This post provides an overview of the most important fixed-wing aircraft used during the Vietnam War, aimed at the wargamer. These are the aircraft likely to be employed during games.
The US Navy used two fighters during the war. The missile-carrying McDonnell F-4 Phantom II was the most important. Besides scoring 40 kills against MiGs, it was also used in a ground attack role. The B, J, and N versions saw action during the war. The Phantom was also used by the US Marine Corps, mostly for ground attacks (CAS, close air support).
The Vought F-8 Crusader, called “last of the gunfighters”, carried four cannons and Sidewinder missiles. It only operated from the smaller Essex class carriers, and scored a total of 19 kills. The USMC used it for ground attacks as well.
The Grumman F-14 Tomcat reached the fleet in 1974 and flew cover during the evacuation of Saigon in 1975.
The Navy used the Douglas A-1 Skyraider as attack plane until 1968. Starting in 1966, they were transferred to the USAF and the South Vietnamese Air Force. The Douglas A-3 Skywarrior saw only limited use as a bomber, but was used longer as a tanker and ECM aircraft. Early in the war, the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk was the Navy’s ground attack workhorse. It achieved one air-to-air kill. The Marine Corps used it as well, and even bought new Skyhawks until 1979.
The larger Grumman A-6 Intruder was used by both the Navy and the Marines. Besides the A and E (upgraded) versions, there were a few B (suppression of enemy air defense) and C (night attack with night vision cameras) version aircraft.
The Ling-Temco-Vought A-7 Corsair II, designed as replacement for the A-4, was used by the end of 1967. Several, successively more powerful versions (A 1967, B 1969, C, and E 1971) were built, the last one being the most numerous.
The North American RA-5C Vigilante was the reconnaissance version of the unsuccessful A-5 bomber. The Navy also used the RF-8A version of the Crusader.
All Navy and and Marine aircraft were painted in the grey/white paint scheme.
US Air Force
The Air Force had only one main fighter, the C, D, and E versions of the McDonnell F-4 Phantom II. Only the E version had a built in cannon. A total of 107.5 air-to-air kills were scored by USAF Phantoms. The Phantom was also extensively used for ground attacks, especially after the F-105’s withdrawal in 1970.
Early in the war, both the Convair F-102 Delta Dagger and Lockheed F-104 Starfighter saw limited, but unsuccessful, use.
The North American F-100D Super Sabre, originally designed as fighter, was the Air Force’s main close air support aircraft early in the war. The two-seat F version was also used as forward air observer and as “Wild Weasel” anti-air defense aircraft. It was augmented in the ground attack role by the Douglas A-1 Skyraiders taken over from the Navy. The Skyraiders were transferred to the South Vietnamese Air Force in 1972.
Tactical strikes were usually carried out by the Republic F-105D Thunderchief. They scored 27.5 air-to-air kills, but about 50% of all F-105s produced were lost, most of them due to ground fire. As a result, they were withdrawn at the end of 1970. The two-seat F and G versions were the first dedicated Wild Weasel aircraft, and remained in use until the end of the war.
The replacement for the A-1 came in the form of the Ling-Temco-Vought A-7D Corsair II, the Air Force’s version of the A-7, starting in 1971. The F-105 was replaced by small numbers of the General Dynamics F-111. Starting in 1967, the US Air Force, as well as the South Vietnamese Air Force, also used the Cessna A-37 Dragonfly. The latter also employed small numbers of the Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighter.
The Air Force used the McDonnell RF-101C Voodoo for reconnaissance until 1970, after which the role was taken over by the RF-4C version of the Phantom.
As a forward observer, first the Cessna O-1 Bird Dog and from 1967 the Cessna O-2 Skymaster were used. Both were also used by the Army and South Vietnam. The North American Rockwell OV-10 Bronco was used from 1968, by both the Air Force and the Marines. It was also used for ground attacks, even by the Navy. The Army flew the Grumman OV-1 Mohawk in a similar role.
Small numbers of the Martin B-57 Canberra were used, by the USAF and Australian forces (English Electric Canberra). The Douglas EB-66 was used for electronic reconaissance and ECM. Strategic bombing was of course performed by the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress.
Transport aircraft used were the Lockheed C-130 Hercules, the Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar, and the DHC C-7 Caribou (by the Army). Some C-130s and C-119s were converted into gunships, to replace the Douglas AC-47 “Spooky”.
Air Force jet aircraft were painted in green/tan camouflage with light gray undersides starting in 1966. Before that, they were painted grey/white similar to Navy aircraft. Night attack aircraft, such as the F-111, had black undersides.
North Vietnam used the MiG-17, J-6 ( MiG-19), and MiG-21 fighters, usually guided by controllers on the ground in hit-and-run tactics against US aircraft above North Vietnam. The MiG-21 was temporarily withdrawn from combat after half of the aircraft were destroyed during Operation Bolo in January of 1967. The aircraft were left unpainted or painted in camouflage.