SOCK IT TO EM BABY – RAAF BIRDOG FAC IN VIETNAM

SEPT 2011 – A few years ago a good friend of mine from the well known Australian Warbirds Association introduced me to a friend of his at a airshow… preflighting a O-1 FAC Birdog.

I noted the pilot had some interesting patches sewn to his flight jacket….

This person was Garry Cooper. I quickly asked some questions and got some interesting answers.

So after talking and getting to know Garry as a friend, researching, interviewing, asking questions – i have after 3years have gained a great admiration for what he has achieved and experienced in his aviation career.

Below is a condensed story on Garry Cooper – RAAF pilot, civil pilot and warbird pilot.
He has flown in some scary situations, seen some funny events and witnessed some sad aviation industry closures in his time flying over nearly 50years.

The main parts of this article was originally submitted by me as part of an interview i did with Garry in late 2009, it was then published in the November 2010 issue of the AOPA (Australian Pilot) magazine which drew positive feedback.
I have since then added some more updated information to this version online.


GARRY COOPER –LIFE AS A AUSSIE FAC IN VIETNAM

It is not everyday that a person in a career, can go from flying over cold snow and water at one end of the world, to another where dense jungle, tropical thunderstorms and humidity saps at the very ability to fly. Neither does every person who grows up to eventually join the RAAF and ends up becoming highly respected by a foreign country while conducting his job in a dangerous warzone.

It is a rare event and most people don’t know of these RAAF individuals.

One of these highly respected individuals is Garry Gordon Cooper.

Background

Garry was born in Adelaide, South Australia in 1938. After completing school in the 1950s, he worked for a few years with the Royal Aero Club of South Australia. At the same time he was learning to fly and gained his CPL by the age of 19.His long career of flying then started with the Flying Doctor Service and then moved onto a position with the Gibbes Sepik Airways in New Guinea in 1957, where he accumulated 3,500 hours on a variety of aircraft in New Guinea.

RAAF CAREER

Garry decided he wanted to join the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) as his next career move. He joined up in April 1960 as a cadet.By studying hard and applying he previous flying skills he showed he had what it takes to become a RAAF pilot. He came out as the top graduate of the 39 Pilots course in June 1961.Tho he was keen to become a fighter pilot it would be a few years before he would get to do this work, meanwhile he was trained in further skills.

His first Air Force posting was to the School of Air Navigation at East Sale in Victoria.While based at East Sale, he learnt to fly over the next few years a variety of famous aircraft types such as – Douglas C-47 Dakota transport, CAC Winjeel trainer, CAC Canberra. This posting to East Sale was planned but duration was spent on two tours to the Antarctic flying Beaver equipped with skis and floatplanes. Some funny stories occurred down in the wilds of Antarctic it seems.

Garry is seen here with his float equipped DHC-2 Beaver and in cold weather RAAF flightgear and life preserver.

On missions in the Antarctic he would fly at 10,000ft with a primary mission to map the coastline using on board cameras. They would draw a hand crafted map and then compare it to the photos produced for more better navigation in the future.

Navigation was at times challenging with the vast, flat snow covered landscape..
He has called it a “vast nothingness”. And bloody cold.
He saw many seals, penguins and killer whales while flying and the penguins were most fascinated by the humans coming into their own isolated world…

In May 1963 he was posted to RAAF Williamtown and began to fly the frontline fighter of the RAAF – the CAC Sabre. He joined 2 OCU on a conversion course and then qualified for flying of the Sabre jet with 77Sqn. The North American Aviation Sabre was a post WW2 jet fighter development and entered service in 1949. It was thrown into battle very soon after in the Korean war which went from 1950 to 1953. The USAF Sabre jets flew in Korea for 2.5years, where they earned much praise and grew into a versatile airframe. This war was one reason the RAAF acquired the Sabre and had it license built in Australia, entering service in 1955 and lasted until 1970 in frontline service.

Garry loved the Sabre jet’s handling and performance in a dogfight. The only issues he had were with the canopy removal /ejection issues.

RAAF DEPLOYMENTS TO ASIA

January 1964 found Garry flying in Malaysia with the Sabre on overseas deployment.This deployment was into a hot and humid climate and which could take its toll on people and machines. While in Malaysia he also flew the GAF Canberra and C-47 Dakota on missions. At that time the RAAF had several detachments to Singapore, Borneo and Thailand depending upon where the activities were. During this tour Garry was temporarily deployed to Thailand with 79 Sqn flying the CAC Sabre for base security at Ubon RTAFB during the early stages of the Vietnam war. This was his first introduction to a combat zone.

MIRAGE MIRACLES
By February 1966 Garry returned back to Australia where he undertook an early Mirage conversion course with 2 OCU. This was done flying the Mirage IIIO.He flew with 75 and 76 Squadron out of RAAF bases at Williamtown and Darwin, as he gained experience on the new delta winged jet. At times Garry flew up to 65,000ft while wearing high altitude flightgear and loved the view from been so high up.

Garry is seen here in a RAAF new story in mid 1960s wearing a french high altitude flight suit and helmet.

<img style=”width: 482px; height: 420px;” src=”http://www.alsfitt.com/images/stories/high-altitude-suit.jpg&#8221; title=”75SQN Mirage pilots tests his high altitude pressure suit before flight….” alt=”75&


VIETNAM TOUR AS AN ASSIGNED USAF TASS – FOWARD AIR CONTROLLER (FAC)

In April 1968 a request for RAAF pilots interested to learn the art of Forward Aircraft Control -FAC work was announced. The FACs role were required to guide aircraft strikes and judge for BDA after a strike. The USAF was heavily using FACs in the Vietnam War and the RAAF additionally expressed the desire to give some of their aircrew training in art of FAC work by using exchange postings to the USAF FAC/TASS units in the various Vietnam bases.

Garry put an application in for an overseas posting. These normally were fighter, bombers, transports but in this case there came up a unique assignment – some pilots were needed for exchange tours in Vietnam to learn the art of Foward Air Control or FAC.

Garry was posted in March 1968 by the USAF to 19 TASS at Bien Hoa. He was assigned as a Forward Air Controller (FAC) with call sign Tamale 35. He flew the O-1 Cessna Bird Dog mainly in his tour followed by the Rockwell OV-10 Bronco in the last two weeks of his tour.

There was initially not much planning done to accommodate the RAAF pilots. After a few days, the assigned pilots were given a few weeks of “in country” training… ie low level situations to get acclimatised to the war zone.

Almost immediately upon arriving at Bien Hoa, Garry was set to work as a USAF FAC and started performing amazing sorties with outcomes that made people take notice of this skilled Aussie.

Garry seen in front of his familiar “office” the O-1 Birdog. The RAAF from the 1950s until the 1970s wore a very light green cotton flight suit style which was very different to the K-2B flight suits as used by the Amercians and which can be seen in the photo.


BDABOMB DAMAGE ASSESSMENT

The FAC’s role in Vietnam was to have positive control over all inbound CAS / direct air strikes and to were possible record BDA for review of the air strikes for pilots and the soldiers on the ground. Strikes could only happen under radar or FAC control in South Vietnam.

Other trials “out country” in Laos with no FAC or radar saw…. targets missed.

The FACs were normally assigned to 4,000ft and used minimal power setting and binoculars to search for the enemy – VC and NVA. Basically a big target. Takes balls to just do this work. Hanging yourself out there.

Much success relied upon picking up any changes or looking for visual signs – serious effort was needed to determine if someone was an enemy or a civilian.

Garry would sometimes be controlling inbound airstrikes when he found more enemy. Lucky he would have above him a few stacks of jets and propeller planes waiting to hit the targets. Sometimes up to 12 aircraft could be awaiting clearance from Garry to strike.

Garry used the windscreens of the O-1 as his notepad, recording – via a grease pencil – aircraft, callsigns, BDA, weapon loads etc for later review back at base.

A typical mission could be described as –

Garry would be airborne or required to get airborne at short notice, confirm the target with visual confirmation, talk to ALO and advise of situation, confirm location of troops in contact or if operating himself, confirm target location.

He would report information up the chain to the nearby Corps assigned DASC HQ which co-ordinated all airstrikes for that region.

Once approval for a target to be hit came in, Garry would roll in mark the target area with a White Phosphorus or Willie Pete smoke marking rocket and then pull a way. He would then give the air space over to the CAS aircraft – A-1 Skyraiders, T-28 Trojans, Canberra GAF Mk 20 and B-57 bombers, F-100 Super Sabres, A-37 Dragonflies and F-4 Phantoms to do their work. Garry would meantime be flying low to ensure hits and record information.

Sometimes he would be working close to a FSB – (Fire Support Base) where artillery gun would be firing rounds from their 105mm and 155m guns. The FACS had to fly through the envelope of firing sometimes or await for a cease fire and quickly fly in and land.

A famous photograph from the Vietnam War, captured a tragic event of a mixup – a USAF DHC-4 Caribou flying over a FSB which then was shot down by outgoing friendly fire from the artillery…… An artillery round blew a wing off and the Caribou crashed killing all on board……Not nice to witness let alone have to explain to anyone.

Flying in a war was dangerous.

WAR – IN THE THICK OF IT

Garry flew the O-1 Birdog on his assigned USAF exchange role just after the February 1968 Tet Offensive period , where the VC/NVA got hammered by the US, South Vietnamese, Australian, South Koreans forces. But unknown to many in May 1968 – the VC/NA regrouped for a new offensive. This large attack plan saw FACs in high demand for airstrikes. And Garry was right in the middle of all of this as it unfolded.

MISSIONS

To give an insight to Garry’s work as a FAC, below are a few selected BDA report outcomes of hiswork-

·5 May 1968 prevented Binh Phuoc army base being over-run by enemy forces saving numerous US lives.

·10 May 1968 credited with killing 230 enemy and saving A and C Companies, 5 Bn, 60 Inf who were ambushed and taking heavy casualties.

·11 May 1968 saved numerous US lives with accurate bombing around the “Y” Bridge in Saigon during the second Tet Offensive. On this occasion his aircraft received sever battle damage

·21 May 1968 located and killed six enemy with air strikes. On this occasion Cooper received a wound to the hand and damage to his aircraft.

·6 June 1968 engaged with artillery and air strikes, a large VC force massing east of Bihn Phuoc Army Base. Credited with killing four enemy and an estimated 400 buried in tunnels, this prevented the attack on Bihn Phuoc saving numerous US lives.

·10 June 1968 engaged with air strikes, an estimated force of 500 VC in bunkers.

·18 August 1968 saved Colonel Robert E. Archer, Commander 2 Bde, 9 Inf Div after their helicopter was shot down and killed 12 enemy in ground engagement. Medal of Honor recommended. Now this may surprise MANY people as he was a Australian not an American pilot…. but yes he was nominated by many witnesses and he wasnt to find out for a few more years about this award recommendation….more later on.

·24 September 1968 protected a US Company at night with air strikes and artillery.

·04 October 1968 killed 139 enemy with air strikes removing a considerable threat to US lives.

The first thing you will note from his BDA is the high body count inflicted on the NVA/VC forces by air support.This showed HOW effective air support could be in the hands of a trained FAC and strike aircrews.
The FAC had come into their own in Vietnam and Garry was a key part of the chain of tools that saved thousands of American, South Vietnamese and Australian lives from been over run at various ground bases.

The final analysis in his Vietnam FAC tour shows how his ability as a FAC providing air power can turn the tide thus showing why the task of a FAC are critical – Garry assisted/flew in –

Enemy Killed 1034 Bridges destroyed 7 Sampans destroyed 153 Structures destroyed316 Bunkers destroyed 769 Troops in contact support 97 Air strikes by day 293 Air strikes by night 37

THE MEDAL OF HONOR MISSION – (STILL UNDER REVIEW AFTER 43YEARS)

As can be seen by this snapshot of Garry’s service, his role as a low flying FAC was downright bloody dangerous with many rounds hitting the aircraft he flew and he received serious wounds as well while flying. This has been verified by the Purple Heart medal awarded to him.

His combat service as seen above was most impressive and culminated in a mission where he was duly recommended for the US Congressional Medal of Honor. A brief record of his MOH conduct is as followed –

On a mission on 18 Aug, 1968, Garry was cited by M/Gen Julian J. Ewell for a US military Congressional Medal of Honor in conducting his duties above and beyond the required tasks in his military role.The mission was flying near Rach Kien in South Vietnam in support of the 1st Brigade, 9th Infantry Division.On this day a Hiller UH-23 helicopter was being used as FAC platform with a pilot and the Brigade Commander Col Robert E. Archer, directing 12th TFW F-4 strikes against the VC attacking the unit. Garry was also aboard as an ALO (Air Liasion Officer).

While on the mission, the Viet Cong fired at the helicopter and the pilot was killed and the Brigade Commander was wounded. Garry took over control of the UH-23 by cutting the engine power after the rather sudden and violent forced landing and carried the wounded Brigade Commander from the aircraft. Both men then had to spend the night in enemy territory. Unfortunately he had to leave the dead pilot in the UH-23 due to the heavy gunfire.

In the process of keeping Robert and himself alive, Garry’s position was assaulted by the Viet Cong. Garry managed to defend his position and in doing so killed 10 Viet Cong. After this struggle he was out of ammunition and was down to “escape and evasion” skills as trained to most military aviators. A rescue helicopter was scheduled to come in the next day and pick them up.

Due to still been surrounded by the Viet Cong, Garry had to fend off another attack and kill two more VC before they could be safely aboard the rescue helicopter.

IN WAR – STRANGE THINGS HAPPEN

The only slight funny side to this very tragic mission was when on the ground Garry saw a VC point a rifle at him and the helicopter…. fearing he was going to be shot, Garry’s was surprised to then see the VC move his aim and lead the helicopter by 1, 2, 3 … The VC had been trained to lead a helicopter by 3 to allow the impact of the bullet trajectory to hit the airframes. Problem was… the helicopter was on the ground. The VC had gone into immediate action and started to shoot way into the forward space in front of the helicopter. Garry got to live another thanks to this weird act in a serious situation…

During one of his missions, he took a bullet to the head. He was luckily wearing his flight helmet at the time. Garry was lucky to survive Vietnam after you see the photos.

As can be seen he took what was most likely a AK-47 7.62mm round through his AFH-1 flight helmet helmet shell, padding and visor shield.

As can be seen the foam lining of the AFH-1 helmet saved Garry head from been struck. The padding made the bullet’s trajectory deflect slightly as it went through. Garry has kept this flight helmet as a reminder of his “lucky day”.

FAC INSIGHTS
Garry had the honour to even direct the RAAF’s bomber detachment in Vietnam, in some close air support missions at times. Based at Phang Rang was the RAAF 2 Sqn …flying British designed / Australian built GAF Canberra Mk.20 bombers.
The Australians flew 8 Canberra missions each day from 1967-971, performing many missions which earned them high praise for accuracy as they bombed from level flight.
2 Canberras were lost in Vietnam – 1 which was shot down by a possible SAM-2 near the North Vietnam border area and the crew remains/aircraft were only found recently after nearly 40years missing.

Garry role in FAC saw him see many pilots drop bombs and strafe. After a while he came to see that the South Vietnamese Air Force pilots in A-1 Skyraiders were among the most accurate – this was because these pilots had been bombing …………for years and years. They either survived another day or got killed. If they survived they obviously got more skilled at their close air support work – just as Garry came to notice.

Garry continued flying FAC sorties until his tour finished in late 1968.

BACK IN AUSTRALIA
Garry returned to Australia in a very different way than what he was expecting. On his flight to Vietnam in 1968, he flew over in a Qantas 707.In departing Vietnam, he returned in a RAAF C-130 Hercules strapped in the rear fuselage with Australian military war dead in coffins surrounding him. This was a contrast that he never expected and really highlighted the differences war makes.

After the amazingly busy and action packed tour of Vietnam, Garry rejoined the RAAF flying the Mirage IIIO fighter based at Williamtown with 77 Squadron in January 1969. Additionally while based at Williamtown he flew the Winjeel which was a trainer again but in a entirely new role.

The RAAF had by now seen the useful abilities of FACs at work in Vietnam and decided to set up a unit to train pilots and army personnel to liaise better in the field in war time.Garry was posted to 4 Flight, where they developed and practised the art of FAC.Garry was asked to put into use his skills he had learnt from Vietnam to train future FACs and soliders.

(In July 2009 the RAAF has finally shown the need for FAC training is a serious requirement . The Forward Air Control Development Unit was merged into the newly reactivated 4 Sqn to operate the PC-9 in the FAC role with 4 aircraft assigned. 4Sqn used to fly CAC Wirraways and Boomerangs as Army Co-operation support aircraft in WW2 thru PNG in supporting the Australian Army operations.)

GARRY RESIGNS FROM THE RAAF

Garry resigned from the RAAF in October 1969 after a somewhat brief 8 1/2years but a very busy and challenging time.Only in 1975 Garry was to learn that he was put forward by the US commander of the unit he saved in Vietnam, for a potential nomination for the US highest medal to a military person – a Congressional Medal Of Honour.

Due to much debate and internal disputes back in Australia, the medal’s request was not given much interest by the Government and has remained until this day unsupported sadly due to restrictions imposed. Many people in US and Australia felt Garry should not be denied this medal (or its equivalent, the Victoria Cross) as he put his life on the line and deserves to be rewarded for his actions. There is still a hope this rare medal will one day be given to Garry. It could may still happen if enough interested is generated to reopen the case and have it approved.

CIVIL, MILITARY AND WARBIRD FLYING RATINGS

Garry has flown in his military and civilian career over 24,500 hours in a large variety of aircraft such as the Tiger Moth, Auster, Zlin, Chipmunk, Ryan, Dragon, 6 types of Cessna, Norseman, Junker 52, Zero,Winjeel, C-47, Vampire, Canberra, F-86, Mirage, O-1, O-2,OV-10, B767,B747, L-1011, B707, B737 and Convair 880.

He flew for a host of airlines from 1970s up until the late 1990s when he joined Ansett. Garry left ja few months before the collaspe of Ansett in September 14 2001.

He flew then for a few more years in Europe on cargo airlines.

He still flies at age 74 and is seen at the controls of a variety of civil and warbird aircraft around Australia. Warbird aircraft include a replicated Zero… which was imported into Australia a few years ago (this actually was a T-6 modified into a Zero for the film, Tora Tora Tora) and FAC aircraft such as Cessna O-1 Birdog and O-2 Skymaster owned by warbird owner Randal McFarlane. Garry also recently has gained qualifications to fly the FW-149. Randal and Garry go back a long time as friends – having met initially in the 1960s while on a deployment with the RAAF.

Since the Vietnam war, Garry has become a legend in the US military community and has gained much respect for his services that he provided US forces in Vietnam where he assisted as a FAC. Recently Garry decided to put his experiences to paper and he wrote a book about his experiences growing up, flying and as a FAC in Vietnam – called “Sock it to ’em Baby” published in 2006 by Allen and Unwin .

More of Garry and myself can be seen from the 2009 Toowoomba airshow meet on link – http://heritageflightgear.blogspot.com/2009/05/toowoomba-airshow-event.html

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