ABOUT OPERATION RANCH HAND VIETNAM
SOUTHEAST ASIA 1961-1971

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Herbicides

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field  wanted  the  jungle  growth
stripped from camp perimeters,lines
of communication, and the Ho Chi Minh Trail, to better prevent am-bushes by exposing the endless flow of North Vietnamese infiltrators and assisting in their destruction. Under the call sign "Cowboy," Ranch Hand aircraft met these demands day after clay by plunging into heavy gunfire over enemy-held terrain. Their hard work saved the lives of many US and South Vietnamese troops.
      Statistics give some measure of the effort exerted by the force. Be-tween 1962 and 1971, Ranch Hand operators flew many thousands of sorties and sprayed more than 9,000 square miles of terrain. They deliv-ered some 19 million gallons of her-bicide, 11 million of which were Agent Orange, the controversial de-foliant that has been the subject of numerous inquiries (see box).

The Start
    The effort was launched in Janu-ary  1962, with only three airplanes. For most of the campaign, Ranch Hand didn't have more than 20 air-craft and never exceeded 33. Five aircraft were lost in combat (one was on a  training  mission  but  pre-sumed lost to ground fire). The Ranch Hand unit was shot at and hit more frequently than any other Air Force unit in the Vietnam War. One survi-vor  an  icon  to Ranch Hand veter-ans is Patches, a UC-123K (se-rial number 56-4362), on display at the Air Force Museum in Ohio. Many metal skin patches cover the damage
of many of its 1,000 battle hits.
    The Ranch Hand organization had a series of designations. Names ranged from Special Aerial Spray Flight to 12th Air Commando squad-ron to 12th Special Operations Squad-ron to A Flight of the 310th Tactical Airlift Squadron. Whatever the designation, the mission always was flown by air commandos.
   Ranch Hand may have lacked glam-our, but not  danger. Losing an engine on takeoff or when spraying in moun-tainous areas meant that a crash was a near certainty, unless the over-grossed UC-123 could immediately dump its load. Crew members faced other hazards such as the need to make steep turns at 150 feet altitude in an aircraft with a  110-foot   wing-span. Also to be feared were midair collisions with the local fruit bat type
.

an enormous creature whose wing-
span often extended 5 feet.
Then there were the nighttime Viet
Cong mortar attacks, sabotage on
the base, and relentless small arms and .50-caliber machine gun fire as
a spray run began. It was a mission that could be carried out only by skilled personnel. It generated high morale and genuine camaraderie sustained to this day by some 1,200 Ranch Hand veterans.
     During post - World War II years.
the Air Force established a Special
Aerial Spray Flight for insecticide
work, using the C-47 as its basic
flight vehicle. SASF became the fo-
cus of a series of complementary if
unrelated events that decades later
would make Ranch Hand possible.
A 1952 engineering study led Hayes
Aircraft Corp. to build the MC-I aerial spray system, which came to be known as "Hourglass." It comprised a 1,000-gallon aluminum tank, a centrifugal pump, control  valve, pipes with six spraying nozzles, emergency dumping system, and miscellaneous equipment.Hayes produced 100 units, but plans for their use were dropped and they went into stnrage, where they lay untouched and virtually forgotten. Eight years later, an SASF stalwart, Capt. Carl W. Marshall, proposed replacing the
C-47s with C-123s, noting that these could be used to dispense insecticides and
defoliants. Marshall's search for
equipment led to the Hourglass
cache, which was well-suited for
use in the C-123.


White House Interest
     Meanwhile, Presidential Advisor
Walt W. Rostow, a prime advocate
of increased US intervention in
Southeast Asia, had become inter-
ested in using herbicides, perhaps
as a result of South Vietnamese resident Ngo Dinh Diem's calls for the US to spray Viet Cong crops to deny them food.
    From the first, senior US officials
were totally aware of the political
dangers and the near certainty that
American use of herbicides would
become a propaganda windfall for the Communists. For that reason, and despite  the high level of interest, things would move     slowly for a while. US officials, concern'ed about charges of biological  and  chemical  warfare, were in the grip of extreme caution
.