Some of the aircraft that supported Project Delta.  Click on each for more information.

History of Aviation Support for Project Delta

Unknown Recon Team leader

Special Project Delta, Detachment B-52, 5th Special Forces Group, successfully accomplished assigned missions with excellent aviation support provided by many outstanding Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine aviation units.

During the life cycle of Project Delta, the U.S. Navy, and Marine Corps, in many instances, provided critical aviation support, but U.S. Army and Air Force units provided the bulk of this requirement. This included transportation to and from the operational areas, team insertions, extractions, medical evacuations, and close air support. Air Force cargo ships moved the unit to and from the operational area, and Air Force Controllers assisted teams, identified targets, and made effective use of Air Force, Navy and Marine tactical air support. Army aviation units provided aircraft for Airborne Radio Relay, and Army and Marine Units provided Helicopter support.

From initial organization of Project Delta, and the first mission, aviation assets were attached. However, on almost every operation from 1964 to 1970, additional army, and/or marine aviation support was provided by the units Delta worked for. In many instances, these army and marine units provided the total aviation requirement, limited only by their assigned assets.

In 1964, most aviation support was provided by Vietnamese Air Force elements. Using the L-19 for tactical air control and airborne radio relay, and the H-34 for command and control, insertions, extractions, and medical evacuation; Project Delta prosecuted its long-range reconnaissance mission under the code name Leaping Lena.

LTC Leonard A. Boulas, Operations Officer, Project Delta, 12/01/64, remembers the following:

"The air assets we had in 1964 were from the Vietnamese Air force (VNAF). At that time the Vietnamese Army did not have an operational air element. We used H 34 helicopters and two C 47 cargo planes. Radio relay was initially done using the C 47s but their time over the operation area was limited. We then used U.S Army Otters from the 5th RRU for this purpose.

The L 19s (not sure if the Air Force 0-1Fs were the same as the L 19, but they looked like it) were used when the first FACs from the U. S. Air Force flew missions supporting the Project.

The C 47s were first assigned to transport the Vietnamese 91st Airborne   Ranger   Battalion   reaction  force,   to   re-supply  the

CPT Len Boulas - 1965

deployed recon teams, and fly administrative, logistical, and R & D missions. From time to time we got U.S. gunship support, and in some cases, used other aviation resources.

Normally when we went on a mission, we had Military Advisory Command Vietnam (MACV) priority to move (C 130 aircraft) the headquarters staff, reaction force, and recon teams. Once the mission was over, it was hitch a ride back to the base camp in Nha Trang as best you could. I remember a lot of times sitting on the run up strip of a runway with a company of Rangers, and other personnel, looking for an aircraft which might be going our way."  Leonard A Boulas, LTC, USA, Ret.

On 15 May 1964, the U.S. Mission in Saigon initiated the program, “Leaping Lena“, and in June, transferred it to the Military Assistance Command and Special Forces under Operation SWITCHBACK. In October, it became Special Project Delta. The 5th Special Forces Group created Detachment B-52 as a controlling Headquarters in June 1965.

U.S. Air Force:
"The first U.S. Air Force Forward Air Controllers (FAC) used by Project Delta were TDY from the 19th Tactical Air Support Squadron (TASS), which arrived in country with 22 0-1F aircraft in July 1963."

The 21st TASS, which would later provide Delta’s permanent tactical air support element, was activated on 8 May 1965, and became operational in August that year. One of the first actions by this unit was an effort to open Highway 21 from Delta’s home base in Nha Trang to Ban Me Thout. Within six days, 28 August to 3 September, over one hundred air strikes involving every type of strike aircraft belonging to Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps, were directed by the three Nha Trang FAC's. 

21st TASS records indicate that on 1 January 1966, four Forward Air Controllers were attached to Project Delta. However, in January 1966, the only FACs working Delta were Jim Ahmann and Ken Kerr, and they were TDY from the 19th TASS. Initially, only one FAC, one Radio Operator, and one 01-E Aircraft had been attached. However, as missions multiplied, Delta’s need tripled, and additional Air Control assets were brought in.

John F Flanagan, BG, USAF Ret Remembers:

"Capt. Ken Kerr and Capt Jim Ahmann were the initial FACs permanently assigned to Delta. I replaced Ken in April of 1966 on the ChuLai Operation, initially TDY and then permanently assigned. I was a 1st LT. Lt. Carlton Skinner Simpson replaced Jim Ahmann. around June of 1966. When Projects Omega and Sigma were formed, Skinner was assigned to II Corps (Omega or Sigma?) and Delta had only one FAC. We didn't use any TDY FACs because the learning curve was too steep for them. Finally, in Nov of 1966 another FAC was PCS'd to Delta when we were in Khe Sanh. That was Capt. Charlie Swope. He was shot down on his 5th mission with Delta, Sgt. Glidden in the back seat was also killed. Tommy Carpenter led the recovery team.

At that time, all FACS for Delta had to have at least 6 month experience in country, volunteer for Delta, and pass the approval of Recon after an initial operation.. (We fired one FAC because the Recon teams stated "he's going to get himself or us killed".) Capt. Al Groth replaced Capt. Swope and at this time, Delta was assigned 2 AF Bird Dogs after AF hierarchy realized it was suicide to fly single ship in I Corps. (All other I Corp FACs flew two ship missions). I left Delta in early Jan of 1967, after second Khe Sanh deployment. I would like to think that Delta got the best FACs from the AF during that era. Jim Ahmann, myself, and Skinner Simpson were all AF Academy grads, and Charlie Swope was an Annapolis grad who cross commissioned in the AF.

AF resources were a TACP, Tactical Air Control Party, comprised of two officers and one or two enlisted radio operators/maintenance (ROMADS) plus a MARK 108 Communications Jeep that had FM, VHF, UHF, and a very powerful HF/SSB. Airman Rudy Bishop was with Delta much of this time. He lived in the Delta compound and would pull shifts with the Delta Commo when things were slow on the AF net. With the HF, we could reach Saigon from KheSanh, and the ROMADS on occasion would contact the Philippines.

As for fighter support, Delta had the highest priority for fighter support since almost all of our missions were of an immediate nature. We approved our own strikes, no interference from any chain of command. What Delta wanted, Delta got. Aircraft in flight were frequently diverted from scheduled targets to support Delta. We used VNAF, Marine, Navy, and Air Force fighters."

John F. Flanagan, BG, USAF, Ret.
ALO/FAC, Project Delta, April 1966-Jan 1967
Author of "Vietnam Above the Treetops: A Forward Air Controller Reports."

Maj. Charles Allen, Project Delta CO (left) congratulates Air Force Capt. Allen R. Groth who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for valorous actions performed in support of Project Delta. At right is Maj. Pham Duy Tat, Allen's Vietnamese Special Forces counterpart.

Unlike the other Aviation Support Elements, Air Force Controllers, and support personnel lived with and became a part of Project Delta. The FAC’s, and accompanying personnel, who were assigned to Delta, lived and worked with the unit at their Nha Trang Headquarters and each Forward Operation Base (FOB).

Nighttime Airborne Radio Relay capability was made available to the reconnaissance  Teams of Project Delta by the Air Force Airborne Battlefield Command and Control Center (ABCCC), an Air force C-130 on station over Southern Laos with the call sign, “Moonbeam”. Airborne Radio Relay during the day was usually accomplished using the U-6 Beaver, and/or U-1 Otter organic to Army Aviation Units in the Corps area of operation.

505th Tactical Control Group - Hq Unit of 21st TASS

Army Helicopter Support:
Helicopters played an important roll in the operations of Project Delta, and were essential for insertions, extractions, medical evacuation, and close fire support. Early on, primary helicopter support was provided by the VNAF using H-34s. Later, it was almost always provided by U.S. Forces. But no matter who provided primary helicopter support, the units Delta supported augmented this, as illustrated by the following extract from an Operational Summary:

Subject: Marine Aviation Support
1st Marine Aircraft Wing, III MAF, VMO-3, Operational Summary, 21-23 May.
21 MAY 1967:
Six armed escort missions were flown in support of Project Delta.
22 MAY 1967: Ten armed escort missions were flown in support of Project Delta.
23 MAY 1967: Four armed escort missions were flown in support of Project Delta.

Vietnamese Air Force elements supported Delta from its beginning until the end of 1965 using H-34s. L-19s, and C-47s. However, as late as 1969, Delta was still using VN aircraft, when nothing else was available. In many instances between 1967 and 1969, when Delta assets were all committed,  commanders had to beg for, and take, whatever additional aircraft support they could find. It was in these cases when VN aviation support was provided.

As Delta’s need outstripped the capability of the Vietnamese Air Force, additional support was obtained from U.S. Units. This support by U.S. Aviators, untrained in Delta operations, was less than satisfactory. Constant changing of equipment, and the requirement to keep training new personnel, led to Delta’s request for it’s own aviation unit. The first American Helicopter Unit attached to Project Delta was the 145th Airlift Platoon (UH-1B Slicks).

LTC Leonard A. Boulas, Operations Officer, Project Delta, 12-1-64, remembers:

"The reason for going from the Vietnamese Air assets to U.S. assets was not a call made by the Project. MACV decided to pull the Vietnamese air assets so Special Operations Group (SOG) could use them. We were not happy campers in the Project when that happened. Right after that, U.S. Aviation resources were assigned on an operational basis, which to say the least, was a major problem. Finally after much bitching by Project and Group Commander, Air resources were permanently assigned to the Project.

Early on, the VNAF aviation resources were assigned to us. We paid their salaries, food and lodging (Villas in Nha Trang). They operated at our direction and only if the VNAF Air Marshal had a special operational need were they not available. This was done in coordination with the Project and normally only effected the availability of the C 47s.

I believe the VNAF air assets came out of the 219th Special Operations Squadron. The King Bees (H 34 personnel) from this squadron were recognized at Special Operations Association Reunion (SOAR) XXVII last year for their support to SOG. Whether or not any of those people were in the original group that supported Delta in 64-65 I am not sure."  Leonard A Boulas, LTC, USA, Ret. 

Although the 145th provided Helicopter support to Project Delta in 1965, The first appearance of the 145th Air Lift Platoon in direct support of Delta operations shows up in the After Action Report (AAR) for Operation 1-66 (Binh Hoa), 2 Jan 1966, Forward Operational Base (FOB) Di An.

The 145th Airlift Platoon (UH-1B Slicks) were moved to Nha Trang to support Headquarters, I Field Forces, Republic of Vietnam on 6 January 1965. Later that year on 25 December, the 145th was reassigned to the 10th Combat Aviation Battalion, and began training with Project Delta. Thirty days later, 25 January 1966, the 145th was consolidated with the 6th Aviation Platoon (UH-1B Gun ships) to form the 2nd Platoon, 171st Aviation Company (AC).

The 171st AC provided Helicopter support as directed by the 5th Special Forces Group (Abn), also Headquartered in Nha Trang. The primary mission of the 2d Platoon became direct support to Project Delta, and its reconnaissance  training activity, which later became the RECONDO School. The 2/171st were placed under Operational Control (OPCON) of 5th Special Forces Group.

By July of 1966, the 281st AHC had assumed the aviation assets of the 171st, and was attached to Project Delta for support. Quartered in the 5th SFGA compound, they continued in that status thru Operation Yellow Ribbon, December 1969.

During this time frame, 39 operations were conducted by the Project using the Helicopter assets of more than 23 different U.S. Army and Marine Aviation units. The 281st AHC, based in Nha Trang, provided primary aviation support for 24 of these 39 operations. Between Operation Yellow Ribbon and the de-activation of Project Delta in June 1970, Primary Helicopter support was provided by the units Delta was OPCON to. See Delta After Action Reports.

281st AHC Association Website