Last week I discussed the minor role of the helicopter in World War II. This week I will look at the greatly increased use of the helicopter in the Vietnam War and how/why its role was so important. Starting after World War II, the range of helicopter use was expanded in the Korean War using it for medical evacuations mainly while also being used a little for reconnaissance and transporting troops to drop-off points. However, once the Vietnam War started, the helicopter became a huge asset for the United States. It became a useful tool in combat. The U.S. used thousands of choppers to transport troops into the forests and mountains of Vietnam. Besides transport and evacuation of wounded and trapped soldiers, the helicopters were heavily armed and were used for air support in many of the successful operations that would have failed otherwise. Because of the expanded role of the helicopter the 1st Cavalry Division was formed and initially included the Bell OH-13S Sioux, the Bell UH-1 Iroquois, and the Boeing Vertol CH-47 Chinook. The Chinook is a twin-rotor unarmed helicopter used for transporting infantry between bases or into battle in the mountains of Vietnam; it could carry between 35 and 55 troops. With these fast advances in helicopter heavy warfare, the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong designed technology to try and counteract the success of the United States with choppers. The Viet Cong designed and set up anti-aircraft weapons along with 37-mm cannons and machine guns that could take out the U.S. helicopters. One of the U.S. helicopters they were constantly trying to shoot down was the newly designed AH-1G Cobra which immediately became popular as one of the first attack helicopters used in the war. The Cobra had a very slim design to give enemies less to shoot at, they were also fitted with single Lycoming T53-L-13 series turbo shaft engines with 1100 shaft horsepower. With this horsepower their maximum speed was close to 170 mph and they could fly 360 miles on one tank of fuel. These helicopters were heavily armored and effective using M28 chin turret with 7.62mm mini guns and two 40mm M129 grenade launchers and the small wings on the side held 19 shot 2.75 inch rocket pods. Their role in the war became key to successful operations. They were used for much more than escorting transport choppers and planes, they were used for close-air support because of their versatility of weapons. The Cobra was very successful in danger zones as its many weapons were fired upon enemy infantry and other targets. Throughout the U.S. war over 1,000 Cobras were made including a more developed version that had anti-tank systems. This helicopter still exists today and is manufactured for the U.S. military.
The huge growth of air power in the Vietnam War proved to be a huge step in changing the way and style that wars would be fought following this time. With the early success of many different helicopter designs, the U.S. quickly funneled more money and resources towards advancing the weapons and designs of them. The newly created attack helicopter became a huge component in warfare and was arguably one reason the war came to a close. The attack helicopter provided a way for the military to use much larger artillery shells and fire them at enemies to support ground operations. The United States learned many new tactics such as the mass surprise attack through the air using helicopters and these carried over into the development and continued evolution of the helicopter domestically.
Thanks for reading!