3. Recollections Of A Caribou Pilot by Merrill T. Adamcik

I joined a Caribou (CV-2) unit in 1964. I was assigned to the 516th Airplane Company when we tested Air Assault II concepts in Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama. When it ended I was infused into the 187th Transport Airplane Company. Many units were being formed on paper or re-designated in 1964-65 in preparation for combat and there was a lot of confusion as to which one to fill up first and ship out.

The 187th was re-designated the 134th and my old unit, the 516th, became the 135th Aviation Company. The 134th commander was Major Ted Phillips; Operations Officer-Gary Alton; first platoon leader-Ralph Naumann, and second platoon leader-Tom Chapman. I was section leader under Naumann and we were assigned to Soc Trang with 9 aircraft. Headquarters and second platoon were at Can Tho. Later I became platoon leader at Can Tho. Our commander was LTC Robert Landry.

When we flew from Ft. Benning to Hamilton AFB in California to fly the Pacific, the distance was 35 miles further than the next flight leg to Hawaii. We had two 500-gallon bladders of fuel on board that would be pumped into our wings by an obsolete, junked Air Force pump, and we had to be sure that we could make the distance. We had to have the winds in our favor so we waited there at Hamilton for a week or so to get the best winds aloft at 12,000 feet.

After departing California, we headed for Station A a ship used for navigation that stayed within a 10 mile square of ocean between California and Hawaii. The Air Force accompanied all 6 flights of 3 aircraft out 400 miles and came out from Hawaii 400 miles to meet us. Since the wind didn't stay as predicted, we were leaning those engines out, and I personally believe we landed on fumes.

We were happy to see the Air Force so we could get a better fix on our position. We were using LORAN which was very accurate for 90 degree fixes but ours was only 10-15 degrees so there was more variance a single degree could mean 50 miles. The Air Force gave us a fix at 250 miles out, and we could see the tops of the Hawaiian mountains begin to appear on the horizon. Believe me, there's a lot of water out there. After Hawaii, we flew over Frigate Shoals and landed at Midway Island. Nothing but reefs and sharks there but they still looked big at 12,000 feet. Then came Wake Island, Guam and the Philippines.

We flew through the tail end of a Typhoon going into Vietnam. Craziest decision I ever saw! Luckily, we didn't lose any aircraft or crewmembers. I had flight 3 lead and we landed at Vung Tau.

As I recall we had many different types of missions but our primary mission was in support of the Special Forces in the Delta. That first casualty mission on May 10, 1966, was a SF mission where no strip existed or at least not one long enough to land (900 feet minimum). We had a 2 ship LoLex (Low Level Extraction) flight. This involved flying 3-5 feet above the ground and deploying a drag chute that pulls the 2 pallets out of the aircraft. However, on that mission, the load jammed aft of CG (center of gravity), putting the aircraft into a nose high attitude. The drag chute jammed the elevator controls and the result was a slow stall. Without sufficient altitude to follow through, it smashed into the ground. Fortunately, it hit slightly left wing down, thus when the load came forward it went out through the wall behind the copilot and the right wing. This spared the lives of the pilot (Captain Gil Roessler) and copilot (CWO Joe Hudson) but they were seriously injured. However, the crewchief and Special Forces rigger were killed. Over the years we could not locate either pilot but a few years ago Joe Hudson came to a reunion. He had undergone numerous operations on his back but returned to flying for Air America.

As for the Air Force transition, this was based on the fact that the Air Force convinced the Pentagon that we were doing their throughput mission. The lowest private knows that throughput has to do with long range flying, like Hawaii to Vietnam. But they won. So here comes every conceivable type of pilot to be transitioned (B-52, F-14, Observation, etc.). It went unbelievably well, except for one guy the B-52 Operations Officer he flunked! He just wanted to pull power too soon and way too high.

By the time I left in September we had finished transition. However, the Air Force quickly learned that what we were doing on a daily basis was not throughput!! We supported SF, medevac, personnel and ammo lifts, food resupply, division support, etc. The Air Force only wanted to fly to Saigon, Da Nang, Phi Bai, Thailand and Japan. Needless to say, the real mission got lost. The Special Forces had no support and the Air Force began discussions to get rid of these slow-flying aircraft. Thus, the Thai Air Force ended up getting a bunch of great aircraft free and the US Air Force went back to flying long range, fast and high again.

With the turnover of this fine aircraft, there were only a handful of pilots who flew the Caribou while it was in the Army inventory. My guess is that approximately 150 flew the Pacific route and 40 the Atlantic route. I flew it twice along with 11 other pilots, lost an engine both times coming out of Wake the only engines I ever had go down.

There were only about 800 air crewmen in total who flew the Caribou for the Army, including both pilots and other crewmembers. The normal crew was 2 pilots and 2 crew chiefs. Of course, this is nothing compared to the 11,000 plus pilots in Vietnam. I feel privileged to have flown this fine aircraft.

It's nice to know that the Roughriders continued on. That was our call sign.
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Last modified: Tuesday March 14th, 2023