The C-7 Caribou (Aug 1967)
The Canadian-built C-7 Caribou was first sent to Southeast Asia with the US Army’s 1st Aviation Company which deployed to Thailand on 23 July 1962. The Company moved to Vung Tau in South Vietnam in December 1962 where a second company joined it in July 1963. By 1966 the Army was operating six companies with a total of 96 Caribous in Vietnam. However, early in that year the Army agreed to the transfer of all C-7s to the USAF in a rationalisation of roles and missions. The aircraft had a remarkable STOL performance and was particularly suited to operating into short, primitive airstrips where the C-123 or C-130 could not land. Replacement of Army personnel in the Caribou squadrons by Air Force air and ground crew began in July 1966 but the aircraft were not officially handed over until 1 January 1967. Meanwhile the 483rd TCW was activated at Cam Ranh Bay on 15 October 1966 to take over the C-7s from the Army. Six squadrons were activated to replace the six Army companies, two at Cam Ranh Bay, two at Vung Tau and two at Phu Cat. Even before the handover six USAF personnel assigned to the 6252nd Operations Squadron were killed flying Caribous while still under Army control. The Caribou squadrons were usually dedicated to supporting Army units in specific military regions of South Vietnam. The 537th TAS was even more specifically assigned and worked primarily for the 1st Cavalry Division flying logistics, troop transport, courier, aeromedical evacuation and radio relay missions. The Caribou’s finest hours would come during emergency resupply operations to remote Special Forces camps and fire bases such as Dak Pek, Dak Seang and Duc Lap. The aircraft was also used by Air America in Laos where its short-field performance again proved very useful.