Scud running in Vietnam

One day, quite a few of us were tasked with missions to resupply Quan Loi in our C-123 Providers. The weather was not too bad as we broke out on top at approximately 1500 feet. I flew on top to the general location of Quan Loi, but could not see a thing except the clouds that we were flying over. I contacted the Army controller and found out that the runway was overcast, with the cloud height above the ground at 50 feet at the west end and about 100 to 150 feet on the east end.

As I was maneuvering over the location of Quan Loi, I spotted a hole in the clouds and spotted rubber trees below. I descended through the hole in the clouds and broke out about 150 feet above the trees. Knowing that rubber trees were all about the same height, as opposed to the jungle where you can have a ragged canopy of small trees up to 200+ feet high, I started flying around over the rubber trees looking for the runway. The terrain was kind of rolling hills, and I was following the terrain over the rubber trees.

Quan Loi
Quan Loi airport, on a decidedly better weather day.

When I spotted, up to my left and a higher elevation than I was flying, the runway, I turned 90 degrees and started climbing up towards the runway. I was climbing towards the west end of the runway, and when I passed over the end of the runway, I went in to the clouds at 50 feet. I told the other pilot I was flying with to time me for 30 seconds. He asked what I was going to do. I’m flying crosswind. I’m going to go 30 seconds and enter downwind.

The runway at Quan Loi was 05/23. When the time was up, I turned to a heading of 050 and asked him to time me for two minutes. As I was still climbing during these maneuvers, I did break out on top at about 1000 feet. When the time was up, I turned 90 degrees to the left and asked for 30 more seconds. When the time was up, I turned to the heading of 230, dropped the gear and flaps, and started descending.

On descent, we went back into the clouds. We broke out of the clouds at about 100 feet, east of the runway with the runway perfectly aligned about a quarter of a mile in front of us. We landed and parked.

While they were unloading the aircraft, I walked over to the Army controller and asked if any other aircraft had called in. He said, “Negative.” But while we were talking about what I had done, another aircraft called in. The pilot asked if anyone else had made it in.

The controller told him, “Yes one other had made it in.” The pilot asked the controller how the other aircraft had made it in. The controller told him that the other pilot was standing right here and asked if he wanted the other pilot to be on the radio. He said affirmative and the controller handed me the mic. I told him that I had found a hole in the clouds and let down above the rubber trees. I then explained how I had maneuvered to come back to the runway and land.

He said OK, but about 10 minutes later, he said he couldn’t find any holes in the clouds, but that he had an idea. He told me to ask the controller if he had any parachute flares. Since the controller could hear the conversation he said yes he did. The pilot asked that he pop one to see if he could see it. The controller had the type of flares that you take the covering off of one end, slide it on the other end, and pop it with the palm or your hand while holding it in the vertical position.

The controller walked out onto the runway and fired the flare. The pilot said he could see it and asked to get three more flares available. The controller asked me what the pilot was going to do. I told him he was going to maneuver the aircraft so that the heading of the aircraft was the same heading as the runway with the flare straight ahead. A few minutes later the pilot asked for another flare. A few minutes later, he asked for two more. That’s the last we heard of him until he broke out, perfectly aligned with the runway.

We were the only two that made it in that morning. Don’t try this at home. We had several factors going in our favor. One: we were extremely proficient in the aircraft and maneuvered them with precision. Two: the rubber trees are all the same height. Three: we knew the height of the base of the clouds. Four: we had complete situational awareness of the field, the runway, and the surrounding area. Five: we had eyes on the ground with the Army controller giving us the up-to-date, actual weather conditions.

11 Comments

  • Spent a little time at Quan Loi in “67” with the Big Red One as an artillery forward observer attached to the 1/26th Inf.(A co.)

  • As a ‘ground pounder’,1968 era,the guys in the air saved us many times. The 123’s were scary to ride in,(low opening out the rear door jumps) more so to fly. Plywood,mostly?

  • I had an experience flying shuttle flights from Qui Nhon to an island in the china sea called Khiu La Rhe (spelling). I had one more flight a local AF Capt. asked if he could go with , sure get on board. my intent was to refuel when I dropped the Capt. off. Arriving over the base the weather had changed from good to bad. no instrument approaches of any kind. A beacon was just north of the runway so I knew I was over the base. I needed the fuel to get back to Nah Trang. I recalled seeing a GCA unit east of the RW. Asked tower about it. They said it was an Army GCA but not operational. The gave me their radio frequency, called then up and a very young sounding voice came back. I asked if he could operate the GCA. he said he could urn it on . I came back Son you are all we got, I told him we were holding on the beacon . He came right back with I got you. I rolled out on RW heading said to him go for it. He started giving me GCA instructions got down to about 200 ft. and saw the RW way off to our right. I left the gear and flaps set for landing told my copilot to tell me when we passed the end of the RW. I made a 45 left turn flew for one minute made a 180 turn flew for one minute made a desending right turn was about 100 ft. we came out of the overcast was lined up on the RW. Refueled and made a IFR flight to Nha Trang. I attribute my skill from four years with the Instrument School (IPIS). Had several situations in Viet Nam, maybe I can tell about them later.

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