- photo Air Force Special Operations Command     (Lineup of Air Commando aircraft early 1960's, weapons displayed on tarmac in front of the T-28, such as the sidewinder, were not necessarily used for T-28 missions.  The T28D in the photo is 51-7622 assigned to the MAP Military Assistance Program and shipped overseas to serve in SE Asia.)

"It is Hurlburt (Field) and I would concur that the years were very early in the activation of the Air Commandos. In the late '60s I was assigned to the A-1/AT-28 squadron that occupied the one-story building on the left."  - Jack Drummond
Robert L. Gleason, USAF (Ret.) Colonel

February 19, 1921 - November 5, 2014

Also by Col. Robert Gleason:
(click on title)
AIR COMMANDOS
Tribute to "Heinie" Aderholt

AIR COMMANDO ONE
America's Secret Wars
(click on book cover)

Helen Murphy © 2009-2016   All Rights Reserved

"Would you be willing to fight for your nation in a remote and hostile foreign country and agree to do so knowing that your government may deny that you are a member of the U.S. military or that you are acting on their behalf?"
Gregg Weitzman's T-28A
Steve Scott's T-28D
In the fall of 1961, U.S. Air Force Colonel Benjamin King, a World War II ace and the survivor of a daring escape from behind enemy lines, assumed command of a newly formed unit stationed at an old French airstrip in South Vietnam. On one of his first missions King flew a C-47 dropping propaganda leaflets over villages near the air base. His copilot was a colonel in the Vietnamese air force by the name of Nguyen Cao Ky.

Neither the pilot nor the copilot could speak each other's language, so that day's mission, like many others, was conducted with little clear communication. When the flight came to an end, King, without speaking, simply headed back to land at a short airstrip.

But he had to abort the landing. "I was too long and too hot, and I had to give it power to go around," King recalls. The second try was no better. "I was still too hot, so I went around again." As King prepared to make his third attempt, he glanced over at copilot Ky, who would later become prime minister of Vietnam. "He was just sitting there, shaking his head. I took my hands off the wheel and I asked in English, 'Can you do any better?' " King pauses as if to savor the coming punchline. "Ky went around and landed that C-47 so short, he had to give it power to get it to the end of the strip." With a laugh, King adds, "And I was supposed to be teaching him to fly."

Stories like King's illustrate the irony behind the cover story for his unit--that the Americans were advisors, in the country to train pilots of the Vietnamese air force. "More than 25 years after the fact," says King, "I can say this: We never trained a Vietnamese pilot."

..The only people who knew the truth about our assignment besides the 4400th commanders and the deployed troops themselves were the Joint Chiefs and President Kennedy, and they weren't talking either," wrote Secord in his autobiography, Honored and Betrayed.

The result was a command structure that, in its beginning covert stages, sometimes confused even the Farmgate leadership. "There was the matter of who we reported to," King says. "A lot of people had a lot of questions about that, including me. We were serviced and supplied theoretically through Ninth Air Force. I never met anyone in Ninth Air Force. I took my orders from two lieutenant colonels in the bottom of the Pentagon building. It seemed odd to me at the time, given that I was a full colonel."

But the unusual command structure worked to the airmen's advantage as well, as evidenced by an incident involving, of all things, the commandos' headgear. The episode originated in late 1961 when King realized that even though the men of Farmgate had been driven almost to the limits of human endurance in preparation for their clandestine mission, they had not been properly equipped for the extremes of Southeast Asian weather.

"It was hotter than the hubs of Hell," says King, and rainy, and for headgear the men had been issued only baseball caps. As Farmgate's first commander, King jettisoned the caps in favor of the more practical broad-brimmed cowboy hats worn by the Vietnamese air force.

Later, after King had returned to 4400th CCTS headquarters at Hurlburt Field, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Gleason took command of Farmgate. Gleason soon hosted a high-powered delegation from CINCPAC (Commander in Chief, Pacific), which included no less a figure than Admiral Ulysses S. Grant Sharp. Sharp apparently was unaware that he did not have operational control over the unit. He ordered the men to stop wearing "those crazy cowboy hats."

Aiming to ward off trouble, Gleason sent a hasty message that night to King, describing the hat order. "Within 24 hours I received a message sent through channels, including CINCPAC, stating that the cowboy hats had now been declared official USAF headgear for commando units." Gleason says. "It was signed by Curtis LeMay, Chief of Staff, United States Air Force."

Of course, the unit had far weightier concerns. "One of the first things we had to contend with was the methods of the Vietnamese air force," Gleason says. "They had been trained under the French colonial system, and the French were very gentlemanly about fighting wars. They wouldn't fight at certain times, including at night. The enemy was well aware of the reluctance of the VNAF to fly at night, so they fought at night and wiped out the VNAF as a potential threat."

The Americans knew that making headway against the guerrillas would require flying when they could not see what was going on in the shadows below. The solution came after a sergeant mentioned that illumination flares had been used at night in Korea. Gleason and Piotrowski, who had been named the Farmgate armament officer, set to work on the suggestion. After some experimentation, a system using magnesium flares was put into use...  (click here for full article)


_________________________________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________

In Tribute: Brigadier General Benjamin H. King  12/9/1919 - 10/7/2004
(Click on name for full biography)

Plausible Denial
A daring mission to fly combat in Vietnam came with a catch —no one else could know
(excerpt from Air & Space Magazine May 1997)

T-28 Trojan Foundation

(Excerpts from "Air Commando Chronicles"
by Col. Robert Gleason 
click on cover for aircommando.org article)

JUNGLE JIM
"...The anatomy of a very unique military unit, the 4400th CCTS, as originally composed, was by any criterion a unique organization on a very fast track...The FARM GATE detachment of JUNGLE JIM was the first USAF tactical unit to enter combat in Vietnam (and under covert conditions). When we first entered Vietnam we had to provide our own Search and Rescue service as well as our own aircraft security."

THE BIRDS START TO ARRIVE
"...The troops and the equipment, including furniture, began to arrive at Hurlburt, shortly after my arrival. Finally, we were assigned aircraft. At first, we had only the use of a single C-47 borrowed from Hurlburt Field headquarters, then a few T-28s, USAF "A" models with low-powered engines and two-bladed propellers. It was obvious that the T-28s were not capable of any type of operational flying, so King and the Pentagon personnel began to look around for something more suitable."









`"...Failing to get the A-1E, we looked
around for some other replacement
for the T-28. Not too far down the
Gulf Coast was the Naval training
facility at Pensacola, Florida. They
were flying a much different version
of the T-28, with a larger engine, a
three-bladed propeller, a beefed
-up landing gear, and a tail hook
required for carrier operations.
Most important, its wings were
stressed to carry external
ordnance. Colonel King pressed
to obtain eight of those aircraft on loan from the Navy.  In this case, the Navy agreed. Later, that type aircraft and modifications thereof were re-designated the TF-28. This designation more closely described their duel function of both a fighter and a trainer.  Indeed, they were used considerably more in the role of a fighter than they were as a trainer. (Hereafter they will be referred to in this work as the TF-28.)"