Ronald (Ron) Robert Hinton, FE
18th SOS, Nakhon Phanom, Da Nang, and Nakhon Phanom, 1971-72
I was born on August 31, 1938 in Richmond, Virginia. During my youth, I worked for my grandfather and uncle in plastering contracting but I soon found out that plastering was not for me. Looking back, I should have learned more than I did about plastering. In 1955 at age 17, I joined the Army National Guard. When some of my friends joined the Air Force, I requested and was granted a transfer to the Air Force.
On 5 March 1956, I went to Lackland AFB, Texas for Basic Training. From Lackland, I went to Sheppard AFB, Texas to complete Basic and Aircraft Maintenance Tech School. I graduated from Tech School on my eighteenth birthday. My first assignment was in the C-54 Phase Docks at Brookley AFB followed by an assignment to McGuire AFB in C- 131A air-evac aircraft.
Flying SA-16B “Albatross” seaplanes at Clark Air Base, Philippines for 18 months was my first overseas assignment. We had lots of practice water work and long hours of over- water flights while being on call to help with emergencies, if needed. I did get my name in the Stars and Stripes when our crew searched for some lost fishermen who later found their way home.
After my overseas duty, I returned to the Land of the Big PX and re-enlisted in July 1959. I was sent to Langley AFB to work in transient alert. We handled all types of prop and jet aircraft from all branches of service. During 1959, NASA did a lot of testing at Langley and we handled a lot of the Astronaut’s aircraft. The astronaut who I remember the most was Captain White who was a ‘down-to-earth’ person.
In 1962, I was assigned to Hurlburt Field working with C-46 aircraft for a short time before being assigned to Eglin AFB and the T-29B aircraft that flew missions in support of Space Shots. In 1965, I was one of the 20,000 man build- up in Vietnam, so, I was off to Bien Hoa to support O1A/E FAC (forward air controller) aircraft. I didn’t draw combat pay until later that year. In 1966, I returned to Hurlburt Field for assignment with A1E Sandy aircraft.
In 1968, I was sent to Sheppard AFB as an Instructor in Aircraft Maintenance School. Years later after my retirement, I found out that I actually worked with one of my former students and that several of my former students had served in the 17th SOS and the 18th SOS. That made me proud.
In 1971, I received orders for AC-119 gunships. I did what everybody else did, i.e. high altitude chamber training (Never could understand why; we flew low and slow in gun- ships), survival school at Fairchild AFB, and C-119 ground school and flight engineer (FE) training at Lockbourne AFB. Training flight crews consisted of a pilot, copilot and flight engineer. Then it was off to Hurlburt Field for AC-119K combat flight training with full crews consisting of pilots, navigators/sensor operators, gunners, illuminator operator and the FE. Shortly after completion of AC-119K Stinger gunship training, I was sent to Clark Air Base in the Philippines for Jungle Survival ‘Snake’ School.
I arrived at Nakhon Phanom (NKP) Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand on Christmas Day 1971 and started the normal in-processing. Five days later on 30 December, I flew on my first combat mission. Really not knowing what to expect on target, I asked the ‘dumb question’ of the night, “What is that red stuff down there?” Well, it was AAA fire!
The following Stinger combat missions have stuck in my brain ever since they happened. One night, we had departed the target area to RTB (return to base) and on the way home, one of the scanners called, “Triple A, Break Right Hard!” The pilot, Captain Donnie Williams broke right and when he did, the gunship stalled and rolled 180 degrees to inverted flight. I started to reach for the throttles and mixture levers to increase power. But I couldn’t reach anything because the G-force was so great that I could not even move. I was sitting on an empty 20mm ammo can behind the pilot’s console located between the pilot and copilot which was normal position for the flight engineer during flight. My bottom was plastered to that can and it felt like that can was trying to go up my butt. The copilot had his arm on his seat armrest and was able to get his fingers on the jet throttle switches and got them to 100% power. About this time, Captain Williams righted the aircraft but it stalled again and rolled 180 degrees the other way becoming inverted before the Captain again righted the aircraft for normal flight and RTB. Four engine aircraft and crews are not meant to do aerobatics.
One night, we were south of Da Nang. Nothing was happening and we were kind of “laid back” boring holes in the sky. All of a sudden, I got shoved off my ammo can and landed face down onto the center console panel. The FLIR operator had shoved me down while reaching for the interphone panel switch to switch from the interphone to the radio so he could warn Da Nang that he just observed enemy rockets being launched at the base. The crew witnessed the rocket launches and the impact areas at Da Nang. I got all involved in watching the war below instead of paying attention to my job. When I finally did check fuel, I had all four engines on the inboard fuel tanks and the fuel gauges read zero, that’s “0.” I quickly switched to the outboard fuel tanks hoping nobody noticed. Later, the pilot said to me, “I see you have been doing your burn down.” I said, “Yes, sir.” I never did tell anyone that we almost ran out of fuel which would have caused all four engines to shut down.
Another night, we were the last fragged mission on the schedule out of Da Nang (Dawn Patrol). Completing our mission and having hit ‘bingo fuel’, we were RTB at Da Nang for a landing from the east over the bay. We saw one hell of an explosion north of Da Nang but didn’t have enough fuel remaining to fly over and check out the explosion. So, we landed and were taxiing to our parking ramp. I was up in the astrodome scanning the taxiway. BOOM!! A 122mm rocket hit the taxiway behind us. I started to drop back inside the cockpit but saw one rocket hit a Jolly Green H-53 helicopter in their parking ramp. I think I had my hands on the mixture levers with both pilot’s hands shutting down the engines. There was a lot of scrambling by Stinger crewmembers, especially in the cockpit, to evacuate the gunship. At the same time, BOOM – another rocket hit and exploded in front of us. I often wonder if the VC had actually targeted us. After the “all clear” signal was sounded, we started to board the gunship but discovered there was no boarding ladder because nobody had used the ladder to evacuate the aircraft.
I completed my tour of duty in Southeast Asia with 164 combat missions. In some ways, I miss the anticipation and excitement of combat flying. I left NKP for a SAC assignment at Robins AFB, Georgia where I was promoted to Master Sergeant and had a flight of KC-135 tankers to maintain. Before I retired from the Air Force, I was a night line chief. I retired 1 November 1978 with 23 years in service. I felt as if I was part of a dying breed of airmen who flew the last of combat recip aircraft.
Awards and Decorations earned include: Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with 8 Oak Leaf Clusters, AF Commendation Medal, Presidential Unit Citation, Out- standing Unit Citation with “V” and 2 Oak Leaf Clusters, AF Good Conduct Medal with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters, Army Good Conduct Medal with Bar and 2 Loops, Vietnam Service Medal with one silver star and two bronze stars, Small Arms Expert Marksman, Philippines Presidential Unit Award, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm.
My wife, Carol, and I are both retired and currently live in the Warner Robins area of Georgia. We have a son, Brian and a daughter, Diane. We are proud grandparents of four grandchildren. I also have a son, David and two grandchildren, Laya and Ashia from a prior marriage.