The Air America Association Virtual Museum
The following is an online exhibition of materials that represent the proud history of Air America during the Vietnam War.
(Copyright The Air America Association. "Fair use" criteria of Section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976 must be followed. These materials are not to be used for resale or commercial purposes without written authorization from the Air America Association and/or the owners of these materials. Appropriate attributions for exhibit materials are provided.)
Special Missions and Operations of Air America
Search and Rescue
Painting by Aviation Artist Joe Kline (Click on text for more information)
The Evacuation of Saigon, Vietnam, April 1975
Saigon Evacuation April 1975 Photo Credit Getty Images (Click on image for more information)
Saigon Evacuation April 1975 Photo Credit Getty Images
Remote sites and airstrips used by and supported by Air America
Lima Site-85 (LS-85) Photographer unknown
Air America Helicopter Ariel Combat
LS-85 was a top-secret radar and navigation facility on a mountaintop in Northeastern Laos.
Tactically, it was a monumental success. The site supported more than half of all bombing raids in
the Hanoi area, and it was understandable why the North Vietnamese wanted it shut down.
The secrecy surrounding the operation was surreal. Those who should not have known did, and
those who should have known didn’t. Air America provided search and rescue (SAR) for USAF
personnel serving at LS-85. They were also designated primary search and rescue in Laos by the
Secretary of State in a written document that was top secret at the time. They were professionals
and expected to conduct SAR when asked or when the situation arose. Nobody told them they had
jurisdiction and authority from the National Security Council because it was a secret, but it should
not have been confidential to those involved. For the most part, Air America worked SAR by
instinct, doing what was necessary to save lives when the need arose.
America did not want
the public to know
they were violating
the neutrality of Laos
agreed to in the 1962
Geneva Accords. The
were aware because
they violated the
The North Vietnamese
used neutral Laos to
transport troops and
war materials into
South Vietnam in
order to kill both the
who opposed their
Air America was stationed in Laos with the expressed consent of the Royal Lao Government, the
American Ambassador to Laos, the Secretary of State and Defense, and the President of the United
States. They met the definition of “combatant” as “members of other militias” who 1) were
commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates, 2) wore a fixed distinctive sign visible at a
distance, 3) carried their arms supplied by the government openly, and 4) conducted their operations
in accordance with the laws and customs of war. They were combatants; not unlawful belligerents,
as often characterized.
In a bizarre twist to the eventual fall of LS-85, the North Vietnamese attacked the site with four
vintage AN-2 Colt biplanes in early 1968. The aircraft were modified with tubes in the belly,
allowing 122 MM mortars to be dropped by hand, and each plane carried 32 rockets and 12 mortars.
The Vietnamese reported in the History of the People’s Air Force (1955-1977) that the Colts
destroyed the site, two helicopters, several buildings, storehouses, and pieces of equipment. They
said that the damage paralyzed the radar station, and it ceased operations after the attack.
The report goes on to say that two of the Colts collided with each other, killing the crew members.
But if that report was accurate, there was no need to go back and attack the Site two months later.
It was not an accurate report, and many years later, North Vietnamese pilot Hong My was
astonished to hear of the truth. Hong My was familiar with the AN-2 bombing incident at LS-85
and believed the North Vietnamese report until the truth was revealed. The Hong My story is
chronicled in a book written by USAF General Dan Cherry called My Enemy My Friend.
Gary Gentz was a USA Army Vietnam
veteran. He was honorably discharged
after his tour in Vietnam in 1966 and a
month later went to work for Air
America as a Flight Mechanic. Initially,
he operated UH34-D helicopters and
then transferred to the Bell Huey 204B
and 205. He began working as a Bell
Maintenance Supervisor in 1969 until
1970 when he separated from Air
America. He returned in 1971 and
trained in the twin-turbine version
UH34-D helicopter, which was not FAA
certified. The FAA-certified version is
called the S-58T, but Air America did not operate the civilian version. His primary aircraft
assignment remained with that aircraft until Air America ceased flying operations in Laos in 1974.
Here is his rendition of the events that day.
“Air America Captain Phillip Goddard and I flew (a 204B Bell helicopter) from Udorn directly to
LS-85. I think we left around 8:00 AM and got to LS-85 a little after 10. Captain Norm Grammer
and Captain Dick Elder deadheaded with us.
We were scheduled to fly an infill just north of Sam Neua in the afternoon, and the mission required
two pilots. Dick was going to fly with Captain Ted Moore, who was coming north from LS-20
Alternate, and Norm was going to be our Copilot.
When we got there, I checked the aircraft over, and Dick and I walked around the Site and up to the
Tacan radar installation and took a few pictures. We then went to the customers’ shack and rested. I
lay in bed and was reading a magazine when I got hungry, so I cooked a can of soup.
I had just lay back down when a loud explosion occurred, and debris rained down on the roof of the
customers’ shack. I was right next to the door and ran out, looked up, and observed a biplane
directly overhead. I found out later it was an AN-2 Colt. I saw part of a burning fuel drum in front
of me, so I ran around it and got to the aircraft and started untying the main rotor. As I was doing
this, I saw a Colt coming towards us and noticed explosions about fifty yards to the east.”
Phil Goddard was a former U.S. Marine helicopter pilot who served in Vietnam with HMM-163 out
of Soc Trang initially and later moved to Danang in 1962 and 1963 flying H34s. He applied for a
job with Air America and was hired in August 1964. He, too, was heating some soup from cans the
crew members carried in their baggage, never knowing when they might need food in the middle of
Here is his recollection of the events that day:
“I had just started heating some Campbell’s Beef, Vegetable and Barley soup when we heard two
separate explosions. Someone said that they were probably blasting rocks to widen the strip. My
response was that it did not sound like that, and I started to leave the hut.
As I came out the door, I looked up and saw an enormous biplane, and the word “Biggles” flashed
in my mind." Biggles was written by W.E. Johns and was first released in 1932. His book predates
the Red Barron. I read all the Biggles books I could find until I was 16, as did my brothers.
I immediately realized what was happening but was having difficulty wrapping my mind around it.
It was crazy! We were going back in time when Sopwith Camels were prevalent! There wasn’t time
to think about it. We were being attacked by what looked like WW1 aircraft and we had to act fast
or be killed.
At the same time, the customer was on the single sideband radio, making a Mayday call, saying that
we were under attack by biplane aircraft. I could hear several more explosions and small-arms fire
as I raced for my helicopter.
Gary Gentz knew that I would start the aircraft and was rapidly untying the main rotor as I entered
the cockpit. I
started the engine
and waited for
the rotor to reach
During this time,
lining up on the
site. I noticed
emanating from a
rocket pod under
the biplane wing,
followed by a
explosions off to
my right between
my aircraft and
the customer shack. The Huey helicopter engine spools up relatively fast, but when someone is
shooting at you, it’s painfully slow, and I did not have any choice but to sit and watch, begging it to
The photo above was taken by Jack Teague (USAF, Retired) From left to right, Navy pilot Don
Eaton, Air America Captain Bob Davis, Navy pilot Don Boecker, and Air America Captain Phil
Goddard. The photo was taken just after Eaton and Boecker were rescued by Air America after
they were shot down in Laos. Both later became Admirals.
Meanwhile, Gary was also in the line of fire from the attacking biplane.
“By this time, Phil was in the cockpit starting the aircraft, and Dick and Norm came running past
me to the left side of the pad. As soon as I untied the Main Rotor, I joined them among the logs that
were lying on the ground. The Colt was overhead, and Dick stood up and shot at it with his pistol. I
could hear others shooting but could distinctly remember the sound of Dick’s gun.
By then, Phil had the helicopter started, so the three of us ran over and jumped in as Phil was
getting the rotor up to speed. We barely had adequate rotor rpm, and just as we popped over the
side, we observed a Colt about a quarter mile or so in front of us. Elder climbed into the copilot
seat. Phil quickly caught up to the Colt, and Phil told me to get my Uzi survival weapon out and
shoot at it before it released more mortars. I told him that my gear was in the tail boom, and we had
no gun handy.
Phil broke off the pursuit and made radio contact with Ted Moore on the radio. Ted was in another
Bell helicopter overhead the Site.”
Ted Moore’s recollection: Ted was an Army Vietnam veteran with Huey gunship experience, but he
never considered shooting down another aircraft.
“I was flying above Site 85
when I spotted two biplanes
(AN2 Colts) approaching the
Site. I relayed to Site 85.
‘Incoming enemy aircraft!’
They replied, ‘watch them!’
I watched as they attacked the
Site. I gave chase and
attempted to call in air cover
from the gulf, but they didn’t
respond. I made one pass at
approximately a quarter mile
from the trailing Colt and gave
my Flight Mechanic Glen
Woods the order to open fire as
we came down over the top.
He was able to put fire on both
aircraft, and both were downed and hit the jungle.”
Gary related, "Ted told Phil and me the location of the crash, and we saw the smoke. We flew over
and had to hover down into the trees to get a good look, and I started taking pictures. We finally
landed and discussed what had happened. Glen told me he was lying on the floor of the helicopter
and shot the Colt down. I don't know if it was the first or second one, but I'm sure they shot the first
one down. Later, I understand that Ted claimed to have shot the second one down as well. The other
two Colts departed the area. We worked the Site for the next three days. We ended up pulling out
the NVA bodies and took them back to LS-36."
Two months later, on March 10, 1968, a North Vietnamese Sapper team, in a surprise raid, attacked
the radar facility on the mountaintop. Their orders, according to North Vietnamese authors, were to
execute everybody on the Site. They were trained killers and had spent months studying how to
attack the installation and destroy it. Their training included endurance, stamina, and stealth. The
thinking by the North Vietnamese was that the Site was easy pickings, and they planned the raid
The USAF technicians, on the other hand, were not soldiers, and they were grossly unprepared to
defend themselves. They should have died quickly, alone, and afraid, but instead, they fought back
valiantly to the best of their capability. The North Vietnamese referred to them as stubborn. They
may have been tenacious and brave to the bone, but stubborn, no.
The CIA's Center for the Study of Intelligence later stated that the loss of Site 85 was not an
intelligence failure because accurate information about the nature of the situation was available
from the start. They described it as a failure in command, control, and leadership because the
technicians depended wholly on local irregular troops led by CIA advisors for their security.
That statement, while exact, needs elaboration. The war in Laos was not the CIA's secret war; It was
America's secret war. Air America, the USAF, and the CIA were all in it together with a common
bond. Due to secrecy, compartmentalization, and inter-service and inter-agency rivalry, the
participants never at any time got together and developed a plan with contingencies. They had a
plan A, but no plan B. Those that survived did so by their ingenuity and individual resourcefulness.
Phil Goddard was part of the rescue force when LS-85 fell and was destroyed. He later became the
Assistant Chief Pilot helicopter, and before the end of the war in Laos, he returned to his home in
several search and
rescue events. He
was wounded in
action but never
which he richly
deserved. None of
though they were
employees and were conducting combat operations at the bequest of their employer.
Tragically, a little more than a year later, Norm Grammer and Glen Woods were killed in a Bell
helicopter crash in Laos. Glen was buried in Thailand, virtually unknown, forgotten, and
unrewarded for his brave deed. Recently, family members found his grave near Udorn Thani and
erected a headstone. Efforts are underway to have his remains exhumed, cremated and buried with
honor at a USA National Cemetery.
Ted Moore left Air America and eventually settled in the United States. He and Woods remain to
this day the only helicopter crew to have shot down a fixed-wing aircraft in combat. Several
reporters have written stories about the daring event, but he, too, was never officially recognized.
Gary Gentz remained with Air America until the war ended in 1974. He was involved with several
rescues and harrowing events after the fall of LS-85. He and his fellow Flight Mechanics served Air
America and his country bravely and patriotically. Gary eventually returned to the United States and
worked for Rolls Royce, an aircraft engine manufacturer, until retirement. Gary, along with his
comrades, was never officially recognized by the U.S. government for their work in Laos.
Edited by in alphabetical order: Gary Gentz, Phillip Goddard, Ted Moore
Lima Site 20A (LS-20A) Photo Credit Dan Gamelin, former Air America Air Freight Specialist