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South Vietnam Air Force

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Active  1955–1975
Type  Air force
Founded  1955
Country  South Vietnam
Bomber  Martin B-57 Canberra
South Vietnam Air Force VNAF Pilots amp Ground Crew
Size  63,000 personnel (at height)2,075 aircraft (at height)
Part of  Republic of Vietnam Military Forces
Garrison/HQ  Tan Son Nhat Airbase, Saigon
Motto  Tổ Quốc - Không Gian (Fatherland - Space)
Reconnaissances  Northrop F-5, Fieseler Fi 156
Headquarters  Tan Son Nhat International Airport, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Fighters  Grumman F8F Bearcat, Northrop F-5
Similar  Republic of Vietnam Military F, Vietnam People's Air Force, Army of the Republic of Vietnam, Republic of Vietnam Marine Di, Vietnamese Rangers

Synd 09 08 1969 south vietnam air force school blasted by vietcong plastic charges

The South Vietnam Air Force (Vietnamese: Không lực Việt Nam Cộng hòa – KLVNCH), officially the Republic of Vietnam Air Force (sometimes Vietnam Air Force – VNAF) was the aerial branch of the Republic of Vietnam Military Forces, the official military of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) from 1955 to 1975.


South Vietnam Air Force South Vietnamese Air Force with their American Air Force advisor in

The VNAF began with a few hand-picked men chosen to fly alongside French pilots during the State of Vietnam era. It eventually grew into the world's sixth largest air force at the height of its power, in 1974. It is an often neglected chapter of the history of the Vietnam War as they operated in the shadow of the United States Air Force. It was dissolved in 1975 after the Fall of Saigon; many of its members emigrated to the United States.

South Vietnam Air Force httpsuploadwikimediaorgwikipediacommons55


See also Operation Farm Gate

In March 1949, Emperor Bảo Đại officially requested that the French help set up a Vietnamese military air arm. Pressure was maintained with the assistance of Lt. Col. Nguyễn Văn Hinh, who had flown the B-26 Marauder with the French Air Force in the Second World War. In March 1952, a training school was set up at Nha Trang, and the following year two army co-operation squadrons began missions flying the Morane-Saulnier MS.500 Criquet light aircraft. In 1954, the French allocated a number of Dassault MD.315 Flamant armed light transports to the inventory of this Vietnamese air arm. Vietnamese pilot trainees began to be sent to France for more advanced training. In May 1954, with the fall of Điện Biên Phủ, the position of France changed, and on January 31, 1955, the Vietnam Air Force (VNAF) was inaugurated. French instructors for pilots and mechanics remained until late 1956, and transferred 69 F8F Bearcat aircraft to the VNAF, which throughout the late 1950s were the main strike aircraft.


In contrast with the North's Vietnam People's Air Force, most allied air operations in the Vietnam War were conducted by the U.S. armed forces. The South Vietnamese forces operated at a fairly basic level compared to the U.S. forces, which carried out the bombing campaigns in the north. The 19th Tactical Air Support Squadron was organized on 17 June 1963. The United States in May 1956 had started to train and advise the South Vietnamese Air Force. The VNAF was supplied with H-19 helicopters, and later H-34s. Initially, they employed simple T-28 Trojan prop powered trainers which could carry a small bombload.

The first jets were B-57 Canberra bombers arriving in 1965. In October of the same year the VNAF received its first modern UH-1 Huey turbine powered helicopters. Later, the US released more powerful light attack A-1 Skyraiders and jet light attack A-37 Dragonfly, and the lightweight F-5 Freedom Fighter which was developed by Northrop as an affordable export fighter for foreign air forces. By late 1972, the VNAF operated 18 squadrons with 500 new helicopters, one of the largest helicopter fleets in the world.

In 1972, President Thieu asked for, but did not receive, the F-4 Phantom with its massive bombload and speed that was widely used for all roles by US air services. When the Vietnam People's Army (NVA) started to install anti-aircraft missiles near Khe Sanh, the VNAF lacked the radar jamming gear, and the navigational aids required to attack the missile sites. The VNAF primarily flew close support as communist forces did not fly aircraft over US-held territory, so they never had the opportunity to fight MiGs or “go downtown” in heavy fighter bombers. Consequently, the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) was at a significant disadvantage once the US air force left Vietnam due to the lack of the bombings and air support provided by the U.S.

Fall of South Vietnam

During the final 1975 offensive, it was not simply a case of a massive collapse. The ARVN forces in Long Khánh were fighting to the death. A cooperative effort between the ARVN and the VNAF enabled ARVN troops there to hold on. CH-47 helicopters brought in 193 tons of artillery ammunition over two days. A-1 Skyraiders flew in and C-130 Hercules transports dropped massive 15,000-pound daisy cutter bombs on enemy positions. Flying against intense antiaircraft fire, they took a heavy toll on the NVA divisions around Xuân Lộc.

On 28 April at 18:06 3 A-37 Dragonflys piloted by former VNAF pilots who had defected to the Vietnamese People's Air Force at the fall of Danang dropped 6 Mk81 250 lb bombs on the VNAF flightline at Tan Son Nhut Air Base destroying several aircraft. VNAF F-5s took off in pursuit, but were unable to intercept the A-37s.

At dawn on 29 April the VNAF began to haphazardly depart Tan Son Nhut Air Base as A-37s, F-5s, C-7s, C-119s and C-130s departed for Thailand while UH-1s took off in search of the ships of TF-76. At 08:00 Lieutenant General Minh, commander of the VNAF, and 30 of his staff arrived at the American DAO Compound, demanding evacuation. This signified the complete loss of command and control of the VNAF.

Some VNAF aircraft did stay to continue to fight the advancing NVA however. One AC-119K gunship from 821st. Attack Squadron, had spent the night of 28/29 April dropping flares and firing on the approaching NVA. At dawn on 29 April two A-1 Skyraiders began patrolling the perimeter of Tan Son Nhut at 2500 feet until Maj. Trương Phùng, one of the two Skyraider was shot down, presumably by an SA-7. At 07:00 the AC-119K "Tinh Long" flew by Lt. Trang van Thanh was firing on NVA to the east of Tan Son Nhut when it too was hit by a SA-7 missile, and fell in flames to the ground. Sgt. Son, one of the AC-119K gunner tried to escape but his chute tangled in the tail of the airplane.

Despite sporadic artillery and rocket fire, Binh Thuy Air Base remained operational throughout 29 April and on the morning of 30 April with VNAF A-37 aircraft flying an unknown number of sorties against PAVN columns moving into Saigon, these were the last combat sorties flown by the VNAF. After the announcement of the surrender of South Vietnam by President Minh the pilots flew their stripped down aircraft to U-Tapao Air Base in Thailand, often carrying three or even four people.


Ground attack aircraft

  • Douglas A-1 Skyraider
  • Cessna A-37 Dragonfly
  • Douglas AC-47 Spooky
  • Fairchild AC-119G Shadow
  • Fairchild AC-119K Stinger
  • Bomber aircraft

  • Douglas B-26 Invader – Provided during Farm Gate
  • Martin B-57 Canberra – On loan from USAF for training only – never deployed in combat by VNAF
  • Fighter aircraft

  • Grumman F8F Bearcat
  • Northrop F-5A/B/C Freedom Fighter
  • Northrop F-5E Tiger II
  • Reconnaissance and observation aircraft

  • Douglas RC-47 Dakota
  • Northrop RF-5A Freedom Fighter
  • Cessna L-19/O-1A Bird Dog
  • Cessna O-2A Skymaster
  • Morane-Saulnier MS 500 Criquet
  • Rotary wing aircraft

  • Aérospatiale AS-318 Alouette II
  • Aérospatiale AS-319 Alouette II
  • Bell UH-1 Iroquois/Huey
  • Sikorsky H-19 Chickasaw
  • Sikorsky H-34 Choctaw
  • Boeing CH-47 Chinook
  • Training aircraft

  • Pazmany PL-1
  • North American T-6 Texan
  • North American T-28 Trojan – Provided during Farm Gate
  • Cessna T-37 Tweet
  • Cessna T-41 Mescalero
  • Transport and utility aircraft

  • L-26 Aero Commander
  • de Havilland Canada C-7 Caribou
  • Beechcraft C-45 Expeditor
  • Douglas C-47 Skytrain
  • Douglas DC-6/C-118 Liftmaster
  • Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar
  • Fairchild C-123 Provider
  • Lockheed C-130 Hercules
  • Dassault MD 315 Flamant
  • de Havilland Canada U-6 Beaver
  • Cessna U-17A/B Skywagon
  • Republic RC-3 Seabee
  • CASA C212 Aviocar
  • Recruitment and Training

    Unlike the ARVN, the VNAF was an all-volunteer service, remaining so until its demise in 1975. The VNAF recruiting center was located at Tan Son Nhut Air Base. Recruits were given a screening test, followed by a physical examination.

    Basic requirements for service in the VNAF was to be a Vietnamese citizen; at least age 17; minimum age 25 for flight training; no criminal record; the equivalent of a US 9th grade education for airmen; 11th grade for those entering pilot training or a 12th grade for non-rated officer.

    If a volunteer met all the qualifications, the recruit was then sent to basic training at the ARVN training base at Lam Song. Non-commissioned officer (NCO) training was held at Bien Hoa Air Base. After two months of training, or four months for aviation cadets, the recruit was given an aptitude test and progressed to specialized technical training. From there, he was sent to one of the ARVN wings for journeymen training. Aviation cadets pursued three additional months of specialized training after completing their initial four-month training course. Some were sent to the United States for advanced pilot training while non-rated officers pursued training in South Vietnam for their non-flying assignments. This training lasted about nine months, whereupon a cadet served in an operational unit for about a year before receiving a commission as a second lieutenant.

    Women also served in the VNAF. The Women's Armed Forces Corps (WAFC) was formed to fill non-combat duties beginning in December 1965. Women were assigned to VNAF wings, Headquarters, the Air Logistics Wing, performing duties as personnel specialists, secretaries and other administrative roles.


    South Vietnam Air Force Wikipedia