Vietnamese Air Force Museum in Hanoi

jet engine from a downed American aircraft

You can expect to see American aircraft at any military museum in Vietnam... or at least pieces of them.

There's always a display of parts of American aircraft which have been shot down, in this case a jet engine which was on display outside with several others.   More bits and pieces, including guns and other equipment, were inside the museum.

However, what I didn't expect to see on display was complete American-made aircraft!   From left to right there's an O-1 Birddog light observation plane, a Cessna A-37 Dragonfly ground attack jet, an F-5 Freedom Fighter and on the right a naval A-1 Skyraider whose wings still fold, but which is missing at least one fairly essential accessory - a propeller!   All of these were captured intact at the end of the war - the Skyraider must have lost its propeller at some later date!

the American fixed-wing aircraft on display at the museum

Not only were these aircraft captured intact, they were actually incorporated into the Vietnamese Air Force after the war, and operated until parts ran out.   That's why they've ended up rather surreally with communist Vietnamese Air Force markings on them - not a sight you'll see very frequently!

A-37 Dragonfly, F-5 Freedom Fighter and A-1 Skyraider

Each of the aircraft has a descriptive sign in Vietnamese and not-so-good English.   According to the sign in front of this A-37 Dragonfly, after it was captured it was turned against the South Vietnamese military forces at the battle of Tan Son Nhat and Vai island.   Later, in what are probably battles Vietnam fought against its neighbour Cambodia, it was used for an attack on Xep island (1978) and Co Cong island (1979).

A-37 Dragonfly

This F-5 Freedom Fighter, complete with missile and fuel drop tank, was used to bomb Pol Pot's headquarters, and was used in the same battle as the A-37 to capture Co Cong island.   In a small military park in Saigon there's another F-5 in Vietnamese Air Force colours which was flown by a deserting South Vietnamese pilot and used to bomb the South Vietnamese presidential palace before being landed in communist territory.

This Skyraider didn't have a descriptive plaque with it, and it's looking a little the worse for wear nowadays, with a missing propeller and a torn up right tire.   These large planes were originally operated by the US Navy from aircraft carriers, and as you can see from the racks under the wings they could carry a formidable variety and quantity of armament and also had long endurance, allowing them to loiter in an area for a long time.   They were favorite aircraft for supporting search and rescue missions to pick up downed American airmen; as one or two "Jolly Green Giant" helicopters came in to pick up the pilot, the Skyraiders, or "Sandys" as they were known would fly around the area shooting up and bombing any communist soldiers trying to take advantage of the situation.

I'm not quite sure how it happened, but somehow I managed to leave without taking a photo of the O-1 Birddog army observation plane, so you'll just have to accept this photo of it in the background behind the captured UH-1 Iroquois helicopter.   The Iroquois, or Huey as it was more popularly know, became the most enduring symbol of American involvement in Vietnam.   It was used to test the notion of air mobility - moving troops from place to place at great speed as need arose.   This was a very successful policy in many ways, but also resulted in problems such as a tendency to abandon positions which were won at great cost, allowing communist forces to recapture them without a fight.   It was hoped that by killing enough Vietnamese the battle of attrition would swing in America's favor, but as we now know this didn't happen.   The Huey was certainly a remarkable machine and achieved some amazing feats; you can get a taste of this from the excellent book "Chickenhawk" which was written by a helicopter pilot who flew in Vietnam.

UH-1 Huey helicopter
See Russian helicopters at the Vietnamese Air Force Museum.