Fifty Years Ago . . . The last USAF EC-47 sortie out of Tan Son Nhut
Time flies when you get old. As 2022 fades in the rearview mirror, we can’t help but reflect. Was it really more than a half-century ago that we spent a year or so of our then-young lives at bases in Vietnam and Thailand, cruising the skies of Southeast Asia in the trusty Gooney Bird?
November 6, 2022, marked the fiftieth anniversary of the last USAF EC-47 mission flown out of Saigon’s Tan Son Nhut airbase. The crew on this milestone sortie was mostly brass from the 360th TEWS and the 6994th Security Squadron. In the left seat was 360th C.O. LTC Col. John Griffith. Co-pilot was 2d Lt James L. Clement, Jr. One of the two navigators aboard was 6994th commander LTC Dave Eddy, perhaps the individual most closely associated with the development of the Air Force's ARDF program. A couple of long-time radio operators worked the back end, one of whom, MSgt Mike Pressler, would log 700-plus missions. The aircraft, fittingly chosen for the occasion, was 43-15112, the very first Phyllis Ann "production" EC-47 to arrive at Tan Son Nhut back in 1966.
Co-pilot Clement had reported to the 360th as a second lieutenant fresh from UPT. He did most of the flying that day but has no idea why Col. Griffith selected him. As Jim remembers it, after tooling around the Mekong Delta for a couple of hours, the colonel simply turned and said, "Jim, we've done enough of this." Home they went, ending more than six years of in-country EC-47 ARDF support to allied forces.
The 360th's stand-down signaled the end of USAF Vietnam-based EC-47 operations, but the Electric Goon and her crews would soldier on for another year and a half from NKP and Ubon. As part of the Nixon administration's "Vietnamization" program 33 aircraft, 43-15112 among them, were transferred to the VNAF's 718th Recon Squadron. The 718th, with backenders from Unit 17/J7 of the RVN Joint General Staff, would fly their EC-47s right up to the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975. Whether 112 was among the VNAF aircraft that escaped to Thailand that day, we don't know.
Jim Clement, who went on to retire as a bird colonel, is likely the only member of that TSN "fini flight" crew still alive. He attended the 2022 dedication of the Weyandt-Eddy Memorial Plaza at Goodfellow and very graciously provided these images of his logbook.
Looking to 2023 . . . .
Two more fiftieth anniversaries will roll around in early 2023. The Paris Peace Accords, calling for a ceasefire throughout Vietnam and the release of American POWs, were signed on 27 January. In Laos, no ceasefire was yet in effect. Barely a week later, Baron 52 was shot down. In recognition of Vietnam Veterans Day, we’re working with Goodfellow to hold what we hope will become an annual remembrance ceremony at the Weyandt-Eddy Memorial Plaza. Stay tuned.