Bird Air in Cambodia

US Operations after August 1973

After August 1973 all US combat operations ceased in Cambodia, however air resupply missions continued. At the year's end the air bridge brought to Phnom Penh an average of 7000 tons of fuel and ammunition per month, against 4900 tons brought in by ships sailing up the Mekong River. The aircraft belonged mostly from the USAF 317th Airlift Wing of Pope AFB that operated rotational detachments from U-Tapao in Thailand and used the radio-code name of "Klong". The USAF transport missions continued until summer 1974, with many paradrops made in profit of the Cambodian garrisons of Kompong Thom, Takeo and Kampot as well as dozens other small drop zones (DZ) scattered throughout the country. These DZs were located and their status assessed by reconnaissance flights of USAF RF-4Cs that also flew intelligence sorties in profit of the Cambodians. The aircraft now faced increasing anti-aircraft oppositions, notably several firing of SAM-7s. From April to August 1974, the Klongs were supplemented by some MC-130s from the 1st Special Operation Group with specially equipped aircraft allowing independent precise navigation and high altitude droppings.

Nevertheless, the US open military air transport operations over Cambodia was now facing growing political oppositions. Washington then decided to switch to a more discrete type of missions. It was envisaged initially to use Air America aircraft but at that date the CIA connection to this company was too well known. Instead, a contract was passed with a former CIA connected air company entrepreneur, William Bird, who had run paramilitary operations in profit of the Agency in Laos in the early 1960s with his Bird and Sons Inc. airline (BirdAir).

On 28 August 1974 a contract was signed with the Bird Air Company to run the transport air resupply operations in Cambodia. The USAF handed over five of its own C-130Es to the Bird Air, in addition to the company's own DC-6s. The Hercules were "sanitized" with all the national and military markings removed but retained the camouflage scheme! Only a tiny serial number is painted on the tail. Officially the planes were considered as being "US government furnished" but not "leased". The first Bird Air mission took place on 26 September 1974 while all USAF airlift missions were suspended on 8 October.

 Bird Air DC-6

In September 1974 the CIA contracted Bird Air for flying re-supply missions to Cambodia. At least ten C-130Es were furnished by USAF - with their national insignia and military markings removed - for this purpose and based at U-Tapao, Thailand. From July 1975 - two months after the fall of Phnom Penh - all were returned to the USAF. Bird Air also used some DC-6 transports for this operation, and these served mainly as logistic support for the C-130 used in the Phnom Penh airbridge.

 Bird Air DC-6

Beside the C-130 operations from Bird Air, the US Government also contracted several civilian companies to fly in rice to the besieged capital of Cambodia, by using at least seven DC-8s. A flying Tiger Line is seen taking off from Saigon airport for a new trip to Phnom Penh, despite that the local Pochentong airbase being subjected to severe Khmer Rouge artillery fire.

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