Some Typical Missions

During 1967, I was an Air force pilot who was "loaned" to Air America to fly C-7 Caribou missions. The missions consisted of "trash hauling" to include air drops of rice, pigs, cattle, ammunition, refugee relief, movement of indigenous personnel, and VIPs, to you name it. The Caribou was a well-built airplane that was perfectly suited for the rigors of "off the beaten path" flying. The airplane has never gotten the praise that it deserves. We regularly operated in places no other aircraft (except maybe the Porter, but it did not carry that much) could. Our landing fields consisted of dirt roads, rice paddy dikes, dirt fields, PSP, and concrete. We were restricted from landing on water and in trees, although some tried it. The navigational aids were few to non-existent in Laos.

The landing gear was stressed to a 1,400 feet-per-minute rate of descent touchdown. Very few (if any) airplanes are capable of this, which made it an excellent STOL airplane. It can operate in places that an O-1 could not. We would land in the over-run at Tan Son Nhut AFB, near Saigon, Vietnam, and turn off the first taxiway. Or we could come over the end of a 10,000 foot runway at 1,000 feet and still land. This steep approach was useful in avoiding small arms fire to a 600 feet strip at a remote location.

A typical mission (if there was such a thing) was rice hauling. One fine day I was assigned to take four pallets of rice from Saigon to a Michelin rubber plantation north of Saigon. After landing at a nearby dirt strip, I was met by a very polite but business-like Special Forces team. The NCO in charge asked what I was doing. I did not feel like it was any of his business, but I told him anyway. He said I cannot let you off-load that rice. He explained how the plantation workers were rubber workers by day and VC by night, and they had killed two of his men the previous night, and he sure as hell was not going to let the U.S. feed the bastards.  Since the French  rubber plantations were off limits to U.S. people, he could not fire into them or give chase into them for fear of "upsetting our diplomatic relations with France." (It did not matter that the French supported North Vietnam as evidenced by the French ships in Haiphong harbor.) I explained to the Sergeant that I just had a mission to do and that I could not get involved in the policies of the situation (however, I did agree with him). I then told the loadmaster to offfload the rice. The sergeant pulled his .45 pistol, placed it to my head, and said he would kill me first. I told the loadmaster not to unload the rice! What a mess! I got on the radio to the office at Tan Son Nhut and advised them of the situation. The sergeant and I were ordered to offload the cargo and were told not to meddle in foreign policy. Since the sergeant was of the persuasive type (especially with the pistol pointed at my head), I rightfully agreed to leave with my rice. I took it back to Tan Son Nhut and unloaded it on the ramp. As it was late in the day, not many people were around and did not care anyway. I did not care either. I parked the Caribou and went to my billet. I never heard any more about it.

On another sunny day in Vietnam, I was enroute from a Montagnard area in the Central Highlands (where we had just airdropped some pigs) to Pleiku. A desperate English speaking voice came up on the frequency 121.5VHF guard on the radio, "Caribou over Kontum, Caribou over Kontum, do you read me?" I immediately answered, as I wanted to help if I could. A thankful voice from an Army unit replied "We have four `ladies of the evening' that were flown in from Pleiku to spend a few days with us, and we were just advised by a friend at Headquarters that General X is enroute to our location in a Huey for a no-notice inspection. We have to get these ladies out of here right now! Can you land and take them to Pleiku? Please!" I told him that I was low on fuel and did not see how I could do it. He begged! He pleaded! I landed! We made an engine running onload of the four Vietnamese lovelies. They were smiling and happy, but confused as to why they were leaving early. As we were taxiing out, the General was landing. I took the ladies to Pleiku. I am sure the guys at Kontum were eternally grateful. I hope they passed inspection. Another successful mission!

Initially I was concerned about the inhumane method of air-dropping live animals. The Vet explained to me that some of the animals had a heart attack and died as soon as they hit the slipstream, so they were dead when they hit the ground. They were going to be butchered anyway, so...

Two of us were air-dropping somewhere when the lead Caribou started receiving ground fire. He yelled over the radio to get out of there, but I was already configured for the drop, so I decided to go ahead and drop. We returned to base as we were inspecting for small arms damage. The other pilot showed me his Zippo lighter, which had been lying on the center console. A bullet had penetrated the lighter, and the lighter still worked. The radio did not, though. The center console was between the pilot and the co-pilot, a distance of about 15 inches. I thought the lighter still working was neat, so we took a picture of it working and sent it along with an explanation to Zippo, thinking it would be a good advertisement! However, we never heard from them. I guess the antiwar sentiment at the time did not help. Another successful mission.

Larry LaVerne 
Air Force/Air America pilot


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