Eighth Aerial Port Squadron, USAF
 Mobility Operations
Vietnam, 1970
  C-130 Speed Offloads

C-130 Speed Offloads:- Does the Air Mobility Command still use this technique?

You know, I've been doing some googling on the C-130 and Aerial Delivery in Vietnam. And I find stories about LAPES and GPES and Aerial Delivery - by the USAF, the Army and the Marines. A lot about Khe Sanh, even stories about Tactical airlift by the Germans at Stalingrad (their efforts failed) and the French at Dienbienphu (they lost, too.) Apparently, with only 7,000 troops to support, and the entire fleet of US Army, USMC, and USAF C-130's & C-123's to support Khe Sanh (plus, of course a crack 8th APS MOB Team - including my buddy Neil Brown - to keep it all together), our "major combat airlift'" was a success - just ask the guys who left Khe Sanh - alive - in April & May, 1968...

But, with all the stories of tactical airlift almost no one seems to have explained anything about the C-130 SPEED OFFLOAD - one of the most efficient ways of safely emptying a C-130 quickly in a hot LZ.. Sometimes they did it because nobody was there with a forklift. Sometimes they did it because Charlie was there with mortars zeroed in on the runway...

My own experience includes a number of incidents, but one stands out in my memory.

We were at a Special Forces camp at Tonle Cham, during the spring of 1970. We'd been having problems with the local Vietcong, who had our number and were not being harrassed by Cobras, Gunships or fighters. In fact, aside from us and the SF A-team at the camp, we were pretty much on our own out there. Just us, the Green Hats and Charlie.

In fact, it seems that  Capt. Peter "Petester" Bird  and George Elwood are about the only guys who make mention of this solution to the problem of too much time on the ground... see below or visit their web sites at http://www.petester.com/html/AC026.html  and 

There is some official USAF documention on the subject of "engine running offloads" of the C-130 - but it's a little verbose, and, quite frankly a bit unrealistic for a seven-man team at a Special Forces Camp on the Cambodian border in 1970... Frankly, just about all of our offloads were performed with the aircraft's engines running.


The way it was done - "back in the early days of Mobility Operations" - was really quite simple.

If we were under attack, or under threat of imminent attack, and had no radio contact or simply did not want that big old C-130 "mortar magnet" attracting too much attention from the local mortar crew, I'd simply drive right up to the nose of the plane - me, this 20-year-old USAF Airman First Class (Sgt &Ssgt came later) driver of a 25,000 pound Euclid 10K Adverse Terrain Forklift - and "give him the sign"...

"The sign" consisted of a simple sliding of my hand across my left arm twice - elbow to fingertip, then jerk my right thumb up in the air - . "Get it?" Slide those pallets out yer back door, then get the heck out of here!"...

Of course, it was the A/C and Loadmaster's call, ultimately, but generally - and especially if they noted that the rest of my team was taking cover, they'd accept the suggestion.

And, it worked. The crew knew we weren't kidding. This was serious business. "If you hang around on this piece 'o dirt runway for too long, we're ALL in a world of shit. Dump that load and leave!. We'll pick things up after you're gone."

Quite a lot of words to explain a very simple - and very effective - means of nonverbal communication. But it worked. And, it worked well. The loadmaster would unlock the pallets, the A/C would run up engines, unlock the brakes and simply slide that Herc out from under the cargo pallets. Properly done, within about 30 seconds, there would be 3 or 4 cargo pallets in a cloud of dust on the ramp, and a C-130 heading up into the blue Vietnamese sky...

Of course, being the driver of a 10K AT gave me the advantage (?) of being very, very visable to anyone who was looking - the A/C commander or this poor VC draftee with the mortar out in the bush... or that bastard sniper with, thankfully, poor aim...

But it worked. It worked over and over again, and when the C-130 crews visit the site, I sure hope they stop by our guestbook to confirm that the "speed offload" was a valuable and effective technique to get the job done quickly, safely and with a minimum of exposure to hostile fire for both the aircrews and us guys on the ground...

Petester - good old Petester  - the pilot with a camera who didn't lose his photos... took a shot of an engines-running speed offload at AnThoi and here's Ptester's photo itself - callously stolen from his website (permission applied for) at http://www.petester.com/html/VNPICS055.html This is the 8th MOB experience from the other side of the C-130 (-or C-7 Caribou in Ptester's case.)

Petersters C-130 Speed Offload

Peter Bird's photo of a speed offload (my memory is a bit more dramatic, but you get the idea...)"

"I don't know what the C-130 drivers called this, but we called it "speed offloading".  The cargo compartment deck is covered with rollers so that the pallets of cargo may be moved fairly easily.  In this offloading technique, the cargo ramp is lowered and the aircraft moves forward slowly as the pallets are pushed out the back and drop to the gound.  Photo taken at An Thoi on the island of Dao Phu Quoc in the Gulf of Thailand."

-Captain Peter Bird
- one of my favorite Vietnam Caribou pilots.
Visit his website:http://www.petester.com/


P.S. There's another story of a Caribou speed offload.. but, although a bit humorous, it's not quite such a pretty picture of success...

Basically, we began taking incoming mortar rounds as the plane taxied onto the ramp, so the crew wisely chose to leave quickly. The Caribou ramp didn't quite touch the ground, and the cargo - a pallet of fresh fruit and vegetables slid out, then tipped over as it hit the ground upside down... ouch! The worst part was seeing that big, fresh watermellon in pieces on the ground....

Here we go - another C-130 pilot's recollections of speed offloading - from George Elwood's pages at http://www.dnaco.net/~gelwood/c130exp.html

"Because the goal was to spend minimum time on the ground, we were to use what is called "speed offloading." The pallets are released and the aircraft pulls ahead. This permits the pallets to roll off the aircraft in about 10 seconds. In order to get the pallets to move you had to increase the power of the engines. This increase in sound of the engines was picked up by the enemy. The gunners assumed that we were getting ready to takeoff. They then fired several mortar rounds across the center of the runway. I noted the location of the holes for the takeoff roll. The O-2 fired a few smoke rockets toward the location of the mortars to keep their heads down for our takeoff. We loaded the CCT and took off without a problem.

There was a C-123 pilot who did something similar receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor for his efforts. The difference was that the Vietcong could be seen on the field."

(That was during the airlift evacuation of Kham Duc, and the Provider crew picked up the last three men on the ground - a Combat Control Team which had been inserted after everyone else had left the neighborhood- ed.)

Update: 2006-02-27
Another online reference to Speed Offloading as "GAPES" - "Ground Altitude Parachute Extraction - without the parachute."
Thomas Finkler's photo of a C7 Caribou performing a  GAPES offload at Tra Bong.

Tom Finkler was an Air Cargo Specialist with the 15th Aerial Port Squadron’s small six man C-7A Section from August 1969 to August 1970. His main page at the Caribou Assoication website: http://www.c-7acaribou.com/album/tfphotos/tfindex1.htm