Article Assault Helicopter Company TOE and operations, Vietnam era

Army aviation in Vietnam was centered on the Assault Helicopter Company and the lions share of UH-1 assets in country were formed in these type units.

The company was assigned 20 UH-1D aircraft in two lift platoons. These were called "slicks" because they had less hanging on the side then the gunships. They were the workhorses, doing combat assaults, resupply, command and control and what ever else anyone could think of. D models were the first aircraft used as slicks, they were longer then previous models and had room on each side of the transmission housing for a doorgunner station. The aircraft had seating for 11 passengers and two pilots, but carrying troops with combat loads, this was unrealistic so the seats were pulled except for the doorgunner seats and the troops sat on the floor. There was realistically only room for 6-8 troops. The heat and humidity caused severe degradation of the aircraft's power and as the engines wore out, a load of three fully equipped soldiers was sometimes all they could carry. The power problem was resolved by mid 1968 when the UH-1H began to arrive. It had 200 additional horsepower making all the difference in the world. The only armor carried was the pilots seats. Typical armament was two M-60's with 600 rounds per gun. These were typically hard mounted and had spade handles with triggers in the handle grips.

The company had a platoon of 8 gunships, either UH-1B or C models. The only difference between these two was in the rotorhead, the C model having wider blades and teflon bearings in the head. The C model was somewhat faster. The platoon was equipped with a variety of weapon systems, B models carried flex guns, 2 M-60's to a side supplied by chutes bringing ammo from inside the aircraft. C models were armed with miniguns, the six barrelled 7.62 version, capable of firing 6,000 rounds per minute. Both of these systems were fired by the co-pilot using a drop down electric sight. The problem with the miniguns was that the aircraft only carried 7,200 rounds total so you could conceivably shoot up your entire ammo load in 40 seconds. The solution was to slow the guns down to about 2,000 rounds per minute and set a timer on them to only allow a 3 second burst. At this rate a ship could deliver about 600 rounds from each gun in a burst. Five of the platoon aircraft were armed this way. Two aircraft were armed with a 40 mm grenade launcher mounted on the nose, with a cyclic rate of fire of 180 rounds per minute. When the system first came out it only had a 40 round magazine. Units in the field built a magazine that held 120 rounds or more. Another 30 rounds were held in the ammo chute that ran from the magazine in back out beside the pilot console through the nose to the gun. The round was the same 40 mm grenade used in the M-79 except that it had more propellant and could fly farther, a range of 800 meters. The round had a metal band around it so it could be linked and also to keep some genius from loading it into an M-79. All of these systems carried seven rocket tubes on each side that could be fired singly or in pairs by the pilot aiming the aircraft. The last aircraft was called a "hog" and carried 24 rockets to a side. Although the systems provided the punch, the real teeth of the gunships was the doorguns. These were M-60's suspended in the door on bungee cords. A doorgunner usually had about 2,000 rounds of straight tracer minimum for his M-60 and might carry anything else his little heart desired. We carried smoke and WP grenades, (no frag), rifles, pistols, submachine guns and knives. More experienced doorgunners were assigned to the gunships because with the free hanging M-60 you could literally shoot anywhere you wanted to, sometimes making pilots nervous. I once shot my own aircraft skid and one doorgunner shot his own rotorblades. As you can imagine, B and C model gunships were seriously overloaded and could only carry about 1,000 lbs of fuel, enough for about an hour and a half in the air. In mid 68 the first AH-1G Cobras arrived. This aircraft was incredible, four hardpoints on the stub wings plus either two miniguns or a minigun and 40mm grenade launcher in the nose, but it had problems. It had no air conditioning and the first platoon of pilots lost weight to the point of deydration. The old "2-100" airconditioning of the C models wasn't there (2 doors open and 100 miles an hour). Until this problem could be corrected the M model started appearing, basically a C model with the same engine as the H. Again, it made a world of difference, the gunship could at least get off the ground without the crewchief and gunner running alongside. Some sensible units added two more doorgunners to the M model. This aircraft was so successful it continued production along side the Cobra.

The 29th ship in the company was a slick assigned to the maintenance platoon. Ostensibly there was a 30th ship, a slick assigned to headquarters, but I never saw one, mostly because we were usually short one or two aircraft.

The company was commanded by a major with captains as platoon leaders. The pilots were usually warrants.

Attached to the company was a transportation detachment for maintenance, a signal detachment to maintain radios, and a medical detachment with a flight surgeon. These last two were assigned to battalion and spread to the companies.

Our battalion had 3 Assault Helicopter companies and one Assault Support Helicopter company. This company had, I believe 3 platoons of 8 CH-47's each.

The organization of an AHC was designed so one company could support an infantry brigade, one battalion an infantry division. Battalion aviation assets could be pulled together so an entire infantry battalion could be airlifted at one time although this was rarely done.

When I first arrived in January 1967 there were not many AHC's in Vietnam. Our battalion operating out of Qui Nhon was supporting the 101st at Phan Theit, the Koreans at Nihn Hoa and Tuy Hoa, the Special Forces 5th Group out of Nha Trang as well as the first elements of the 4th Infantry that arrived. Another one of our companies was operting towards Pleiku and the border with the 4th Inf and with SF units. The third company was operating out of Da Nang supporting the SF and the Marines, although they would never admit it. The Marines never really got the hang of helicopter warfare. In those early days we flew across borders with impunity, SF recon teams (before each division had its LRRPS) were carried into Laos and even across the DMZ. Boy, did that change. Mostly from our politicos back home. It was our sister company, the 161st that first reported spotting a tank in Laos. By the fall of 67 we had became part of the designated aviation battalion assigned to Americal Division supporting the Brigade assigned to the extreme southern part of I corps as well as the MAT (Military Assistance Team) advising the ARVN 2cnd Division at Quang Ngai and the 3 or 4 SF camps towards the border.

A typical day might start off before dawn with a combat asasult moving a platoon or company then the rest of the day carrying supplies or command and control, which meant carrying the battalion and brigade commanders around.

Gunships, if there was no combat assault, would usually run a dawn patrol flying around the AO checking areas the Agent Orange had knocked down and generally just looking for anything different from the day before. We would make radio contact with all of the infantry units in the field and learn their locations. From staff briefings we usually knew what they would be doing and where they would be moving during the day. The rest of the day would be spent doing maintenance and preparing ammo. In our platoon we sabotaged the "Hog" ship early on. That sucker fired an entire pallet of rockets on one load and those things were time consuming to assemble so we turned the ship into a minigun ship. Usually two aircraft would be on primary standby with a requirement to be airborne and in radio contact within three minutes. That meant that no panels or cowling could be opened, nothing disassembled. A second pair were on secondary standby meaning that they had to assume the role of primary if the primary team was scrambled. A third pair were on standdown meaning light maintenance could be performed. If the primary team was scrambled, this pair would become secondary. The last pair was in maintenance and might be torn completely apart. Aircraft were rotated to primary every third day if no heavy contact had been encountered. When airborne the gunships constantly monitored three radios, the FM contacted the units on the ground, a UHF monitored our own company in case one of our ships got in trouble and we used VHF to communicate within our gunship platoon. Additionally, if things were slow we could use the RDF to monitor the Armed Forces Radio Network. The crosschatter was terrific but we could maintain an accurate picture of the war in our AO.

Each company had its own callsigns for guns and slicks, our slicks were the Dolphins, our guns were the Sharks and our maintenance ship went by Witchdoctor. Our sister companies were the Scorpions and Pelicans and Black Cats and Alley Cats. Later we worked with another company called the Rattlers and Firebirds and the 176th AHC appropriately called the Minutemen and Muskets. Our CH-47 company went by "Boxcars".

Organic aviaiton battalions in Divisions often had a different structure, all of the gunships might be gathered in one company. Aircav units were organized with one gun platoon, one scout platoon with OH-13, OH-23, OH-6 or OH-58 aircraft and a rifle platoon with 5 UH-1D aircraft and 4 squads of infantry. This platoon was universally called the "blues", blue being the color if infantry, and could be inserted quickly whenever the scouts found something. Each division had one air cav company, called a "troop" but the 1st Cav had one squadron (battalion) with three air cav troops and one armored cav troop. This squadron, the 1/9th Cav undoubtedly saw the heaviest fighting of the war, inflicting more damage on the enemy and losing more men and aircraft then any other battalion size unit. The 1st Cav also had another unique unit, "Guns-A-Go-Go", three armed and armored CH-47 aircraft. Each aircraft had a 40 mm grenade launcher under the nose, two 20mm guns, two 19 shot rocket pods and 5 or 6 .50 cal machine guns with M-60's for backup. This was the only Army aircraft that carried more armor plating then just pilots seats.

There were two medevac units in Vietnam, each with three platoons of unarmed slicks. They were dribbled out in ones and twos to infantry brigades and mobile hospitals. These aircraft were constantly being shot up or down, consequently maintenance was not a big issue and they got first pick of any new equipment. If an aircraft was battle damaged, they just sent it to depot, grabbed a new one and slapped on red crosses. The old one would be repaired at depot and given to another unit. The most active maintenance guy they had, I think, was the guy that painted on the crosses.

By the end of 1968 the Army had more aircraft then the Air Force had in total inventory.


Like my LT. homie said, great information

I remember the term PINK TEAMS of the 101st Avation unit(s). Do you know what they were and the makeup as far as choppers? I think I remember a Loch and a couple of Cobras. Is that right?

Hey Homie ! Our Air Cav Troop called them hunter/ killer teams. The Loch would fly low and hunt stuff and when they found something or took fire from someplace the cobras , flying high , would swoop down and kill them
Pink teams were an observation aircraft and a gunship working together. The term "pink team" came from the original organization that involved a gunship, (red representing artillery) with a scout ship from Cav (yellow). Soldiers aren't great when it comes to colors so it was called a "pink" team instead of what it actually would have been, fuschia, or some such thing. Hunter-killer teams was a more common designator. Who wanted to be part of a "pink" team? The Village People?

We had our own variation on hunter-killer teams. When gunships operated, the low ship was on the deck with the teammate covering at about 150-200 feet. Charley soon learned it was trouble to shoot at the low ship so he would shoot at the high ship. We would operate a heavy team with a third ship operating at low level and to the side of the flight path of the high ship. An alert doorgunner could bag a one-shot Charley (OSC) before the poor sap ever knew the third aircraft was there.

ROTOR: Thanks for a GREAT post, Bud. As we talked about before, I was in the BIG CA when the 101st went into the mountains west of Duc Pho. It was the whole brigade. The first day was 2/502 [me] and 1/327. 2/327 came in the next day. I'd never seen anything like it. It must have made Charlie pee his black pajamas.

We used either designation, Pink or Killer Teams. Usually Killer Teams.

Even today, after all these years, a Vietnam Vet can't see or hear a helicopter without being taken back to the war, even if it's for a split second. Even if he never rode in one. They were just such a huge part of the whole experience and environment.
I know what your'e saying, you hear one and you start looking. Every time I see one I just want to strap in and say, "Clear left, where's m' gun?" After I went to SF I jumped Hueys quite a bit and still found myself wanting to tell the crewchief, "Hey Dummy, this ship looks like crap. Clean it up!"

Your right Tom , the sound of a chopper gets me looking around and takes me back. I almost wreck the Harley everytime I am riding and a car backfires too
Yup, Aways, and I mean always, look up at the sound of a chopper no matter what I'm doing or where I'm at when one passes overhead. Probably will until the day I'm unable to lift my head skywards.
Where has a member referred to i as loach mate
Not sure what you mean but Frisbee and DMZ-LT called them "Loch" instead of "Loach".
Not sure what you mean but Frisbee and DMZ-LT called them "Loch" instead of "Loach".

Ahh yes on this hot summers day I should learn to lay off the whiskey, sorry bud ?

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