LOW - SLOW - RELIABLE
18TH AVIATION COMPANY (OTTER)
The 18th and 135th Fixed Wing Avn Co stories are copied from the
Otter-Caribou Assoc newsletter "Logbook".
Fort Riley, Kansas was the home of the BIG RED ONE (1st Infantry
Division) when I was assigned there from Germany in late 1959. The first
year in Riley as a ground duty assignment with an Infantry training company,
which was a career necessity, and one which we thoroughly enjoyed.
Hungry to get back into a flying assignment, my request for transfer to
the 18th Otter Company was approved. Upon reporting, the Commanding Officer
advised of my pending assignment as a Flight Platoon Leader. A few weeks
later a summons to his office revealed a change in plans. I was to replace
his departing, school trained maintenance officer, ie, Service Platoon
Commander. Protesting that I was not maintenance qualified was to no avail.
While settling in and getting acquainted with the platoon members, and
in discussions with unit pilots and crews, a serious problem was brought to
my attention for resolution. In the previous 18 months a total of 12 unit
Otters had either been involved in emergency forced landings, or
precautionary landings due to total or partial loss of engine power.
Our platoon team, consisting of Platoon Sergeant Snyder, Flight Line
Chief Holly, Technical Inspector Helbing, and myself, were determined to
solve the problem. We began with in-depth reviews of aircraft maintenance
histories, precautionary and forced landing reports and more discussions
with crew members involved in the mishaps. Each incident was thoroughly
examined based on available documentation and recollections by crews.
Incidently, our Otter unit was blessed with a great group of remarkably
experienced aviators, many with Korea and WWII service. Those at the
controls at the time of the 12 potential disasters had saved all 12 without
damage, destruction, injury or loss of life. Some help was provided by the
lay of the terrain in the gernal area we flew, the relatively flat parts of
Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Our guys had been setting planes down in corn
or wheat fields and off the end of runways, when engine power was reduced or
As a result of our extensive, intensive priority research, our team
developed evidence of three potentially dangerous problems. First, in some
power losses, records revealed cracks between the spark plug holes in the
engine cylinders. Second, push-pull rods were bending beyond tolerances or
ball ends were failing. And third, cylinders were not factory stamped with
the numbered of hours they had accumulated at their previous overhauls.
Consquently, total cylinders hours could not be determined and cylinders
aged beyond their design limits, were failing.
It was decided between our unit's staff and the staff of our third
echelon support company, the 339th, with the concurrence of the battalion
commander and staff, that we would tear down three Otter engines, those with
the most hours since rebuild. The 339th crews, supported by the Otter crew
chiefs, began day and night crew shifts to expedite the process of
determining the existing condition of our fleet of nineteen engines.
Within several weeks we had indisputable evidence that our research
findings were supported by the engine tear-down findings learned in the
339th shop. An average of 33% of cylinders and/or push-pull rods failed to
meet the criteria spelled out in the tech manual. This average remained
constant for all engines upon tear-down inspection.
During this time of inspection and searching, a new Commanding Officer
took over the 18th. He an I had a most memorable meeting when he walked into
my office wearing a very unpleasant expression. He let loose with a powerful
gnashing and lashing and wanted to know "what was wrong with our
maintenance." Fortunately, the informatin was opened up, spread sheet
fashion, on my desk. He calmed down when we advised him of our findings to
date and our efforts to correct the problems, and immediately became
supportive and remained so throughout our association.
It was then that I learned he had just come from the scene of "mishap
number 13" in which he was the primary participant. While doing some solo
touch-and-go flying as part of his local checkout, he had experienced engine
failure and had to make a deadstick landing.
As a result of our findings I recommended that all our Otters be
grounded. This was approved by the company and battalion CO's with the
knowledge of the 1st Infantry Division CG. A recommendation for world-wide
grounding of all Otters in the Army inventory was also approved and sent to
appropriate commands. Remember, you ole Otter crew members -- the year was
However, this world-wide grounding recommendation fueled a fued
between our command and the powers that be in the Aviation Material Command,
the DeHavilland people and the Pratt and Whitney experts. They didn't
believe us initially. But we were proved right in our assessment after many
heated meetings when our substantiated evidence was presented.
In short order, between the initiative of the 339th crews and the
backup support form the Army Depot at Eagle Mountain Lake, Texas, all or our
engines were rebuilt within a few months. In effect, we had the equivalent
of new Otter engines.
Our unit CO approved another recommendation to perform night
maintenance, once our aircraft were returned from engine overhaul. By
performing the majority of maintenance at night, our aircraft availability
and daytime flying hours, we believed, should be significantly increased.
That's exactly what happened.
We were a Strategic Army Command (STRAC) unit, ready to be deployed
anywhere in the world on short notice. When the Pentagon staff saw our
aircraft availability rate had increased well above that of all other
existing Otter units, we had a visit from Major Ken Mertel. He was
apparently convinced with what he saw. We were not fudging. Shortly after he
returned to the Pentagon we were ordered to Southeast Asia, country
unspecified. It was 23 December 1961.
In early January 1962, we loaded with our aircraft at the Navy docks at
Oakland, Cal. on the USNS Core, a WWII vintage "jeep" carrier, accompanied
by our 339th support maintenance element.
All 18th Otter crew-members were thankful for the discoveries which led
to our rebuilt engines, especially when they saw the extensive mountainous
and jungle covered terrain we would be flying over, and the monsoon rains we
would be flying in throughout South Viet Nam. Our units, having experienced
13 forced or precautionary landings in the precious 18 months, had exactly
ZERO for our 12 month tour, (except for one from another cause, but that's
ECHOS FROM THE PAST
On July 1, 1965 at Fort Benning, Georgia, the 516th Transport Airplane
Company was re-designated as the 135th Aviation Company. Reorganization was
completed by the end of September. Major Marvin E. Childers assumed Command
of the 135th on 25 September 1965. The unit was selected to deploy to Viet
Nam and spent October, November and December in preparation.
The main body deployed by sea on the 8th of December with the advanced
party by air on the 15th. Both parties joined at Qui Nhon on 31 December
1965. The flight crews departed Fort Benning with 18 Caribou aircraft on the
3rd of January 1966 for the west coast and trans-Pacific flight to Viet Nam.
The aircraft arrived at Qui Nhon on the 23rd of January 1966 setting a
record for the longest flight by the largest number of army aircraft.
Five days later, on the 28th of January, the 135th flew its first
combat mission, a medevac, for the 1st Cav. from Bong Son. The 135th was
assigned to the 14th Aviation Bn. 12th Avn. Group in February 1966. On March
3rd the 135th moved from Qui Nhon to Dong Ba Tin and was assigned to the
10th Aviation Bn., 17th Avn. Group. They had their first major accident on
16 March 1966 while executing a LOLEX at Tuy Hoa (no particulars given).
On April 19, 1966 the 135th received word that the Caribou were to be
transferred to the U.S. Air Force. They continued normal combat operations
awaiting the transfer. The first two Air force Officers, LTC Albert P.
Mercogliano and Major Jacobs, signed in at the 135th on 15 August. LTC
Mercogliano would later assume command. The unit was transferred to the
223rd Aviation Bn on the 4th of september. Numerous Air Force personnel were
now arriving and being integrated into the unit.
The unit suffered a fatal accident 12 miles south east of Tuy Hoa on
November 20, 1966. captains John W. Clayton and Anthony F. Korpics, Sp5
Arnold C. Pearson, and TSGT Glendale D. Yates were killed.
On 31 December 1966, the Air Force officially assumed control of the
135th and the unit was designated the 458th TCS. All Army personnel were
transferred with the exception of Major Childers, Martin and Ferguson,
Captain Crowder, Johnston and Smith, CW2 James S. Dravis, and SFC James w.
Jordan. These personnel remained until January 5, 1966 to close out the
records and complete transfer of property.
The flight from Fort Benning, Georgia, to Qui Nhon, Viet Nam took 20
days covering 9,750 NM and was accomplished in 70 hours and 54 minutes
flying time. The 135th flew 13,888 combat hours in 20,031 sorties carrying
133,170 passengers and 11.74 tons of cargo while under Army control in Viet
The 135th Avn Co was reformed at Ft Hood, TX and sent back to Vietnam
as an Assualt Hel Co. When assigned back to Vietnam it became an
Experimental Military Unit, callsign EMU, half American and half
RIDING SHOTGUN IN VIETNAM
Reprinted from August 1987 V.H.C.M.A. Newsletter, which was reprinted from
Army Information Digest, September 1965. And additional historical
information added at the end.
Like the men who guarded the stagecoaches of the Old West, these men in
the Far East fight off Vietnam Cong invaders while "Riding Shotgun In
To kill a tiger, learn the way of a tiger. That's the theme of the
program for training "Shotgunners"- or officially Aerial Door Gunners- those
tough, skilled soldiers who, in the tradition of their counterparts on the
stagecoaches of the old West, are protecting their UH-1 "Sky-coaches" while
flying over South Vietnam.
The Shotgun training program began early in 1963 when the U.S. Military
Assisstance Command, Vietnam, requested combat-trained men to take over from
the helicopter crews and mechanics the job of manning automatic weapons that
protect the "Hueys" on operational missions.
The 25th Infantry ("Tropic Lighting") Division in Hawaii responded
swiftly. Thus far, more than 2,000 officers and men from the division have
completed this training and have seen action across the sight of their
machinegun. Thirteen of them have given their lives. More than 100 have been
From its inception the Shotgun program has been entirely volunteer.
Shotgun 1 was organized into five platoons, each with 20 men commanded by a
lieutenant. These platoons were attached to the Aviation Companies
Spiced with the imagination and initiative of the assigned officers and
non-commissioned officers, the training has become centralized and
sophisticated. Reports filed by teams returning from combat enable the 25th
Aviation Battalion, which is charged with the Shotgun training program, to
update its instruction continuously.
Because demands on the men serving as shotgunners are severe, each
candidate must pass a class III flight physical examination in which vision,
color blindness, hearing and other physical conditions are closely checked.
If the individual displays any inability to operate under the many pressures
that will face him, he is thanked for his interest but cut from the program.
There are always plenty of volunteers to fill vacancies.
Training is primarily with the M60 machinegun, but the soldier also
must be an expert with the .50 caliber machinegun, M79 grenade launcher, .45
caliber pistol, M3 machinegun, the .30 caliber M2 carbine and the new M16
rifle. Always present is the basic infantry weapon- the M14 complete with
The four hour course in the function, care and maintenance of the M60
is an important part of the schedule. To test reaction of men in a tense
situation, platoon leaders frequently pull rounds from ammunition belts to
cause weapons stoppages. At other times a weapon may be incorrectly
reassembled to force the next man to spot the error.
Recentlyit was decidedthat because of an increased numberof night
missions being reported from Vietnam, added emphasis would be placed on
night weapons firing training. Additional emphasis wouldbe placed on
familiarization with the various gun mounts and also in free firing with the
"Bungie cord", a resilient strap slung in the door of the craft to support
As training progresses the men learn techniques of aerial observation
and firing at various altitudes and how to respond with instantaneous but
planned reactions. Accuracy is constantly emphasized especially in the
'descent to a landing zone' phase. While supplying suppressive fire, the
shotgunners must keep an eye on accompanying support helicopters as they
continue to assist troops from the craft- all in split seconds.
Constant re-evaluation, up-dating and evolution of the program is
stressed. Reports from men returning from Vietnam provide experience in
formation flying and gunnery. Artfully camouflaged, human-sized dummies
recently replaced the old 50 gallon drum targets to provide greater accuracy
in gunnery practice.
In addition to training in weaponry and tactics, the already jungle
trained 25th Division men receive a thorough re-orientation in jungle
survival. They also are taught to swim fully clothed and to maneuver in
treacherous waters against the chance of being forced into such a
treacherous waters against the chance of being forced into such a situation.
Refresher training also is given in the Code of Conduct at the 25th
Division's field training station. Intensive training also is given by the
Division surgeon's office to prepare men to meet and overcome the health
hazards of disease-infested jungle regions.
Today, the Shotgun X platoons in Vietnam are all trained by their
parent Lightning Division to strike from the sky. Each is composed of three
eight-man squads and a platoon sergeant, under command of a company grade
As did their counterparts of old who fought off robbers and Indians in
the wild and wooly west, they have learned the ways of a tiger in order to
kill a tiger; and they prove every day that they can meet the guerrilla
forces of what has become a wild and wolly East. They prove every day that
men of the 25th Division are "Ready to Fight, Anywhere! Any Time!" Cpt
Shepard, 25th Inf Div, Sept 1965.
Beginning in the spring of 1963, provisional Army infantry units -
known variously as machine gun, aerial gunner, automatic rifle and door
gunner platoons - were formed in Hawaii from among 25th Infantry Division
personnel. They served 90 days temporary duty. Some 79 such platoons saw
service incountry before U.S. combat troops "officially" arrived. In a
letter from Robert C Watts, he said that there was about 50 aerial gunners
from the 4th Cav. from Hawaii assigned to the 8th Trans Co about the time
they changed over to the 117th AML Avn Co, around June 1963. So even though
we have info about the shotgunners from the 25th Inf Div, many others also
volunteered and served with our units for these mission. Thank them all,
they did a very good and important job, and many died doing so.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
BANDIT 3, 1969
Fred Eckelmann who crewed Bandit 3, Miss Mini, until he left Vietnam
1969, needs info on aircraft that replaced his when it crashed a few weeks
after he left. Fred is still active with the Reserves and the second Bandit
3, serial number 015193, is now in the museum on his base. They asked Fred
to help them with the history of the aircraft. We currently know that this
aircraft arrived in the 118th in 1969 and crashed in 1970, was rebuilt
incountry and assigned to the 120th AHC in 1971. We think the aircraft was
originally a B model, converted to a C model in Vietnam, and has been
converted back to a B model now. Anyone having any information about this
aircraft please let me and Fred Eckelmann know as soon as possible. Fred
Eckelmann, RD #3, Box 105, Drums, PA 18222 717-788-3837