George E. Chapman, Pilot
18th SOS Nakhon Phanom, 1972
I was born in Terre Haute, Indiana and grew up in Casey, IL where I graduated from Casey High School in 1966. Upon completing my degree at the University of Illinois I was commissioned a 2nd Lt. and assigned to Reese AFB, TX for pilot training. The AC-119K was my first assignment out of pilot training, reporting to the 18th Special Operations Squadron at Nakhon Phanom AB, Thailand in April 1972, before being sent PCA to Da Nang, Vietnam in June. From S.E.A., I was assigned to KC-135s at Grissom AFB, IN. After three years in tankers I was reassigned to the 9th Airborne Command and Control Squadron, Hickam AFB, HI, flying the EC-135. I was later assigned to the 4th ACCS, Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota. I separated from the Air Force in May 1979 and began a career as a commercial airline pilot where I continue to fly for Continental.
One of my most memorable missions was a day-mission over An Loc while TDY to Bien Hoa. It was in May 1972, less than a week after AAA downed Stinger 41 on a day- mission near the same area. We were all a bit apprehensive. On a night mission during the same TDY, we were exiting the An Loc area at about midnight, flying over the city at 10,500 feet, when we noticed tracers in our flight path streaming down from above us. After taking evasive action, we concluded it was a VNAF AC-119G Shadow firing from above us. That might have been the closest one AC-119 came to shooting down another AC-119. Even though Stingers were well known by early 1972, we could still be misidentified. During April and May 1972 we were flying missions from NKP to Plain of Jars, Laos. It was over an hour each way. When we later saw the news reports of our missions, we were described as Laotian gunships.
Rain and thunderstorms were often problematic, but two incidents remain prominent for me. One mission over the trail turned out to be nothing but unsuccessful attempts to avoid flying through thunderstorms. Approaching NKP I noticed the pilot was not headed toward the well-lighted air base. He insisted he was; the engineer agreed with both of us. It turned out that water had filled the space between the double-pane windscreen on my side of the cockpit, completely shifting the view. In another incident, I was performing the pre-flight walk-around for an FCF on Aircraft 148, when I had oil drip on me from the end of the left tail boom. The mechanics discovered it was blowback oil on the surface of 50 to 70 gallons of water trapped in the ventral fin at the back of the boom caused by drain holes that were painted closed. The aircraft had been written up several times for control problems.
I remember most that in the AC-119K gunship the people were committed to getting the job done with as little military formality and protocol as possible; everyone making the most out of their life in difficult circumstances.