Thailand

Udorn and Ubon RTAFB
(1969-1970)

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Throughout my Air Force career I found myself on the other side of the fence when it came to 'cool jobs.' In the Philippines I drove a truck and hauled weapons around. It was my brothers on the flight line who got to actually load those weapons onto the aircraft or actually test and fix the missiles.. I was an Ammo guy and they were Weapons guys. I was sort of like a delivery boy.

In Thailand it was the same. I worked in the bomb dump. I moved the weapons around. But I didn't load them on the aircraft.

My first assignment after Clark AFB in the Philippines was to Udorn RTAFB, Thailand. Udorn was a relatively small base. And my job there somehow escapes me. I actually don't remember what I did there. I was only at Udorn for a few weeks before being transfered to Ubon RTAFB. And Ubon I remember well.

My duty at Ubon was at what we called the preload facility. Ubon was home to the 8th Tactical Fighter Squadron; a squadron of F4's. F4's usually carried bombs on racks under their wings. They carried one large rack (Multiple Ejection Rack, or MER) on the inboard pylon of each wing and a small one (Tripple Ejection Rack, or TER) on the outboard pylon of each wing. On the centerline hard point they would carry either another MER, a fuel tank, or a gun.

Loading six bombs on a MER takes time. What with inserting the boosters, the fuzes and wiring the things and all. So we would load the bombs on the MERs and TERs and then the weapons guys on the flight line would just snap an entire rack onto the wing and be done with it. They's just lift four or five racks into place and the plane was ready to go. My job was to transport the trailers loaded with MERs and TERs out to the aircraft. We also kept the preload racks full of bombs for the loaders at the preload facility.

 

The preload facility was, of course, in the bomb dump. And the bomb dump was at the end of the flight line. We are always quite a distance from the rest of the base for obvious reasons. Above is a shot of an F4 taking off. The photo is taken from the top of the revetment surrounding our preload pad. Also above is a view toward some of the holding areas for the loaded and empty trailers. My job included moving those trailers to and from the preload pad.

These three pictures are sort of a scan from left to right across the preload pad. In the picture to the left is the covered area where we kept boosters, fuzes and fins. In the picture in the center you can see the small tractors we used to move the MER/TER trailers around. In the foreground you can see the semi's we used to move the truckloads of bombs around.

The photos above show the preload pad rails. First is a shot of the CBU area. Cluster Bomb Units were loaded onto MERS and TERs there. We used that mobile crane to lift the bombs off of the trucks and onto the rails that carried them to the loading positions. On the right, above, is a rail full of 500-pound bombs. Once the bombs were set onto the roller carriers on the rails, we had to insert the booster charges, bolt on the tail fins. While we did this they would be rolled down the rails on their little carriers (visible in the photo below, just under the two bombs). Then we'd attach them in threes to the MERs and TERs. Once that was done, we'd fuze them, wire them and load them onto the deliver trailers.

 

On the left hand photo above an airman is loading the first 2 of 3 500-lb bombs onto a TER. We'd load the two outboard bombs first, as shown, then slide the third one into place and attach it in the center between the first two. You can seen the small carriers on the rails under the bombs. Once the bombs were lifted off, we would take the carriers off the rails and stack them up right there. Of course they had to be moved to the other end of the rails to receive more bombs coming from the trailers. We had a bunch of locals on hand to do that work. The locals did a lot of the grunt work. They'd remove all the packing from the bomb pallets on the trailers. They'd move stacks of fins from the shed to the line. They didn't want to handle things that could go boom. And we were OK with that. On the right you can see the wires that went from the fuzes to the racks and the safety pins that kept everything from firing before it was supposed to.

Here's a closeup of a couple of the guys loading CBUs onto MERs and TERs. In the photo on the right is a trailer ready to head to the flight line. on the left side is a MER with 6 ea 500-lb bombs, fuzed and ready to go. On the right side are two TERs with 3 x 500-lb bombs each, for a total of 12 500-lb bombs, or half of a plane load. Looking at the MER, you can see the forklift slots in the center bottom. That's where the small forklift would lift the whole 6-bomb unit and carry it into position under the fighter's wing.

The three photos above are of the 2,000 pound bombs we called Paveway. This was the very first laser-guided bomb the US had. On the front of these bombs went the guidance unit with little fins that would steer the bomb to the target. The bombs were standard, just the guidance unit was new.

OK, time for some shots of the flight line. I've always thought the F4 was the baddest looking fighter ever designed. They just look mean!

Above you see them taxiing from their revetments and out to the runway. The pictures are taken from the flight line holding area. The holding area is where they parked the bombs while waiting for the aircraft to be ready for them. Since the holding area was right there with the revetments, it was a very loud place to be.

 

Ah, the holding area. A small parking lot and a little shack. The shack is in the picture on the right. The parking lot for the bomb trailers is just to the left of that.

And, Yes. In the photo on the right is yours truly. All 145-lbs of me. Hard at work, doing what I was assigned to do after I had been banished from the preload facility: "Sit in the holding area shack and stay out of trouble."

And therein lies a tale...

After I had been at Ubon for several months I was well established and trained and felt right at home with my duties and the duties of my peers. As I had said, one of my jobs was running the crane that lifted the bombs from the semi tractor-trailers onto the rails of the preload facilities. But we could only reach one side of those trailers. So, after unloading half the bombs, we had to turn the tractor-trailer around so we could reach the other side.

One night, about 0300 (I always worked the night shift wherever I was stationed), I was done unloading the first half of a trailerfull of napalm bombs. But the regular truck driver was not to be found. I said, "I'll just spin that rig around myself." So I climbed in, fired it up, and proceeded out of the revetment, and was about to drive around the block to get turned around. Unfortunately, as I made the first left hand turn, I didn't swing wide enough. The trailer walked in and neatly pushed over a telephone/light pole. Down it came. With it all the wires to all the other lights in the bomb dump. Suddenly everything was dark. Sparks were flying. I was trying like hell to get that load of napalm bombs away from the falling wires. When everything was quiet and dark I stopped and caught my breath. That's when I heard the sirens. Withing minutes the alert aircraft were taking off. Hellicopters and gunships were lighting the night with flairs. Jet fighters were orbiting the base. Dogs were being let loose between the fences. Everyone (except me) thought we were under attack. We were only attacked about once every couple months so this was not unheard of, but it was rare.

Well, once things calmed down, the base commander had a few choice words for me and my entire chain of command. So I was punished by banishing me to the holding area shed. There I spent my last few months in Thailand. Working from 6PM to 6AM. My job was to sit in that shed and read books, drink Pepsi, and doze off. Fuck-up and move up.

 

Inside the shed we had all the fuze delay elements and extra fuzes and boosters. The weapons guys loading the planes would come by and get what they needed for the final arming of the bombs. I would call down to the bomb dump and have a driver deliver any parts I was running low on. Other than that, I had nothing to do. On the right above is one of my friends who was still alowed to drive. Sorry I can't remember his name.

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