.:: Heavy Attack Squadron 21 ::.


 

Heavy Attack Squadron 21
VAH-21

 

Established: 01 September 1968  |  Disestablished: 16 June 1969

 

Bronze Star AwardPurple Heart Recipients
Navy Air MedalMeritorious Unit CommendationVietnam Service Medal
Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit CitationRepublic of Vietnam Civil Action Unit CitationRepublic of Vietnam Campaign Medal

 

The “Trim” Gunships of VAH-21

 

The directive issued to the Navy during 1966 to form a special air unit, called for it not only to place sensors along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, but to attack it as well. Navy planners decided the dual mission was excessive for one aircraft model, so VO-67 was formed for the sensor mission. That left the Navy with the task of fulfilling the "Attack" portion of the order.

Meanwhile, Navy Task Force 116, a river patrol force responsible for denying the enemy use of South Vietnam's vaterways, stated a need for a specialized airplane to augment its patrol boats. Soon after it began operations during December 1965, TF-116 (Code named GAME WARDEN) quickly discovered the enemies' uncanny ability to exploit the cover of darkness to infiltrate troops and supplies over water as well as land. The Navy then realized it required an aircraft capable of detecting and attacking enemy forces at night on two fronts: the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Cambodia and Laos, and south Vietnam's Mekong Delta region. In their search for the right airplane for a specific mission, the Navy, once again, prudently selected Lockheed's Neptune. Not only were Neptunes available, since they were being phased out, but he Navy, aware of Air Force success with gunships, was anxious to adopt the concept to their proven P-2s.

Four stock SP-2H Neptunes were obtained from fleet units: Bureau Numbers 135620, 145902, 148337 and 148353. Under Navy contract, they went to Lockheed for airframe modifications and LT/ E-Systems for equipment installation and systems integration. A vast number of alterations was necessary inside and out to transform the ASW Neptunes into night reconnaissance and interdiction aircraft. They were stripped of all ASW systems and avionics gear which made room for a complex array of sensors....

The revitalized Neptunes emerged from their extensive modifications to form the Project TRIM Detachment at the Naval Air Test Center, Weapons System Test Division, NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, All Navy flight tests, plus initial flight and maintenance training, was conducted at Burbank by Lockheed. Project TRIM was officially described as a "Combat operational test and evaluation of advanced multi-sensor, night attack and electronic search, acquisition, and strike equipment." In simpler terms, it was time to put the AP-2Hs to the test.

During mid summer 1968, the four AP-2Hs were ferried to NAF Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam by TRIM personnel, who remained with the aircraft. They flew the initial combat sorties as a special detachment, along with civilian technical representatives in some electronic equipment positions. The Project TRIM Detachment was disestablished on 31 August 1968 and commissioned Heavy Attack Squadron 21 (VAH-21) the next day to perform the TRIM mission. The squadron's home port was NS Sangley Point, Philippines with a detachment at NAF Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam. VAH-21 started a new page in Naval aviation history as the first multi-sensor night interdiction squadron, whose mission was to interdict logistics moving over land or sea....

VAH-21 shared the ramp space at NAF Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam with the Army's 1st Radio Research Company, which also flew an unusual mission with their own brand of Neptunes. A close relationship developed between the two units. The fact that both were involved in unique and dangerous missions with a specialized airplane was not lost on each. Like their Navy counterparts, Army Neptunes were also rotated through NS Sangley Point, Philippines. It was there that VAH-21 gained a reputation for low, high-speed "We're back" passes down the runway. Personnel at NS Sangley Point, Philippines came to expect the passes, which became lower and faster, until an Admiral put a stop to them.

Even though they were a hard-working, dedicated combat unit, VAH-21 was not without its lighter moments. At NAF Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, Air Force F-4 "Phantom" jets flew around the clock. When they landed, they deployed drag chutes, then taxied to a drop area where the chutes were released and picked up by a crew with a pickup truck. That gave some AP-2H crew members the idea it would be nice if they had drag chutes. So, on landing, they began throwing a small yellow "Gibson Girl" parachute out of the waist window on a long rope. That went on for a long time until one night, when a crew landed and saw a "Real" drag chute laying near the runway. The chute was retrieved and packed; then they waited until the next trip back to NS Sangley Point, Philippines. When the Neptune landed, the chute, which had been tied at several places in the aft fuselage, was shoved through the bottom hatch and opened. The airplane nearly stood on its nose, the tie-downs broke or bent, and the unsuspecting pilot yelled, "What the hell did we hit?!" He stopped on the runway while the crew in the back frantically tried to pull the huge parachute back through the hatch - with no success. In desperation, the chute was cut loose and blew down the runway. The escapade was not repeated except in "You should have been there " stories told in the crew lounge...

The squadron was informed during early June 1969 that they were being decommissioned, the low passes resumed at NS Sangley Point, Philippines, topped off by one flown by all four gunships....VAH-21 was disestablished on 16 June 1969 and all five Neptunes were returned to the U. S.

 

.:: DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN NAVAL AVIATION SQUADRONS ::.

Squadron Insignia and Nickname - The squadron’s insignia request was disapproved by CNO because the insignia instruction restricted the use of cartoon designs. A new insignia request was not submitted prior to the squadron’s disestablishment.

Chronology of Significant Events

1 Sep 1968: Heavy Attack Squadron 21 became the first squadron in the Navy with a night interdiction mission using new electronic surveillance equipment (multi-sensors). Its mission was to interdict logistics moving over land or sea.

1 Sep 1968: A detachment of VAH-21 was established at NAF Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam. The detachment at NAF Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam had been a Naval Air Test Center Project TRIM Detachment (TRIM: Trails Roads Interdiction Multi-sensor) prior to becoming a VAH-21 detachment.

16 Jun 1969: With the disestablishment of VAH-21, its record included no loss of aircraft or any wounds suffered by its personnel during operations in Southeast Asia.

Home Port Assignments

NS Sangley Point, Philippines

Commanding Officers

CDR A. E. Forsman (01 Sep 1968)
CDR N. D. Dunnan (1968)

Aircraft Assignment

AP-2H

Air Wing Assignments

Commander Fleet Air Western Pacific (COMFAIRWESTPAC) (TailCode: SL)

Unit Awards

Bronze Star Award
Purple Heart Recipient
Navy Air Medal
Meritorious Unit Commendation
Vietnam Service Medal
Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation
Republic of Vietnam Civil Action Unit Citation
Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal

 

VAH-21 Member's Only

 

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