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South Vietnamese Air Force UH-1 "Huey" helicopter and A-1 "Skyraider"
Cessna 0-1F of the 21st TASS
Cessna O-2A of the 21st TASS
For the civil airport use of this facility after 1975, see Pleiku Airportmarker
Pleiku Air Base is a former Vietnam Air Force and United States Air Force base. It is located near the city of Pleikumarker within Gia Lai Provincemarker in Southern Vietnammarker. Today, the facility is operated as Pleiku Airportmarker (IATA: PXU, ICAOmarker: VVPK).

Overview

Pleiku Air Base was little more than an undeveloped air strip in December 1962 when it was designated by the South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) as Air Base 62. The VNAF 1141st Observation Squadron moved to Pleiku from Da Nang Air Basemarker in January 1965, and a detachment of Douglas A-1 Skyraiders from Bien Hoa Air Basemarker resided there for close air support capability. In March 1964 the tactical elements at Pleiku were Formed into the VNAF 62d Tactical Wing.

The 62d Wing was moved to Nha Trang Air Basemarker in January 1965 where expansion of its air units could be supported more easily, leaving behind a detachment of support aircraft. Pleiku Air Base was then managed by the VNAF 92d Base Support Group. and the base was used as a staging and emergency airfield.

Known VNAF Units At Pleiku (June 1974 Table Of Organization)

Pleiku Air Base was the home of the SVNAF 6th Air Division.

72d Tactical Wing
  • 118th Liaison Squadron Cessna O-2A,U-17
  • 530th Fighter Squadron A-1
  • 229th/235th Helicopter Squadron Bell UH-1H
  • Det B 259th Helicopter Squadron Bell UH-1H (Medevac)


USAF Use During the Vietnam War

As North Vietnamese infiltration increased within and along the Laotian and Cambodian borders the importance of Pleiku Air Base increased, and base facilities were expanded and improved. American Army and Air Force civil engineering units resurfaced and extended to 6000 ft (1829 m) runway and the base was jointly used for both VNAF and USAF air activities, but never reachedthe saturation and population proportions of the major air bases of the coastal lowlands. Pleiku was used as a major American base, with Army, Navy and USAF personnel stationed there.

The USAF forces stationed at Pleiku were under the command of the United States Pacific Air Forces (PACAF). The APO for Pleiku was APO San Francisco, 96318

21st Tactical Air Support Squadron

The 21st Tactical Air Support Squadron (21st TASS) was a U.S. Air Force forward air control squadron. It was activated on 8 May 1965 but did not become operational until 1 August 1965. At that time it was attached to the 6250th Tactical Air Support Group (Provisional). Later, it was reassigned to the 505th Tactical Control Group, headquartered at Tan Son Nhut Air Basemarker near Saigonmarker, and in September, 1966 it was reassigned again and relocated to Nha Trang Air Basewheremarker it was attached to the 14th Air Commando Wing.

The new squadron was initially authorized 30 0-1 Bird Dog aircraft. Its mission was to provide visual reconnaissance and airborne forward air control support of tactical offensive operations. In 1967 it began to switch over to the O-2 Skymaster, a twin engined aircraft with more power and armament than the 0-1. Later the squadron flew the OV-10 Bronco.

Time and again ground commanders praised 21st TASS FACs for directing strikes so accurately that ground forces were saved from being overrun. During the Battle of Bong Son, the flexibility of 21st TASS was shown when they augmented the FACs at Tuy Hoa were augmented in their operation 48th Quang Truh, held on 28 September.

633d Special Operations Wing

Douglas A-1E "Skyraider" of the 6th Air Commando Squadron at Pleiku AB
Air Commando Squadron C-47D in South Vietnam
The 633rd Special Operations Wing was activated at Pleiku on 15 July 1968. Its mission was to assess, train, advise and assist South Vietnamese Air Force personnel in airpower employment, sustainment and force integration. 633rd personnel also advised the South Vietnamese sustain their own airpower resources and, when necessary, integrate those resources into joint and combined operations with the USAF.

The 633d was formed from elements of the 14th Special Operations Wing at Nha Trang Air Basemarker and the 1st Special Operations Wing on Temporary Duty from Hurlburt Field, Florida. Squadrons transferred from Nha Trang were:

6th Air Commando Squadron

The 6th Air Commando Squadron was formed at England Air Force Basemarker Louisianamarker as a unit of the 1st Air Commando Wing. At Pleiku, it was the operational flying component of the 663d. The squadron was deployed to Pleiku on 29 February 1968 and arrived at Pleiku AB in March. During the stay at Pleiku, the squadron maintained a forward SAR alert unit at Da Nang Air Basemarker from 1 Apr 1968 - 1 Sep 1969.

The 6th ACS was designated as the 6th Special Operations Squadron on 1 August 1968. The unit flew combat missions, including air support for ground forces, air cover for transports, day and night interdiction, combat search and rescue support, armed reconnaissance, and forward air control.

The squadron was equipped with 20 A-1E/H Tail Code: ET

It was deactivated in place on 15 November 1969 with its aircraft being turned over to the South Vietnamese Air Force.

9th Air Commando Squadron

The 9th Air Commando Squadron was activated at Pleiku on 25 Jan 1967 as a deployed unit of the 1st Air Commando Wing, flying special operations missions using modified C-47D aircraft. On 1 September 1967, the squadron relocated to Nha Trang Air Base.

During its active service, the 633d flew combat missions, including air support for ground forces, air cover for transports, day and night interdiction, combat search and rescue support, armed reconnaissance, and forward air control.

In October 1969 the unit was being broken up and the pilots were transferred to Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Basemarker. They were assigned to either the 1st SOS, 22nd SOS, or the 602nd SOS (Fighter).

The squadron was equipped with AC-47Ds Tail Code: ER

With the departure of the 6th SOS personnel in late 1969, a small group remained at Pleiku for a short period of time to advise the SVNAF. The wing deactivated on 15 March 1970.

For its actions at Pleiku Air Base, the wing was awarded the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award - with Combat "V" Device and the Republic Of Vietnam Gallantry Cross - with Palm.

362d Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron

For a brief time (1 February - 27 June 1972), the 362d Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron flying specially-equipped EC-47s and C-47Hs were assigned to Pleiku from the 366th TFW. These aircraft were equipped with various electronic warfare components.

Emblems of USAF Units at Pleiku Air Basee

Image:21tass.gif|21st Tactical Air Control Squadron
1965-1966
Image:663sow.jpg|663d Special Operations Wing
15 Jul 1968-15 Mar 1970
Image:Pacific Air Forces.png|USAF Pacific Air Forces
1965-1970
Image:2d Air Division crest.jpg|2d Air Division
1965-1966
Image:7th Air Force.png|USAF 7th Air Force
1966-1970


Capture of Pleiku Air Base

By the early spring of 1975 North Vietnam realized the time was right to achieve its goal of re-uniting Vietnam under communist rule, and so launched a series of small ground attacks to test U.S. reaction.

When these attacks failed to draw a military response from Washington, the NVA staged a massive attack on the strategic town of Ban Me Thuotmarker in the Central Highlands. Ban Me Thuot controlled Highways 14 and 21, vital lines of communication from the southern Central Highlands to Saigon and the coast.

The NVA had selected the Central Highlands as the battlefield in an attempt to cut South Vietnam in half.

On the night of 9 March 1975, the NVA struck the city and Pleiku airfield with artillery, mortars, and rockets. By the next afternoon, over half of Ban Me Thuot was in enemy hands, despite fierce resistance from ARVN defenders. VNAF air strikes destroyed five NVA tanks but during one strike, a bomb accidentally hit ARVN sector headquarters severely disrupting communications.

At Pleiku airfield, the small ARVN garrison came under attack and was forced to defend the control lower. preventing attempts to fly in reinforcements. ARVN reinforcements were diverted to Buon Ho, north of the city, far from the battle.

On the airfield, the NVA had destroyed an 0-1, a CH-47, and ten UH-1s. although three damaged Hueys had managed to escape. Fierce lighting continued for three more days but by 14 March the situation was hopeless. During the four day battle the VNAF flew over 200 sorties inflicting heavy losses on the NVA, hut to no avail. No aircraft were lost in the air. but three A-37s at Pleiku were destroyed by 122mm rockets on 11 March when the NVA rocketed the airfield.

The day Ban Me Thuot fell, President Thieu called an emergency high level meeting at Cam Ranh Baymarker. During this meeting Thieu made the decision to attempt an orderly withdrawal from the Central Highlands around Kontum and Pleiku in order to conserve forces and regroup for a counter-attack. Unfortunately for the South Vietnamese, the conmander of the region. General Phu, misinterpreted this order and directed an immediately evacuation of both cities.

The commander of the 6th Air Division at Pleiku was given forty-eight hours to evacuate the airfield and immediately requested UH-1s CH-47s and C-130s to fly VNAF personnel and their dependants out of Pleiku.

On 16 March artillery fire began hitting the city and ARVN troops began a retreat to the coast along Highway 7B. At Pleiku airfield sixty-four aircraft were abandoned with little effort to destroy them before evacuating and large quantities of fuel and ordinance were left behind. undamaged and ready for the enemy to use.

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