The Bell UH-1 B/C Huey Gunship

Vietnam, January 31, 1968; the opening day of the Tet Offensive. A UH-1C Huey gunship flies overhead, then explosions and smoke are seen as the UH-1C attacks a village.

The Bell UH-1B, or "Bravo" model, was the second in the line of Huey utility helicopters. They were first used in Vietnam late in 1963. By mid-1965 they had begun to be replaced by Huey models with longer cabins so that they could carry more troops, so UH-1Bs were outfitted with guns or rockets and put to use as helicopter gunships; thus becoming the first helicopter gunship ever to be used in combat.

The Bell UH-1C, or the "Charlie" model, was derived from the Huey line for specific use as a helicopter gunship while waiting for the Bell AH-1G Cobra, an even more capable attack helicopter, to become available. The UH-1C was fitted with a more powerful engine, enabling it to keep up with the transport Hueys while lifting new, relatively heavy armament subsystems.

Huey Gunship

The all-gun models were called "Cobras", or "Guns", while the rocket-bearing types were called "Frogs", or "Hogs". These were known as "Hogs". This differentiated them from the "Slicks", which were lightly armed rotorcraft dedicated to transporting troops. Upgrades to the gunship classification involved outfitting existing airframes with short wing stubs, from which to hang rocket and gun pods, while machine guns were often added at door and window stations. Grenade launchers and automatic cannons were fitted to the nose turret.

Attack helicopters were used in Vietnam as mobile aerial artillery, providing heavy fire support for troops in contact with the Viet Cong. As "organic" Army assets directly attached to the ground troops, they could react more quickly than Air Force fixed wing close support aircraft.

Huey Gunship

As well as providing fire support for ground troops, helicopter gunships escorted Slick transports during all phases of an air assault operation. It was the task of the Hogs to protect the Slicks during transit, to soften up a landing zone prior to the arrival of the assault force, provide suppressive fire during the actual landing, and cover the withdrawal of the Slicks during pickup of troops.

Huey Gunship

A Huey gunship carried four .30 caliber M60C machine guns, two mounted at the end of each stub wing. The four machine guns were sometimes replaced with two six-barrel rotary machine guns, called "miniguns", that were suspended from stub wings or mounted inside the helicopter cabin. Automatic 40-millimeter grenade launchers were placed in a powered turret at the nose. Rockets were launched from tubes assembled together in pods that were mounted above or below the stub wings.

The rockets were of the Mk 4 Folding-Fin Aerial Rocket type, an unguided air-to-air projectile with a 2.75" diameter affectionately known as the "Mighty Mouse". The folding fins enabled the rockets to be carried in tubes, from which they were launched in-flight.

Huey Gunship

Due to the altitude at which Huey gunship attacks were normally made, nighttime operations were especially dangerous for the crews. Nevertheless, with the aid of illuminating flares, they could carry out tasks such as nighttime protection of fire bases.

"Hog" helicopters flew particularly intensive close support, resupply and medical evacuation missions, by day and night, especially during the Battle for Ia Drang Valley in November 1965. Those UH-1Bs belonged to the 2nd Battalion, 20th Aerial Rocket Artillery, which had been assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division during the Vietnam War.

Huey Gunship

Massive infiltration of the Viet Cong in the Mekong Delta region of Southern Vietnam saw the use of Huey gunships to fight the "brown water war". The small force of U.S. Navy UH-1Bs was actively used to support Army and Navy riverine forces in the area.

In 1967, a single squadron, the Sea Wolves, was activated. With over 30 Huey gunships. Working closely with Navy patrol boats, they were used as scouts, giving early warning of ambushes, as well as providing fire support for Army air assaults.

Assessments of value of the Hog gunship showed that it greatly reduced the losses of Slick transports during the most vulnerable phase of an assault: The arrival in a hot landing zone. It was also valuable as a close support weapon. To the hard pressed troops on the ground, the distinctive thudding of the Huey's twin rotors promised help, and its appearance made it the most welcome sight during a firefight.