Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Helicopter Losses in Viet Nam

AFA members, Congressional staff members, Civic leaders, DOCA members, my last note to you listed aircraft losses in VN. [see: http://www.afa.org/PresidentsCorner/Notes/Notes_12-18-10.pdf]
Many of you rightly took me to task for not including helicopter losses. I left them out because the data were too overwhelming. Much of the following comes, again, from Dr. Richard Hallion.

There are several statistical sources for helicopter losses that are readily available, and each are discussed below.

(1) The most extensive listing of VN helicopter losses is from a study done by Gary Roush of the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association. His study shows that there were at least 11,827 helicopters from all services deployed to SEA, and of these 5,086 were lost (fully 43%). This study includes, of course, all Army, Navy, Marine, and Air Force, and Air America helicopters. The data is sobering—for example, of 7,013 UH-1s in SEA, fully 3,305 were destroyed, with 2,177 crew fatalities. Not all of these were combat losses, of course.

(2) Based on data in Office of the Secretary of Defense, SEA Statistical Summary (Washington, D.C.: Department of Defense, April 1973), Table 353, the U.S. Army, from January 1962 through March 1973, lost 4,867 helicopters, an average of 1.19 helicopters lost per day. Of these, 2,587--fully 53%--were combat losses, the remaining 2,280 being operational losses.

(3) For the USAF, we are fortunate that Jim Henthorn, a former Sgt with the 21st SOS, has assembled a data base both on USAF Helicopter losses, and losses of USAF Helicopter crews. He shows the following data:

USAF SOS or Rescue Helicopter Losses/Causes in SEA

Type -- Combat, Operational, Logistical, Unknown
CH-3 -- 15, 5, 0, 9
HH-3 -- 10 4, 0, 3
HH-53B -- 2 0, 0, 0
HH-53C -- 9 9, 4, 0
CH-53C -- 6, 1, 0, 0
HH-43 -- 8, 4, 1, 0
UH-1F/P/N -- 8, 4, 1, 0
Subtotal -- 58, 27, 6, 12

(Incidentally, since his listing is concerned with SAR, he also includes 4 Grumman HU-16 Albatross that were tragically lost, it being, of course, a fixed-wing amphibian).

(4) It is important in context to remember that this is about people, and that while the USAF lost a total of 2,254 aircraft in SEA combat and routine operations, together with 1,763 aircrew killed, captured, or missing, fully 3,883 lives were saved, at the price of those 103 losses, involving 106 killed. [Source: Earl H. Tilford, Search and Rescue in Southeast Asia (Washington: Center for Air Force History, 1992 ed.), p. 155; human casualties from Henthorn, “USAF Helicopter Crew Losses—the Southeast Asian War 1962-1975,” (2007) p. 32.

(5) I would add that my observation on the last note that low and slow is a dangerous environment ... is further solidified based on this data.

(6) Some of the other observations are relevant here. Namely that fleet size has to accommodate attrition reserve and must account for non operational losses. Further, CSAR is an important mission area -- one for which there has to be a dedicated (in my view) force. It is not a pick-up game. It is important for the safety and morale of the force ... especially when fighting an enemy that does not believe in POW camps.

For your consideration.


Michael M. Dunn
Air Force Association


Unknown said...

Life as an Army helicopter pilot in Viet Nam was always exciting-- some days more than other. The Air Force SAR operations were outstanding and well done. There probably are no statistics kept about how many Air Force and Navy/ Marine aircrews were rescued by Army helicopter crews. Usually there were lots more of us around when such situations occurred in the South. Col Ernie, USA ret- 3 tour Viet Nam helicopter vet.

Anonymous said...

From my experiences while stationes in SEA there were considerably more Ch and HH 53 loses...The loses and Summary Courts were posted on a daily basis and between the Assault Groups and the Crash Recovery Groups I found them to be far Greater. Respectfully, David W. former S/Sgt. USAF