BOB MOSLEY'S THIRD WAR

Air Force Air Commandos were still flying the A26 Invader from Thailand into Laos and Vietnam during the early years of the Vietnam War and Bob volunteered for duty in the A26 again.  Bob was on orders to go but at that time they shut down the A-26 Air Commando operation.  Bob volunteered for the Spectre C-130 Gunships, but because he outranked the Commanding Officer, that did not work out.  So Bob, because of his vast amount of time in C-130s, received orders to the ABCCC Air Force Commmand Control  mission flying out of Udorn, Thailand.  I have left this story in Bob's own words although abridged somewhat for the web site.

OFF TO MY THIRD WAR

I got my orders assigning me to the 7th ABCCC Squadron at Udorn, in the northern part of Thailand. In route, I had to go through a two week survival course at Fairchild AFB Base in the state of Washington and then take a month refresher course at Little Rock AFB in the C-130 ABCCC transport.  Since I had flown the C-130 at Edwards as a test pilot and in France as a maintenance test pilot, the course was a lot of fun. I played golf in my spare time in a foursome of students in the school.  In my foursome was the famous Felix “Doc” Blanchard of the famous Army football team of Glen Davis and Blanchard (Mr. inside and Mr. outside). Blanchard was a real nice guy and could hit a golf ball a mile. The one thing I remember most about him was that his forearms were as lumpy as a knotted tree limb.

   

While at the C-130 school I caught a T-39 flight back to Patrick from Little Rock to visit my family.  A friend of mine, General Morgan, was on the flight and offered me a job at Kennedy Space Center after my Vietnam tour working with NASA in the Air Force Space Shuttle Program.  I accepted the offer since it would be a great job and my home was already there.  When we landed  at Patrick General Morgan said to me, “You will be hearing from me”.  I didn't give it much further thought but it was an appealing idea because I would have done all of the flying there really was for me to do upon completing my third war and having been a troop carrier pilot, a MATS pilot flying the oceans, a test pilot for 6 years, and an Electrical Engineer with a masters degree. 

On the 4th of July 1970, after saying goodbye to the family (I am not sure my kids realized I was going off to war), I boarded a commercial flight to San Francisco and from there went over to Travis AFB and processed for overseas.  I was flown overseas on a civilian contract DC-8 with the final landing at Clark Field in the Philippines.

I had landed at Clark Field in my A-20 Havoc as the first American combat plane after it was taken from the Japanese in 1945. On that flight, I had to circle for about 30 minutes while waiting for Japs to quit lobbing mortar shells from beyond some small hills west of the Airfield. Well, it was my first time back there since 1945 and I felt like I was the conquering hero having been in its liberation in the first place and now going back to my third war in the Pacific.

I had to go to another week jungle survival school in the Philippines before departing for the war zone. Both the 2 week survival school taken in Washington State before leaving the States and the week course in the Philippines were outstanding courses and would have been very helpful in my surviving shoot down and escape and evasion. The Philippine course took us way back in the mountains to the west of Clark field via helicopter to the survival area. But to get us to the helicopter pick up they took us by truck to the other side of those hills to the west of the base where the Japanese were lobbing shells into Clark Field the day I landed there in 1945 . That was a poignant memory for me.  Upon completion of survival school a C-130 flew us to Bangkok Thailand and from there to Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base.

Udorn was the home of  four squadrons of F-4 Fighter /Recon Phantoms and the ABCCC was assigned there for convenience.  ABCCC mission was as an Airborne Command Post to control all of the fighters that went into North and South Viet Nam and Laos from the Thailand fighter bases and bases in South Vietnam.  The squadron had about 8 modified C-130s to accomplish its mission. The planes had a prefabricated module about the size of a small  mobile home on board with a giant plug connected to the C-130 electrical system. The module had seats/ desks/work stations for about 25 personnel and hoards of electronics equipment and radios. A General was rated in the module to make all of the Command decisions but a  full Colonel normally filled the position. We had a front end crew (pilot, copilot, Navigator, and flight engineer) flying the plane and about 25 “back enders” in the module doing all of the communicating with the fighters, recon, and rescue from all services.  The tactical aircraft would check in with the “back enders” in route to their assigned targets and the ABCCC gave them any change of assignments, informational updates, communication changes, etc. Returning from the targets, fighters would report leaving the target, bomb damage assessment, damage to their aircraft, destination changes etc. Briefly, the ABCCC personnel were nearby, in a communication sense, to  keep track of the air war and assist the fighters in any way needed.

       

                                          ABCCC Module Operations                                                                  

To accomplish this mission ABCCC kept two C-130s airborne for 24 hours a day 7 days a week. The units were named Cricket, Hillsborough, Moonbeam and Alleycat. Cricket and Hillsborough flew the daylight shift and Alleycat and Moonbeam flew the night shift.  ABCCC Cricket, would orbit over Laos in an area about 100 miles north of Udorn, commanding all of the fighters operating in Laos and North Viet Nam.  The other day ABCCC, Hillsborough, orbited in an area about 100 miles southeast of Udorn, right over the Mekong River, commanding the fighters that were operating in Laos and the northern part of South Viet Nam.  The schedule was that ABCCC Cricket took off at 5: 30 AM and headed to the north orbit site. The other ABCCC Hillsborough took off at 5: 45 AM and headed to the eastern orbit. These planes would stay on station for 12 hours or remain there until they were relieved by two similar planes taking off at 5 :30 PM and 5 : 45 PM. The schedule had been going on for at least 3 years before I got there and it went on well after I departed 12 months later. This made for 13 hour missions when the time to and from the orbiting area was added. Sometimes the replacement plane would be delayed in taking off causing the on station plane to remain until the replacement plane got to the target area or until reaching emergency fuel state. When an engine failure would occur the plane would just complete the mission on 3 engines. Turbo prop airplanes were prone to have propeller failures that required shutting down that engine.  So, 3 engine operations was fairly normal. The C-130 was known in WestPac as the Lockheed Tri Motor.

This war was very uneventful compared to the other two--particularly WW II. The tour was for one year. I departed the states on the 4th of July, 1970 and I knew that, if still alive, I would be departing Thailand on the next 4th of July. That was a plus because in the other wars I really had no idea when I would go home except possibly when I finished my missions. I only took 11 days off the whole year at Udorn--I worked 354 days that year. The only time I took time off was  3 days when I was just plain tired, so I took the day off. Another was a deal where you could take an R & R to Hawaii once during your one year tour.  So, about midway in my tour I flew commercial to Hawaii and Carole flew there from Florida and we had 4 wonderful days together in the middle of my war.  The other time off was a lucky break where I and another pilot, a navigator, and a flight engineer were selected to go back to the states and pick up one of our C-130s that had been sent back to the states to be modified with foam in the gas tanks to suppress an explosion if hit by enemy fire. The good thing about the trip was that the plane was being modified in Tampa, Florida. So we flew back commercial and the four of us went our separate ways for four days and then meet in Tampa to fly the plane back to Thailand. Just before the ferry flight I received my orders to the Space Shuttle Program.  General Morgan had kept his word.  I stopped at the KSC and thanked him.  The 4 days passed quickly and my crew and I headed back across the Pacific on an uneventful flight to Thailand where I was soon back in the war flying in combat.

 

My job was deputy for operations of the flight crews. The front end crews did the flying and the back end crew did the communicating. One of my jobs was to welcome all of the new members of the flight crews as they joined the squadron and let them know the rules, policy and operations.  As a lieutenant colonel, I had a chance to make them feel welcome and calm any fears of combat. I worked for a full colonel by the name of Woods who was the Director of Operations.  He in turn worked for the squadron commander, a full colonel by the name of Tapscott. Both of these superiors were more interested in the back end crews than the flight crews and besides that, they did not have the flying experience I had so they left me pretty much alone to run all of the “front enders.”  I outworked everyone and set a good example by working every single day and still flying every fourth day. Normally when a guy flew one of those 13 hour missions he was excused from all duties the next day. I only did that three times.  I was always at work the next day after flying a mission.

 

                                  ABCCC C-130 cockpit

In  describing a typical mission, which were all basically the same, the probability of getting shot down was fairly low since we were over Laos and if we stayed at our normal operating altitude we would be too high for most of the weapons the Laotian rebels and NVA had available unless they had a SAM missile, which they never did during my missions.  Thus, it was an airmanship war, i.e. getting the plane airborne and on station and keeping it on station for the assigned 12 hours in spite of over weight take offs, instrument take offs and landings in all kinds of weather, engine failures, not getting lost or somehow drifting over North Vietnam, and knowing the planes systems well enough to handle most any other assorted emergencies that came about and still stay on station. 

The weather in Thailand came in two flavors--for six months there was hardly a cloud in the sky and  the other six months it rained almost all of the time with thunderstorms of all varieties. The biggest danger of the whole mission was that of going to sleep and flying over north Vietnam. This was highly possible because of the long missions we flew and how we had to fly them. I continually preached alertness to the flight crews. I told them what an easy war it was to compared to WW II or Korea.  The whole routine mission could turn to crap in a few minutes because we were barely outside the range of the SAM missiles and MIGs in the vicinity of Hanoi as it was and all we had to do was drift eastward a few miles and we became a sitting duck.                              


A daylight mission with Cricket or Hillsborough started with a  3 AM get up. This in itself was tough to do for having not flown the previous three days you were on a 6 AM to an 11 PM schedule and then when you knew you had to get up at 3 AM you would go to bed early to get a good nights sleep. Only to lay there for hours trying to go to sleep and the harder you tried the more you stayed awake. But when 3 AM came you had to get up regardless of how much sleep you had--thus starting your long day already tired out. Then a quick walk to the Officer’s club for an excellent breakfast. We would meet our navigator and copilot at the club after breakfast and a crew truck would take us to the operations building to pick up our escape and evasion equipment which included an emergency URC-4 radio and a pistol. We were taken to the flight line on the other side of the runway, past the remains of a WW II Japanese control tower and planes belonging to the clandestine CIA operation Air America that was assisting the Laotian government in their war against the Laotian communists. We would then stop by the inflight kitchen where each of us picked up two box lunches for our meals in the long day ahead. It was still dark at this time and in most cases during the rainy season it was raining. The drainage ditch around the perimeter of the runway, called the Klong was pretty much stagnant and had a particularly bad smell in the mornings at 4 AM. 
This was a bad way to start a long day; i.e. sleepy, tired, hot and sweaty in your NOMAX flying suit, and if it was raining you were even more wet. We were dropped of at the airplane to do a walk around inspection  before starting the engines and again if it was raining that made for a miserable job also. On some mornings I would have to talk to myself and say “Bob you have about 30 people who’s lives are in your hand so you have to suck it up and get real serious because in a few minutes you are going to be shoving those power levers forward (in turbo props the throttles are called power levers) and it is a life and death matter after that.” And I went through this same routine 79 times for over 1000 hours of flight time. The Cricket mission required that 5:30 AM takeoff, so after start up we taxied to the end of the runway and made a thorough take off checkout and then the tower, knowing our schedule, would clear us on the runway at the precise time so we could make an on time takeoff. I don't recall ever being late in taking off which is a compliment to the ground crews that maintained our planes in not always good weather conditions.

 

Similar to my Korean missions, the take offs were probably the most dangerous thing about the flight. We were loaded about 8 thousand pounds over our maximum take off weight. The purpose of this was to have enough fuel to complete the 13 hour mission and still have a little extra fuel in the tanks in case of a delay in leaving the orbit area if the relief was late for some reason or in case of having to hold in the holding pattern upon return to base because of a thunderstorm over the field. This extra weight put the plane in such a flight condition that it was doubtful to me, in case of an engine failure on take off, that if you did not get the drag of gear and flaps cleaned up in a timely and prudent manner, you would not be able to keep the plane airborne. I spent many hours training pilots on how the situation should be handled in case of an engine failure on take off.  As an additional concern, it was dark a good part of the year at 5:30 AM so these were instrument takeoffs for the most part and I always figured you would not be able to handle an emergency as well in the dark as in daylight. But, I am pleased to say that we never had an engine failure on take off while I was there. However, I did sweat every one of them out.

Once airborne it was just a normal climb out . The C-130 was a good performing  aircraft and even at the overloaded take off weight it performed well once in the air. As we climbed to 18,000 feet (that was about as high as we could get in our overloaded condition) we would contact Alleycat who had been on station in the orbit area all night (the previous 12 hours) and let them know we were airborne and that they could start back home. If we were late getting there then Alleycat had to stay on station until low fuel required early departure . There were many landings made back at Udorn with all of the low fuel warning lights glowing but it was very few times one of our airplanes was not on station as planned.  It took about 45 minutes to make the take off and climb out to get to the orbit area. Once there we (the front end crew) just started making a big race track pattern and would do so for the next 12 hours. The flight could just as easily have been on solid instruments as under visual conditions for it just did not matter, weather wise, day or night. But, for six months there was a lot of weather and that meant a lot of thunderstorms so that was where the navigator came in handy using the radar to vector you around the big bumpers and keep the back end guys (in particular) happy. Strangely enough there was friendly held TACAN station way up in the northern part of Laos and I never did figure out why the Laotian rebels allowed it to operate. {The author is referring to LIMA Site 85 which was overrun on 11 March 1968 with 19 Air Force Technicians killed). TACAN stands for Tactical Air Navigation and with it you get a read out in the cockpit of the distance and direction to the station you have tuned in. This gave the pilots a warm feeling when flying up there on solid instruments that the navigator was not letting you drift over into North Viet Nam where the SAM missiles lived, because at any instant you could cross check the position the Navigator was giving you with the TACAN readout.

Now that we had made the hairy takeoff and had flown in whatever weather conditions were out there that morning and got established at altitude in our orbit area then we knew that the best we could look forward to for the next 12 hours was going around in circles. One thing I did to make the mission a little more bearable and safer was that I wrote a letter to the 13th Air force to get permission to fly (once on station) with the pilot in the pilot seat and the navigator in the co pilots seat and let the co pilot and flight engineer rest in the two bunks there in the back of the pilot’s compartment. Then after a few hours the co pilot would sit in the pilots seat and the flight engineer in the co pilots seat and let the navigator and pilot rest. Believe it or not the 13 th AF approved the request and really made things a lot easier and a lot safer for us. 

On three occasions I flew a mission with Alleycat where we took off at 5:30 in the evening and stayed on station until 5:30 the next morning. The guys that flew the Alleycat and Moonbeam missions slept all of the following day, pretty much maintaining a night owl schedule. I always wanted them to be as fresh as possible when flying. After flying all night on those few occasions I came back, got a few hours sleep, and then went to my office job in the afternoon. So, the daylight Cricket missions worked out best for me. 

Cricket went around in circles for 12 hours hoping that Alleycat would get airborne and relieve on time. Otherwise we were going to have to stay there another hour and make one of those landings where all of the low fuel warning lights were on. This led to a 14 hour mission (14 was just about all we could get out of the old girl) and when you were in this condition and making the approach and landing on solid instruments it then became an airmanship war. It had nothing to do with combat it was just plain airmanship with pilots trying to fly a GCA approach on solid instruments in a thunderstorm on empty tanks hoping the lightning did not knock the power off in the GCA shack, leaving no options but to crash. This was the hairy part of the mission during the six month monsoon season.  As stated earlier, with the loss of an engine in flight, we just continued on 3 engines like nothing had happened. The loss of two engines, however, dictated returning to base.  As we burned off fuel we would step climb to higher altitudes for better fuel consumption, eventually ending up at about 30 thousand feet by the end of the 12th hour. As before, there was not much else to do once we got on station but fly the airplane around that 30 mile race track pattern. Sometimes on a clear day we could look down and see an Air America single engine turboprop airplane landing on the top of one of the mountains below where the top had been sliced off to make a 500 foot landing strip. Those Pilatis Porter planes, with reversible props, were amazing at making short field landings.

Sometimes there would be an Air Force pilot that got shot down and we could turn on rescue frequency and listen to all of the conversation between him, on his emergency radio, and all of the SAR airplanes and helicopters trying to rescue him. It was hard to believe what we were listening to was real and not some drama on the radio.

While I was flying, we were run out of our area about 3 times with a warning that north Viet Nam MIGs were approaching our area. We got out of there as quickly as possible but we were never attacked by MIGs. If we had been I would likely not be writing this opus now because we were dead meat if they really wanted us and I never could figure why they apparently didn’t.

 

So all the above pretty well describes what a mission, flying in that war, was like for me. It was not nearly as dangerous as flying in the other two wars but it was a demanding mission and as I said earlier, it was an airmanship war for us "front enders."  I felt so strongly about it that I wrote a letter to the 13th Air Force stating my views on the subject and recommending that all of the flight crews be given the Distinguished Flying Cross Medal (DFC) upon completing their missions. I was told by people at my base that it would not be approved, but I must have used the right words because it came back approved and from that time on any member of a flight crew that completed his missions was awarded a DFC. I was always pleased with the fact that I made DFCs possible for a large number of flight crew members. DFCs are hard to come by and are a source of pride for all aviators.  (Ed Note.  Bob Mosley earned three DFCs during his three wars.)


                                 
Bob Mosley Taking Off as PIC of ABCCC Cricket
So the year was coming to an end. I had flown 77 missions and thought 80 would be a nice round number to quit on. After the 78th mission I thought it would not be funny if something bad happened on my 80th and last mission (like get killed). So, since I could schedule my own missions I decided to trick fate and scheduled my 79th mission and let it be my last one. One thing they did after a crew member finished their missions was to give them a “Wash Down” by getting the fire truck to come over and spray the crew down as they departed the plane. When this was over I could really relax and while not anything like the feelings I experienced after completing my missions in WW II and Korea, I did feel a certain amount of tension leave my body knowing I had successfully completed all of my missions and not killed anyone including myself. I stopped by the Chapel on the way back to my trailer after the mission and went in and thanked God for seeing me through. It was an odd hour but the chapel was open as the chapel was in Korea after my last mission there.

 

It was the fourth of July, I had my orders and was departing Udorn for home. There were no emotional good byes. It just was not that kind of war. My boss Woods came down to see me off in the C-130 that took me to Bangkok where I boarded a contract commercial jet for my return trip home.

 

My daughter Melody and her friend Sue Savage had a huge banner stretched across the garage doors, with the words “Welcome Home Dad” when I arrived at our home. That brought a tear to my eyes.    

Bob

Robert L. Mosley

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