The Air Aspect
Although SOG recon teams relied heavily on Air Force special operations helicopter squadrons for their insertions, as the war progressed, they depended increasingly more on an elite cadre of South Vietnamese pilots who risked everything to infiltrate and exfiltrate recon teams even from hot landing zones.
Flying the venerable H-34 Kingbee helicopter, these pilots would fly in almost any condition to save their beloved SOG commandos. That bond of trust and comradeship remains to this day, with veteran South Vietnamese pilots attending SOG reunions.
“Our beloved [South Vietnamese] Kingbee pilots were critical to our missions. During the end of ’68 and early ’69 they were our primary insertion/extraction support into Laos, North Vietnam for RT Idaho. Kingbee Pilot An described how he could fly at night, as he did for Lynne Black’s Oct. ’69 Brightlight, because he was familiar with the terrain after flying so many missions across the fence into Laos,” John Stryker Meyer told Sandboxx News.
Meyer has written extensively about his and others’ experiences in SOG. His books offer a rare first-person view inside America’s secret war in Indochina.
On the Christmas Day mission, ST Idaho would rely on the 219th South Vietnamese Air Force to insert in and extract them from Laos. Due to the existence of a potent anti-aircraft umbrella in the area — a SOG helicopter had gone down with all hands a few weeks prior — the Kingbees would fly nap-of-the-earth. On the one hand, this approach protected the chopper from ground fire, but on the other, it made it easier for the enemy to hear them.
The usual approach was to fly at a very high altitude and descend rapidly once over the landing zone. Moreover, the operational geography prevented fixed-wing aircraft from supporting the team.