I served as an AC-119G Gunship Flight Engineer with the 17th Special Operations Squadron, A Flight, Phu Cat AB from April 1970 to April 1971. Upon arriving at Phu Cat, I was assigned to Major Richard Rabinski’s crew (Shadow 7). During my 12-month tour, I flew 125 combat missions, totaling over 500 combat hours. I also served as First Sergeant for A Flight. Although the position required extra administrative duties, it was probably the easiest First Sergeant position I ever held. As First Sergeant, I was responsible for hiring the Mama Sons for the enlisted barracks.
My awards and decorations include the Bronze Star w/V device (1st Vietnam tour), Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal w/7 oak leaf clusters (2nd Vietnam tour), and the Meritorious Service Medal. I retired as Chief Master Sergeant.
Recovering with a Runaway Prop
While on a mission over Pleiku Province, our Shadow 7 crew received a call about a large group of North Vietnam troops moving through an area. As we approached the area, we could see ARVN troops moving among the trees. The forward controller gave us clearance to fire. After approximately one hour of firing on targets, ground actions slowed. As we pulled off target, we took a .50 caliber hit through the right propeller oil line, severing the line and causing a runaway propeller. The aircraft immediately rolled and yawed left and began losing altitude. As every Shadow crewmember knows, the AC-119 isn’t supposed to be flyable with a runaway prop. While the pilots struggled to gain control, I (as flight engineer) began running the emergency checklist. Needless to say, for a few minutes there was a lot of scrambling on the flight deck. After several long minutes, Major Rabinski gained directional control of the aircraft and arrested our descent. It was through skill, professionalism, and teamwork that we beat the odds, brought the aircraft back to a successful landing, and lived to fly another day.