The Vietnamese Air Force
I can remember the first time I flew with the Vietnamese Air Force. My friends in the news office all made jokes. One wanted to have my cameras when I didn't come back, another my stereo etc. I laughed...but I was not a little concerned. That is why I was amazed when I arrived at Binh Thuy air base and noted the professionalism in the Vietnamese Air Force from top to bottom. There were no Americans involved at all. The mechanics who took care of the airplanes and the pilots that flew them were all Vientamese. Then, I was twice amazed at just how good their pilots were.
The Americans up to that time had lost 7000 aircraft and helicopters in the Vietnam war. The Vietnamese Air Force had lost seven. When we taxied to the end of the flight line we had four planes so that if anything did not check out on one of them we still would have at least a flight of two before taking off. As it turned out, we took off with four F-5's. When we arrived over the target the FAC was Vietnamese also. He put in four rockets along a bunkered gully and said "Hit my rockets." I laughed to myself because from what I had seen in Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam it was rare for any pilot to hit a target right on the money. The first plane turned and made its run and nailed the rocket smoke right on the money. This was followed by two others and then the aircraft I was in. I could not believe what I had just seen, but my view of the Vietnamese Air Force changed that day forever. I flew with them 4 times, sometimes in A1E Skyraiders, and I was never disappointed with their expertise. The difference with the pilots and mechanics and technicians in the VNAF was that they did not go home after one year in country. They were home and they fought every day of every year to defend it. They were given a set amount of aircraft to work with and they took very good care of them to make them last. I was and still am impressed.
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