Phan Rang Air Base is located along the coast, with the airfield located about 3 miles (4.8 km) inland. The facility is located near the base of rugged jungle-clad mountains to the west. Near the entrance to the base are ruins of a Cham temple, reportedly built in the 12th Century.
After April 1975, the VPAF operated various captured VNAF Cessna A-37a and Bell UH-1 Huey helicopters at the base until about 1998. They were replaced by Russian Sukhoi Su-30MK2Vs, a variant of the Su-30MK2 tailored to VPAF requirements. Additionally, 12 earlier models Sukhoi Su-27SK and 3 Su-27UBK were in the VPAF service at Phan Rang.
It is still an active base by the VPAF.
The airfield at Phan Rang was used by the Japanese during World War II. In the late 1940s and early 1950s the French Air Force used the same 3,500-foot runway, and abandoned the facility when French control over Indochina ended in 1954. To accommodate the expanding war in South Vietnam in 1965, the United States moved engineering and construction equipment to the abandoned airfield in 1965.
Phan Rang Air Base was quickly expanded in 1965 to accommodate both United States and VNAF fighter and helicopter units. The modernized airfield consisted of two 10,000-foot runways 04L/22R concrete and 04R/22L AM-2 planking with parallel taxiways and covered and open aircraft revetments along with several ramps and parking aprons on both sides of the runways. They were constructed with asphalt and AM-2 pierced steel aprons. In addition, a large support base was constructed with a large control tower, fire rescue units, maintenance facilities, supply warehouses, munitions storage, barracks and a wide variety of support buildings including service clubs and recreation facilities. The APO for Phan Rang Air Base was APO San Francisco, 96321
The USAF forces stationed there were under the command of the United States Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) Seventh Air Force. In addition, the United States Navy, and United States Marine Corps had aviation and other support units stationed at Phan Rang.
The 366th Tactical Fighter Wing was the first permanent USAF organization to be stationed at Phan Rang Air Base, arriving on 20 March 1966 from Holloman Air Force Base New Mexico. The wing was composed of a mixture of F-100 Super Sabre and F-4C Phantom II squadrons, deployed from several Tactical Air Command wings. Phan Rang Air Base from March to October 10, 1966 only had the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing and the 389th Tactical Fighter Squadron.352d Tactical Fighter Squadron, F-100D/F, deployed from the 354th TFW (Tail Code: VM)
389th Tactical Fighter Squadron, F-4C, component of the 366th TFW
614th Tactical Fighter Squadron, F-100D/F, deployed from the 401st TFW (Tail Code: VP)
615th Tactical Fighter Squadron, F-100D/F, deployed from the 401st TFW (Tail Code: VZ)
On 10 October 1966, the F-100-equipped 612th Tactical Fighter Squadron was activated at Phan Rang, composed of former Colorado Air National Guard aircraft which had deployed to Japan and were sent as additional aircraft to Vietnam when their deployment ended. Logistical difficulties in supporting both F-100 and F-4 aircraft at the same base led to the decision to move the 389th TFS to Da Nang Air Base, where F-4Cs were already stationed, and to make Phan Rang an all F-100 base.
Missions flown by the 366th TFW consisted generally of two types—MiG-CAP patrols to protect strike aircraft from attack by marauding North Vietnamese fighters and fighter-bomber strikes carried out with iron bombs against ground targets. The MiG patrols and attacks in North Vietnam were taken over by the F-4s and F-105s based in Thailand, which could carry a larger bomb load further and faster. In addition, the F-105 was built to take the extreme structural loads of low-level, high-speed flight, whereas the F-100 was not. Consequently, the F-100D fighter bombers generally operated only in South Vietnam where the F-100 turned out to be a very effective ground support aircraft, and beat back many enemy attacks.
As former 366th TFW squadrons were at Da Nang Air Base (390th, 480th) already, the personnel and equipment of the 389th TFS and the 366th TFW were moved to Da Nang as the host unit there, and the 35th Tactical Fighter Wing was assigned to Phan Rang to become the host unit. This realignment was effective on 1 October 1966. The move made the 366th an entirely F-4 Wing at Da Nang, leaving Phan Rang to be an F-100 base.
The 35th Tactical Fighter Wing took over as the host unit at Phan Rang on October 10, 1966. The move from Da Nang made the 35th TFW an entirely F-100 wing. The 35th sustained continuous air operations there until they moved from Vietnam, together with the Royal Australian Air Force's No. 2 Squadron of Canberra bombers as at the end of May 1971. Units assigned to the 35th TFW upon transfer to Phan Rang were:352d Tactical Fighter Squadron: October 10, 1966 – July 31, 1971 (F-100D/F Tail Code: VM)
614th Tactical Fighter Squadron: October 10, 1966 – July 31, 1971 (F-100D/F Tail Code: VP)
615th Tactical Fighter Squadron: October 10, 1966 – July 31, 1971 (F-100D/F Tail Code: VZ)
612th Tactical Fighter Squadron: October 10, 1966 – January 8, 1967 and April 14, 1969 – March 15, 1971 (F-100D/F Tail Code: VS)
120th Tactical Fighter Squadron: April 30, 1968 – April 18, 1969 (F-100C/F Tail Code: VS) (TDY Deployed from the Colorado Air National Guard)
The 352d TFS was deployed from the 354th TFW at Myrtle Beach AFB, South Carolina; the 614th and 615th TFS were deployed from the 401 TFW at England Air Force Base, Louisiana. Another attached component, actually a de facto squadron, was the F-100-equipped 612th Tactical Fighter Squadron. When the 612th deployed to Japan, the 120 TFS deployed from the Colorado Air National Guard in April 1968, remaining until April 1969. With its Air National Guard personnel returning to the United States, the squadron was re-designated the 612th TFS.
Missions included air support of ground forces, interdiction, visual and armed reconnaissance, strike assessment photography, escort, close and direct air support, and rapid reaction alert. It struck enemy bases and supply caches in the Parrot's Beak just inside the Cambodian border, April–May 1970 and provided close air support and interdiction in support of South Vietnamese operations in Laos and Cambodia, January–June 1971.
B-57 Tactical Bombers
In October 1966, combat attrition in the B-57 force plus the increasing availability of higher performance fighters to carry out the air war against North Vietnam caused the 8th and 13th Bombardment Squadrons to be withdrawn from Da Nang Air Base and relocated to Phan Rang. At Phan Rang, the squadrons ended their rotational TDY's from Clark Air Base, Philippines in 1968 and were assigned permanently to the 35th Tactical Fighter Wing. The 13th Bomb Squadron was inactivated due to loss of aircraft to attrition and their aircraft were assigned to the 8th TBS.
From their new base, the Canberras carried out attacks against Communist forces in the Central Highlands and supported US ground troops in the so-called "Iron Triangle". In April 1967, the USAF Canberras were joined by the Canberra B.20s of No 2 Squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force.
Canberra units were as follows:8th Tactical Bombardment Squadron: October 12, 1966 – 15 November 1969 (B-57B/C/E Tail Code: PQ)
13th Tactical Bombardment Squadron: October 12, 1966 – January 15, 1968 (B-57B/C/E Tail Code: PV)
No. 2 Squadron RAAF|2 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force: April 19, 1967 – June 4, 1971 (Canberra B.20)
Late in 1967, three of the 13th Bomb Squadron's B-57Bs (52-1518, 52-1580, and 52-3860) were experimentally fitted with a low light level television system carried in a pod underneath the port wing. Operational trials with this equipment took place between December 1967 and August 1968, mostly over the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The results of the trials were sufficiently encouraging that the USAF awarded a contract to Martin and Westinghouse to modify 16 B-57Bs as night intruders under the designation B-57G. In January 1968, the 13th Bomb Squadron was inactivated and its B-57s were returned to the United States for modification as B-57G night intruders for use in Vietnam under a project known as Tropic Moon.
The squadron was reactivated and deployed to Ubon RTAFB, Thailand with eleven B-57Gs in September 1970. The 8th BS was left in permanent residence at Phan Rang. The main emphasis was again on night interdictions against the Ho Chi Minh Trail. By November 1969, the 8th BS's strength was down to only 9 aircraft, and it was decided that it was time to retire the B-57B from active service. The surviving aircraft were sent back to the United States in September and October and put into storage at Davis Monthan AFB. The 8th was moved to Biên Hòa AB and re-designed as the 8th Attack Squadron and re-equipped with the Cessna A-37B Dragonfly and given a counter-insurgency (COIN) mission.
The Australian Canberras continued operations from Phan Rang AB until they were withdrawn in 1971 and returned to RAAF Base Amberley, west of Brisbane, Queensland.
315th Air Commando Wing
The 315th Air Commando Wing (Troop Carrier) moved to Phan Rang from Tan Son Nhut Air Base on June 15, 1967 and became a tenant unit supported by the 35th Combat Support Group. Initially designated as the 315th Air Commando Wing, it was redesignated the 315th Special Operations Wing on August 1, 1968. Squadrons assigned were:12th Special Operations Squadron: June 15, 1967 – September 30, 1970 C-123B/K)
19th Special Operations Squadron: June 15, 1967 – June 30, 1971 (C-123B/K Tail Code: WE)
309th Special Operations Squadron: June 15, 1967 – July 31, 1970 (C-123B/K Tail Code: WH)
310th Special Operations Squadron: June 15, 1967 – January 15, 1972 (C-123B/K Tail Code: WM)
311th Special Operations Squadron: June 15, 1967 – October 15, 1971 (C-123B/K Tail Code: WV)
The 315th flew the C-123K variant of the Provider, modified with the addition of two J85 jet engines. These jet engines increased the C-123B's payload weight by a third, shortened its takeoff distance, improved its climb rate, and gave a much greater margin of safety should one of the piston engines fail.
Operations included aerial movement of troops and cargo, flare drops, aeromedical evacuation, and air-drops of critical supplies and paratroops. The wing expanded its mission with the added responsibility of the control of the interdiction operations being conducted by the 8th Special Operations Squadron (SOS) and the psychological warfare and visual reconnaissance operations of the 9th SOS.
In 1971–1972 the unit helped to train C-123 aircrews for the South Vietnamese Air Force and the Wing gained control over close air support missions flown by A-37 Dragonfly aircrews. The wing was redesignated as the 315th Tactical Airlift Wing on January 1, 1970, and remained that way until the Wing's inactivation on March 31, 1972.
The 8th Bomb Squadron was reactivated in 1970 as the 8th Special Operations Squadron at Phan Rang which was equipped with Cessna A-37B Dragonfly counter-insurgency aircraft. The 9th Special Operations Squadron was activated with O-2 Skymaster observation and forward air control (FAC) aircraft.8th Special Operations Squadron: September 30, 1970 – 15 January 1972 (A-37B Tail Code: CG)
9th Special Operations Squadron: August 15, 1970 – February 29, 1972 (O-2)
The 8th SOS A-37 Dragonfly aircraft primarily flew close air support, night interdiction and forward air control missions in South Vietnam and southern Laos. The Dragonfly was especially well suited for troops in contact situations where its accuracy and loiter time made it a favorite of the FAC's as well as ground troops and commanders with the ability to carry its own weight in munitions, it was able to carry a combat configuration of 4 Mk82 500 lb bombs, 2 pods of rockets, and a load of gun ammo. In close range missions, the A-37 could actually get bombs on target faster than the F-100 since the "Hun" had to burn off some fuel before it could go to work. It could also hit the target, climb up to pattern altitude and return to make another pass quicker than any other fighter.
The O-2s of the 9th SOS flew low-level missions just over the top of the jungle canopy. The crews radioed for the A-37 strike aircraft after spotting the enemy, marking the target with smoke grenades or white-phosphorus rockets to pinpoint targets for the close air support aircraft to strike. After directing the fighter-bombers' attacks, the FAC would fly low over the target to assess the damage.
On 15 January 1972, the 8th Special Operations Squadron was reassigned to Biên Hòa Air Base as part of the USAF drawdown at Phan Rang. The 9th SOS was inactivated with the turnover of the base to the VNAF.
14th Special Operations Wing
The 14th Special Operations Wing operated from Phan Rang from October 15, 1969, transferring operational squadrons from Nha Trang Air Base and became a tenant unit supported by the 35th Combat Support Group.
The 14th SOW conducted "Project Gunship" and "Project Black Spot" operations, designed to give the Air Force a self-contained night attack capability to seek out and destroy targets along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. C-47 Skytrains, C-119 Flying Boxcars, C-123 Providers and older-model C-130A Hercules were fitted with a series of gunports along the sides of their fuselages and modified to carry high-capacity, rapid fire weapons to attack the enemy at night. Operations included close and direct air support, interdiction, unconventional warfare, counter-insurgency operations, psychological warfare (including leaflet dropping and aerial broadcasting) and flare drops. Squadrons assigned were:Project Gunship I
4th Special Operations Squadron: October 15, 1969 – December 15, 1969 (AC-47D)
9th Special Operations Squadron: October 15, 1969 – September 30, 1971 (AC-47D)
Project Gunship II
15th Special Operations Squadron: October 15, 1969 – October 31, 1970 (AC-130A)
Project Gunship III
17th Special Operations Squadron: October 15, 1969 – September 30, 1971 (AC-119K)
18th Special Operations Squadron: October 15, 1969 – August 25, 1971 (AC-119K)
Project Black Spot
90th Special Operations Squadron: October 31, 1970 – September 1, 1971 (AC-123K)
20th Special Operations Squadron: October 15, 1969 – September 1, 1971 (CH-3, UH-1)
Flying from Phan Rang Air Base sorties were flown over target areas consisting of the Mekong Delta and the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The aerial gunships destroyed trucks, attacked enemy encampments, ammunition dumps and other ground targets using night vision equipment. It also trained VNAF personnel in AC-119 operations and maintenance, February–August 1971, and transferred some of its AC-119s to the VNAF during August and September 1971 as part of a phase-down for inactivation.
The 35th TFW was inactivated on 31 July 1971 as part of the general drawdown of United States forces in South Vietnam. The wing's remaining resources passed to the 315th Tactical Airlift Wing on 31 July 1971 when the 35th Wing inactivated in Southeast Asia. The 35th TFW was later reactivated at George Air Force Base California on October 1, 1971. The 612th TFS and 614th TFS were inactivated in place on 31 July 1971 and were reassigned back to the 401st Tactical Fighter Wing, now assigned to Torrejon Air Force Base Spain. The 352d TFS and the 615th TFS were inactivated in place along with the 35th TFW, standing down from operations on 26 June 1971.
For its wartime combat duty in Southeast Asia, the 35th TFW was awarded the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Crosses with Palm and the Vietnam Air; Vietnam Air Offensive; Vietnam Air Offensive, Phase II; Vietnam Air Offensive, Phase III; Vietnam Air/Ground; Vietnam Air Offensive, Phase IV; TET 69/Counteroffensive; Vietnam Summer-Fall, 1969; Vietnam Winter-Spring, 1970; Sanctuary Counteroffensive; Southwest Monsoon; Commando Hunt V; Commando Hunt VI. campaign streamers.
The 315th TAW inactivated shortly afterwards in place on 30 September 1971 as part of the US withdrawal from South Vietnam, and jurisdiction of Phan Rang Air Base was turned over to the South Vietnamese government.
After the American withdrawal from the base in 1971, the VNAF 92d Tactical Wing at Nha Trang moved to Phan Rang Air Base, operating A-37s, and UH-1 helicopters.
In addition to the operational missions, the VNAF 920th Training Squadron operated T-37Bs for initial jet training for its aviation cadets. American policy in Vietnam after 1970 was aimed at self-sufficiency for the VNAF so the South Vietnamese could maintain the level of security that had been won jointly by the United States and South Vietnam. The United States would continue to provide material support for the defense of South Vietnam, but it was expected that the VNAF would have the capability to use United States equipment effectively. If that capability could be developed, the VNAF would be judged self-sufficient.
However, this training had to be halted in June 1974 for lack of logistic support and financial reasons due to United States aid reduction.
Units at Phan Rang Air Base were under the command of the VNAF 2d Air Division at Nha Trang Air Base.
92d Tactical Wing524th/534th/548th Fighter Squadron A-37
Det D 259th Helicopter Squadron Bell UH-1H (Medevac)
In early 1975 North Vietnam realized the time was right to achieve its goal of re-uniting Vietnam under communist rule, launched a series of small ground attacks to test U.S. reaction.
On 8 January the North Vietnamese Politburo ordered a major People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) offensive to "liberate" South Vietnam by NVA cross-border invasion. By 14 March, attacks by North Vietnamese forces led South Vietnamese President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu to abandon the Central Highlands region and two northern provinces of South Vietnam and ordered a general withdrawal of ARVN forces from those areas. Instead of an orderly withdrawal, it turned into a general retreat, with masses of military and civilians fleeing, clogging roads and creating chaos.
Panic mounted and observers overhead watched in horror as survivors plodded south suffering terrible heat and thirst. As the war in South Vietnam entered its conclusion, the VNAF pilots at Phan Rang flew sortie after sortie, supporting the retreating ARVN after it abandoned Cam Ranh Bay on April 14. For two days after the ARVN left the area, the Wing Commander at Phan Rang fought on with the forces under his command.
The last of the VNAF 2d Air Division abandoned the airfield with the remaining flyable airplanes, leaving four AC-119s which had flown in from Da Nang and two A-37s. The VNAF had several squadrons of students from Phan Rang flying A-37s at England AFB, Louisiana. Approximately 187 A-37Bs were assigned to Phan Rang AB when the North Vietnamese invasion took place. Many A-37s managed to fly south and later managed to fly to the USAF-controlled U-Tapao Royal Thai Navy Airfield, Thailand, where ninety-two were recovered.
Vietnamese Rangers were sent in for one last attempt to hold the airfield, but the defenders were finally overrun on April 16 and Phan Rang Air Base was lost to the North Vietnamese Army.
With its capture, Phan Rang Air Base became a Vietnam People's Air Force base. It is unclear to what extent the former USAF facilities were used, although aerial imagery shows that a large amount of the station was torn down over the years, the large base simply being too big for the VPAF, in addition the 04L/22R runway was inactivated, and today is almost obliterated. A few of the hangars remain standing, others have been torn down. The large aircraft parking ramp and concrete aircraft shelters remain, although the shelters appear to have been left unused. Steel and sand revetments also remain on the ramp.
The captured aircraft at Phan Rang AB were later used by the VPAF in missions during the Cambodian–Vietnamese War and the Sino-Vietnamese War. The A-37s flew most of the ground support missions in those conflicts, being more suited to the role than the VPAF's MiG-17s and MiG-21s. Several squadrons of captured UH-1H Hueys were also operated by the VPAF for many years from Phan Rang. These aircraft were maintained by cannibalization and/or black market smuggling of spare parts. They were phased out of service in the 1980s and 1990s, in all probability due to lack of spares. Some of the aircraft were shipped to Vietnam's allies like Czechoslovakia, Poland, the Soviet Union and East Germany. Others were sold to private foreign owners, although probably a dozen or so UH-1s still remain in VPAF service.