Vietnam’s Operation Niagara

The first week in January in 1968, Operation Niagara was launched by General Westmoreland in an effort to gather intelligence on PAVN activities in and around the Khe Sanh Valley.  By the third week in January, this part of the operation (Niagara I) had been completed.  On January 21st, the second phase of the operation was launched (Niagara II), and happen to coincide with the first PAVN (People’s Army of Vietnam) artillery barrage at Khe Sanh - a barrage which began what many noted as the most rigorous use of aerial firepower in warfare history.   Each day, up to 350 tactical fighter-bombers and 60 B-52s could be found in the skies above the base, along with close to 30 light observation and/or reconnaissance planes.  Acoustic and seismic ensors were also dropped during the second phase of this operation which the Marines at Khe Sanh with providing them with 40% of the total intelligence available to their fire support center.   Air Power Statistics Statistics at the end of the Battle of Khe Sanh reported the following: United States Air Force             9,691 tactical sorties flown             14,223 ton of bombs dropped United States Marine Corps Aviators             7,098 missions             17,015 tons of bombs dropped US Naval Aircrews             5,337 sorts flown             7,942 tons of ordnance dropped   Despite this incredible barrage of firepower, US officials were still questioning whether or not tactical nuclear weapons should be considered if the situation at Khe Sanh did not improve.  Westmoreland did not feel it would be necessary.  Responsibility to coordinate the air assets during this Operation Niagara were given...

Vietnam’s Battle of Khe Sanh

During the Vietnam War, the 1st Battalion 9th Marines engaged in a number of battles, including Khe Sanh, which by all means they should have lost. The 9th Marines earned a number of honors as a result of their long heavy engagements in Vietnam.  They are said to have suffered the highest casualty rate in Marine history engaging in combat for a total of 47 months and 7 days.   The Armed Forces History Museum in Largo, FL has an area dedicated to the Vietnam War, which includes a diorama of the Ho Chi Minh Trail and the Keh Sanh Marine Firebase.  The most chilling part of the Vietnam diorama is the incredible oral history from an actual survivor of the 1st Battalion 9th Marines unit who participated in the Battle of Khe Sanh.  The presentation also features film footage from the battle.    The Battle of Khe Sanh One of their most noted battles in which they participated took place between January 21 and July 9, 1968 at Khe Sanh.  Initially the US officials in Saigon felt the combat operations that were unfolding around the Khe Sanh Combat Base were simply a string of insignificant N. Vietnamese offensives.  However, the US revised their theory after they learned the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) was locating some of their major forces in the area around the base.  Marine forces were sent as reinforcement and for the next 77 days, the Khe Sanh Combat Base and the outposts just outside it remained under continual ground, artillery, mortar and rocket attacks from the North Vietnamese.   During the Battle of Khe...

Hughes OH-6 Cayuse Helicopter

This light observation helicopter, the Hughes OH-6 Cayuse, is often used as on escort and attack missions, as a personnel transport helicopter and also as an observation aircraft.  First introduced in 1965 after its initial flight in February of 1963, the OH-6 is still in active service today.  When in combat, these helicopters were often referred to as ‘Killer Eggs’.  Because the aircraft’s ability to strike undetected in darkness, it’s often referred to by the Army’s Special Forces as ‘Night Stalker’.   Design and Development When the US Army issued its Technical Specifications for a ‘Light Observation Helicopter (LOH)’, twelve different companies submitted proposals.  The requirements mandated the aircraft be flexible enough to fulfill a variety of roles including personnel transport, casualty evacuation, observation and escort and observation.  After narrowing down the competition, Hughes won the contract over Fairchild-Hiller.  Later, it was discovered that Hughes had submitted a bid lower than cost in order to secure the US Army’s order.  He did so hoping additional production orders would eventually result in profit.   In 1968, when Hughes was submitting another build for additional OH-6s, Hiller reported Hughes unethical bid to the US Army.  As a result, the Army opened up the bidding to all previous parties, though Hiller did not participate.  The aircraft were presented in a fly-off and then sealed bids were submitted.  Hughes did not win the contract.   The OH-6s Operational History The OH-6 Cayuse helicopter participated in Vietnam beginning in 1966 with over 100 being built for this mission alone.  Additional variants of the helicopter served in Granada and Panama throughout the 1980s and service...

Top Ten Military Helicopters

Compiling a list of top ten military helicopters is subjective at best.  While this particular list may not be everyone’s top ten, or even fall in an order that is agreeable, most of them in some combination would make just about everyone’s top ten list.  This particular list is not broken down according to the main function of the helicopter, but more of an overall evaluation of the aircraft itself.   10.  H-13 Sioux – Manufactured by Bell, the Sioux was the first to engage in war for the US military and is often said to be the stepping stone for proving the viability of such an aircraft in a combat environment.  Eventually, the H-13 was replaced by the OH-6.  The value of the H-13 Sioux was such that it was used by well over a dozen countries around the world.   9.  MH-6 Little Bird – This MH-6 was a versatile helicopter fulfilling various roles for the military.  They were used for observation and as attack helicopters and transports.  The Little Bird has been involved in a number of conflicts including Iraq.       8.  CH-53 Super Stallion – The Super Stallion was heavily relied on during the Vietnam War.  The backbone of the US Navy’s heavy lift aircraft, this helicopter is often used for mine sweeping.  The Super Stallion is known for flying directly into combat and is still widely used across the world by both the US Navy and the US Marines.   7.  MI-24 Hind – Manufactured by the MIL Moscow Helicopter Plant, the MI-24 Hind is a two seat, gun-ship helicopter often referred...

UH-1 Iroquois Helicopter – The Huey

The UH-1 Iroquois helicopter was developed and manufactured from 1956 thru 1986 by Bell Helicopter.  The Iroquois was initially designed when the US Army realized a need for both a medical evacuation and a utility helicopter.  Bell was among the 20 companies who submitted designs and was ultimately awarded the contract.  The initial flight for the UH-1 took place in October of 1956 and production started shortly thereafter.  The Iroquois was the first turbine-powered helicopter produced for the United States military with close to 16,000 being produced worldwide since.   Bell’s UH-1 first saw combat during the Vietnam War.  The aircraft was originally designated as the HU-1, which eventually led to the aircraft’s nickname – Huey.   US Marine Corps The US Marine Corps hosted a competition in 1962, in an effort to choose a replacement for their Cessna 0-1 (a fixed-wing aircraft) and their Kaman OH-43D helicopter.  The Iroquois won the competition and modifications were made to meet the Corps additional requirements.   US Air Force The USAF held a similar competition in search for a helicopter that could be used to support the missile bases. The aircraft had to be capable of incorporating the General Electric T58 turboshaft engine since the Air Force had a large number of these on hand.  This particular engine was also utilized in their HH-3 rescue helicopter.  Sharing the engine in both aircrafts would result in a significant savings for the USAF.  Bell was able to accommodate their request.   US Navy The US Navy also secured Iroquois helicopters from the Army.  They modified the aircraft for use as a gunship to...

CH-47 Chinook Helicopter

The initial flight for the CH-47 Chinook Helicopter took place on September 21, 1961.  Initially, the CH-47 was produced by Boeing Vertol, but production was eventually taken over by Boeing Rotorcraft Systems, current producers of the aircraft.  While the Chinook is exported to over 16 different nations, the US Army and the British Royal Air Force remain the primary users.   One of the main features of the Chinook is the counter-rotating rotors.  This design allows the chopper’s full power to be used for lift and thrust and eliminates the need for an anti-torque vertical rotor.  The rotor design also gives the CH-47 proficiency in adjusting either of the two rotors making it much less susceptible to changes in its center of gravity.   This feature is particularly important when cargo is aboard the aircraft.   Vietnam War and Other Conflicts The Chinook was used extensively during the Vietnam War beginning in November of 1965.  The CH-47 was capable of inserting artillery batteries and keeping them supplied in perilous mountainous areas which were otherwise, inaccessible.  The main concerns of the initial Chinook design was its limited payload when operating in the mountainous regions, its initial limiting rotor system (preventing maximum use of its installed power) and the vigilance required in educating soldiers so they did not overload the large cargo area.  Though its original intent was to be used as an assault troop carrier, it was soon discovered the Chinook proved most valuable for artillery transfer and heavy logistics.  Some CH-47 helicopters in the Vietnam War were used to evacuate casualties and others to recover downed aircraft.   Iran used...