U.S. Army Helicopter Names in Vietnam
The most visited site in Washington DC continues to be the Vietnam Wall, listing the almost 59,000 young American men and women who died as a result of serving there. The interest in that War continues unabated for many reasons. For modelers, the many aircraft, military vehicles and ships that served offer many interesting subjects to model. The abundance of excellent 35mm cameras and color film made that war’s camouflage and markings the best documented to that time. The predominance of helicopters earned it the moniker “The Helicopter War,” and indeed, it revolutionized warfare.
Author and veteran John Brennan, (former SP5, 114 AHC, 1970-71, Vinh Long AAF, Mekong Delta), was impressed during his tour by the many personal names painted on helicopters. From the earliest days of aviation, fliers personalized their aircraft. The U.S. fought in Vietnam for a dozen of the most tumultuous years of our history. Under the best of circumstances, Army aircrew are a hearty, independent, free-spirited bunch – so much so that the Army brought back Warrant Officer (WO) ranks for pilots. These fell in between NCOs (Sergeants) and “real” officers (Lieutenants, Captains, etc.) so as to not besmirch the reputation of the proud, disciplined Army leadership. True, there were “real” officers who flew, just as there were disciplined WOs. A greater catalyst for great nose art was the fact that, in most cases, the helicopter belonged to the crew chief (CE), and secondarily the doorgunner (DG). Pilots were rotated daily. In most cases, nose art appeared on helicopters at the bequest of the CE. Though the Army did its best to prevent fraternizing between officers and enlisted men, enlisted aircrew tended to have most of the same personality traits that the pilots had. Only aircrewmen ratcheted it up a bit with the attitude that if caught crossing some line, they feared not. After all, what would the Army do? Send them to ‘Nam?!
This resulted in thousands upon thousands of U.S. Army aircraft sporting awesome names and nose art. Some are “elaborate, colorful, and often comical nose art inspired by… (the sixties) pop culture, music, cartoons and comics, psychedelia, and politics, as well as sex and booze.” Some were as simple as the CE’s wife or girlfriend’s name. They varied from the subtle to the “shutouts!”
A couple of years ago, John Brennan sent out inquiries searching for info and photos of ‘Nam helicopter names and nose art for this book. John received over 10,000 emails, countless phone calls and letters, and has attended numerous veteran organization and alumni meetings to research this monumental task. He modestly calls it more than a group effort when, in fact, if not for Mr. Brennan’s tireless efforts, this historic volume might never have been published. He has already published a second book on the subject* and a third just might follow in a couple of years. Nonetheless, this volume stands alone: you don’t have to buy the other edition. This is the only book I’m aware of that lists and cross-references 3,100 U.S. Army helicopter names in Vietnam. It lists the data under columns for Copter name, Unit, Type Aircraft, Circa, Function (cargo, slick, gunship…), Serial Number, Location (where the name appeared), Artist name, Crew names, and Contributor (who supplied the information).
Another spreadsheet lists the name’s Origin/Definition (i.e. “Cheap Thrills” was the name of a Janis Joplin record album); Notes/Call Signs (related data, such as description of accompanying art…); Fate Aircraft/Crew (if fate of crew or copter is known…).
There is also an alphabetical listing of contributors cross-referenced to a numerical listing of units indicating its contributor(s), and a lengthy bibliography (list of sources) that includes Unit History Photo Books and Internet References. All of these are invaluable to a helicopter crewman, his family members, or historians who want or need to do additional research. I suspect that this book will bring a lot of veterans together. Most of us knew each other by nicknames. If for example, my CE gets a copy and looks up our Huey’s name, he’ll see my name and we might just have a reunion 40 odd years after our tours!
I believe every type of Army helicopter in Vietnam that had a name on it is included. I don’t believe there is an equal to it for WWII aircraft names.
I highly recommend this book to Vietnam veterans, aviation and history buffs, modelers, and model and decal manufacturers**. If you want autographed copies, I will stick my neck out and say contact John Brennan direct at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Books are also available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or the publisher, Hellgate Press, P.O. Box 3531, Ashland, OR. 97520 - https://www.hellgatepress.com
I’d like to give sincere thanks to Steve Collins of IPMS/USA for allowing me the opportunity to provide this review. I personally purchased this book because of my background and because I feel John Brennan has produced a valuable historical reference that can also be used by modelers and manufacturers to improve the accuracy of their models.
- John Brennan’s second book is Vietnam War Helicopter Art: U.S. Army Rotor Aircraft, published by Stackpole. It contains almost 300 color photos of U.S. helicopter nose art in ‘Nam.
- Model decal and kit manufacturers could skim through the listing of 3,100 U.S. Army helicopter names in Vietnam, and if any catch their interest can research to the next step and release a “new and improved” re-release or a brand new state-of-the-art kit or decal. As an incentive, may I remind manufacturers that even today there is no state-of-the-art 1/72 or 1/48 Vietnam UH-1D (or H) “slick” with the single M-60 machine gun on a swivel mount and all doors removable, or a Vietnam AH-1G Cobra since Monogram’s good but basic kit. There’s no 1/35 AH-1G Cobra at all, and the closest to it is the old 1960s Revell 1/32 Cobra! Even the Loach LOH-6 kits are far from state-of-the-art and especially need removable doors.
- Dirty Little Secrets of the Vietnam War, by James Dunnigan and Albert Nofi, St. Martin’s Griffin, Publishers.
- US Helicopter Pilot in Vietnam, by Gordon Rottman, published by Osprey.