The following is taken from Rotorheads website courtesy of Jim Moore.
For more stories and photos, please go to Rotorheads.
The intent of this document is to locate and document any information concerning the FTD.
Information about the organization, purpose, problems, achievements, and awards of
the FTD has been included along with memorabilia provided by members of the FTD.
The quality of some items in this document are not the best due to being copies of copies
in some instances and all the documents, pictures and clippings are from the 1963-1964 era.
This document is not intended to provide a complete and all encompassing official
history of the FTD.
Former members of the FTD who have provided pictures, documents, news clippings,
and other memorabilia for inclusion in this recollection of the unit.
James O. Smith
EDITOR JIM MOORE
History of the 917-S/917-H FTD
3 Dec 1962-20 Aug 1964
Tan Son Nhut Air Base
Saigon, South Vietnam
Largely because of American military assistance, the helicopter
section of the VNAF was experiencing a critical pilot shortage in
late 1962. Under the Military Assistance Program (MAP) a total
of 48 helicopters (H-19 and H-34) were projected for the VNAF
by 1 July 1964.
To accomplish the task of training VNAF personnel, the USAF
either brought the Vietnamese to the CONUS or it sent
Americans to Vietnam to train the Vietnamese in their own
country. Superficially, it would seem more efficient to send a
small number of American instructors to train a large number of
Vietnamese students than to send those same students to the
There were political advantages and one of the desiderata of
training conducted in the CONUS was the exposure of foreign
students to democratic ideals and the “American way of life”. By
1962 due to the deteriorating military situation the political and
cultural advantages of CONUS training had to be sacrificed for
the greater efficiency of “in-county” training.
On 8 September 1962, CINCPAC sent a message to HQ USAF
requesting that “all feasible steps” be taken to alleviate the
current pilot shortage of the VNAF. To expedite this training
program, CINCPAC asked HQ USAF to get an ATC team “on the
road without delay”.
An ATC survey team visited Vietnam from 23 September to 7
October 1962 to study the various possible ways of training
VNAF helicopter pilots in that country.
They recommended an FTD be established in Vietnam to provide
helicopter and mechanic training. They believed this was the only
way to “eliminate the need for USAF Forces serving in any air
combat counterinsurgency operations”.
The survey team recommended the FTD be “in Vietnam by 1
January 1963, with training starting 1 February 1963.
In November 1962, HQ USAF approved the team’s
recommendations and directed ATC to deploy an FTD to Vietnam
to conduct H-19 helicopter training for the VNAF.
FTD 917-S was organized on 3 December 1962 with an authorized
strength of 12 officers and 47 airmen drawn from ATC
resources. Most of the officers and airmen left the CONUS on
11 January 1963 and arrived in Vietnam the next day. The
detachment became operational and began training on 11 February
Led by Col. Jimmy Hamill, instructors were taken from Stead and
other ATC units to began VNAF helicopter pilot training in H-19B
The training was conducted on 8 H-19B helicopters. Three were
already available at Tan Son Nhut Airfield in Saigon, while the
remaining five were in flyable storage at the VNAF Bien Hoa
With the success of the training and at the urgent request by
the VNAF for expansion of the training program, CINCPAC
requested and was approved to add 11 officers, 31 airmen, and 9
On 17 June 1963, ATC transferred responsibility for FTD 917-S
from Sheppard to the 3635th Flying Training Group (Advanced) at
Stead AFB Nevada. FTD 917-S was inactivated and FTD 917-H
was designated and organized at Saigon to take its place. The
reason for the change concerned the unit’s primary mission of
pilot training; it was reassigned to a “compatible ATC flying
After graduating its first class of helicopter pilots and while
beginning to train its second class the FTD also undertook to
train a class of helicopter mechanics. The first mechanics’ class
began on 1 July 1963 with 30 Vietnamese students.
A major problem facing the FTD was the inadequacy of its
logistical support. Once deployed to Vietnam the detachment
found itself short of aerospace ground equipment, hand tools, and
spare parts. This poor situation continued through 1963.
By February 1964, through controlled cannibalization, coupled
with the improvement of the logistical support the supply problem
was reduced to only one aircraft out of commission because of
parts. (James O. Smith stated he recalls one particular day
sixteen aircraft were in the air)
Although the detachment’s supply situation had improved early in
1964, it continued to have logistical difficulties. The detachment
had only six aircraft in commission in early July 1964. An urgent
action technical order required that the helicopters’ main rotor
head pitch control rods be radiographed. Eighteen of the pitch
change rods were not affected by the urgent action technical
This procedure was not available in Vietnam so the rods had to be
shipped to Air America in Taipei, Formosa. The maintenance
personnel met the challenge and kept the six remaining aircraft
flying throughout this period.
On 16 June 1964 aircraft 53-4454 crashed on take off as the result of
Personnel rotation presented the detachment with another kind
of problem. Sheppard AFB intended to rotate the original
complement of detachment personnel in monthly increments
beginning in November 1963 and continuing through April 1964,
extending the tours of some of the airmen to as long as 15
months. The detachment commander protested the inequity of
this program and urgently requested that a more equitable
rotation plan be formulated that would provide a minimum period
of disrupting concentrated training programs. By October 1963,
the original cadre of officers and airmen was being replaced.
Beginning with class 64A training was accelerated in two ways.
The training was extended from 5 to 6 days and the flying time
per student was increased from 45 minutes to a full hour. These
procedures eliminated several issues.
When 26 student pilots graduated on 18 July 1964 that brought
the total to 95 pilots trained by the detachment. The
detachment also trained 92 mechanics during its 19 months in
Its mission accomplished, the detachment prepared to go home.
On 20 August 1964, HQ ATC inactivated FTD 917-H at Saigon.
The FTD under its earlier designation received the Air Force
Outstanding Unit Award for the period 12 January to 14 June
The 3638th Flying Training Squadron (Helicopter) at Stead
received the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for the period of
1 March 1962 to 1 March 1963.
The United States Military Assistance Command Vietnam
recommended the FTD for the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award
for its performance throughout its period of deployment in the
Republic of Vietnam.
Overall the detachment was cited as having contributed
significantly to the operational capability of the Vietnamese Air
Photo of the first group of Instructor Pilots commanded by Col. Jimmy Hamill
Thanks to Lou Anatrella for the photo.
This photo is of the second group of Instructor Pilots commanded by L/C “Blackie” Carney.
From the files of USAFHPA Historian.