Dirty Thirty

February 24, 2012

South Vietnamese Air Force DC-3 being flown by USAF “Dirty Thirty” pilots – 1962

Additional USAF personnel arrived at Tan Son Nhat in early 1962 after the VNAF transferred two dozen seasoned pilots from the 1st Transportation Group at Tan Son Nhat to provide aircrews for the newly activated 2nd Fighter Squadron then undergoing training at Bien Hoa Air Base. This sudden loss of qualified C-47 pilots brought the 1st Transportation Group’s airlift capability dangerously low.

In order to alleviate the problem, United States Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, on the recommendation of the Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) Vietnam, ordered thirty USAF pilots temporarily assigned to the VNAF to serve as C-47 co-pilots. This influx of U.S. personnel quickly returned the 1st TG to full strength.

The Americans arrived at Tan Son Nhat during March and April 1962 and immediately began flying with Vietnamese crews. Unfortunately, problems arose between the Americans and Vietnamese and by August the situation had so deteriorated that the 1st Transportation Group commander. Nguyen Cao Ky urgently appealed for closer cooperation and understanding between the two groups. The situation seemed to gradually improve and although there were still problems, the two groups developed a closer working relationship.

Unlike the USAF Farm Gate personnel at Bien Hoa Air Base, the C-47 co-pilots actually became part of the VNAF operational structure – though still under U.S. control. Because of their rather unusual situation, these pilots soon adopted the very unofficial nickname, The Dirty Thirty.

In a sense they were the first U.S. airmen actually committed to combat in Vietnam, rather than being assigned as advisors or support personnel.

The original Dirty Thirty pilots eventually rotated home during early 1963 and were replaced by a second contingent of American pilots. This detachment remained with the VNAF until December 1963 when they were withdrawn from Vietnam.

Gene Rossel

AC Blogger

Douglas AC-47D

February 24, 2012

An interim version of the Douglas AC-47D equipped with 10 .30-cal. machine guns — two in each of the windows forward of the passenger door, two in the passenger door and four in the cargo door (aft of the passenger door). This aircraft is probably S/N 43-48991 “Git-em Bullett” of the 4th ACS. (U.S. Air Force photo)


In the early 1960s, Air Force Systems Command began experimenting with side-firing weapons systems for possible use in Vietnam in point defense and night Close Air Support (CAS) roles. In late 1964, the first gunship conversion of a World War II Douglas C-47D was done. The gunship version of the C-47D was initially designated FC-47D (Fighter-Cargo), but was changed to AC (Attack Cargo) primarily because of complaints by traditional fighter pilots. The aircraft had several nicknames: “Spooky,” “Puff the Magic Dragon” and “Puff.”


The AC-47D(S/N 43-48579) was equipped with three SUU-11A 7.62mm “miniguns” with a 6,000 round per minute rate of fire. The miniguns were mounted in the aft left fuselage. One gun was installed in the aft passenger door area; the other two guns were mounted just forward of the passenger door with the gun barrels pointed out window ports. The AC-47D carried about 16,500 rounds of ammunition on a typical mission.


For night missions, the aircraft carried approximately 48 MK-24 flares. Each flare would last up to three minutes (Mod 3 version) and produced a light of 2 million candlepower. The delivery system was extremely simple: the loadmaster armed and dropped the flare out the cargo door when the pilot signaled by flashing a cargo compartment light.


AC-47 Operations Bulletin #56 – 13 Feb 67 (PACAF)

As employed in Southeast Asia, the flight crew consisted of seven USAF personnel, as well as a Vietnamese observer assigned to aid in the “delta” missions. The aircraft commander (pilot) fired the gun while the co-pilot performed the normal piloting duties and coordinated the activities of the crew. In the target area the navigator and Vietnamese Air Force observer (eighth crewman if assigned) collaborated to accurately pinpoint objectives and coordinate with the ground forces. Two gunners accomplish the preflight, gun loading and in-flight troubleshooting of the SUU-11 guns. The loadmaster armed and manually dropped the flares from the rear entrance door upon a light signal from the aircraft commander. A flight mechanic rounded out the crew and was responsible for aircraft systems operation.


The basic missions on which the AC-47 was employed were:


1. Defense of ground positions (friendly forts and outposts)

2. Escort and patrol

3. Pre-planned strikes against suitable targets

4. Forward air controlling for fighter strikes


Initial attack procedures began with the aircraft in straight and level flight, and the target just outside and forward of the left prop dome. Usual altitude is between 2,500-3,000 feet above ground level (AGL); however, this could be adjusted to allow for such variables as weather, ground fire and target identification difficulties. As the target passed under the engine cowling, the aircraft was rolled into a level 30 degree bank turn. When the (gun site) pipper came on target, firing was commenced in bursts of 3-7 seconds, as required. When the pipper moved off the target to the rear, the firing was ceased and a slight turn was made away from the target for repositioning and subsequent firing passes. If the pipper moved off the target to the front, the degree of bank was increased to realign on target. Airspeed during the maneuver was normally 120 knots indicated air speed (KIAS). Each minigun fired at a rate of 6000 rounds per minute. This provided coverage over an elliptical area approximately 52 yards in diameter, placing a projectile within every 2.4 yards during a 3 second burst.


The guns were configured for a 12 degree declination to allow shallower bank angles and more precise aircraft control.


Combat Use of the AC-47

The combat use of the C-47 in Vietnam began in February 1962 when the aircraft was used to drop flares to illuminate outposts and small villages under night attack by Viet Cong forces. These C-47 flareships were based at Bien Hoa Air Base and were part of the Operation Farmgate (initially Jungle Jim) program to train VNAF forces in counterinsurgency operations.


When Operation Farmgate ended on July 28, 1963, the C-47 flareships were transferred to the 1st Air Commando Squadron at Bien Hoa Air Base. The first test use of the AC-47 gunship (initially FC-47) in combat occurred on Dec. 15, 1964, with testing continued into early 1965. One early and significant success happened on the night of Dec 23-24, 1964. The AC-47 defended a small outpost at Tranh Yend just 37 minutes after the request was issued. The “Spooky” fired 4,500 rounds of ammunition and broke the Viet Cong attack, forcing a retreat. The AC-47 was then called to defend another outpost (Trung Hung) about 20 miles away. The aircraft again broke the VC attack forcing a retreat.


The AC-47D combat test program was very successful and the Air Force created the 4th Air Commando Squadron in August 1965 as the first operational unit equipped with the “Spooky” gunship. Although the 4th ACS was based at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, it operated several forward operating locations throughout South Vietnam (Bien Hoa, Pleiku, Na Trang, Da Nang and Can Tho). In November 1965, the 4th ACS was assigned 16 operational aircraft with four more assigned as “advanced attrition” aircraft. Because of a shortage of SUU-11A gun pods, the AC-47Ds were fitted with only two miniguns rather than three. A few aircraft were temporarily fitted with 8 or 10 .30-cal. M2 machine guns, but all were later refitted with miniguns. By early 1966, production of the minigun increased so each of the 16 AC-47Ds was equipped with all three guns.


With the success of the AC-47 gunship, two more squadrons were created: the 3rd and 5th ACS, all under the 14th Air Commando Wing. In August 1968, the unit designations were changed from Air Commando to Special Operations.


The USAF converted 53 C-47s for use as gunships during the Vietnam War. Although the AC-47 was an effective attack system, it was also vulnerable to enemy fire. Fifteen aircraft were lost between Dec. 17, 1965, when the first AC-47 was lost due to ground fire and Sept. 5, 1969, when an VNAF AC-47D crashed due to pilot error. In 1969 the USAF turned over its AC-47Ds to the VNAF under the “Vietnamization” program.


The lessons learned with the AC-47D Gunship I program were used to design an improved version in the Gunship II program using the Lockheed C-130 as the base platform. Later, the Gunship III program converted Fairchild C-119s into side-firing gunships.


Although the museum does not have an AC-47D on display, a C-47D is on display in the Air Power Gallery.



Type                 Number built/

converted                 Remarks

AC-47D                 53                 Gunship version of C-47




Armament: Three SUU-11A 7.62mm miniguns firing at up to 6,000 rpm. The AC-47D typically carried about 16,500 rounds of ammunition. Note: Three aircraft initially equipped with 8 or 10 .30-cal. machine guns and others had just two SUU-11A miniguns (due to lack of availability from the manufacturer). Later, the SUU-11As were replaced by specially designed General Electric MXU-470/A 7.62mm miniguns. 48 MK-24 Mod 3 flares with 2 million candlepower and a 3-minute maximum burn duration. Note: Initially (in 1964 and early 1965) 30 MK-6 flares of 750,000 candlepower were carried before the MK-24 flares were available. Later in the war, several replacements for the MK-24 flares were proposed including the MK-33 one million candlepower rocket and MLU-32/B99 “Briteye” 5 million candlepower flare

Engines: Two Pratt & Whitney R-1830s of 1,200 hp each

Maximum speed: 232 mph

Cruising speed: 175 mph

Attack speed: 120 knots

Combat duration: 7 hours maximum, although a typical combat mission was about 5 or 6 hours maximum

Span: 95 ft. 0 in.

Length: 64 ft. 5 in.

Height: 16 ft. 11 in.

Weight: 33,000 lbs. loaded

Service ceiling: 24,450 ft.

Crew: 7-8 (pilot, copilot, navigator, flight engineer, loadmaster, two gunners and a South Vietnamese observer)

Serial numbers: (not all serial numbers are listed, as no complete list is currently available) 43-16065, 43-16159, 43-48072, 43-48263, 43-48356, 43-48462, 43-48466, 43-48491, 43-48501, 43-48579, 43-48591, 43-48686, 43-48701, 43-48801, 43-48916, 43-48921, 43-48925*, 43-49021, 43-49124, 43-49211, 43-49268*, 43-49274, 43-49330, 43-49339, 43-49421, 43-49492*, 43-49499, 43-49502, 43-49517, 43-49546, 43-49852, 44-76207, 44-76290*, 44-76370, 44-76394, 44-76534, 44-76542, 44-76593, 44-76606, 44-76722, 44-77263, 45-00919, 45-00927, 45-01057, 45-01117, 45-01120*, 45-01121 (*Attrited Aircraft)

Top Secret C-130 with Rocket Boosters

February 24, 2012


Randal W McFarlane, bids2460@bigpond.net.au, AUSTRALIA

February 24, 2012

Greetings from Down Under…..I am a former RAAF officer and an avid A-1 supporter since I saw them operating in the South East Asian War Games. I am a collector of warbirds and own an ex-USAF 0-1G and 0-2A both of which flew in SEA. I have also owned an ex-Raven AT-28D and I am now on the lookout for an A-1. As they say gotta have one……

Colin Locke, colin.n.locke@gmail.com

February 24, 2012

Seeking information about a serviceman listed on your site

My grandfather was Kenneth A. Locke. I found him on your site, but haven’t been able to find any details about him. Do you have any written documentation regarding his unit, personal commendations, or perhaps a reference (online or otherwise)?  Thank you very much.  ~Colin Locke, Wichita, Kansas

GENERAL JOHN L. PIOTROWSKI, Bio on one of our original Air Commandos

February 24, 2012

Retired March 31, 1990. General John L. Piotrowski is commander in chief of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and the U.S. Space Command, with consolidated headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. General Piotrowski was born in 1934, in Detroit and graduated from Henry Ford Trade School, Dearborn, Mich., in 1951. He attended Arizona State University and Florida State University, and graduated from the University of Nebraska at Omaha in 1965 with a bachelor of science degree. He did postgraduate work at the University of Southern California and Auburn (Ala.) University, and attended the program for management development at Harvard University. The general completed Squadron Officer School in 1956, Air Command and Staff College in 1965, Armed Forces Staff College in 1968 and the Royal Air Force College of Air Warfare, Royal Air Force Station Manby, England, in 1971.

He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in September 1952. After basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, he was assigned to Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., as a student in basic  electronics and ground radar.

In July 1953 General Piotrowski transferred to Harlingen Air Force Base, Texas, for navigator and and observer training in the aviation cadet program. After graduating as a distinguished graduate,he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Air Force in August 1954.

He then returned to Keesler Air Force Base for advanced training in electronic counter-measures. In January 1955 he received the electronic warfare rating and was assigned to the 67th Tactical Recon-naissance Wing in South Korea and Japan as an electronic warfare officer and RB-26 navigator.


The general returned to the United States in May 1957 for pilot training at Marana Air Base, Ariz.; Bainbridge Air Base, Ga.; and Bryan Air Force Base, Texas. He then attended F-86F advanced gunnery training at Williams Air Force Base, Arizona.

After graduation he was assigned as armament and electronics maintenance officer at Williams and, later, at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona. General Piotrowski was re-assigned to Project Jungle Jim, which became the 1st Air Commando Wing. While assigned to Eglin, he served in Southeast Asia, from November 1961 to May 1963, as a munitions maintenance officer, and T-28 and B-26 combat aircrew member.

In August 1965 General Piotrowski joined the Air Force Fighter Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., and served as an F-4C instructor pilot, chief of academics, an academic instructor and project officer for the Air Force operat-ional test and evaluation of the Walleye missile program.

Upon completion of testing in the United States, he introduced the ‘ Walleye ‘ into combat with the 8th Tacti-cal Fighter Wing in Southeast Asia. After graduation from the Armed Forces Staff College in August 1968, he was assigned to Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Washington, D.C., as an action officer under the deputy director of plans for force development.

From December 1970 to July 1971 he attended the Royal Air Force College of Air Warfare. He was then assigned to Bitburg Air Base, West Germany, as assistant and, subsequently, deputy commander for operations, 36th Tactical Fighter Wing. In January 1972 he took command of the 40th Tactical Group, Aviano Air Base, Italy.

In April 1974 General Piotrowski became Chief of the Air Force Six-Man Group, located at Maxwell Air Force Base, directly responsible to the chief of staff. He became vice commander of Keesler Technical Training Center, Keesler Air Force Base, in March 1975.

He took command of the reactivated 552nd Airborne Warning and Control Wing at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., in July 1976 and was instrumental in establishing the E-3A Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft as an operational Air Force weapon system.

General Piotrowski was named deputy commander for air defense, Tactical Air Command, Peterson Air Force Base, in September 1979. In April 1981 he became Tactical Air Command’s deputy chief of staff for operations at Langley Air Force Base, Va., and in August 1982 was assigned as the command’s vice commander. He served as commander of 9th Air Force, Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., from October 1982 to July 1985, when he became vice chief of staff of the Air Force, Washington, D.C.

The general is a command pilot with more than 5,000 flying hours, including 100 combat missions and 210 combat flying hours.

His military decorations and awards include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters,  Air Medal with two oak leaf clusters,  Air Force Commendation Medal with oak leaf cluster, Presidential Unit Citation and Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with three oak leaf clusters. He was promoted to [Full] General Aug. 1, 1985.

Nathan Mackey , Helio Super Courier U-10A, USAF s/n 62-3603A

February 24, 2012

Some twelve years ago I was in touch with a Mr. Gene Rossel, I believe, of the Air Commando Association regarding the use of the U-10 Helio Courier. Mr. Rossel referred me to Gen. Heinie Aderholt and Col. Bob Gleason. Col. Gleason sent me a copy of his book Air Commando Chronicles and I purchased a copy of Gen. Aderholt’s book Air Commando One.

Currently, I am researching the warbird we are currently flying, a 1961 U-10A/H-395, Helio Super Courier, USAF S/N 62-3603A. In some of the owner’s research at the Air Force Museum in Dayton, OH, it was found to be the first U-10A delivered to the USAF in 1962 where it was assigned the Air Commandos at Hurlburt Field.

In 2005-2006 the aircraft was restored to brand new condition and given the paint and markings U-10s would have worn in Southeast Asia and at Hurlburt Field. 603 participated in its first airshow at AirVenture-Oshkosh in 2006. In 2007 it was again featured at AirVenture-Oshkosh at AeroShell Square as one of the historic aircraft celebrating the 50th anniversary of the USAF. This year we had the honor displaying 603 at the Charleston Air Expo in Charleston, SC which featured the Thunderbirds.

Gen. Heinie Aderholt was the guest of honor at our ’50th Anniversary of the Helio Courier’ event in 2004. He spent the entire week with us, which I found quite remarkable. He and I had some great conversations together and he is deeply missed.

We hope to schedule a number of airshows in 2012 to celebrate 603’s’ silver anniversary. During the upcoming season we would like to honor the Air Commandos at all of our airshows by using the name “Air Commando Warbird Team”. We would like to tell the story of the Air Commandos within the demonstration itself and tell how the Helio was used.

Any information, history specific to Helio 603 or the U-10s with the Air Commandos that you could provide would be most helpful.   Warmest Regards, Nathan Mackey  Charlotte, North Carolina

Nathan L. Mackey, Charlotte, North Carolina, Cell 803-804-0645     Office 704-464-8572


I got this web page of  Air America history of the B-26s in SEA today.  I thought we flew the B-26 in Vietnam when we arrived there in Nov 61 and continued until about 1969.  It seems like the Air America and CIA were flying these at various times according to this report.  I never saw any but USAF pilots flying them in Vietnam and never saw any in Laos except for the ones in Udorn.   I worked with the CIA both in Vietnam and Laos and never heard of them flying B-26s.  I never saw any Air America pilots near anything that resembled a B-26.  The web site is  a long an interesting read.  Gene