Vietnam: The Helicopter War

Vietnam: The Helicopter War

Members of the "C" Battery, 2nd Battalion, 19th Airborne Artillery, 1st Air Cavalry Division on a tactical operation southwest of Pleiku, 1965.
Douglas Pike Photograph Collection [VA000434]

ARVN Rangers in Delta Operation
Douglas Pike Photograph Collection [VA002098]

US helicopters helping to protecting an area of about 100 square miles around Le My
Douglas Pike Photograph Collection [VA002099]

ARVN soldiers unloading from US Army helicopters in a heavily infested guerrilla zone
Douglas Pike Photograph Collection [VA002160]

ARVN soldiers dash from a helicopter on a mountain top landing zone in Quang Tri province
Douglas Pike Photograph Collection [VA002367]

Overview: Vietnam

  • Indiana Guard on Patrol in South Vietnam, January 1969 - [full record]

The Vietnam War saw the coming of age of the helicopter in battle. Rotary-wing technology allowed the United States to take the fight to its enemies in that conflict by providing unprecedented mobility and firepower, as well as providing invaluable logistical, communications, reconnaissance, and medical support. The helicopter's ability to rapidly move forces throughout the inhospitable and varied terrain of Vietnam freed the United States from the centuries-old methods of fighting a land war and offered a tactical flexibility in combat that was unmatched by contemporary armies. As the war played out, American tactical doctrine and helicopter technology continued to evolve to meet the myriad challenges offered by communist forces.

Perhaps the most enduring symbol of the American war in Vietnam is the UH-1 Iroquois helicopter, or "Huey." This aircraft was the workhorse of American forces in Vietnam, allowing the United States to employ its airmobile concept on the battlefield which involved the rapid transport of troops to face enemy forces at times and places of the Americans own choosing. First employed by American forces during the Battles of the Ia Drang Valley in 1965, air mobility proved a remarkable success and set the pattern for future engagements throughout the war. Combined with the lethal firepower of close-air-support attack helicopters such as the AH-1 Cobra, American and South Vietnamese forces were able to exploit this distinct advantage on the battlefield in countless victories.

The helicopter's role in the Vietnam War was not confined to just battle, however, as many different types of helicopters served in numerous capacities to support American and South Vietnamese efforts. Search-and-rescue operations, medical evacuations, troop and supply transport, and the efforts of Air America would not have been possible without the constant presence and reliable support of the helicopter in this war. Some of America's bravest and most daring pilots risked being shot down daily in the pursuance of their mission to support their ground forces, and their experiences speak to the powerful presence of the helicopter in Vietnam.

The United States employed nearly 12,000 helicopters during the Vietnam War, including over 7,000 UH-1 Hueys, and an estimated 40,000 helicopter pilots served in the war. Of these, over 5,000 helicopters were lost to enemy fire and tragic accidents throughout the conflict, and over 2,700 American Huey pilots and crew members were killed in the war. These sobering statistics are a reminder of the danger these men faced when they answered their country's call to war.

Iroquois helicopters prepare to land and pick-up ARVN soldiers near the Horseshoe in Phuoc Tuy Province
Douglas Pike Photograph Collection [VA004065]

Seawolf flying missions over South Vietnam's Mekong River Delta and Rung Sat Special Zone
Charles E. Rogers Collection [VA049375]

A CH-47 helicopter makes an aerial sling delivery of equipment
U.S. Army Aviation Museum Volunteer Archivists Collection [VA058843]