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Nakhon Phanom During The Secret War 1962-1975

119K Stinger Gunship

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A Ride On The Black Killer Duck

By Col Richard S. Mac Isaac, USAF Ret.

Pictures supplied by Lee Kyser.

Note:  These photos were taken by the NKP photo lab personnel at the time of the incident to document the last Stinger mission to originate out of NKP.  The remaining combat missions were flown from Da Nang.


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FOG of WAR - aka "It aint over till its over"

I was a young 1stLT, the youngest Aircraft Commander of an AC-119K "STINGER" Gunship. My home base was Nakhom Phanom RTAFB, Thailand better known as Naked Fanny or just plain NKP. We rotated our crews/aircraft thru several bases in South Vietnam; Da Nang and Ben Hoi being the two major ones. I had just returned to NKP from Ben Hoi on/about 29 Oct 1972.

My crew took a well deserved CTO (Combat Time Off = 3 days free anywhere in Thailand). I was just happy being back at NKP, so I did not go with them. After a few days off I told the duty scheduler I'd waive my last day off, and he could use me as a fill-in Pilot or Copilot. He did, and I flew 1,2, and 3 Nov; fun stuff because it was back up into LAOS and the Plains de Jars (PDJ)lot more exciting than some of the in-country missions in South Vietnam. The story begins.

I was called to fly as an AC (aircraft commander) with a "new" crew the evening of 4 Nov. We all met, for the first time, at the pre-mission briefing. They had given me an experienced table Navigator who I recognized, but everyone else was a shinny new face. Briefing went well not a lot of questions. We boarded the bus to go out to AC-119K #53-7830, known as the "Black Killer Duck", the best shooter in our small fleet. My copilot that evening was a Captain, guess 6-7 years older than I.

The pre-flight went exceptionally well and I was especially impressed with how sharp the copilot was; after all he was a Captain.  Probably one of those by-the-book Flight Instructors from Air Training Command (ATC). I was a 1LT, but had flown my 156th combat mission the night before.   Since engine-start and taxi had gone so well, and the Capt. had not missed a beat on any of the checklist I decided to break the ice with him and offered him a right-seat takeoff.  He seemed happy/excited and said "yes".

It was time to break the by-the-book routine as we approached #1 for takeoff, and he finished the book BEFORE TAKE-OFF BRIEFING, I added "round here we add 5 knots to rotate speed for the Flight Engineer, and I add another 5 knots for my Mother so I can see her again.   So when you have rotate speed+10 knots slowly/smoothly rotate the Duck off the ground and let her gain some speed/altitude and call for the gear. Got it? I got it Co!!

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Cleared for takeoff, Copilots airplane, pilots throttles, Engineer backs me up and off we go down NKPs runway with everything in the green. Co's rudder inputs are good, smoothly past Vr (reject speed we are now a go for sure) smoothly approaching rotate speed when suddenly at rotate minus 5 knots the copilot yanks the yoke back into his stomach, and the Duck leaps off the ground hanging on the props in ground effect. I scream in the mike "Pilots airplane!!!" I cant put her back down, no runway left. Im not climbing, and the airspeed hasn't increased 1 knot! I can see the 12 fence at the end of the field, and rows of trees 500 beyond!!

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I yell for the gear-up that will get us a few knots,then to the Engineer to close the cowl-flaps. Yes stand a chance of overheating the recips, but the drag reduction might get us another knot or two. Slowly, ever so slowly, the airspeed begins to creep up.  I'm squeezing the yoke to see if I can feel the difference from ground effect and a positive climb.  Ever so slowly I feel the pressures change on the yoke, we are finally flying!

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Cleared the fence, had to zoom it to get over the trees, once passed, let the nose back down to get back the speed I'd lost in the zoom, and headed for the river which I knew was lower than the airfield.  Engineers shouts the cylinder temps were going up but we were safely flying again, so had the Co open the cowl-flaps.  Left turn out of traffic, normal climb speed AFTER TAKEOFF/CLIMB CHECKLIST.

It took 45 minutes to an hour after takeoff before one entered bad guy country. As I can recall there was very little to no chatter on the intercom.  Think everyone onboard knew how close we had come to buying-the-farm.  knew something had to give or wed be in trouble again so I shouted over the intercom "Ladies...PRE-STRIKE an STRIKE CHECKLIST!  Time to earn your flight pay.  Time to kill something any screw-ups and you'll buy the beer!!"

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A look back at downtown NKP as we headed over the fence into Laos.  Picture supplied by Lee Kyser

Rest of the mission was a milk run killed a few trucks, helped out some guys on the ground who said "STINKER YOU SHOOT BERRY BERRY WELL TANK YOU BERRY BERRY MUCH", got hosed by some 27 & 37 MM AAA.  All in all, a normal night.  It was still to quiet on the ride back to NKP after the Nav called RTB (return to base) as no one was going to forget this mission.

On the bus going back to maintenance debrief, I was trying to figure out how this 1LT was going to tear the Captain a new butt, when out of the dark in the back of the bus he says "sorry guys, I'm buying the beer."

I still wanted to know why, and after a beer or two I was about to ask  when he blurted out "I choked.   In training I think they only let me takeoff once or twice, and none of those birds were half as heavy as we were tonight.  I was so scared and trying so hard that I subtracted rather than add the speed."

 Well, the rest of the story was that he had just graduated from Pilot training.  He had previously been a maintenance Officer for 5 years and had no flying experience at all.   MY BAD!!  I never asked, I just assumed!!  This mission (which ended up being the last STINGER mission out of NKP into Laos) put the fear of God back into me!   I was probably the sharpest pilot flying my next 15 missions before they told me to head home to the land of the big PX after my last mission on 13 Dec 1972.  Remember, It aint over till its over!!

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Operation Tailwind