Thursday, 20 February 2014

The Helicopter War

The United States first employed helicopters in warfare during the Second World War. Recognizing the immense potential of the helicopter, military planners focused on developing a rotary wing force to buttress the American arsenal. During the Vietnam War, the United States relied on the helicopter as never before. The helicopter's role in combat expanded enormously in this conflict as thousands of "choppers" rapidly transported personnel throughout the war zone. Mobility and firepower would be the keys for American operations in Vietnam, and the helicopter provided an abundance of both. The role of the helicopter in support activities in the Vietnam War must also had big impact, as thousands of missions were flown to resupply and reinforce troops on the ground, to evacuate American and South Vietnamese wounded, and to offer countless other services in pursuance of the war effort.

Perhaps the most enduring symbol of the American war in Vietnam is the UH-1 Iroquois helicopter, or "Huey." This aircraft was the ‘workhorse’ of American forces in Vietnam, allowing the United States to employ its airmobile concept on the battlefield. Combined with the lethal firepower of close-air-support attack helicopters such as the AH-1 Cobra, American and South Vietnamese forces were able to exploit this distinct advantage on the battlefield in countless victories.

The helicopter's role in the Vietnam War wasn’t just confined to its benefits on the battlefield. Search-and-rescue operations, medical evacuations, troop and supply transport, and the efforts of Air America would not have been possible without the constant presence and reliable support of the helicopter in this war. Some of America's bravest and most daring pilots risked being shot down daily in the pursuance of their mission to support their ground forces, and their experiences speak to the powerful presence of the helicopter in Vietnam. Employing  nearly 12,000 helicopters during the Vietnam War, including over 7,000 UH-1 ‘Hueys’, and an estimated 40,000 helicopter pilots served in the war. Of these, over 5,000 helicopters were lost to enemy fire and tragic accidents throughout the conflict, and over 2,700 American Huey pilots and crew members were killed in the war. These sobering statistics are a reminder of the danger these men faced when they answered their country's call to war.

The immense success of the helicopter in the Vietnam War set an important precedent in the years following the conflict. The numerous benefits the helicopter provided to the American military proved to militaries around the world that rotary-wing technology would continue to shape warfare, both in combat and support activities. Helicopter technology has continued to evolve over the decades, producing some of the most advanced aerial weapons platforms in existence, And serves as a continual reminder of the Americas innovative/forward thinking approach to weapons in combat, and served as the US biggest war weapon that may have saved the US from defeat in the Vietnam War.

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