1st Aviation Brigade

With the implementation of the helicopter as an instrument of war during the Vietnam conflict, the new Army had to have a means whereby it could maintain tactical and administrative control of all of its divisional and non-divisional helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft in Vietnam. The Army did this with the creation and use of the 1st Aviation Brigade, which served in Vietnam from May 1966 to March 1973. After that time, the 1st Aviation Brigade was sent to Fort Rucker, Ala., as a training brigade, until 1988 when it became a combat aviation regiment. While in Vietnam, the Brigade had under its authority 4,000 rotary-wing and fixed-wing aircraft and 24,000 troops, consisting of about 4,000 officers and 20,000 enlisted troops. During the war, the Aviation Brigade and its support units became involved in four significant tactical operations that warrant examination.

The first noteworthy tactical operation in which the Brigade and its units became involved was the Tet Offensive from January to March 1968. In this operation the Brigade and its units responded to the precarious tactical situation wrought by the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong armies? sudden incursions into major cities throughout South Vietnam.

The second important operation involving Army Aviation units, in April 1968, was the relief operation by the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) to lift the North Vietnamese Army seige of the embattled USMC base at Khe Sanh. Dubbed PEGASUS, the operation successfully combined airmobile operations and a sustained road march by 1st Cavalry "Sky troopers"; and Marine Corps units to lift the siege.

The third significant Army helicopter operation South Vietnam was the incursion of the American and South Vietnamese Armies into neighboring Cambodia in May 1970 to ferret out and destroy North Vietnamese units and their supply depots. The Armies were allowed to advance only 30 kilometers (km) into Cambodia because of a presidential order. However, the deployment into Cambodia was successful. The Armies uncovered a number of large ammunition and food caches. These caches were later transferred back to South Vietnam where they were either destroyed or, so far as food, given to local villagers.

The fourth and final important large-scale operation involving mass use of Army helicopters in South Vietnam was LAMSON 719, which took place from January to April 1971. This mid-intensity-level operation had as its mission the coordinated insertion of South Vietnamese troops by air and armored units into Laos to drive North Vietnamese regulars out of areas contiguous to the South Vietnamese border. American lift helicopters ferried South Vietnamese troops into Laos. Helicopter gun-ships provided CAS (combat air support) for the South Vietnamese and destroyed a number of North Vietnamese P-76 tanks. The Army suffered the loss of about 100 helicopters, most of which were shot down by Soviet-built 37 millimeter (mm), radar-directed, antiaircraft guns. Some helicopters were lost because of the pervasive inclement weather resulting from the monsoon season in Southeast Asia.

During LAMSON 719, Army helicopter pilots often were forced to fly in what at best could be discerned as marginal weather. Helicopters serving in the Vietnam War did not have tactical radar on board, so pilots had a difficult time flying during inclement weather. The fact that more helicopters were not lost during this operation was due, in large measure, to the flying skills and bravery of these pilots. LAMSON 719 itself incurred a great deal of controversy within and without military circles as to its efficacy and results. The operation served as a lessons learned report for the Army. It also brought out the need for the Army to have more heavily armed helicopters in such operations, and attendant and better close air coordination with the USAF.

During the Vietnam War, the Army had a number of helicopters in its inventory that played important roles during the conflict. The UH-1 Huey was a multifaceted aircraft serving as a troop carrier, gunship, MEDEVAC helicopter, and cargo carrier. The CH-47 Chinook and the CH-54 Sky Crane were primarily supply, lift and transport helicopters.

The Army also had two observation helicopters that acquitted themselves well in South Vietnam. They were the OH-6 Cayuse (Loach) and the OH-58 Kiowa. However, the most formidable helicopter to serve in Vietnam was the AH-1 Cobra gunship, which first arrived in country in 1967. The Cobra carried wing mounted 7.62mm machineguns, 2.75-inch rocket launchers, a 40mm M75 grenade launcher, and an XM 134 minigun. It caused much havoc upon enemy units, equipment, and personnel during a period of service in South Vietnam. The Army still uses the AH-1.

1st Aviation Brigade

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