Nha Trang Air Base (IATA: NHA, ICAO: VVNT) is a Vietnam People's Air Force (VPAF) (Khong Quan Nhan Dan Viet Nam) military airfield in Vietnam. It is located 1.7 miles (2.7 km) northwest of Nha Trang in Khánh Hòa Province.
The airfield was opened in 1949 by the Colonial French government of Indochina as Base Aerienne 194 (BA 194). By mid-1951 Nha Trang was the center for the Air Force Military Training School for Vietnamese pilots. In November 1955, it became the Republic of Vietnam Air Force (VNAF) military academy. (Tactical Base No. 1 "Chiến thuật cơ bản số 1"). The United States Air Force used the base during the Vietnam War as a special operations base in the late 1960s, and it was a tactical base of the VNAF.
It was seized by the Vietnam People's Army in April 1975 and afterwards was used as a military airfield by the Vietnam People's Air Force and later, as a civil airport. Today the facility is closed with all civil airline traffic being routed to the new facility at Cam Ranh Airport.
Nha Trang Air Base was built by the French in 1949. It was then known as Base Aerienne 194 (BA 194). By mid-1951 Nha Trang was the center for the Air Force Military Training School, and graduated the first 15 student pilot class in March 1952. Before this time, early pilot training for Vietnamese personnel was conducted in French flying schools in France, Algeria, and Morocco.
In 1951, the first table of organization of the Vietnamese Armée de l'Air (VALA) (Air Department) listed Tan Son Nhut Air Base and Nha Trang Air Bases as the VALA operational bases, with its headquarters in Saigon. Aircraft assigned to the Air Force Military Training School were some Morane-Saulnier 500s (built in Nazi-controlled Vichy France), an ex-Luftwaffe Junkers Ju 52 along with a C-47.
On 15 December 1952 the training facility was redesignated the Air Instruction Center for VNAF use. Nha Trang was well situated for flight training, not only because of the scarcity of other flying fields, but also for its east central coastal climate and excellent flying weather. This location also had ideal terrain features, which included level ground, mountains to the west, and the sea to the east, all considered good for tactical flight training.
On 1 July 1955, the day the VNAF was established, Nha Trang was one of its four original bases, along with Tourane Air Base, Bien Hoa Air Base, and Tan Son Nhut Air Base. Along with the training school, the 2d Group Artillery Squadron (GAO) (M.S. 500s), and Combat Liaison Tactical Squadron were its active units.
On 7 July 1955 the training facility at Nha Trang became Tactical Base No. 1. The two elements – base and training – were combined in September 1957, and the facility was designated Nha Trang Air Training Base.
The next significant flying unit to be formed there was the 2d Fighter Squadron in 1961 with North American T-28 Trojan fighter-bombers. However, VNAF flight training gradually came under the influence of the U.S. Military Assistance Program, and in January 1962 flight training was moved from the Air Training Center at Nha Trang to the United States, leaving only the technical and military schools at the base.
By September 1962, the USAF had dispatched a training team to Nha Trang to instruct VNAF personnel in the maintenance of the Cessna U-17 "Skywagon" in preparation for restarting flight training there. Vietnamese instructors graduated in classes in July 1963 and gradually replaced USAF personnel as flight trainers.
A Communications and Electronics School was established at Nha Trang in 1964, and by October 1965 the functions of the Air Training Center and those of combat and support were again separated. The VNAF 62d Wing took over the latter functions when it moved from Nha Trang from Pleiku Air Base in January 1965.
In the years that followed, Nha Trang Air Base became totally saturated by USAF joint occupancy, with tactical air units and other VNAF organizations. To alleviate some of the air traffic problems at Nha Trang, a 3,300 ft (1006 m) airstrip at Dục Mỹ, 22 miles (35 km) to the north-northwest, was built and became an auxiliary training field to the SVNAF Air Training Center.
The United States Air Force activated the 14th Air Commando Wing on 8 March 1966 at Nha Trang Air Base. The USAF forces stationed there were under the command of the United States Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) Seventh Air Force. The APO for Nha Trang Air Base was APO San Francisco, 96240
Operations of the unit included close and direct air support, interdiction, combat airlift, aerial resupply, visual and photographic reconnaissance, unconventional warfare, counterinsurgency operations, psychological warfare (including leaflet dropping and aerial broadcasting), forward air control operations and escort, search and rescue, escort for convoy and defoliation operations, flare drops, civic actions, and humanitarian actions.
The 14th Air Commando Wing distinguished itself by extraordinary heroism, exceptional gallantry and outstanding performance of duty in action against hostile forces in Southeast Asia from 8 March 1966 to 7 March 1967, earning a Presidential Unit Citation. Flying thousands of widely diversified sorties, elements of the Wing caused many enemy casualties and destroyed or damaged more than 8,500 structures, 500 trucks and 60 fuel sites as well as numerous automatic weapon positions, radio stations, bridges and boats.
Flying the venerable C-47 aircraft, one squadron of the Wing helped abort a large number of night hostile operations against friendly forts and hamlets through flare drops and minigun saturation fire. Despite the often heavy and accurate enemy antiaircraft fire, the search and rescue missions of the Wing recovered 91 skilled airmen during this period. In addition, the Wing's psychological warfare missions directly or indirectly influenced the surrender of thousands of enemy soldiers. Operational squadrons at Nha Trang were:
The 14th ACW moved to Phan Rang AB on 15 October 1969, which ended the USAF operational use of Nha Trang AB.
Nha Trang AB was the training center for the VNAF, providing basic flight training to aviation cadets. VNAF used the airfield at Nha Trang as its headquarters.
In early 1975 North Vietnam realized the time was right to achieve its goal of re-uniting Vietnam under communist rule, launched a series of small ground attacks to test U.S. reaction.
By 14 March, South Vietnamese President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu decided to abandon the Central Highlands region and two northern provinces of South Vietnam and ordered a general withdrawal of ARVN forces from those areas. Instead of an orderly withdrawal, it turned into a general retreat, with masses of military and civilians fleeing, clogging roads and creating chaos.
Thousands of refugees believed Nha Trang to be a safe haven, however by 1 April, the general panic of the retreat reached the cities of Qui Nhơn, Tuy Hoa and Nha Trang. These areas were abandoned by the ARVN, yielding the entire northern half of South Vietnam to the North Vietnamese.
Some, but not all VNAF aircraft at Nha Trang Air Base were flown south to Bien Hoa Air Base, abandoning the base to the North Vietnamese.
With its capture, Nha Trang Air Base became a Vietnam People's Air Force (VPAF) base. Its short main runway, however, limited its use to propeller driven aircraft. In the 1990s, its facilities were opened for civil use, with "Nha Trang Airport" operating domestic routes in Vietnam. The closeness, and availability of the large Cam Ranh Bay Air Base led to the decision to develop a civilian airport there, and in 2004 Nha Trang Airport was closed. Today the VPAF still uses Nha Trang to a limited extent, however it is mostly a quiet airfield with little air traffic using it.
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