AIRCRAFT COMBAT LOSSES
Anyone who went to helicopter flight school in the mid-60's understood that flying helicopters was inherently a "risky business."
On my first day on the flight line at Fort Wolters Texas, after completing an orientation flight with me, my flight instructor pilot (IP) took my "stick buddy" up for a flight. The two of them were killed instantly when the OH-23D they were flying hit a tree on a bank of the Brazos River. The next day, we had a new IP and we "drove on".
Anyone, who went to helicopter flight school during that period, had similar stories of accidents that most people never heard of--- except for our wives, who waited and wondered.
The helicopter air crews, pilots, crew chiefs and door gunners were an integral team, sharing the same dangers and totally dependent on one another to complete the mission. Not enough credit has gone to those crew chiefs and gunners who worked the long hours to make sure the aircraft were mission ready and who showed incredible courage to go back into the fire to save the pilots.
No one, who hasn't thundered through the skies of Vietnam in a helicopter, can know what that experience was like. Most helicopter crews had more than one tour in Vietnam and had their aircraft hit by enemy fire many times. Most of us had been shot down at least once and we knew that combat flying in Vietnam was living on the edge all the time. Over the battlefields, you could hear the thunder of helicopters that put fear in the hearts of the enemy and brought comfort to our troops on the ground.
During the Spring Offensive of 1972, we saw the introduction of sophisticated antiaircraft weapons systems onto the battlefields in South Vietnam. The first time a hand-held, surface-to-air missile was sighted in Kontum province, it brought a whole new level of fear that had a strong psychological impact on all of us. The quick response of providing asbestos shields for our aircraft helped enormously in overcome the fear of these missiles. 23mm antiaircraft systems and the large numbers of 51 Cal. machine guns made flying in the battle area dicey at best. The data presented below is indicative of what the helicopter crews had to deal with. It is a testament to their courage and skill that most lived to fly again.
This vulnerability information applies only to those units from the 17th Combat Aviation Group that actually conducted operations within the battle area of Kontum Province. Though the Easter Offensive officially began on 30 March 1972, there was a significant increase of activity in Kontum Province throughout the month of March.
Aircraft listed here were destroyed on the ground and not recovered. Some of the aircraft listed as hit were actually shot down but were later recovered. Some of these aircraft had sustained major damage. Aircraft listed as destroyed are also listed as hit. Considering the density of type aircraft, the cavalry troops took most of the hits. What they did, every day, was amazing.