The Essence of "Supergaggle"
In one click of the shutter Cpl. John Sabol, Jr. has captured the essence of the Supergaggle mission--- delivery of critical supplies to the Khe Sanh Hill Outposts. The drama of this picture rekindles the same emotions I felt 33 years ago diving from 1,500 feet toward the Hill 861 zone. I know it will have the same powerful effect on others who flew the Supergaggle day after day.
The photo perfectly captures the interval between aircraft, which was very critical to the mission because of the need to get all aircraft into and out of the zone as quickly as possible after the fixed wing air strike was over. There was room for only one aircraft at a time in the zone. If there was any delay in positioning and dropping an external load, or if a pilot just took too short an interval there was no choice but to go around to keep from stacking aircraft up behind him. The go-around meant a perilous 360 degree circle, low and slow over numerous enemy machine gun positions with a maximum-load external swinging underneath. The photo shows one aircraft dropping its load in the zone, another transitioning to a hover as he crosses the 861 perimeter, and a third just completing his high speed descent and starting to kill off airspeed. As you can see, the interval is very tight. (For images of Hill 861 34 years later, click here.)
Note the plume of smoke/dust in the foreground on the 861 outer trench line-- the result of an enemy mortar or artillery round, which were always present. This one missed, but frequently they landed in the drop zone damaging aircraft and destroying critical supplies that had just been delivered. There appear to be other plumes in the upper left corner of the photo. These may be the result of UH-1E gun ships responding to enemy fire or just poor marksmanship on the part of NVA gunners.
John A. "Al" Chancey, LtCol. USMC (Ret)