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18th SOS


The Gunships


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October 10, 2011

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18th SOS
(Special Operations Squadron)

The AC-119K Stinger Gunship served combat duty for the United States Air Force in Southeast Asia for three (3) years, two (2) months starting November 13, 1969 and ending December 31, 1972. All AC-119k Stinger gunships were turned-over to the Republic of Vietnam Air Force (VNAF). None made it back to the United States after the war.   

Chronology compiled by Dr. Larry Elton Fletcher. Most Dates and Information taken from Jack S. Ballard’s book, Development and Employment of Fixed-Wing Gunships.  Dates and information also obtained from USAF Unit Lineage and Honors History, Official Documents, and Veterans of the 18th SOS.

Note: Author unsure of exact date for first Stinger daylight mission.


Campaign Streamers
World War II
Air Offensive, Europe
Northern France
Central Europe
Air Combat

Vietnam Summer-Fall, 1969
Vietnam Winter-Spring, 1970
Sanctuary Counteroffensive
Southwest Monsoon
Commando Hunt V
Commando Hunt VI
Commando Hunt VII
Vietnam Ceasefire


Presidential Unit Citation:
Southeast Asia, 1 Apr–31 Dec 1972.

Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards With Combat "V" Device:
1 Jul 1970–30 Jun 1971;
25 Aug–30 Nov 1971;
1 Dec 1971–29 Feb 1972;
8 Apr–13 May 1972.

Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm:
[Oct] 1969–31 Dec 1972.




January 25  1969

The 18th Special Operations Squadron activated for combat crew training at Lockbourne AFB, Ohio. The 4413th Combat Crew Training Squadron (CCTS) responsible for training crews. The  4413th CCTS had received its first AC-119K model gunship on November 8, 1968.

March 5

18th SOS received first aircraft for training at Lockbourne, AFB.

Oct 11

Advance elements of 18th Special Operations Squadron in place at Phan Rang Air Base, Republic of Vietnam.

Oct 21

First six (6) AC-119K gunships departed Lockbourne for Phan Rang, RVN.

Nov 3

First AC-119K gunship arrived at Phan Rang.

Nov 13

First combat mission for AC-119K gunship.

Dec 1

7th Air Force officially approves AC-119K gunship radio call sign of Stinger.

Dec 31

Twelve (12) AC-119K Stinger gunships in-country RVN:

A Flight, Da Nang Air Base = 6
B Flight, Phu Cat Air Base = 3
C Flight, Phan Rang Air Base = 3

Jan 25

Last AC-119K arrived at Phan Rang Air Base, RVN.

Feb 1

A total of eighteen (18) AC-119K Stinger gunships based in South Vietnam; most of them configured and available for combat.

Feb 4

All eighteen AC-119K gunships configured for combat missions.

Feb 17

First AC-119K Stinger gunship combat mission flown out of Udorn Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand.

Feb 19

First Stinger Lost when it crashed short of the runway at Da Nang Air Base. All crewmembers survived.

March 1

Sixteen (16) Stinger gunships based at Da Nang and NKP. Da Nang Stingers flew South Vietnam and Steel Tiger in Laos. NKP Stingers flew Barrel Roll in Northern Laos.

May 1

Cambodian Incursion

May 8

Miraculous Stinger Combat Mission over Laos that resulted in Captain Milacek and his crew receiving the McKay Trophy for the most meritorious flight of the year.

June 1

Mid-1970 Bases of Operation and Number of Stingers:
Da Nang AB - 9
Phan Rang AB - 4
Udorn RTAB - 3

June 6

Second Stinger Loss – Runaway Propeller after take-off from DaNang.  Crew of ten (10) bailed-out.  All but one crewmember (the IO) rescued in South China Sea.


First daylight combat missions for Stinger Gunships in support of Cambodia operations.

Oct 26

D Flight moved from Udorn RTAB to Nakhon Phanom RTAB.

Dec 31

End of 1970, Bases of Operation and Numbers of Stingers:
Da Nang - 7
Phan Rang - 3
Nakhon Phanom (NKP) - 6

Feb 28

Famous Tank Kill Mission of Da Nang Stinger. Eight Soviet/North Vietnamese PT-76 light tanks were destroyed at night near Hill 31 in Laos during Operation Lamson 719. First fixed-wing gunship to destroy Soviet tanks in the war.

March 5

NKP Stinger controlled bailout of crew except for pilot, co-pilot, and flight engineer due to critical fuel shortage. All crewmen rescued by helicopter within two hours of bailout. Pilot, co-pilot, and flight engineer remained onboard and nursed the gunship to base for a safe landing on fumes.



All Stinger Gunships located at Da Nang or NKP.

10 & 11

Renown back-to-back truck kill missions of Da Nang Stinger Polish Bandits Combat Crew. Destroyed nineteen (19) enemy trucks on the night of the 10th and returned on night of the 11th to destroy twenty-one (21) additional trucks for a record total of forty (40) trucks destroyed by one Stinger gunship in two consecutive night missions.


4413th CCTS transferred from Lockbourne to Hurlburt Field and re-designated the 415th Special Operations Training Squadron. Eight (8) AC-119Ks and six (6) AC130s were assigned to the squadron. Tail numbers for the AC-119s were:

May 2

18th SOS suffers third Stinger Loss. Operating from the FOL at Bien Hoa, Stinger 41 is shot down near An Loc, RVN. Three (3) of ten (10) crewmembers killed.  Last daylight mission for Stinger gunships. The pilot of Stinger 41 was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross.


Two (2) AC-119s from the 415th SOTS ferried to S.E.A.

July 13

Stinger 12 and 17 prevent a hostile rocket attack against Da Nang Air Base north of Hill 55.

Oct 1

Project Enhance, directed by the Air Force Chief of Staff, transferred to the VNAF sixteen (16) PACAF-assigned AC-119K gunships and six (6) 1st SOW AC-119K gunships, thus wiping out the entire 1st SOW AC-119K force.


Six (6) AC-119s from the 415th SOTS at Hurlburt ferried to Phan Rang, RVN with stops at McCord, Elmendorf, Adak, Midway,Wake, Guam, and Clark Air Base, Philippines. Eight days from Hurlburt to Phan Rang.

Dec 18

First training flight for Vietnamese in AC-119K #53-7831 at DaNang under Project Enhance.

Dec 31

The 18th Special Operations Squadron Deactivated.

Jan 1

Project Enhance
re-designated Project Enhance Plus.

Feb 24

18th SOS instructors receive Vietnamese Air Service Medal and Vietnamese Aviation Wings at Tan Son Nhut Air Base for 45-day Stinger training course.

March 1

• AC-119K #53-7839, flying out of Da Nang Air Base, with five (5) USAF Flight Instructors and eight (8) South Vietnamese VNAF Training Personnel onboard was lost to the South China Sea when ground radar failure, extreme low visibility due to fog, and fuel starvation caused crew to bail-out. Everyone was rescued the next day by small rescue boats, except for one South Vietnamese airman who lost his life when his unreleased parachute caught in a rescue boat propeller.
This gunship loss caused the early termination of Project Enhance Plus.

• Last mission for Da Nang AC-119K Stinger gunship tail number 52-5911.

Additional Lineage Information

The 18th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy) was constituted on 20 Nov 1940 and activated on 15 Jan 1941. Using PT-17, B-18 and B-17 aircraft, trained and participated in maneuvers until 7 Dec 1941. Transferred to the western United States in Jan 1942 to bolster defense forces and serve as training unit. Served as replacement training unit from mid-1942 until the end of 1943 and then began preparing for overseas duty in B-24s. Moved to England in Apr 1944 for operations with Eighth AF. Entered combat in May 1944. Helped to prepare for the invasion of Normandy by bombing airfields in France and Germany, and supported the landing in Jun by attacking coastal defenses and communications. Continued to take part in the campaign in France by supporting ground forces at St. Lo, 24-25 Jul, and by striking V-weapon sites, gun emplacements, and supply lines throughout the summer of 1944.
Converted to B-17s and engaged primarily in bombardment of strategic objectives from Oct 1944 to Feb 1945. Targets included marshalling yards in Ludwigshaven, Hamm, Osnabruck, and Darmstadt; oil centers in Bielefeld , Merseburg, Hamburg, and Misburg: factories in Berlin, Dalteln, and Hannover; and airfields in Munster, Neumunster, and Frankfurt. In March 1945, with few industrial targets remaining and with Allied armies advancing across Germany, the squadron turned almost solely to interdicting enemy communications and supporting Allied ground forces.
After V-E Day it carried food to flooded areas of Holland and transported prisoners of war from German camps to Allied centers. Returned to the US in the summer of 1945. Inactivated on 28 Aug 1945.

Activated at Lockbourne AFB, Ohio, on 25 Jan 1969, the 18th Special Operations Squadron was the first USAF combat squadron to fly the AC-119K gunship, equipped for operations in heavy weather or darkness. They received first aircraft on 5 Mar 1969 and trained over local ranges for the next six months. Deployed to Phan Rang AB, South Vietnam, in Oct 1969-Jan 1970 and flew first combat mission on 13 Nov 1969.
Between 1969 and 1972 maintained forward operating locations for varying intervals at Da Nang AB, Phu Cat AB, in South Vietnam; and Udorn RTAFB and Nakhon Phanom RTAFB in Thailand. Squadron relocated to Nakhon Phanom RTAFB, Thailand, in Aug 1971, and maintained a detachment at Da Nang AB, South Vietnam, and a forward operating location at Bien Hoa AB, South Vietnam.

The primary mission for most of the SEA tour was interdiction of enemy supply lines in Laos but they flew ground support and site defense missions as needed. Through close air support and drop zone illumination, the squadron helped to raise the 45-day of the Dak Seang and Dak Pek Special Forces Camps, South Vietnam, in Apr-May 1970. They began daylight interdiction missions over Cambodia in Aug 1970.

Intensified antiaircraft defenses along the Laotian truck routes, a shortage of fighter escorts and the North Vietnamese invasion of South Vietnam forced the 18th Special Operations Squadron to increase support of ground forces in South Vietnam from Mar 1972 on. Squadron aircraft transferred to the South Vietnamese Air Force on 2 Nov 1972 and squadron began training VNAF pilots. Unit inactivated on 31 Dec 1972.

(Redesignated 18th Test Squadron on 1 Jul 1991 and activated on 15 Jul 1991. Inactivated on 1 Apr 1994. Redesignated the 18th Flight Test Squadron (18th FTS) on 23 Mar 1994 and Activated on 1 Mar 1994. The 18th FTS is now located at Hurlburt Field Florida.)

34th Bombardment Group (Heavy) (later, 34th Bombardment Group, Heavy), 15 Jan 1941; 28 Aug 1945. 1st Special Operations Wing, 25 Jan 1969; 4410th Combat Crew Training Wing, 15 Jul 1969; 14th Special Operations Wing, 1 Oct 1969; 56th Special Operations Wing, 25 Aug 1971-31 Dec 1972. Special Missions Operational Test and Evaluation Center, 15 Jul 1991.

Det 1 (Nakhon Phanom RTAFB, Thailand): 31 Mar-25 Aug 1971.
Det 1 ( Da Nang AB, South Vietnam): 30 Sep 1971-31 Dec 1972.

Langley Field, Va, 15 Jan 1941;
Westover Field, Mass, 29 May 1941;
Pendleton Field, Ore, 27 Jan 1942;
Davis-Monthan Field, Ariz, 13 May 1942;
Geiger Field, Wash, 4 Jul 1942;
Ephrata AAB, Wash, 1 Dec 1942;
Blythe AAFld, Calif, 7 Dec 1942:
Salinas AAB, Calif, c. 29 May 1943, (operated from Kern Co Aprt, Bakersfield, Calif, 22 Jun-13 Jul 1943);
Blythe AAFld, Calif, 13 Jul 1943-c. 2 Apr 1944;
Mendlesham, England, 23 Apr 1944-24 Jul 1945;
Sioux Falls AAFld, SD, c. 13-28 Aug 1945.
Lockbourne AFB, Ohio, 25 Jan-1 Oct 1969;
Phan Rang AB, South Vietnam, Oct 1969;
Nakhon Phanom RTAFB, Thailand, 25 Aug 1971­31 Dec 1972. Edwards AFB, Calif, 15 Jul 1991-.

Capt (later, May) Torgils G. Wold, 15 Jan 1941;
Maj (later, Lt Col) Ralph E. Koon, (by 7 Dec) 1941;
1st Lt (later, Capt) Allen Lindberg, c. 13 Feb 1942;
Capt (later, May) Theodore A. Milton, 21 Jul 1942;
Maj Charles Lancaster, 28 Oct 1942:
Maj Harold M. Harmon, 19 Feb 1943;
Maj Wesley A. Anderson, 21 Apr 1943;
Capt Winston 0. Defieux, 12 May 1943;
Capt Robert Wilcox, 11 Jul 1943;
Capt (later, May) James H. Keenan, 26 Jul 1943;
Maj (later, Lt Col) William S. Boyd, 13 Nov 1943;
Capt (later, Lt Col) Frank R. Crabtree, 8 Aug 1944;
Maj Charles Cook, Jun-28 Aug 1945.
Lt Col. Ellwood E. Johnson, 29 Jan1969;
Lt Col Hugh M. Matheson, 1 May, 1970;
Lt Col Charles F. Apgar, 1 Sep1970;
Lt Col Leroy A. Bruflat, 15 Feb 1971:
Lt Col Thomas L. Kelsey, 14 Jul 1971;
Lt Col Fritz F. Hugger, 18 Dec 1971;
Lt Col Robert G. Matthews, 1 Jan 1972;
Lt Col Lawrence R. Hileman, (by Oct)-31 Dec 1972.

PT-17, 1941; LB-30, 1941; B-18, 1941; B-17, 1941-1943, 1944-1945; B-24, 1943-1944. AC-119, 1969-1972.

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