defensive situations or on the attack."

Gene Zwarycz

Photo: 1st MIBARS photographer-observer standing next to a sign at the operations shack of the 21st Reconnaissance Airplane Company, US Army, at Marble Mountain Airbase

Photo Credit: Gene Zwarcyz

Above:  This "B" Detachment observer is pictured in front of the operations shack of the 1st Platoon of the U.S. Army's 21st Reconnaissance Airplane Company -- the Black Aces -- at Marble Mountain Air Base in 1968.  The logo on the right side of the Company  sign -- the ace of spades inside of a circle -- was painted on the vertical stabilizers of the Company's aircraft.  The smaller sign to the left, partially cut off in this picture, actually reads "Clearing Point," a reminder for all personnel to unload -- or clear -- their weapons before entering the building.  Such signs were often posted next to a 55-gallon drum, fixed on a wooden frame at a 45-degree angle and half filled with sand, where weapons could be pointed safely so that chambers could be cleared or de-cocking safely accomplished during the process of unloading.  If the weapon accidentally discharged, the bullet would be contained harmlessly by the sand.

Right:  A majority of missions were flown with the 21st RAC, located out at Marble Mountain, flying in O1-A, E and D models, as shown above.  This 21st Reconnaissance Airplane Company 0-1 Bird Dog is shown in the subdued paint scheme common for U.S. Army aircraft in Vietnam, the fuselage being flat olive drab with black identifying markings.  The Black Aces' logo stands out in the while circle painted on the tail.

Photo: US Army 0-1 Bird Dog aircraft of the 21st Reconnaissance Airplane Company on the apron at Marble Mountain Airbase

Photo Credit: Gene Zwarcyz

"You Are Cleared Hot!"

Photo: US Air Force fighter-bomber swoops low over the countryside during a bomb run

Photo Credit: Gene Zwarcyz

The FAC strictly controlled the use of ordnance on his target, and permission to drop bombs or strafe was not given to an assisting attack aircraft until the location and nature of the target was clearly understood by all parties.  Final clearance to attack  was given by the FAC with this direction -- "You are cleared hot," to which the attacking pilot would typically respond, "Understand cleared hot."  The bombing pilot would also have to state that he had the FAC aircraft clearly in sight to avoid an in-air collision while on his weapons run.  Above: a jet aircraft, perhaps an F-100 Super Sabre, judging from the shape of the tail, making a low pass over the Vietnam countryside on site for a bombing mission directed by a Forward Air Controller.

Check YouTube for the Home Movie Depot's 30:22 minute ground and air video of the DaNang area in 1969 taken by personnel of the 21st RAC.  Shown are the Marble Mountains, the Marble Mountain Air Facility, China Beach, Camp Tien Shau, downtown DaNang and the Song Han River, Freedom Hill, and the DaNang Main Air Facility, among other locations.

Photo: a plume of smoke and dust rising from a bomb dropped in a built-up area of Vietnam

Photo Credit: Gene Zwarcyz

Above:  A plume of smoke, dust and dirt rises from  the impact of a bomb dropped from a jet aircraft.

Handheld Camera ORIGINS

 First Mission

First Results

Flying With the FACS

Instructions From The Pilot

Wings Over DaNang

The A Shau Valley

Recollections From the Back Seat

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