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For the civil use of this facility after 1975, see Phù Cát Airportmarker
Phu Cat Air Base is a Vietnam People's Air Force (Khong Quan Nhan Dan Viet Nam) military airfield located 20 miles northwest of Qui Nhonmarker, Vietnammarker, within Binh Dinh Provincemarker along the central coast of Southern Vietnammarker.

The base was constructed by the United Statesmarker during the Vietnam War and used as a major US Air Force installation between 1967 and 1971. The Republic of Vietnam Air Force (VNAF) used Phu Cat as a major base after 1972.

Along with its use as a military airfield, a regional civilian airport operates from the facility, serving Qui Nhon.


Phu Cat was one of several air bases in the former South Vietnam built in 1966 by the RED HORSE civil engineering squadrons of the USAF.

On 16 February 1966, during the initial survey to locate a new air base on the coastal plains of central Vietnam, Lt Col William H. Bordner, a USAF civil engineer officer, was killed when he triggered a phosphorus mine on Hill 151, an elevation rising out of the plain a kilometer west of the future airbase site. He and a party of engineers had been transported to the hill from Qui Nhon by a helicopter of the Army's 161st Aviation Company. The main thoroughfare of the base site was named "Bordner Boulevard", and Hill 151 became unofficially known as "Bordner Hill".

The site for the new air base was selected in March and designated Base X. In April, troops of the Republic of Korea Army's Capital Division cleared the base area of Viet Cong forces. On 1 May, a Korean subcontractor of the RMK-BRJ construction consortium (Raymond International, Morrison-Knudson; Brown and Root; J.A. Jones Construction), arrived to build a camp for contractors and ROK security units. By 1 June, a temporary 3000-foot dirt airstrip and a few barracks were completed. Construction of roads, utilities, the airfield complex, bomb dump, and control tower continued until the northeast monsoon temporarily halted work in September.

On 1 August, Capt Robert M. Sullivan and 53 security policemen were transferred from the 366th Security Police Squadron at Phan Rang Air Basemarker to the 37th Security Police Squadron at Qui Nhonmarker to escort 63 engineers of the 554th and 555th Civil Engineer Squadrons to Phu Cat. The security policemen immediately assumed security of the base from the ROK units. The RED HORSE contingent constructed a camp for the 819th CES (Heavy Repair), tasked to build the base but still training at Forbes Air Force Basemarker, Kansasmarker. A 55-man advance party from the 819th CES arrived directly from the United States on August 6, followed by the entire squadron a month later, and began construction of all vertical structures on the base.

September 19 marked activation of 37th Combat Support Group, slated to be a support component of the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing. The 37th TFW itself was activated on October 26 but was not organized until the following March. On December 20 concrete pouring commenced on the main runway; although several records were set for the most concrete poured in a single day in Vietnam, the runway did not open for operations until May 1967, and temporary runway remained in use until August. By October, all military personnel were living in permanent structures.

During January 1967, as construction of the main runway, taxiways, barracks, and other infrastructure progressed, more Air Force personnel and units arrived at Phu Cat Air Base, including the first operational units, two squadrons of C-7A aircraft transports using the temporary runway. The 1041st Security Police Squadron (Test), an experimental infantry-type air police unit, was deployed to Phu Cat on January 13 to increase its ground defense security.

On March 1 the 37th TFW was organized, but with its headquarters personnel and operational units still en route, did not become combat operational until mid-April. During the rest of 1967, base facilities expanded, population increased, and thousands of combat sorties were flown by the tactical squadrons. The University of Maryland University Collegemarker opened classes on 15 August.

USAF use during the Vietnam War

With its opening in 1967, Phu Cat became a major operational base. The USAF forces stationed there were under the command of the Seventh Air Force, United States Pacific Air Forces (PACAF). Phu Cat was the location for TACAN station Channel 87 and was referenced by that identifier in voice communications during air missions.

Its military mail address was APO San Francisco 96368.

Host units

37th Tactical Fighter Wing

Base Operations - 1968
On 1 March 1967, the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing was organized at Phu Cat to become the host unit. The 37th TFW received its manpower and equipment from various units transferred from the United States and elsewhere, and tactical operations did not commence until mid-April when headquarters components became operational. The newly-formed wing was assigned to Seventh Air Force.

Its attached squadrons were:

  • 416th Tactical Fighter: 15 Apr 1967 - 27 May 1969 (F-100D/F Tail Code: HE)
  • Det 1, 612th Tactical Fighter: 8 Jun 1967 - 13 Apr 1969 (F-100D/F Tail Code: HS)

The 416th TFS was deployed from the 3d TFW at Bien Hoa ABmarker, Det 1, 612th TFS from the 35th TFW at Phan Rang AB. On 15 April, the 37th TFW began combat operations with strikes by 416th TFS (F-100D aircraft) en route from Bien Hoa Air Basemarker to their new home. On 8 June, Det 1., 612th TFS began operations, also after flying a mission en route from their former home at Phan Rang Air Basemarker. On 25 June, Major George E. Day organized and became the first commander of the 416th TFS's Detachment 1, employing two-seat F-100F aircraft as forward air controllers ("Misty FACs"). By 28 February 1968, the 37th TFW squadrons completed 18,000 combat hours and 13,000 combat sorties without a major aircraft accident.

In the spring of 1968, these two squadrons were augmented by two additional squadrons deployed from CONUS:

The 174th TFS consisted of federalized Air National Guard personnel and aircraft from the 185th Tactical Fighter Group of the Iowa ANG at Sioux City MAP; the 355th TFS was deployed from the 354th TFW at Myrtle Beach AFBmarker South Carolinamarker. The wing was then composed of four F-100 combat squadrons.

During 1969, approximately 90 aircraft were assigned to Phu Cat AB. Those included the fighters of its tactical fighter squadrons, AC-47 Spooky gunships, C-7 Caribou airlifters, EC-47N/P electronic warfare planes, UC-123 Ranch Hand aircraft, RF-101C and RF-4C Phantom II photo reconnaissance planes, and two HH-43B Pedro rescue helicopters of Detachment 13, 38th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron.

1969 also marked the transition from F-100 to F-4 combat aircraft at Phu Cat. The Iowa ANG personnel and aircraft returned to CONUS in May 1969. As 355th TFS personnel completed their TDY that same month the personnel and aircraft returned to Myrtle Beach AFB. They were replaced by Air National Guardsmen from New Jerseymarker and Washington DC, who were manning Myrtle Beach at the time. These newly deployed personnel were sent to Tuy Hoa Air Basemarker along with their F-100 D/F aircraft.

In the spring of 1969, the 416th TFS and it's F-100s were transferred to Tuy Hoa Air Basemarker, while Det 1., 612th TFS was returned to the 35th TFW, now at Phan Rang Air Basemarker. Two F-4D squadrons were transferred from Da Nang Air Basemarker replaced them:

  • 389th Tactical Fighter: 15 Jun 1969 - 31 Mar 1970 (F-4D Tail Code: HB)
  • 480th Tactical Fighter: 15 Apr 1969 - 31 Mar 1970 (F-4D Tail Code: HK)

The 389th and 480th were transferred with personnel and aircraft from Da Nang Air Basemarker.

12th Tactical Fighter Wing

Continued drawdown of United States forces from Vietnam resulted in the inactivation of 37th TFW at Phu Cat AB on 31 March 1970. The wing assets remained and were re-designated as the 12th Tactical Fighter Wing when the 12th TFW was moved without personnel or equipment from Cam Ranh Bay Air Basemarker on 1 April 1970, to replace the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing and its units.

Its attached squadrons were:
  • 389th Tactical Fighter: 31 Mar 1970 - 15 Oct 1971 (F-4D Tail Code: HB)
  • 480th Tactical Fighter: 31 Mar 1970 - 17 Nov 1971 (F-4D Tail Code: HK)

On 8 October 1971, the 389th TFS flew its last scheduled combat sortie in Southeast Asia. On 15 October, the 389th TFS was deactivated in place and transferred without equipment and personnel to Mountain Home AFBmarker, Idahomarker. On 26 October, the deployment of 389th TFS aircraft to Holloman AFBmarker, New Mexicomarker started when the first cell of six F-4Ds departed Phu Cat AB at 0645 local time, with the second cell of six leaving 30 minutes later. Crews for the CONUS redeployment were selected from F-4 units throughout Southeast Asia, with 13 of the 24 crew members from the 12th TFW.

On 20 October, the 480th TFS flew its last combat mission, which was also the last combat sortie for 12th TFW. 480th TFS F-4Ds were also originally scheduled for redeployment to Holloman AFB, however, instead were distributed to bases throughout Southeast Asia: Clark ABmarker, Philippinesmarker; Ubon ABmarker and Udon ABmarker, Thailandmarker; Da Nang ABmarker; and Inspection and Repair as Necessary facilities (IRAN) at Ching Chuan Kang Air Base Taiwanmarker.

The 12th TFW was inactivated in place on 17 November 1971.

6259th Air Base Squadron

With the inactivation of the 12th Tactical Fighter Wing, the 6259th Air Base Squadron and 6259th USAF Dispensary were activated at Phu Cat AB on 18 November 1971 to administrate services provided to the Air Force personnel remaining at the base.

The 537th TAS was inactivated at Phu Cat AB on 31 August 1971 and its C-7 aircraft were transferred to the South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF). A number of former 537th TAS C-7 crews remained at Phu Cat AB after 1 September 1971 as instructors to the organizing VNAF 429th Transport Squadron (TS), activated at Phu Cat AB on 1 March 1972.

Phu Cat AB was officially turned over to the Vietnamese Air Force on 1 January 1972. A number of US Air Force instructors were relocated to Phu Cat AB to train VNAF A-37 Dragonfly light attack units.

The 6259th ABS was inactivated in February 1973 after the signing of the Paris Peace Accords.

Security forces

USAF Security Police badge
Affecting all units and personnel was the threat of communist mortar and rocket attacks on the base. Until 1969 the base was relatively secure from stand-off and sapper attack because of the number of South Korean (ROK) and US Army units patrolling the area. During the construction phase, aggressive external security was provided between 13 January and 4 July 1967 by the 1041st Security Police Squadron (Test) under "Operation Safe Side". This 200-man force, trained at Schofield Barracksmarker, Hawaiimarker, in U.S. Army Ranger techniques and tactics, performed aggressive reconnaissance and ambush patrols outside the base perimeter as a test of the Air Force's ability to defend its own bases.

For inside-the-perimeter base security, the 37th Security Police Squadron (redesignated the 12th SPS on 1 April 1970) was organized into three flights, with approximately half the manpower assigned to the night duty flight, dubbed Cobra Flight. Cobra Flight in turn scheduled overlapping night shifts to optimize coverage, supplemented by a non-standard patrol/mortar section ("Sniper-Ambush team") created within the flight, initially trained by the 1041st during its phaseout, that conducted patrols outside the MLR and used armored vehicles for blocking forces and ammunition resupply. As base units were either withdrawn or downsized, security patrols were decreased. The base experienced three sapper attacks that penetrated its perimeter between 22 February 1969 and 4 April 1970, and thirteen stand-off rocket and mortar attacks between 17 June 1969 and 24 February 1971, resulting in sixteen damaged aircraft, two deaths, and 28 wounded. All of the sapper attacks were defeated by security forces, resulting in the deaths of six NVA sappers and the capture of one. On 12 February 1971 two security policemen of a 12th SPS security alert team were killed when a command-detonated land mine exploded under their jeep.

The air base ground defense plan for Phu Cat AB consisted of a three-zone sector plan. The outermost or preventive perimeter zone consisted of a single line of triple-tier concertina wire strung along a 16 kilometer-long "main line of resistance" (MLR), with areas in front of the wire protected by minefields. Between the spring of 1969 and 1970, the 485th GEEIA (Ground Electronics Engineering Installation Agency) Squadron and Air Force Systems Command tested Project Safe Look at Phu Cat AB, a prototype Perimeter Detection and Surveillance Subsystem (PDSS) that used sensors of a Westinghouse Balanced Pressure System (pressure-sensitive) and Honeywell Multi-Concealed Instrumentation Detection System (magnetically-sensitive) buried in front of one defense sector, integrated with AN/PPS-5/PPS-12 ground surveillance radars. The system worked well under optimum conditions, but suffered high-maintenance costs and degraded performance in high winds and rain, and so was discontinued in 1970. Programmed perimeter defense plans for complete fencing and installation of permanent lighting were never brought to fruition. Key points were defended using portable, generator-run NF-2 Light-All million-candlepower floodlight units, nicknamed "Big Lights", first tested as part of Project Safe Look and later deployed throughout the Air Force; and night vision devices were particularly effective at Phu Cat AB.

The second or secondary defense zone consisted of a line of twenty observation towers ("Tango"s), supplemented by observation posts built on higher elevations, known as "rook towers". Military war dog/handler posts were assigned forward of the tower (and later bunker) line to patrol between the first and second defense lines to provide early warning of intrusion. At its peak strength in 1970, Phu Cat AB's military war dog section had 66 dogs authorized, and 45 dogs assigned. The MWD patrols were supported by motorized Security Alert Teams (SATs). Initially these were two- or three-man patrols in the secondary defense zone using radio-equipped M151 "jeeps", each mounting an M-60 machine gun, but beginning in 1969 four M113 armored personnel carriers obtained from the Army and two XM-706 armored cars provided transport for SATs and Cobra Flight activities. Both types mounted .50 caliber machine guns. In 1969 the 37th SPS obtained two GAU-2B/A 7.62mm miniguns from the special operations squadron detachment at Phu Cat for mounting on its armored vehicles. Near the end of 1969 much of the secondary zone was sprayed with herbicide, then bulldozed, almost completely eradicating vegetation but also eliminating concealment for the dog/handler teams.

The innermost or close-in defense zone consisted of low profile sandbag-protected bunkers ("Bravo"s) for anti-sapper point defense of the flight line and personnel areas. However small arms fire restrictions in the free-fire areas resulted in the relocation of most bunkers to near the MLR in mid-1969, in an ultimately futile hope of integrating the bunkers with the proposed fence and lighting program. Cobra Flight maintained five M29 81mm mortar pits and a fire direction center, primarily for illumination purposes, and each observation tower was equipped with an azimuth board. Each flight maintained a Quick Reaction Team (QRT) of six to thirteen security policemen to respond to penetrations of the perimeter, transported in trucks storing weaponry needed. The security force was supplemented by manpower augmentation ("augmentees" officially; "Augie Doggies" colloquially) averaging 100 non-security police airmen, and throughout 1969 by a 33-man section of combat security police deployed on temporary duty to Vietnam.

Between 9 September 1969 and 1 February 1972, a heavy weapons and small unit tactics school was operated at Phu Cat AB by the 821st Combat Security Police Squadron and later the 35th Security Police Squadron. On 17 November 1969, the law enforcement section of the 37th SPS opened the first Correctional Custodial Facility in the Seventh Air Force.

Tenant units

14th Special Operations Wing

The 14th Special Operations Wing, based at Nha Trang Air Basemarker, stationed three separate detachments of gunship squadrons at Phu Cat AB:

From Phu Cat, the detachments performed close and direct air support, interdiction, unconventional warfare, counterinsurgency operations, escort for convoy and defoliation operations, and flare drops. The 4th and 17th SOS detachments operated in-country in support of U.S. and ARVN troops in contact and for airbase defense. The 18th SOS Stingers were used in a truck-hunting role to interdict the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Because their one-hour loiter time flying from Phu Cat was unacceptable, the 18th SOS was relocated to Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Basemarker after less than two months of operations.

315th Tactical Airlift Wing

The 315th Tactical Airlift Wing, based at Phan Rang Air Basemarker, operated a detachment of UC-123 Operation Ranch Hand aircraft at Phu Cat AB between May 1967 and December 1970 to conduct aerial herbicide spraying for vegetation defoliation. Its parent organization went by several designations while based at Phu Cat: 12th Air Commando Squadron (Defoliation), 12th Special Operations Squadron (1 August 1968); and A Flight, 310th Tactical Airlift Squadron (30 September 1970) as units were reorganized and consolidated in Southeast Asia.

460th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing

On 10 September 1969, the 460th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing's 361st Tactical Electronics Warfare Squadron and EC-47N/P aircraft (Tail Code: AL) moved from Nha Trang to Phu Cat, operating in conjunction with Detachment 1, 6994th Security Squadron on Airborne Radio Direction Finding (ARDF) missions. Tactical control of the 361st TEWS transferred to the 483rd TAW (see below) on 31 August 1971, and the squadron was inactivated two months later.

The 460th TRW also used Phu Cat as a forward operating location (FOL) for RF-101C Voodoo and RF-4C Phantom aircraft of Detachment 1, 45th Tactical Reconnissance Squadron, attached to the wing for photo reconnaissance of North Vietnam, from May 1967 to 31 December 1970.

483rd Tactical Airlift Wing

The 483rd Tactical Airlift Wing was activated on 15 October 1966 as the 483rd Troop Carrier Wing, operating six squadrons of C-7 Caribou light transports to provide intra-theater airlift of cargo and personnel to specified organizations, including remotely-located U.S. Army Special Forces camps. Two squadrons were based at Phu Cat AB beginning 1 January 1967 and were the first flying units at the base, operating from the original 3000-foot dirt strip. The original tent maintenance area was known colloquially as "Ellisville" until August 1967, when the 483rd TAW units moved to permanent ramp space and facilities.

Operational airlift squadrons at Phu Cat were:

The 537th Troop Carrier Squadron was formed from aircraft of the former U.S. Army 17th Aviation Company at An Khemarker, with a detachment remaining at that location. The 459th Troop Carrier Squadron was formed from the 92nd Aviation Company at Qui Nhon, with detachments of five aircraft at Da Nang and four at Pleiku. These troop carrier units were all redesignated tactical airlift units on 1 August 1967. The 459th TAS ceased operations on 15 May 1970 as part of the U.S. drawdown of forces in Vietnam and inactivated in place on 1 June, while the 537th TAS (which used the call sign "Soul") remained until its inactivation 31 August 1971.

USAF aircraft at Phu Cat AB

Image:F-100D-56-3374-355tfs-PhuCat.jpg|F-100D Super Sabre of the 355th TFS.File:F-100F 416th TFS Phu Cat.jpg|F-100F "Misty" FAC of the 416th TFS.Image:F-4d-480tfs-phucat.jpg|F-4D Phantom II of the 480th TFS.Image:F-4d-66-7531-389tfs-phucat-1171.jpg|F-4D of the 389th TFS.Image:AC-47.jpg|AC-47D "Spooky" gunship of the 4th SOS.File:AC-119.jpg|AC-119G "Shadow" gunship of the 17th SOS.Image:C-7B 535TAS 483TAW CamRanh Oct1971.jpg|C-7B Caribou of the 483d TAW.Image:Uc-123-ranch-hand-ac.jpg|UC-123 "Ranch Hand" Aerial Defoliant aircraft.

USAF unit emblem gallery, Phu Cat AB

Image:37thtw.gif|37th Tactical Fighter Wing
Image:483taw.jpg|483rd Tactical Airlift Wing
Image:14thsow.jpg|14th Special Operations Wing
Image:310tas.jpg|310th Tactical Airlift Squadron
Image:12tfw.gif|12th Tactical Fighter Wing
Image:7th Air Force.png|USAF 7th Air Force
Image:Pacific Air Forces.png|USAF Pacific Air Forces

VNAF use of Phu Cat Air Base

South Vietnamese Air Force C-7 Caribu taking off from a muddy airstrip.
South Vietnamese Air Force UH-1 of the 243d Helicopter Squadron.
A-37s of the 532d Fighter Squadron.
Phu Cat Air Base was turned over to the South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) on 1 January 1972. As part of the transfer of the base, the remaining USAF C-7 Caribou aircraft were transferred in place to the newly formed SVNAF 427th Transport Squadron. As the inventory of Vietnamese Caribus increased, additional C-7 squadrons, the 492th and 431st, were formed. In March 1973, the 427th and 431st squadrons were transferred to Da Nang Air Basemarker.

During the 1972 NVA Easter Offensive, VNAF units at Phu Cat Air Base were effective in halting the attacks down Highway 19 from Kontum/Pleiku toward Qui Nhon. Several VNAF units in other regions shifted detachments to Phu Cat AB. Phu Cat AB VNAF units also provided support for the South Vietnamese ground counteroffensive which began in July.

During another NVA offensive into Binh Dinh province in 1973, Phu Cat Air Base VNAF units responded aggressively and effectively, both in stemming the attacks and in the subsequent South Vietnamese ground counteroffensive.

Known VNAF units at Phu Cat (June 1974 Table Of Organization)

When the "Vietnamization" program ended USAF operations at the base, Phu Cat Air Base was under the command of the SVNAF 6th Air Division, Headquartered at Pleiku Air Basemarker.

82d Tactical Wing
  • 532d Fighter Squadron A-37
  • 241st Helicopter Squadron CH-47A
  • 243d Helicopter Squadron UH-1
  • Det A 259th Helicopter Squadron Bell UH-1H (MEDEVAC)
  • 429th Transportation Squadron C-7

Capture of Phu Cat Air Base

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. The NVA general staff plan for the invasion of South Vietnam called for 20 divisions, because, by 1975, the Soviet-supplied North Vietnamese Army was the fifth largest in the world. It anticipated a two year struggle for victory.

By 14 March, South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu decided 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.

By 6 March 1975 Route 19 between Pleiku and Qui Nhon was cut in several places by NVA forces. That forced retreating ARVN and refugees columns onto undeveloped roads leading out of the highlands. VNAF 6th Air Division planes from Phu Cat Air Base dropped supplies to the columns and provided fire support to slow the NVA advance.

During evacuation of Pleiku throughout the night of 14 March, VNAF C-130s shuttled in and out of Pleiku moving equipment and people to Phu Cat Air Base. When VNAF 6th AD commander arrived at Phu Cat Air Base from Pleiku he was designated the senior military commander for the area. Thus the base became a focal point for South Vietnamese ground and air combat operations.

The A-37 at Phu Cat AB and Phan Rang AB flew an all-out effort. The two A-37B units put up the best fight of the war. Pilots in some cases loaded their own aircraft.

VNAF troops fought as soldiers in defending the airfield at Phu Cat after ARVN soldiers pulled out. Targets struck by the A-37Bs were so close to the airfield that pilots hardly had time to get the gear up before dropping bombs.

As the area became untenable, aircraft were evacuated to Bien Hoa and Phan Rang. Phu Cat Air Base and Qui Nhon fell to NVA forces on 31 March 1975.

See also


  • Endicott, Judy G. (1999) Active Air Force wings as of 1 October 1995; USAF active flying, space, and missile squadrons as of 1 October 1995. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. CD-ROM.
  • Martin, Patrick (1994). Tail Code: The Complete History of USAF Tactical Aircraft Tail Code Markings. Schiffer Military Aviation History. ISBN 0887405134.
  • Mesco, Jim (1987) VNAF South Vietnamese Air Force 1945-1975 Squadron/Signal Publications. ISBN 0-89747-193-8
  • Mikesh, Robert C. (2005) Flying Dragons: The South Vietnamese Air Force. Schiffer Publishing, Ltd. ISBN 0764321587
  • Ravenstein, Charles A. (1984). Air Force Combat Wings Lineage and Honors Histories 1947-1977. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0912799129.
  • VNAF - The South Vietnamese Air Force 1951-1975
  • USAAS-USAAC-USAAF-USAF Aircraft Serial Numbers--1908 to present

External links

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