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Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base


Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base

Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base
Part of Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF)
Type Air Force Base
Site information
Condition Civil Airport/Military Air Force Base
Site history
Built 1955
In use 1955 – present
Vietnam War
Airfield information
ICAO: none
Elevation AMSL 406 ft / 124 m
VTUU is located in Thailand
Location of Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base
Direction Length Surface
ft m
05/23 9,848 3,002 asphalt

Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base is a Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) facility, the home of Wing 21 of the RTAF 2nd Air Division. The RTAF 211sq "Eagles" fly the Northrop F-5E/F "Tiger II" fighter aircraft from Ubon.

It is in east-central Thailand, near the city of Ubon Ratchathani, in Ubon Ratchathani Province. It is approximately 488 km (303 miles) northeast of Bangkok. The Laotian border is about 60 kilometers (40 miles) directly east. The facility is also used as a civil airport.


  • History 1
  • Royal Australian Air Force use 2
  • United States Air Force use 3
    • 8th Tactical Fighter Wing 3.1
      • Blackman and Robin 3.1.1
      • F-104C Starfighters 3.1.2
      • Special operations missions 3.1.3
      • Tactical bombardment missions 3.1.4
      • 1972 Operation Linebacker 3.1.5
      • 8th TFW decorations 3.1.6
    • Tenant units 3.2
    • USAF withdrawal 3.3
    • Major USAF aircraft based at Ubon 3.4
  • Military accidents and incidents 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8


Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base was established in the 1950s as a RTAF base. Political considerations with regards to communist forces engaging in a civil war inside Laos and fears of the civil war spreading into Thailand led the Thai government to allow the United States to covertly use five Thai bases beginning in 1961 for the air defense of Thailand and to fly reconnaissance flights over Laos.

Under Thailand's "gentleman's agreement" with the United States, Royal Thai Air Force Bases used by the USAF were considered Royal Thai Air Force bases and were commanded by Thai officers. Thai air police controlled access to the bases, along with USAF Security Police, who assisted them in base defense using sentry dogs, observation towers, and machine gun bunkers.

Numbers of other USAF personnel were assigned as security police "augmentees" and placed on perimeter guard duty as alerts of possible enemy intrusions developed. One such attack occurred in early 1970 when North Vietnamese sappers penetrated the base perimeter. Six of them were killed, with no friendly casualties. Other than security police, augmentees, and combat aircrew members, base personnel were normally unarmed. Also, under the US-Thailand operations agreement, USAF military guarding Ubon were prohibited from "chambering" ammunition in their weapons unless fired upon by an enemy.

The USAF forces at Ubon were under the command of the United States Pacific Air Forces (PACAF). Ubon was the location of TACAN station Channel 51 and was referenced by that identifier in voice communications during air missions.

The Army Post Office (APO) code for Ubon was "APO San Francisco 96304".

Royal Australian Air Force use

On 31 May 1962 the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) sent a detachment of eight CAC-27 Sabre fighters to Ubon RTAFB. This detachment was designated No. 79 Squadron. The Australian facilities were known as RAAF Ubon, and were designed by No. 5 Airfield Construction Squadron.

The mission of No. 79 Squadron was to assist the Thai and Laotian governments in actions against communist insurgents during the early years of the Vietnam War. With the deployment of United States Air Force fighters to Ubon, the unit also performed joint exercises and provided air defense for the USAF attack aircraft and bombers based at Ubon. No. 79 Squadron did not, however, fly any operations over nearby Cambodia, South Vietnam, or Laos. The unit's strength during the entire period was about 150–200 men. Sir Edmund Hillary visited the base on 25 January 1967.

The squadron lost a Sabre A94-986 aircraft due to engine failure at 10:43 on 3 January 1968. The aircraft crashed into farms on approach outside the town (1.2 nautical miles from the runway at 249 degrees true). The pilot, Pilot Officer Mark McGrath, was killed. A three-year-old Thai girl named Prataisre Sangdang later died from burns sustained in the accident. The homes of Mr Nuan, Mr Krasam, Mr Thongkam, and Mr Tue were totally destroyed. That of Mr Sok was partly destroyed. Ten pigs belonging to Mr Sok were killed as were 15 belonging to Mr Oh. Outbuildings belonging to Mr Wiruch and to Mrs Sim were also damaged.

The squadron re-deployed to Butterworth in Malaysia on 31 August 1968.

United States Air Force use

From 1965 to 1974, the base was a front-line facility of the United States Air Force (USAF) during the Vietnam War. In June 1965, the 15th Tactical Fighter Wing deployed its 45th Tactical Fighter Squadron to Ubon where they flew combat missions to North Vietnam. On 10 July 1965, pilots of the 45th Tactical Fighter Squadron, the first F-4C unit in Southeast Asia, were credited with the first air victory of the Vietnam War, downing two North Vietnamese MiG-17s. The 45th Tactical Fighter Squadron was on temporary duty overseas from its permanent home at MacDill AFB, Florida. The 45th flew 1,000 hours plus with 24 aircraft over North Vietnam in August 1965.

8th Tactical Fighter Wing

The California as part of the US deployment of forces for Operation Rolling Thunder and became the host unit.

At Ubon, the 8th TFW's mission included bombardment, ground support, air defense, interdiction, and armed reconnaissance. The operational squadrons of the 8th TFW were:

McDonnell F-4D-29-MC Phantom serial number 66-0234 of the 435th Tactical Fighter Squadron with laser-guided bombs on a mission north. This aircraft survived the war and was eventually sent to AMARC as FP314 for storage on 29 Sep 1989

On 23 April 1966, the 8th TFW scored its first MiG kills of the Vietnam War, shooting down two MiG-17 fighters. By the end of June 1966, after only six months in the theater, the wing had flown more than 10,000 combat sorties, achieving a 99% sortie rate, for which they received commendations.

Beginning in May 1967, new F-4D aircraft from the 4th TFW at Eglin AFB were delivered to Ubon, re-equipping the 433d, 497th, and the 555th TFSs. This gave the wing the distinction of being the first in Southeast Asia to be operationally equipped with F-4Ds.

In May 1968, the wing was the first to use laser-guided bombs (LGBs) in combat. During its final years of combat, the 8th TFW used B-57s for night attacks, AC-130 gunships for ground support and armed reconnaissance, and F-4Ds for fast-forward air control, interdiction, escort, armed reconnaissance, and other special missions.

After North Vietnam invaded the Republic of Vietnam in March 1972, the 8th TFW was augmented by additional F-4 units. To make room for these forces, the B-57 squadron moved to the Philippines. The wing continued combat in Vietnam until mid-January 1973, in Laos until 22 February 1973, and in Cambodia until 15 August 1973.

The last scheduled F-4 training flight occurred on 16 July 1974, and on 16 September the wing moved without personnel or equipment to Kunsan AB, South Korea, where it absorbed resources of the 3d TFW.

Blackman and Robin

On 30 September 1966, Colonel Robin Olds took command of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing. A lack of aggressiveness and sense of purpose in the wing had led to the change in command. The 44-year-old colonel also set the tone for his command stint by immediately placing himself on the flight schedule as a rookie pilot under officers junior to himself, then challenging them to train him properly because he would soon be leading them. In December Olds was re-united with Col. Chappie James, and they became an effective command team (popularly nicknamed "Blackman and Robin"). James was named 8th TFW Vice Commander in June 1967.

Colonel Daniel "Chappie" James, Jr. in front of his McDonnell-Douglas F-4C Phantom (433d TFS) at Ubon. He flew 78 combat missions into North Vietnam, many in the Hanoi/Haiphong area, and led a flight into the Bolo Mig sweep in which seven communist Mig 21s were destroyed, the highest total kill of any mission during the Vietnam War.
Colonel Robin Olds with his F-4C Phantom, Scat XXVII (McDonnell F-4C-24-MC Phantom 64-0829). He was the commander of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing at Ubon Air Base, Thailand, and was credited with shooting down four enemy MiG aircraft in aerial combat over North Vietnam. "Scat XXVII" is at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

F-104C Starfighters

F-104Cs of the 476th TFS head into the Vietnam War zone from Ubon RTAFB, 1966. Note the M-117 750-pound bombs under their wings.
F-104Cs of the 476th TFS

In the early months of 1966, a MiG threat to USAF aircraft over North Vietnam began to emerge, with the supersonic MiG-21 beginning to appear. In response, a contingent of Lockheed F-104C Starfighters from the 476th Tactical Fighter Squadron, based at George AFB, California were deployed to Udorn, arriving on 6 June 1966, and being assigned to the 8th TFW. An additional 12 F-104Cs joined the 8th TFW on 22 July.

The F-104s were initially involved in escort missions in support of Republic F-105D Thunderchief strike aircraft hitting targets in North Vietnam. They were also involved in escorts of EF-105F Wild Weasel. One of the problems was that the F-104Cs were not initially equipped with electronic countermeasures (ECM) gear, and had to rely on F-105s for warnings of lock-ons from enemy radar facilities. However, the mere presence of these F-104Cs managed to keep enemy MiGs away from the strike packages.

On 1 August, two F-104Cs were lost to enemy Surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) in a single day, and it was concluded that it was too dangerous to operate the F-104C in support of Wild Weasel missions, especially when they were not equipped with ECM gear. It was decided to withdraw the F-104C from support of strike missions over North Vietnam, unless and until the MiG threat reappeared. By late August, these F-104Cs were involved in air strikes against targets in both Laos and South Vietnam, exchanging its role of air superiority for that of ground attack. However, losses were heavy, with three F-104s being downed by ground fire and SAMs in the next couple of months. The F-104C was not very well suited for the ground attack role, being incapable of carrying an adequately large offensive load. In addition, it could not carry out operations in bad weather and could not sustain a lot of battle damage.

By late 1966, all F-104s in Southeast Asia had received APR-25/26 ECM gear and once again began flying escort missions over North Vietnam. The Starfighter took part in Operation Bolo on 2 January 1967, which was a successful attempt to lure North Vietnamese fighters into combat. However, the F-104s were not used to actively entice and engage MiGs, but were used instead to protect the egressing F-4 Phantom II force. The F-4 Phantoms scored heavily during this engagement.

The Air Force decided to replace these F-104Cs with more efficient McDonnell F-4D Phantoms starting in July 1967. The 4th TFS from Eglin AFB equipped with F-4Ds deployed to Ubon, and were redesignated as the 435th TFS. The F-104Cs rotated back to the states and were sent to the Puerto Rican Air National Guard

The 435th remained with the 8th TFW at Ubon until 8 August 1974. Its F-4D tail code was "FO".

Special operations missions

Lockheed C/AC-130A-LM Hercules Serial 55-0029 of the 16th Special Operations Squadron, May 1974. This aircraft survived the war and eventually was sent to AMARC for scrapping 15 November 1994

With the arrival of the 16th Special Operations Squadron (SOS) in October 1968 flying the AC-130 gun ships ("Spectre") the wing's mission was greatly enhanced. When the bombing of North Vietnam was halted in November 1968, the wing's mission turned to interdiction missions against the flow of supplies down the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

The squadron also flew the AC/NC-123 beginning in December 1969. The aircraft did not carry side-firing weapons, but rather had a very long nose fairing that housed a forward-looking radar and two internal aluminum weapons dispensers for CBU bomblets. Only two of these aircraft were converted from the basic C-123 Provider. This weapon system proved less effective than its counterpart, the AC-130, and operations with it were discontinued in June 1970

During 1970 the squadron recorded destroying nearly 15,000 trucks, earning them a new title of "top truck killers". On 22 July 1974, the 16th SOS was transferred to Korat RTAFB. In December 1975, the 16 SOS began its move to Hurlburt Field, Florida, with the first gunship arriving on 12 December 1975. By the end of January 1976, all the men and women of the 16 SOS had left Thailand.

Tactical bombardment missions

13th Bomb Squadron B-57G emblem 1970
Martin B-57G 53-1588 13th Bomb Squadron Ubon RTAFB 1970

The 13th Bombardment Squadron (BS) was deployed to Thailand and attached the 8th TFW from MacDill AFB, Florida on 1 October 1970 with a modified version of the Canberra medium bomber designated as the B-57G Canberra. Initially manufactured as B-57Bs in the early 1950s, the B-57G was fitted with a moving target radar as well as a low light level television system and a forward-looking infrared camera carried in a pod underneath the nose for use as night intruders over South Vietnam under a project known as Tropic Moon III.

The 13th flew mostly night interdiction missions against North Vietnamese truck traffic on the Ho Chi Minh Trail while the AC-130 Hercules "Spectre" gunships were used for ground support and armed reconnaissance, and F-4Ds for fast-forward air control, interdiction, escort, armed reconnaissance, and other special missions. The 13th used laser-guided smart bombs, often achieving an accuracy of 5 meters along with surplus WW2 cluster bombs. The only loss of a B-57G occurred on the night of 12 December 1970 while operating over southern Laos at night. The crew successfully ejected to safety and were recovered. They believed that they had been hit by antiaircraft fire. However, a Cessna O-2 Skymaster FAC aircraft failed to return from the same area that night, and it was concluded that the two aircraft had collided in the darkness. This was confirmed when a ground team was sent in to evaluate the crashed aircraft.

After North Vietnam invaded the Republic of Vietnam in March 1972, the 8th TFW was augmented by additional F-4 Phantom II units from the United States. Operations with the B-57G continued until April 1972, when the B-57s stood down as part of the United States withdrawal from Southeast Asia. The operation of these B-57Gs proved to be expensive, and the aircraft were hard to maintain in the field. Nevertheless, the B-57G was one of the first self-contained all-weather night interdiction bombers to serve with the USAF, and the operations that it carried out in Vietnam provided lots of useful information on follow-on weapons systems. The aircraft were flown to Clark AB, Philippines on 12 April 1972. About a month later they were returned to the United States, being assigned to the 190th Bombardment Group (Tactical) of the Kansas Air National Guard.

The 13th BS remained but was no longer manned or equipped and was kept in a non-operational status with the 8th TFW until finally being inactivated on 24 December 1972.

1972 Operation Linebacker

On 10 May 1972, as part of the first day of strikes during Operation Linebacker, the wing destroyed the Paul Doumer Bridge near Hanoi. Using laser-guided bombs, the wing was able to put the bridge out of commission. On 13 May 1972 the wing using laser-guided bombs, attacked the Thanh Hoa Bridge, destroying this vital supply line of the North Vietnamese.

F-4E squadrons temporarily deployed from the US to Ubon during the Constant Guard buildups also participated in the Linebacker raids, flying primarily as chaff bombers and strike escorts, in Operation Linebacker II in December 1972, and in support of the Lon Nol government in Cambodia:

  • 4th Tactical Fighter Wing, Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina
    • 334th Tactical Fighter 11 April 1972 – 8 July 1972 (Tail Code SA); 25 September 1972 – 12 March 1973 (Tail Code SJ)
    • 336th Tactical Fighter 12 April 1972 – 15 September 1972 (Tail Code SJ); 9 March 1973 – 7 September 1973
    • 335th Tactical Fighter 8 August 1972 – 31 December 1972 (Tail Code SJ)
  • 31st Tactical Fighter Wing, Homestead AFB, Florida
  • 33d Tactical Fighter Wing, Eglin AFB, Florida

8th TFW decorations

Tenant units

Tenant units at Ubon included the 23rd Tactical Air Support Squadron flying the OV-10. The 23rd's "Rustic FACs" flew missions in support of ground forces, interdiction missions and armed convoy support. In addition to the "Rustic" FACs, "Baron" and "Nail" OV-10s showed up in 1972 and 1973 from NKP.

1982 Comm. Sq (AFCS) providing Air Traffic Control services for the Ubon tower, terminal radar approach area and enroute services for Bangkok Center. 1982 Comm, Sq. also maintained the AB Telcom and VOR/TACAN (VORTAC channel 51) equipment. In 1973 until 1974 the 1982nd Radio Maintenance section maintained the electronic sensor intrusion detection system on the perimeters of both the base and the bomb dump. It was also the only USAF base that ran opposite direction, single runway, air traffic; landing runway 23, departing runway 05.

Detachment 17, 10th Weather Squadron (MAC)

Another tenant, the 3rd Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Group performed a vital support role in crash rescue, aircrew recovery and evacuation missions.

From March to October 1967 EC-121 Warning Star aircraft of the College Eye Task Force were based at Ubon.

The 222nd Tactical Fighter Squadron, Royal Thai Air Force, performed their mission with T-28s, C-47s, and HH-34 helicopters.

USAF withdrawal

With the Paris Peace Accord of 1973 ending the war in Vietnam, the need for large numbers of USAF aircraft in Thailand was reduced. The wing continued combat in Laos until 22 February 1973, and in Cambodia until 15 August 1973. F–4 augmentation forces were released in September 1973.

In mid-1974 the wing began to lose personnel, aircraft, and units. The last scheduled F–4 training flight occurred on 16 July 1974, and on 16 September the wing and most of its components moved without personnel or equipment to Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, where the wing absorbed resources of the 3d TFW that had moved without personnel or equipment to the Philippines

On 16 September 1974 the USAF forces at Ubon were inactivated and the facility turned over to the Thai government.

Major USAF aircraft based at Ubon

Military accidents and incidents

  • On 7 June 1969 Douglas EC-47 43-49547 of the United States Air Force crashed into the Mun River shortly after take-off following loss of power from at least one engine. All on board survived.[1]
  • In late 1973 an F-4 crashed on approach to the runway following an on-board fire. The crew ejected, and the aircraft crashed into a farm field. A farmer and his daughter were injured.
  • On 9 August 1983 a Douglas VC-47B L2-30/07/641 of the Royal Thai Air Force crashed on take-off.[2] All five people on board were killed, along with four on the ground.[3]

See also


  1. ^ "43-49547 Accident Description". Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved 14 February 2011. 
  2. ^ "L2-30/07/641 Accident report". Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved 27 July 2010. 
  3. ^ "THAI AIR ACCIDENTS (1980 to 1989)". Thai Aviation. Archived from the original on 24 April 2010. Retrieved 27 July 2010. 

Further reading

 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

  • Endicott, Judy G. (1999) Active Air Force wings as of 1 October 1995; USAF active flying, space, and missile squadrons as of 1 October 1995. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. CD-ROM.
  • Glasser, Jeffrey D. (1998). The Secret Vietnam War: The United States Air Force in Thailand, 1961–1975. McFarland & Company. ISBN 0-7864-0084-6.
  • Martin, Patrick (1994). Tail Code: The Complete History of USAF Tactical Aircraft Tail Code Markings. Schiffer Military Aviation History. ISBN 0-88740-513-4.
  • Ravenstein, Charles A. (1984). Air Force Combat Wings Lineage and Honors Histories 1947–1977. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-912799-12-9.
  • USAAS-USAAC-USAAF-USAF Aircraft Serial Numbers—1908 to present
  • The Royal Thai Air Force (English Pages)
  • Royal Thai Air Force – Overview

External links

  • Official site of 21st Wing, RTAF (RTAFB Ubon)
  • 8th TFW at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base
  • 16th SOS AC-130A #54-1629
  • 8th Tactical Fighter Wing Website
  • Airport information for VTUU at World Aero Data. Data current as of October 2006.
  • Phantoms
  • Daniel "Chappie" James, Jr
  • Brigadier General Robin Olds
  • Starfighter in Vietnam
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