EC-47 Goon sparkes memories for airborne mission veterans

by Airman Jennifer Gregoire


Kelly Air Force Base, Texas

This article is copied, with permission, verbatum with no editing, J.C.

Two veterans remember flying Airborne Radio Direction Finding missions aboard EC-47s over Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.

Retired Chief Master Sgt. Tye Cobb, a personnel security specialist at headquarters Air Intelligence Agency, flew 120 combat missions out of Pleiku Air Base in 1967-68 and retired Tech. Sgt. Ross Day, editor of the Kelly Air Force Base Observer and former editor of the Spokesman, flew 159 missions out of Tan Son Nhut Air Base 1970-71.

"I don't know what I really expected. It was different than anything I ever did during my career. I think going through survival training with the six airmen who were assigned to me when we got to Vietnam made it easier for us. Being together before we went made it easier on all of us. Those were the six best airmen I worked with during my 20-year Air Force career," said Cobb.

"When we got there, the unit (Detachment 2, 6994th Security Squadron) was short of personnel. The day after we arrived, we were flying missions every other day. I volunteered my airmen. We knew what had to be done," said Cobb.

"We were shot at everyday and would pick up shrapnel holes in the airplane. The first few missions you were worried and wondered if you would make it back alive."

Tye Cobb

Personnel Security Specialist

"I was fortunate I got to fly the EC-47, they re a grand aircraft. I really did fall in love with that airplane. The first goon I got on waas Sept. 16,1970 in Vietnam, tail number 814. On the bulkhead, behind the navigator's compartment was brass plaque noting that this aircraft flew 300 missions over the "hump" (India and China) during World War II. We were using some very old airplanes. Most of them were sold to foreign governments that were bought back and converted EC-47s," said Day.

"We were shot at everyday and would pick up sharpnel holes in the airplane. The first few missions you were worried and wondered if you would make it back alive. the next four or five missions you were so busy from the time you took off till the time you came back, it didin't bother you. We were never hit bad enough that we had to turn back to the base," said Cobb.

"The navigators and pilots we had were trained to maneuver around the ground fire. If something went wroung with the plane's engines, we would turn around and hop back on another plane, but we would never abort a mission."

"When we called in a sighted target to the fighters, I sat and looked out the window and watched them hit tagets; or in a night mission I would watch B-52s knocking out the target with 752-pound bombs. It was then you knew you were in a war," said Cobb.

"I don't think anyone dwelled on the fact that we were flying combact. Because we were flying airplanes much older than ourselves as air warriors. I wasn't shooting a gun or dropping a bomb. I never relly felt that I was a combatant because I wasn't," said Day.

"The reality of the situation came to me one day when a flight of A-37 aircraft came to the target we had called in. The lead aircraft expanded his bombs, came into strafe ahead, got his target fixation and followed his traced into the target. That was the first time I realized that what I did had the opportunity to cause death, not only to the enemy, but to fellow airmen as well," said Day.

"Those of us who became airborne mission supervisors had pretty much control of the mission. Our word was law, and in an emergency situation it had to be that way. I brought it home with me, that need for control, and it took a long time for it to go away," said Day.

"Vietnam made me grow up, even though I was a 30-year-old technical sergeant. It made me more mature and helped me in my Air Force career down the road," said Cobb.

There was never a morale problem in Cobb's detachment because of their mascot. "We had an ugly, ugly dog who used to fly missions with us. In the plane, he had his own chair and we used to put a seat belt on him. He was a good dog and always knew when it was time to eat. The dining hall was five miles away from where we lived. He knew the chow hall hours because the bus would make runs back and forth. The front seat on the bus was always reserved for him."

"Surprisingly, the living conditions were good. We had a two-story, open bay dorm. People came in who cleaned the dorms, did our laundry and shined our shoes. We were also the only base in Vietnam that had a swimming pool. We had an NCO Club that the officers and NCOs shared, and there was an Airmen's Club. I worked there part-time as a bartender," said Cobb.

"We played a lot of volleyball and softball, rain or shine. The only bad thing was the monsoons that put water knee-deep on the volleyball court. We tried anyway," said Cobb.

"Looking back, it was a rewarding tour. Everyone that was there knew their duty and what needed to be done. They never asked themselves why they were there; no one ever complained," said Cobb. "Everyone in the detachment were close friends, even the commander, the first sergeant and the people that flew and maintained our airplanes."

"The most hated of the airplanes was the tail niner. Next to the runway was a ditch 20 feet wide and ten feet deep. On the other side of the ditch were the revetments. The tail niner got out of control, took the wing tip off a C-130 that was near the runway and headed for the revetments. It stopped dead in the ditch. When the ramp of the tail niner opened up, it looked like ants pouring out of the plane.

"I don't think it ever flew a whole mission, there was always something wrong and it had to turn back. That night we had a big celebration; nobody was hurt and we thought we had gotten rid of it. Four to five months it was parked, then they fixed the airplane and it went back into service. It still leaked oil like a sieve and pulled the same tricks it pulled before. You can't kill the bad ones," said Day.

The EC-47 on display at Air Intelligence Agency's Memorial Park brings memories to these two men.

"Every time I look at the EC-47 in the parking lot, it reminds me of Vietnam. It was our airplane," said Cobb.

"I cannot ride by that airplane without recalling my year in the program. I'm glad the speed limit is only 20 miles an hour. When they first brought the airplane to Kelly for restoration it was in bad shape," said Day.

"They called me up and said, We got a goon!' As ugly and beat up as she was, I touched her propeller and tears came to my eyes. Ya gotta love it."

This EC-47 was photographed in 1970 at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Vietnam.

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