Burton David Zeiler, Pilot
18th SOS, 14th SOW, Phan Rang, 1970-71

I was born in St. Louis, MO in 1932. In June 1950, I graduated from Miami Edison Senior High School and consider Miami, Florida my hometown. The Korean War had just started when I entered the University of Miami in 1950. I was determined to learn how to fly, rather than become a ground-pounder, so I enrolled in the AFROTC program. I earned my degree in June 1954 and along with it, an Air Force commission as an ROTC Distinguished Military Graduate.

After getting my silver wings at Goodfellow AFB, TX, I was assigned to the Strategic Air Command. I served as a KC-97G co-pilot at Homestead AFB, FL. I transitioned to KC-135s and was assigned to Carswell AFB, TX (the first operational 135 squadron in SAC). I was later assigned to Operation Chrome Dome (it’s a coincidence that I’m bald) at Eielson AFB, AK. In 1965, I returned to the lower states for an AFROTC assignment at the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) and flew the Gooney Bird to maintain proficiency. This was a huge change after accumulating about 3,500 hours of tanker time.

In 1969, I received an assignment to the AC-47D gunship program. The program was cancelled before I completed my last training flight at the CCTS. I was delighted to be reassigned to the AC-119K as a pilot in the first class of replacement crews. In March 1970 I reported to the 18th SOS, Phan Rang AB, as the unit’s first replacement AC-119K aircraft commander. Shortly after reporting, I was assigned to the 14th Special Operations Wing Headquarters as the AC- 119K standardization pilot, where I served throughout my tour of duty.

As a Wing standardization pilot, I traveled to all of the forward operating locations. There I had the privilege of getting to know most of the aircrews and their specific mission requirements. In the AC- 119K, there was always the excitement of the attack and plenty of AAA to go around. It was an eye opener to do most of my flying from the right seat.

After Nam, I was assigned to Hickam AFB, HI and served this hardship tour for six years. I was fortunate to command the 15th Operations Squadron supporting the flying personnel assigned to the various headquarters at Hawaii. This was really a one-time good deal! With Hickam being the crossroads to the Pacific Basin, I had many exciting experiences. They ranged from the return of our prisoners of war, coordinating support of the astronauts returning from space, Operation Babylift and the evacuation of many civilians from Vietnam. Finally, personnel blasted me away from the island paradise and I was again assigned to SAC at Grissom AFB, IN. After two years as a Wing Weenie, I retired with 26 years of service and about 4,500 flight hours. There were some sad times, but there were many more good times. Thank you all.

My memory of the AC-119 gunship program is that, for its time (1967 – 1972), the AC-119K was at the cutting edge of the sensor technology necessary to hunt and kill NVA vehicles resupplying their forces in South Vietnam. We were essential to fill the time gap while the AC-130s were being developed and refined. I am proud to have served within the 18th Special Operations; it was a distinct mission executed by dedicated people. I think we K guys are proud that the new gunships will be called Stingers.

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