Alfred A. Brashear's C-123 Experience in SOG

Al and I were stationed in the 605 Air Commando Squardon in Panama in the 60s. I sat in many aircrew briefings were the pilots were asked what if questions in the particular aircraft they flew and one thing I always remembered about Al was that he had his aircraft procedures down cold. The two stories in the attached letter and citations colnfirmed what I observed in our daily aircrew briefing that Al was a first class pilot.

A letter from Al Brashear on C-123 operations.

Dear Gene:

Since I retired I haven't had access to a computer, hence this handwritten letter.

In regard to your request in the last ACA newsletter for info/stories about the C-123, I have enclosed a couple of items. One occurred at Hurlburt Field in Feb., 1967 and the paperwork I have included pretty much explains everything. Exhibit one is my signed report of the incident. Exhibit two consists of three pictures of the tail of the aircraft showing the broken parts. As a result of the incident I received "Instructor Pilot of the Month" at Hurlburt Field(Exhibit 3), the magazine "Tac Attack" wrote an article about the incident which was an edited version of my report(exhibit 4), "Tac Attack" did a second article in Sept.,1967 in which I was awarded the "TAC Pilot of Distinction" award, and finally a year and a half after the incident the USAF "Aerospace Safety" Magazine did a small synopsis in which I was awarded the "Well Done Award" (Exhibit 6). A maximum of one "Well Done Award" is made each month. I finally received the award in Oct., 1968 in Saigon, Vietnam(Exhibit 7).

The second incident will take some explaining since the citation accompanying the Distinguished Flying Cross I was awarded (exhibit 8) does not tell the whole story. I was in MACVSOG at the time, flying out of Nha Trang with the "First Flight Detachment"in rough surfaced, black radar absorbing, painted C-123K aircraft with $20 million of added equipment. MACVSOG had 59,000 mercenaries from all the countries in Southeast Asia, based at 22 different Special Forces Bases that belonged to MACVSOG. Because of the secrecy of the MACVSOG mission all support flights for all SOG personnel, bases, and missions were performed by SOG C-123Ks, C-130Es, and HU-1E with very highly classified equipment in them. The mercenaries were rarely used in South Vietnam. Their missions were in North Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

It was known fact that Phol Pot and the Khmer Rouge did not like the North Vietnamese Army operating out of Cambodia against South Vietnam, not that the Khmer Rouge like South Vietnam, they just didn't like anybody. The mission was to attack the NVA's Cambodia headquarters and supply depots with SOG mercenaries dressed as Khmer Rouge to further aggravate the NVA to attack the Khmer Rouge and occupy both sides' time, equipment and personnel, and give relief to South Vietnam.

So on 16 Feb., 1968 we airdropped 59 mercenaries in Cambodia. They were to attack NVA positions then withdraw to an area where SOG helicopters could pick them up and fly them to Song Be in South Vietnam. There were too many for the Fulton Recovery System to pick up without exposing the aircraft for too long a period. From Song Be the mercenaries were to be flown back to their home base at Ban Me Thout East, which consisted of an unlighted, paved runway with a Special Forces camp a half mile down the road. The return flight to Ban Me Thout East is where the story about the C-123 comes into the info you requested.

Early on 19 Feb., 1968, I arrived at Song Be and was informed that the base was under attack but if we stayed within one mile of the runway that we should be able to avoid all ground fire. A close in steep descent pattern was flown and upon touchdown the aircraft immediately veered off the left side of the runway into a borrow ditch alongside the runway. The left main gear tire was flat before touchdown catching me by surprise and no amount of right brake, left engine power and nose gear steering would keep the aircraft on the runway. The tire was torn to shreds so I couldn't tell if small arms had flattened it or something else. Whatever, we ended up in the ditch with the wing at a 35 degree angle from horizontal and the nose gear just barely touching the ground. The left wing tip was about 12 inches off the ground, and the right wing tip about 40 feet in the air. The Song Be runway is on the top of a hill. I talked to the commander who had to close the runway because the aircraft's right wing was over the runway, which is very narrow. I radioed our command post at Nha Trang and explained the situation and requested a wing jack and a replacement wheel and tire airdropped on the runway at Song Be as near as possible to my aircraft since we had no equipment to move the items and would have to simply have to move them by hand. By this time the helicopters had arrived with the mercenaries dressed as Khmer Rouge and there was no place to hide them on base. They loaded their equipment on the C-123 and hung around in the shade of the wing. The equipment and replacement wheel didn't arrive until almost sundown, so I requested the dropping aircraft to notify the Special Forces camp at Ban Me Thout East to keep their radios on so I could tell them when I was in-bound and they could light the runway with flares. Our command post had told us to take the mercenaries on to Ban Me Thout East and no where else even if it was after dark. There was a slight other problem also, we had a weight problem so had limited fuel to just enough to get t Ban Me Thout and refuel there to go on to our home base at Nha Trang. Anyway, we muscled the wing jack and replacement wheel to our aircraft and discovered the left wing was down so low that we couldn't get the wing jack under the wing. After much teeth nashing and contemplation, two things were obvious. the wing had to come up far enough to get the jack under the wing, which was about 8 to 10 feet from it's present position, and the jack had to be sitting level on the side of the borrow ditch. After much promising to fill the hole in again we borrowed shovels and picks and carved a level space to sit the wing jack once we got the wing high enough to slide the wing jack in place. That took another hour. Then I opened the top hatch on the aircraft and put 52 of the mercenaries on the right wing, standing belly to back all the way out to the wing tip. All of them outboard of the right wing engine. That brought the left wing up high enough to get the wing jack in place and jack the wing high enough to get the left main gear off the ground and change the wheel.

I had to keep the 52 mercenaries on the right wing to get the jack out from under the left wing. We drug the old wheel and tire and the wing jack off a safe distance from the side of the runway and promised to pick it up in a day or two. We also filled the hole that we dug for the jack, started the engines and powered the aircraft back onto the runway. The mercenaries loaded up while our engines were running and we took off for Ban Me Thout East. I immediately called our command post and let them know our ETA for Ban Me Thout East and asked if they had made arrangements with the Special Forces camp there to light the runway for us. The command post said that the Special Forces had been notified.

At 2230 hours I started calling the Special Forces camp and never received a reply. After a short discussion wit the rest of the crew we agreed we didn't have enough fuel to fly on east over the mountains to the coastline and land at the nearest lighted runway. I knew Ban Me Thout East was 16 miles south southeast of the city of Ban Me Thout, and about 2 miles east of the highway running south out of the city. The whole area was as dark as could be with a half moon, with no lights anywhere except maybe a couple of dozen in the downtown section of the city. I located the highway in the moonlight, flew for what I computed to be 16 miles, turned east with the radar altimeter set at 200 feet, lowered the landing lights to a 40 degree angle and started zig-zagging. The C-123 is one of the few aircraft that you can turn on the lights and set the angle thru 90 degrees from flush with the wing surface to straight out in front of the aircraft. I had been zig-zagging a minute when the runway appeared directly in front of us. A quick 360 degree turn to the left bringing gear and flaps down and fully extending the landing lights, and I was lined up with the runway and landed. The mercenaries had already been briefed and as soon as I shut the engines down on a small parking ramp they jumped out of the back doors and set up a perimeter defense. The loadmaster and mercenaries ran down to the road to the Special Forces camp and got a small fuel truck and came back to the aircraft. As soon as we heard them coming(lights off) I started the auxiliary power plant and the engineer climbed out on the left wing, opened the fuel tank and lowered a rope top pull up the fuel hose. I felt like a sitting duck for sniper fire in that instrument lighted cockpit, but I had to know how much fuel we were taking on for several reasons. We needed to get to Nha Trang safely, the truck was not sophisticated and had no pump gauge and I didn't want to stay there on that unlit, unguarded airstrip any longer than necessary. Also, to save time, I was transfer pumping fuel to the right fuel tank at the same time to keep the aircraft balanced. As soon as I yelled that we had enough fuel the co-pilot signal the engineer from the top hatch, who in turn lowered the fuel hose and came in and closed the hatch. When the loadmaster said on the intercom that the fuel truck had pulled away we started engines, checked the door closed lights, and while the co-pilot ran the checklist I taxied onto the runway advancing all four(4) engines to full power and puckered up to 1000 feet in altitude for ground fire. From there it was routine to Nha Trang , and 0100 hours before we got to bed in our compound on the beach with Hmong guards around us. A long day with a lot of exasperating circumstances. Within a few hours aircraft maintenance had already inspected the aircraft completely, in particularly the landing gear and wing spars and no stress was found.

I hope this hasn't been too long winded a letter but I think you might get the gist. The C-123 could and did take a lot of punishment and kept on puckering, just like it's Air Commando crew members.


Al Brashear

ACA Life Member 379

For this he received the Distinguished Flying Cross. The award read as follows:

Maj Alfred A. Brashear distinguished himself by extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight as a C-123 Instructor Pilot and Aircraft Commander near Ban Me Thout East, Republic of Vietnam on 19 Feb., 1968. On that date, while under occasional mortar and small arms fire, Maj Brashear was responsible for the safe and efficient evacuation of US and Vietnamese Special Forces from Song Be to Ban Me Thout East, where the final landing was made during the hours of darkness, without the aid of runway or airfield lights. He skillfully located the runway using his intimate knowledge of illuminated objects in the area and affected a safe landing. The professional competence, aerial skill, and devotion to duty displayed by Major Brashear reflect great credit upon himself and the USAF.

The Tac Attack award of Pilot of Distinction reads as follows:

Capt Al A. Brashear of the 4408 Combat Crew Training Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Florida, has been selected as Tactical Air Command Pilot of Distinction.

Capt Brashear was making a simulated single engine approach to Hurlburt Field in a C-123 when the middle rudder bracket broke. The rudder jammed well past full right deflection. the aircraft continued to descend in a yawing right turn, almost out of control. Capt Brashear felt no response when he actuated the emergency gust lock release or the trim. He applied full power to both engines, but this caused a violent right skid and serious loss of air speed and altitude. At 100 feet above the ground Capt Brashear reduced power, preparing for a crash landing. He immediately felt control returning. By experimenting with differential power he was able to increase airspeed and level off in a shallow right turn. Aileron or elevator movement aggravated the situation, but he was able to hold minimum airspeed and altitude in a constant, shallow right turn. This long arc of flight carried the aircraft to nearby Eglin AFB. By the skillful use of nose wheel steering, brakes and differential power, Capt Brashear successfully landed the aircraft.

Capt Brashear's rapid evaluation and correct action in a critical low-altitude emergency readily qualify him as Tactical Air Command Pilot of Distinction.

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