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When the Centaurs arrived in Vietnam in 1966,"Tactics" were something that nobody had a handle on. Much would need to be learned the hard way. As the war progressed each tour year saw new things and had to adjust accordingly. The one year tour limit also hindered the passing on of lessons learned.Pat Eastes is the coordinator for assembling this page. Please coordinate with him for your entries.

(66-67, 67-68, 68, 68-69, 69-70, 70-71, 71-72) - updated 8Oct2015

Contributers - Pat Eastes, Woody Gardner, Mike & Pati Siegel , Tom Meeks


Centaur Gunship Tactics, 66-67 - by


Centaur Gunship Tactics, 67-68 - by Pat Eastes

I came in country in August of 1967, directly from flight school. Our training as far as gunships at Ft. Rucker was little more than an orientation, shooting a few rockets and, as I recall, some M16 system firing (4 M60 machineguns). I don’t recall anything specific regarding gunship tactics in flight school beyond some chalkboard talk about gun cover of troop insertions.

That all changed very quickly as soon as I reported to the Centaurs. Initially, As a fresh out of flight school Warrant Officer, I flew a lot with Mark Schmidt, who instructed me in the way of gunship tactics that the ¾ Cav used. Mark was, at the time, an experienced Warrant and an aircraft commander and fire team leader. He instructed me, and other new gunship pilots, in how to shoot rockets, how to cover a lead ship, how to rearm our guns and rockets, and how to keep an overloaded gunship flying. Something as basic and supposedly simple as a takeoff could be a challenge in a fully loaded gunship, which was barely able to hover. Mark was, no doubt, a filter in deciding who might or might not become a gun pilot.

Our fire teams usually consisted of two UH1C aircraft. This light fire team was sometimes beefed up with another Charlie model which made it a heavy fire team. Most of the time, but certainly not always, we flew with one ship from the Heavy Scout section (Charlie models with 14 rockets and 4 M60s mounted as flex guns, or, later, 2 minieguns) and one ship from the Heavy Weapons section. Heavy weapons ships, or Hogs, flew with more rockets (48 or 36 depending on which pods were attached) and a 40 mm grenade launcher (M5 system).

The aircraft armament was supplemented by the gunner and crew chief, armed with M60 machineguns, frag grenades, white phosphorus grenades, and smoke grenades. These enlisted soldiers were indispensable as extra sets of eyes and ears for locating trouble and putting fire where it was needed. They became very skillful in being able to hit targets while the aircraft was performing all sorts of gyrations. They were attached to the aircraft by ‘monkey straps’, basically a bungee cord, and they often fired from awkward positions, usually with very good accuracy. They also cleared jams on the minieguns and M16 system guns, often under enemy fire.

Air cavalry troops were assigned as a major reconnaissance element of the division, and a good portion of our mission was to go out and find the enemy and engage them. Gunships flew in conjunction with the light scouts (either OH23G or OH6 aircraft). When flying those missions, the light scout flew at treetop level (or below) searching for signs of the enemy, while the gunship flew above as cover for the baby scout, ready to engage when and if the low aircraft found something. At times, these scout missions were manned by two gunships, with one low and one higher as cover. Since the aircraft were usually at or over maximum gross weight, keeping them flying at the slow airspeed that was normal when flying as the low recon ship was a constant struggle, and it was not uncommon for a low ship to return to base camp with tree limbs in their skids.

The trail ship always flew in a position to be able to cover the lead ship. Called ‘tactical trail’, the wingman should be able to cover if the lead aircraft should receive fire, and put fire on the enemy position. This dictated the trail ship to fly a good way behind the lead ship, and normally higher. Under most circumstances, this worked well, however as in all things war, the enemy didn’t always read the script, and at times it was the trail ship that received the initial fire. Flexibility was always a key to flying successful missions.
In combat situations, flight school maneuvers often took a back seat to what needed to be done in the midst of a firefight. Aircraft were often taken to their limits in the heat of battle out of necessity or, at times, fear and adrenaline of the pilots. A maneuver called a ‘snap shot’ can’t be found in any manual that I am aware of, but I was taught this shortly after being assigned to guns. Snap shots were essentially putting fire on a target that was close and below the aircraft, which dictated a severe nose low attitude that was not the norm for a Huey helicopter. When performed, it felt like the helicopter was going to go inverted, nose first. Of course, that didn’t happen if performed correctly, because Hueys can’t fly upside down. Breaks in gun runs often exceeded anything like a normal bank for a Huey, as well.
Centaur guns were called for close air support almost on a daily basis. Ground units in contact with the enemy used gunships regularly for support. D troop usually had at least one fire team on standby for assistance to ground troops, and if you were on “number 1 standby”, the odds that you would be involved in a firefight were very high.

Close air support missions typically evolved as follows: Operations received a call for assistance, and basic information such as coordinates, radio frequencies, and callsigns were relayed to the fire team. Aircraft were already preflighted, armed and fueled, and aircrews were able to get in the air quickly. Arriving on scene, the fire team leader made contact by radio with the ground unit to learn the current situation and respond to whatever assistance they might need. Often, a FAC (forward air controller) would be on the scene as well, and the FAC would coordinate support from his ‘fast movers’ to both ground and Centaur units. Close air support was often a combination of Air Force F100s or F4s striking with bombs and 20mm cannon, prepped or followed by Centaur gunships.

Fire teams worked in racetrack patterns, covering each other on breaks. When the gunships broke off of a run, they would break over the friendly troops, with the gunner or crewchief continuing to put machinegun fire toward the enemy position. Close air support usually dictated that the team leader would advise on how much ordnance to expend on each pass, and to place fire with the direction of the ground unit. If more help was needed, other fire teams would be called, and as one team refueled and rearmed, the other team would be on station, assisting the ground unit.

There were times when we just improvised, and made up stuff as we went along.
Crew chief Woody Gardner remembers one of those times, and related this snippet:

One night we were scrambled for someone in dire straits we were a light fire team of one UH-1C Hog (Aero Weapons) and one UH-1C Heavy Scout Mini-Gun Gunship. We got ambushed by at least two .51 caliber machine guns, somewhere close to Cu Chi. You know, a .51cal. tracer looks really, really big when it's coming straight at you, and you always wonder where the other 4 rounds are going (only one in five rounds has the tracer element in them). A real bad gun for a UH-1 Helicopter to engage.

It didn't take but a second for us to turn off the rotating beacon on top of the ship. Both the ships broke left, giving the .51cal. guns some distance. Pat Eastes and the A/C of the other ship talked about a plan to kill those guns. It sounded real ballsy and it was good for the Hog, being slower. But packing 48 rockets plus the M5 Grenade launcher, we came in low. The Heavy Scout Gunship went high, maybe 500 ft. give or take a few hundred, it was dark.

When everyone was ready, the Mini-Gun gunship turned on it's lights. It didn't take but a second for one of the .51's to open up. The high ship turned off it's lights and Pat fired at the muzzle flash. Story over!!!

Improvise: Adapt: Overcome.

Centaur LRRP Insertion Tactics, 67-68 - by MIke and Pati Siegel

Long Range Recon Patrol (LRRP) Missions

Generally, a LRRP (pronounced LURP) team was made up of 5-6 infantry men. A typical mission would have a team dropped off (an insertion) by helicopter in some godforsaken place in Bad Guy land. Their job was to observe/listen to enemy activities in the area, staying for 3-5 days. Their reports during and after the insertion were extremely valuable in assessing the enemy activity and planning our future missions.

If all went well, meaning the Bad Guys didn’t discover the team, they would be picked up by helicopter (the Extraction) and brought back to base.

Occasionally the LRRP team would be discovered. Out manned and Out gunned, the LRRP’s would have to evade &/or fight the enemy until they could be recovered. This was a Hot Extraction. Now, instead of just 1, or possibly 2, choppers used for a cold extraction, we brought the posse - several helicopters, sometimes aided by Air Force jet fighters we called “fast movers”.

Although our tactics for the hot extractions could vary somewhat, it usually consisted of:

A Command and Control ( C&C) aircraft, usually a “slick” orbiting above the fray. The C&C’s job was overall mission control, guiding the pickup helicopter, which was flying low level to the pick up zone, and also to be a rescue aircraft if the pickup chopper was shot down.

The word “slick” was commonly used to describe a Huey helicopter that was armed only with 2 M-60 machine guns held by the crew chief and gunner. “Gunships” by contrast had all sorts of rockets, miniguns, etc. hanging off the side and front of the aircraft.

The Pickup Helicopter. A slick usually flown by scared young men knowing they were probably going to be shot at very soon. The job was simple- go in and land, load up the LRRP team, get the hell out of there.

Gunships. Usually we used 2 teams of 2 aircraft each- 4 in total. This could vary as the scope of the mission and aircraft availability dictated. On a few occasions we also were aided by the Fast Movers using their 20mm miniguns.

The gunships usually flew in a racetrack pattern on either side of the Pickup Helicopter, covering the approach, landing and take off. This frequently involved firing into areas on either side of the landing area, working on the assumption that that was where the Bad Guys were waiting for their chance .

The Pickup Helicopter was most vulnerable when Low and Slow, the last part of the landing approach, the time on the ground loading the LRRP team and take off. The Enemy developed a mean little trick where they would let the LRRPs load, then when the Pickup was lifting off they would come into the landing clearing and shoot rockets (RPG) and small arms into the vulnerable underbelly of the Pickup. Our Gunship pilots dreamed up a counter-move--when the Pickup pilot would announce on the radio he was taking off, the Gunships would launch a rocket right at the (still on the ground) Pickup chopper. The idea was that the Bad Guys and our rockets would arrive in the clearing at about the same time and the Pickup would (hopefully) be gone. Frequently this worked.


Centaur Cobra Gunship Tactics, 1968 - by Tom Meeks (7 Nov 2015)

When the unit received the first Cobras in April of 1968, there were no established tactics for that aircraft. We basically used what we had learned and used while flying “C” models in the gun platoon. Bruce Powell and I were the first rated Cobra pilots assigned to the unit: we were trained in-country at Bien Hoa. There was no tactical training taught during that training other than to demonstrate the difference in gun run angle from the “C” model gunship (much steeper in the Cobra). There were discussions on tactics with the individual instructors but that was very limited, since they too had very little combat time in this new aircraft.

We were both seasoned UH-1C Gunship pilots. What we had to do now was determine how we might have to change our tried and true tactics based on the advanced capabilities of this new Cobra aircraft. Here were some considerations:

1. The Cobra is faster. The enemy, trained to shoot at a slower UH-1, will probably be shooting well behind us.

2. The Cobra is skinny compared to the Huey, and when facing the enemy it becomes a much smaller target (60% less frontal area). Making a proper break from a gun run that continued to give the enemy the smallest silhouette of the aircraft would be important.

3. The increased performance features of the Cobra allows a much steeper angle of target attack. The steeper angle gives an edge on weapon accuracy.

4. Tandem seating places the copilot gunner up front with excellent visibility and the capability to provide covering fire on either side of the aircraft with his gun turrent (XM-28). Unlike the Huey with a gunner for both sides, he must cover both sides by himself. This had to be taken into account. We greatly missed those extra sets of eyes we had with the UH-1C team.

5. The Cobra can give you more ammo or more fuel, but not both. A fully loaded Cobra Hog (76 rockets) will not be able to fly with much more than a half tank of fuel. In either case it carried much more than the UH-1C. Plan your missions well.

6. In the Cobra the pilot is the engine "De-Rater". The Lycoming Engine is capable of 1400 shaft horsepower, yet the transmission is rated at 1100 shaft horsepower. Under the right conditions the pilot, in theory, could rip the transmission out of the aircraft. The Torque-meter is your friend; 50 lbs of torque is your safety limit.

7. The aerodynamics of the Cobra are very complicated; more so than even the designers knew. At the time we were flying them several of the "this will kill you" features were quite undocumented. It didn't cause us concern because we didn't yet know about them. Many died learning them.

After returning to the Centaurs from Cobra School, we discussed the tactics we thought we would use until we gained some experience; then after that we would alter what we did based on what we learned. It was a learn-as-you go plan but it worked fairly well. We started out using the two ship team and using higher altitudes. 2000 feet was used initially but later lowered to around 1500 feet. The lower altitude gave us better visibility and command of the situation. We did however vary the altitude to fit the situation.

Being able to carry more armament than our old "C" model Huey's we could stay and support the ground unit longer. We used to run out of ammo quickly and have to return and rearm even though we had fuel. Now with the additional ammunition our on station time was limited mostly by our fuel.

The Cobras were grounded for night flight not long after we received them because of the blue plexiglass canopies, or “bubbles” as we called them, were causing terrible problems. Any lighting in the cockpit whatsoever was reflected brightly and distorted on the inside of the bubble shaped canopy. It was very hard to see out of the cockpit with any lights on. Even though the landing light had been moved from the nose of the original Cobras to the belly of our new Cobras we still had trouble seeing with it. Again, the bubble was the culprit. We still had night missions so we would fly the “C” models for that.

Flying one type aircraft during the day and a totally different aircraft at night proved to be a challenge (see War Story about that).

As aircraft availability for night missions became an issue we decided to skip the night flying ban and fly a Cobra as wing ship on the UH-1C. It worked adequately after we got all the coordination down; like flying slower, using navigation lights on the lead ship, and firing rockets with one eye closed to maintain some level of night vision. We were very dependent on the skills of the lead ship pilot to keep us in tow and our abilities to do the mission and not loose track of the lead ship.

The Cobra had a smoke grenade dispenser (M118) in the belly that seldom worked. Since slowing down and opening the cockpit to toss a smoke was not practical we were normally dependent on having a couple of White Phosphorus rockets in our rocket pods for use in marking a target; like what the Forward Air Controller (FAC) pilots used. The Cobra was not a good Scout aircraft.

When the the Scout Platoon got their very fast and armed OH-6 Scout helicopters, we employed the Cobras with them in a “hunter-killer” team. The OH-6 crew would go low for the mission and the Cobra would climb to altitude (1500-2000 feet) and circle the scout as he did his job. Once the scout alerted on a target, we would roll in and attack.

On escort missions for the lift platoon, we again employed tactics similar to what we had used in the “UH-1C” model. The additional speed allowed us to fly a bit ahead or venture little further away from the flight and then circle back to reposition for the insertion on lift missions. On night missions insertions and pick-ups, we did what we had to do to protect the lift ship and make sure he got in and out of the LZ. Those guys could get into some hairy situations, especially on LRRP extractions.

We only had two pilots and a couple crew chiefs when we got our first aircraft. Until a few other pilots were assigned to the unit, we used the crew chiefs in the front seats as gunners. They were trained in the aircraft and after a short session on the use of the front seat weapon systems, they worked out good. When we finally got other pilots, crew chiefs and armament guys in, we started to become a integral functioning part of D Troop.


Centaur Gunship Tactics, 69-70 - by

Centaur Gunship Tactics, 70-71 - by

Centaur Gunship Tactics, 71-72 - by