Long before the U.S. was involved in the Vietnam War, the C‑47 was performing a vital role for the French Air Force. When the French finally pulled out of Vietnam, they transferred many of their C‑47s to the South Vietnamese Air Force (SVAF). As the war in the 1960s escalated, it created a great demand for the airplane; many of the U.S. C‑47s in storage for years were reactivated, and others were recalled from Army National Guard units. All were refurbished or modified and given a fresh paint scheme, some for the first time since they left the Douglas assembly lines more than 20 years earlier. Photo Norm Taylor
The RC‑47s (later redesignated EC‑47s) were modified to carry electronics gear. Many of these aircraft flew with the 460th TRW, based in Tan Son Nhut Air Base, (TSNAB) Vietnam. There were three RC‑47 Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadrons assigned to the 460th; the 360th based in TSNAB, the 361st at Phu Cat ANB and the 362nd at Da Nang. These aircraft flew an average of 100 seven‑hour missions each day. Each squadron flew similarly configured aircraft with different suffixes; (EC‑47N/P/Q). The “Q” had more highly classified gear than the “P” and an array of antennae around the fuselage and wings. At one time, the “Q” was configured with a trailing long wire antenna that could be reeled in and out during the mission.
The mission was to locate the Viet Cong through a process of triangulation or through airborne radio direction finding fixes (ARDF). The 460th TRW flew the bulk of their seven hour missions at 9,000 feet, mostly because up there we had better reception and there was less chance of small arms fire reaching us. We were rarely fired on, mostly because the Viet Cong mistook us for the fire‑breathing dragon, the AC‑47 gunship.
Throughout the war the three Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadrons flew thousands of ARDF missions over Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. In late 1970 the U.S. Air Force began training the SVAF to fly these missions and turned over most of the aircraft to them. When the Viet Cong took over South Vietnam, many of these aircraft were flown to Thailand and Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines, but some remained behind.
Those that made it out were turned over to the Philippine Air Force and to the Royal Tai Air Force. There is a possibility some are still flying today, over 20 years later. (Ed. note: It is estimated that the Thai Air Force operated at least 60 C‑47s, and a 1992 Flight Survey revealed that the Thai Air Force still had 15 C‑47s, and 5 AC‑47s still flying. In addition to one former AC‑47 flying with the Border Police, it is also estimated that there are at least ten former AC‑47/EC‑47s in storage. There are two preserved: one, c/n 25413, is at Phitsanuloh Airport, the other, probably c/n 12629, is at the Royal Thai Police Museum in Bangkok.
(There may be five former EC‑47s operating as late as 1993 in the Philippine Republic.) The EC‑47 was a very reliable aircraft and would get its crew to the mission and stay with them the entire seven hours.
Norm Taylor was a crew chief on an EC‑47 during the Vietnam War. The EC‑47s he flew on were manufactured in 1943, some in 1944 and two in 1945.)
Reprinted from the DC-3/Dakota Journal Spring 1995, Copyright Black Hawk Publishing Co/Norm Taylor, 1995, 2013
For the complete story on the Douglas DC-3 see “Legacy of the DC-3”