We Were Soldiers

This film was on UK TV (again) the other day and I still can’t understand why the US used piston engined aircraft in the Viet Nam conflict.

They had all the jets they needed so why did they use ‘old’ airplanes

Why wouldn’t they, if they could carry the right payload to the right places?

Speed is not always the most important factor. When aircraft are supporting infantry, they need to stay close to the battlefield. A jet would be over its target for a couple of seconds, then overshoot it and have to circle back. A slower aircraft could spend more time over its target, then make a tighter circle for the return pass.

In more recent wars, the A-10 “warthog” was specifically designed to be slow-moving, so it could spend most of its time shooting at the enemy.

Small piston aircraft were used primarily as spotter aircraft. Larger piston aircraft were used as minigun platforms, able to lay down a huge amount of destruction in a small area compared to a jet’s “swoop and poop” capability.

For ground attack they found that jets flew too fast over the ground for the pilot to actually SEE anything on the deck,particulary in jungle, so thats why the piston engined aircraft.

[quote=“mbh, post:3, topic:468648”]

Speed is not always the most important factor. When aircraft are supporting infantry, they need to stay close to the battlefield. A jet would be over its target for a couple of seconds, then overshoot it and have to circle back. A slower aircraft could spend more time over its target, then make a tighter circle for the return pass.

But surely this slower speed would make them much more vulnerable to ground fire.

A skilled jet pilot would be aware of the dangers of overshoot and would make allowances for this

A calculated risk. Charlie is shooting at the plane, but the plane (and the ground troops) are shooting at Charlie. And the plane is shooting larger bullets, with a higher rate of fire, than Charlie’s weapons. And since the plane is not a jet, he has more time to aim, and can aim more precisely than a jet would be able to do.

OK, now I understand the logic of it

Also, the turbine blades in jets don’t take kindly to small arms fire, and debris from explosions on the ground. Air cooled radial engines can take more punishment and still maybe get the pilot home. Plus, they’re cheaper and work better for close air support for the reasons mentioned above by other posters, once air superiority has been achieved over the target.

Technical details have been discussed, but it’s worth bearing in mind, too, that it’s simply not possible for a country’s armed forces to heave all their airplanes out in favour of new ones. Any large armed forces will have a mix of aircraft built over the course of thirty or more years (the United States today is flying planes built in the 1950s) and if a piston-engined aircraft works, nobody’s going to throw it in the garbage just for the hell of it.

If I recall correctly, in the case of “We Were Soldiers” the aircraft in question is an AC-130. This is a particularly good example; the C-130 aircraft is used in a huge variety of roles. It’s particularly popular as a transport aircraft for short airfields and for the airdropping of men and material. Its attack variant is just a modification for the purpose of shooting the crap out of something. Obviously, it’s a much more cost efficient option than actually designing a wholly new aircraft for the purpose of carrying large anti-personnel weapons.

Jets can bomb stuff without being shot at, but are correspondingly less accurate. Slower aircraft can attack targets with more precision, and can coordinate with ground forces; this is generally what is meant by** close air support**, as opposed to fast bombing. High speed and/or high altitude bombing used against enemy troops in active combat has historically presented almost as much of a risk to friendly forces (also portrayed in that film) as it has to enemy forces.

Check out Puff the Magic Dragon http://www.petester.com/html/AC003.html I believe the current version is in a C-130 http://www.battle-fleet.com/pw/his/c130.htm You can’t do this with a jet.

The issue is friendly-fire casualties.

When everybody is wearing green, & in heavily forested/dense bush -type terrain, there is a real risk of dropping your bombs on your own guys.

Prop planes could fly low/slow, & could take the time to pick out targets.

If I remember rightly, the prop planes in this film were A-1 Skyraiders.

And to quote Wikipedia (yes, I know it can be a dubious source): The Skyraider in Vietnam pioneered the concept of tough, survivable aircraft with long loiter times and large ordnance loads.

All of which leads to the question, Does the US or any other nation still use piston engined planes in a military role

Absolutely. The Russians still use the Tu-95 bomber (which is technically a turboprop, not a piston-engined plane, but I think that’s what you’re driving at.) Many Allied nations use the C-130.

Ouch, that’s a toughie. I can’t think of any piston engine 'craft in an active military role…there might be some light observation aircraft somewhere, I’m sure.

Turboprops (jet engines driving a prop) are still very much in use:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C-130_Hercules (used ALL OVER the world)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OV-10_Bronco (though not in US service for a few years now)