Page 479

Page 479 (1968: The Defining Year)

Photo from David Douylas Collection

All enemy mortar shell impacts below a just-landed
Marine Lockheed KC-130 Hercules transport at the Khe Sanh airstrip.
One of the Marine crew members can be seen on the ground under the wing.

The necessary sequence of landing, offloading cargo and replacements,
loading wounded and evacuees, then taking off again created a precarious
time for all concerned. When an aircraft touched down, the enemy immediately
fired on the runway with a variety of weapons ranging from small arms
to rockets, often damaging the aircraft or causing casualties among
the exposed personnel gathered to service or board it. Every moment
spent on the ground was fraught with hazard. Pilots soon developed the
technique of "speed offloading" for cargo, in which the plane continued
to taxi after landing and the cargo was simply rolled our the back.
This reduced offloading time from the 10 minutes required with a forklift
to less than 30 seconds. Fairchild C-123K Providers, equipped with auxiliary
jet engines, could land, offload, take on passengers, rum around and
lift off again in as little as one minute. Of course, when leaving the
combat base, the planes were once again exposed to enemy antiaircraft

The workhorses of the fixed-wing air delivery effort were the Lockheed
C-130 (or KC-130) Hercules, the Fairchild C-123 Provider, and the C-7
Buffalo, with cargo capacities of 15 tons, 5 tons, and 3 tons, respectively.*
VMGR-152 provided the KC-130s while the Air Force flew all three types
of transports into Khe Sanh. While the C-130 had the obvious advantage
of greater carrying capacity, the smaller aircraft could land on shorter
spaces of open runway, spend less time on the ground, and present a
smaller target on the ground as well as in the air.54

Prior to 10 February, seven C-130s were hit and damaged on resupply
missions to Khe Sanh. On the 10th, North Vietnamese heavy machine gun
fire struck a 1st Marine Aircraft Wing KC-130, with a crew ot six and
five passengers, piloted by Chief Warrant Officer 3 Henry Wildtang and
Major Robert E. White on the approach to the combat base. The plane
was carrying flamethrowers and bulk fuel in bladders. According to Wildfang,
the enemy fire "set the #3 engine ablaze, punctured the fuel cells in
the cargo compartment, and ignited the ftiel." He recalled that "two
explosions rocked the ... [aircraft] in-flight, with a third occurring
at touchdown." Oily black smoke and flames entered the cockpit area
and "limited visibility to near zero." Wildfang and White had contacted
the base "to keep the approach area and landing zone clear of operating
helicopters, and to alert the base fire equipment personnel." They were
able to maneuver the aircraft clear of the runway upon landing so that
the airstrip could remain in use. He and White escaped the aircraft
through their respective "cockpit swing windows" although White had
difficulty in extricating his foot, caught in the window. Warrant Officer
Wildfang opened the crew door, but "a wall of fire and dense smoke"
forced him back. At that point, the crash crews arrived and rescued
another three men, two of whom

* The C-7, sometimes
also called the "Caribou," is a turbo-engine version of the C-2. All
the Marine Lockheed Hercules transports were configured as rcfuelers
and were thus designated KC-130s rather than C-130s.

Page 479 (1968: The Defining Year)