The Vietnamese Air Force in Operation

When I flew into Hanoi in December of 2004, I noticed that there were covered revetments on the left-hand side as we landed.   So when I came back to the airport a few days later to take an internal flight, I asked for a window seat on the left, hoping that the prevailing winds would make us take off in the same way that I'd landed earlier.  I was right, and managed to get a few shots of these MiG-21s as we were on our takeoff run.   I saw similar revetments at the airport in Danang, which might have been built originally by the American military, but American forces never operated out of Hanoi, so these ones must have been built either by the French (which started receiving American military aid in Vietnam in the 1950s) or by the communist forces.

From Hanoi I flew down to Danang, then made my way a little north to Hue before heading back south through Bach Ma national park to the very picturesque town of Hoi An.  While I was in Hoi An I heard jets passing overhead a few times and although I didn't see them I guessed that they were probably Vietnamese Air Force fighters.  Sure enough, as I drove in to Danang airport for another short flight down to Cam Ranh, a MiG-21 "fishbed" jet was taking off using its afterburner.   So when I went into the waiting area for my flight, I took out my camera and long lens, hoping not to be arrested as a spy!  Unfortunately I was behind a thick sheet of tinted glass and the lighting conditions were horrible, everything was strongly backlit because the sun was directly in front of me.   Nevertheless, I did manage to get this shot of another MiG-21 taking off; as you can see, it's a two seat trainer version.

MiG-21 flying

After ten minutes another MiG passed by.   I'm not sure whether it was taxying to the end of the runway for takeoff or whether it was just going back to its hangar, but it's certainly an interesting shot because you can see the armament racks under the wings, and also the conformal fuel tank on its back between the cockpit and the tail.   Most models of MiG fighter suffered from short range, and the original MiG-21 was no exception, so this fuel tank was added to alleviate the problem.   However it turns out that the weight of the fuel in the tank made the plane unstable, so it had to be reduced in size by a third.   The tank also forced the removal of the rear cockpit panels and made the pilot's rearward view even worse than it had previously been.   One interesting feature of all versions of the MiG-21 is the large wheels, which were designed to allow the plane to operate from fairly unprepared fields.   Like most Russian military equipment, it was designed to be simple and robust so that it could be maintained by relatively unsophisticated support personnel.   The Vietnamese Air Force operates the MiG-21PFMA model, which has the NATO reporting name "Fishbed-J".

MiG-21 taxying

By this time my flight was boarding, which involved being bussed out to the tarmac so we could board the plane up a set of stairs.  An older guy in a military type of uniform was standing near the tail where we were boarding and I still had my camera in my hand, but I figured I'd risk official disapproval and act ignorant if I was challenged.   I stayed at the back of the line and after a while the official-looking guy left.   Shortly after that yet another MiG landed and deployed his drogue chute to slow down.   Unfortunately there was high grass between me and it and by the time the plane got near the end of the runway where the grass was shorter, the heat and haze joined together to wreck the photo.

MiG-21 landing with drogue

By the time it started back along the taxiway everyone was on board except for me, so I climbed up the stairs, stood at the top and took a few last photos.   As I was doing this, an airline employee at the bottom of the stairs looked back over his shoulder to see what I was photographing and then looked back at me with a big grin on his face!

MiG-21 taxying
Kamov K-25 helicopter

Once again I'd asked for a window seat, but unfortunately this time I ended up in an ATR-72 turboprop, directly opposite the propellers.   This meant that the window was heavily pitted and obscured and made it very hard to get any decent shots.

However, I did get one photo of this strange looking Kamov Ka-28 "Helix" anti-submarine helicopter.   This was the successor to the similar looking Ka-25 "Hormone" which you can see on the page describing Russian helicopters at the Vietnamese Air Force museum in Hanoi.