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More than just Hueys—a multitude of choppers flew the dangerous skies of Vietnam

For most American combat personnel who served in Vietnam, the classic image of “the helicopter war” was the “Huey,” like the Bell UH-1D. The Huey was ready to back troops up, extract them or rush them to the hospital as the exigencies demanded. There were, however, quite a variety of other rotary-winged craft that made their mark on the Vietnamese landscape. Here are 11 helicopters (Huey included) that played a vital role in the Vietnam War.

Helicopters began proving their worth over Korea in the 1950s, but it was over Indochina that a new generation of rotary-winged aircraft became an indispensable military asset. Vertical takeoff and landing capabilities allowed soldiers to be rushed to the jungles, valleys and hilltops. The copters were equally adept at extracting troops when the operation was completed. Their ability to evacuate the wounded and swiftly convey them to a medical facility was the difference between life and death for tens of thousands of casualties.

As the war expanded, specialized helicopters were developed for a variety of tasks. Cargo carriers brought artillery, ammunition and other heavy equipment to remote fire support bases. When communist-manned 12.7 mm machine guns (known and dreaded by the helicopter crews as “.51-calibers”) became a threat to the troop-carrying “slicks” and medevac choppers, the helos were mounted with a counter-arsenal of guns and rockets, culminating in gunships like the Bell AH-1 Cobra.

The intense combat took a toll on the 12,000 helicopters that served in Vietnam. The Army lost at least 5,195 to combat or accidents. The Marines lost 270, the Air Force 110 and the Navy 32. The South Vietnamese lost 482, and the Australians six. Those casualties were suffered in the course of 5.25 million sorties, during which the machines underwent a rapid evolution with benefits that continue to be felt in both military and civilian uses. V

This article appeared in the August 2020 issue of Vietnam magazine. For more stories from Vietnam magazine, subscribe here: