Zorros – The Original AT-28 Group
Most of us who became the first group of Zorros were in jet operations,
i.e., fighter or training units. I was an instructor in Air Training Command. Having applied for any fighter to go to VN,
I was surprised and confused when I received orders to report to Hurlburt Field, FL for AT-28 training. In 1966 Hurlburt was
a lovely little base and training site for many of the prop aircraft that were to perform so well in SEA.
While in the short training program we learned we were part of a program
named "Lucky Tiger" and our destination was NKP, Thailand. The powers to be kept it super secret and the regular jocks didn’t
know what it was all about. We just wanted a shot at some type of combat operations. Our initial group also included Huey
helicopter and C-123 crews and civic action folks. In June 1966, we were loaded on a C-130 at Hurlburt with NKP as our destination
and no overnight stays included. A very long and boring flight and quite uncomfortable as we had a max load of passengers.
After several stops at the islands in the Pacific to change the C-130 aircrew in compliance with crew rest criteria, we finally
landed on the PSP runway at NKP.
On the ramp there were a few O-1’s and C-123s. Where were our
AT-28s? We finally found out that they were on a ship enroute to Bangkok. What a disappointment! A bunch of pilots and no
aircraft presents a miserable situation. Our leaders seemed confused, our pilots were angry, and life was temporarily not
very good. Well, some of the folks that trained in the AT-28 just before our group was sent to Udorn for Project Waterpump.
They had a group of AT-28s for that training program that involved many air commandos over several years. We convinced our
leaders that we should be permitted to go to Udorn and fly Waterpump aircraft to stay current and out of trouble.
Finally, our aircraft arrived in Bangkok. A couple of us were placed
on functional test orders and flew the required test hops before ferrying the aircraft to NKP. There was still confusion as
to what our mission really was. It all cleared up when then Colonel Aderholt became the commander of our wing, the 56th
ACW. We immediately started attacking trucks on the Ho Chi Minh trail along with the A-26 crews who had arrived at NKP. In
addition, we sent mobile training teams to Ubon, Udorn, Ching Mai, and Lopburi to train Thai AT-28 units in night flying and
The trail work was exciting and challenging in a total night operation.
As one can imagine, Colonel Aderholt was "gung ho" and proud of the "truck count" that we accomplished. He frequently informed
the senior officers of the success of the A-26 and AT-28 on the trail. Whether or not this operation was a success and had
a significant impact is for someone else to determine. We killed many trucks, lost some great guys doing it, and that was
our mission. It seemed to make more sense to attack the trucks massed up north rather than wait for them to hit the trail.
But that was not our call.
We had to develop our own tactics. We quickly learned that the 50-cal.
machine gun was the most effective weapon while attacking at low altitude in the mountainous terrain. In ‘66, our search/attack
team of an O-1 spotter and an AT-28 attack plane was most effective. A back-seat crewmember in the O-1 with a starlight scope
could spot the trucks and drop the initial flare for the attack. If additional light was needed, we drop flares from the AT-28
and also called for the ever present C-123 or C-130 flare ship.
Members of this initial group of AT-28 pilots at NKP included: Joe
Price (Squadron Commander), Jerry Nohe*, James Dunn, Boyd Squires*, John Westphal, Don Arbuckle*, Kermit Hale*, Mike Brown,
Bill Cogdell*, Bob Govan*, Jack O’Neal*, David Williams*, Tom Deken*, Bill Newton*, and the author of this article.
If some names are left out blame it on a senior moment.
* - deceased
NKP continued to grow and many other pilots carried on the AT-28 Zorro
mission. When I visited NKP in the early 70s, the base had grown significantly and contained many operations. The AT-28s were
replaced by A-1s.
The Zorros were a great bunch of fighter guys who learned to love
the AT-28. To this day I still don’t know who came up with the cool call sign of Zorro. I t was so appropriate for our
Felix "Sam" Sambogna