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Dirty Thirty

DAYTON, Ohio - A mannequin representing a member of the "Dirty Thirty" on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio - A mannequin representing a member of the "Dirty Thirty" on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Formation of VNAF C-47s. This photograph was taken by a "Dirty Thirty" pilot from the co-pilot seat of another C-47. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Formation of VNAF C-47s. This photograph was taken by a "Dirty Thirty" pilot from the co-pilot seat of another C-47. (U.S. Air Force photo)

"Dirty Thirty" pilot with VNAF personnel at Pleiku, South Vietnam, in 1963. (U.S. Air Force photo)

"Dirty Thirty" pilot with VNAF personnel at Pleiku, South Vietnam, in 1963. (U.S. Air Force photo)

"Dirty Thirty" missions often received ground fire. VNAF Lt. Tam points to a bullet hole that pierced this aircraft’s fuel tanks. (U.S. Air Force photo)

"Dirty Thirty" missions often received ground fire. VNAF Lt. Tam points to a bullet hole that pierced this aircraft’s fuel tanks. (U.S. Air Force photo)

"Dirty Thirty" personnel with Lt. Col. Nguyen Cao Ky (top, second from right), the commander of the VNAF 43rd Air Transport Group. Ky later became the Prime Minister (1965-1967) and Vice President (1967-1971) of South Vietnam. (U.S. Air Force photo)

"Dirty Thirty" personnel with Lt. Col. Nguyen Cao Ky (top, second from right), the commander of the VNAF 43rd Air Transport Group. Ky later became the Prime Minister (1965-1967) and Vice President (1967-1971) of South Vietnam. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio - The goat was a symbol of strength and vitality in Vietnam and the bolt of lightning represents the speed with which the USAF pilots were sent to Vietnam when the need developed. The red represented the enemy. This emblem, worn proudly by all "Dirty Thirty" pilots, was painted on their jeeps and posted in front of their operations ready-room. This flag is on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio - The goat was a symbol of strength and vitality in Vietnam and the bolt of lightning represents the speed with which the USAF pilots were sent to Vietnam when the need developed. The red represented the enemy. This emblem, worn proudly by all "Dirty Thirty" pilots, was painted on their jeeps and posted in front of their operations ready-room. This flag is on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio - Composite photos of members of the "Dirty Thirty" groups on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio - Composite photos of members of the "Dirty Thirty" groups on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

In April 1962, 30 U.S. Air Force pilots were sent to fly as advisors in the South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) 43rd Air Transport Group. Their arrival permitted the VNAF to release some of its own experienced pilots to form new units for its rapidly-expanding air arm.

This small group of Americans usually served as co-pilots in VNAF C-47s. Their missions included flare drops, airborne assaults, airborne resupply, leaflet drops, loudspeaker broadcasts, and cargo and troop movements.

Around-the-clock duty hours with 40-50 missions a month often forced them to live in their flight suits. After a "by-the-book" officer made a passing comment about "these dirty pilots," they adopted the name "Dirty Thirty."

A second group of 30 USAF pilots replaced the original group in the spring of 1963. During the 20-month period they were on loan to the VNAF, the 60 Dirty Thirty pilots flew approximately 25,000 hours, earning 97 Air Medals and two Distinguished Flying Crosses.

Click here to return to the South Vietnam: The Advisory Years Overview.

 

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