Emailed Tale from Laos
This is a forwarded email I received today from a friend...At least anecdotally confirmed as accurate:
Said to have been recently declassified:
I was told this little story by a Air America troop when I first arrived at Ton Sun Nhut in Jan 68. The written version is not nearly as good. but does fit with the story I got verbally. == ' AIR.
This is too good a story not to pass on to all VN era GIs. And of course, others with memories of that time frame.
Subject: Fwd: Fwd: CALL SIGN FOR LAOS ] SITE 85 . . RECENTLY DE-CLASSIFIED ' AIR.
LIMA Site 85
True story. The declassified CIA records were deposited in the CIA - Air America collection at the University of Texas at Dallas Library.
For most servicemen who served in Vietnam, the Freedom Bird was a . . civilian airliner which took them back to the land of the big PX after their combat tour was ended.
My favorite was a bit different sort of ' Freedom Bird.
In mid-1967, as a junior Air Force Captain, I was detailed to 7th HQ in Saigon as an Air Technical Intelligence Liaison Officer. My job was to provide the air war the best technical intelligence support, in whatever area or discipline needed. Also I was to collect relevant technical intelligence, as came into my hands.
This was a tall order for a young USAF Captain. And this chain of events created much excitement.
At that time, Operation Rolling Thunder[ bombing military targets in North Vietnam was underway. The WX in NVN was often lousy, making it difficult to find and accurately strike assigned targets. So an effective radar and TACAN control system was set up.
Part of the radar and TACAN system was just inside the Lao's border, on the flat top of a remote, sheer-sided karst mountain.
The site could be reached by helicopter. Or a tortuous trail winding up its near-vertical walls. For that reason, the site was thought to be quite easily defended.
The top of the mountain, was a relatively flat thirty acres supporting a tiny Hmong village, a small garrison of Thai and Meo mercenary guards, a helicopter pad and CIA's Air AmericaOps shack, and the strategic radar and TACAN sites. The site was manned by ' sheep-dipped ' USAF enlisted specialists wearing civilian clothes.
Both the US and NVN paid lip service to the fiction that Laos was neutral and foreign military were not actually stationed there. In reality, we had a couple of hundred people operating several radar sites in Laos. And of course, the NVN had thousands of their troops on a Laotian side-step extension of the Ho Chi Minh supply trail.
This particular site was called Lima [ Laos ] Site 85. But the fighter-bomber crews called it Channel 97 [ their TACAN frequency] and other aircrews called it North Station. It was the furthest north radar facility. Any point further North . . was the land of the bad guys.
They were re-using an old SAC bomb scoring radar unit. Within 100 miles, it could pin-point an aircraft to within a several meters of their fix. The strike force would fly out from the Site 85 a given distance on a TACAN radial, then radar operators of the SAC device would tell the strike leaders precisely when to release their bombs. Its accuracy was surprisingly.
And it allowed the air strikes to be run at night and in poor weather. This capability was badly hurting the North Vietnamese war effort. So the Communists decided to destroy the strategic Lima Site 85 from the air. Believe it or not . . the NVNAF elected to use old Russian utility bi-planes . . as its 'air strike bombers ! '
They were 1930's designed Antonov AN-2 general purpose workhorse biplanes with a single 1,000 hp radial engine and could carry a one ton payload. For their purposes, the AN-2 was not a bad choice. Although, its biggest disadvantage was, like most biplanes. It was SLOW.
The Russians had used the AN-2 for a multitude of missions, such as medevac, parachute training, crop dusting, and so on.
In fact, if you measure success of an aircraft design by the number produced and its years of prod-uction, the AN-2 was one of the most successful designs in aviation history.
The NVNAF fitted out these AN-2 'attack bombers' with a twelve shot 57 mm folding fin aerial rocket pod, mounted under each of its lower wings.
And twenty 250 mm mortar rounds armed with aerial bomb fuses lined up and ready to place into vertically mounted tubes on the cargo bay's floor. When the bombs were to be dropped, simple bomb-bay doors below them were hinged open.
After opening them, the pilot could salvo his bomb load over an enemy target. It was a pretty good munitions load. And it could easily wipe out a ' soft ' undefended radar site in those karst rock ' boon docks.]
The NVN Communist attack mission was well-planned and equipped. The raid should have been successful. On the other hand, Murphy's Law prevailed.
A three AN-2 biplane strike force was coordinated. Two attack aircraft plus one AN-2 biplane standing off as their command and radio relay. Although the enemy knew the radar site was on a remote karst mountain pinnacle . . the radar site itself, was well-camouflaged.
Also, the enemy did not realize it had 'anti-aircraft artillery force,' down there. In addition, they did not know there would be an available and effective ' air-to-air ' interceptor force ' to deal with. Interestingly . . CIA Air America DID NOT know it . . either.
The AN-2 biplane strike force rolled in on their target area. In error, they mistook Air America'sbadlycamouflaged Operations shack for the Operation shack of the radar site, a short distance away. And the AN-2 proceeded to ventilate the wrong shack. The anti-aircraft artillery ' force ' turned out to be . . one individual !
A Thai mercenary about five feet tall - and all balls - who understood what was happening, instantly responded to the attack. The little guy ran out, then planted himself in the AN-2's gunnery path . . as it fired its rockets and dropped its bomb load. He emptied his 27-round AK-47 clip into the dive-bombing biplane . . causing the AN-2's pilot to fatally crash. The second attack biplane pilot chose to ' chicken out. ' And banked away toward safety.
The unplanned 'air defense interceptor ' aircraft force turned out to be an unarmed Air AmericaHuey with its turbine engine idling on the helicopter pad, as its CIA pilot and helicopter mechanic were both drinking their Cokes and relaxing in the Ops shack . . as shrapnel holes began appearing.
In a ' final kick ' of a sprinter's effort, they both ran flat out and leaped into their passenger-carrying utility purpose Huey helicopter.
In turn, as the empty Huey jumped into the air, they both looked up . . hardy believing . . as they watched two ancient Russian biplanes fleeing North.
The Huey's pilot, no slouch in the testicles department either, realized that his turbine-powered helicopter was . . faster than those old biplanes ! So . . the CIA jock did what any aggressive combat pilot might do . .
A few miles across the North Vietnam border, the Huey helicopter overtook the trailing AN-2 bi-plane. Then its gutsy helicopter pilot flew closely above the biplane to use the Huey's rotor downwash to [ 1 ] blow away the biplane's wing lift, in combo with [ 2 ] creating a huge down draft on the top surface of AN-2's upper wing.
As the AN-2 began sinking like a stone, its pilot automatically pulled back its elevator yoke . . which only further reduced the biplane's forward speed.
Meanwhile, the Huey pilot's gutsy mechanic wasn't to be outdone. He reached outside the open door and grabbed the landing skid . . and hauled himself partially out into the fierce wind blast.
Using his other hand, the helicopter mechanic emptied his AK-47 down into the biplane's cockpit, killing or wounding its pilot and copilot. The AN-2 quickly fell into a spiral then crashed into a karst mountainside.
It should come as no surprise that the Air Americapilot and gutsy helicopter mechanic found them-selves in a heap of political trouble with the U.S. State Department.
In spite of the striped-pants cookie-pushers' discomfort at an [ horrors ! ] international incident with the Communists . . these guys were heroes to almost everybody. And they accomplished a couple of firsts :
(1) the first and only combat shoot down of a biplane by a helicopter and
(2) first known CIA air-to-air victory.
Colonel, USAF (Ret.)