A Hundred Feet Over Hell: Flying With the Men of the 220th Recon Airplane Company Over I Corps and the DMZ, Vietnam 1968-1969

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9780760336335: A Hundred Feet Over Hell: Flying With the Men of the 220th Recon Airplane Company Over I Corps and the DMZ, Vietnam 1968-1969

A Hundred Feet Over Hell is the story of a handful of young pilots taking extraordinary risks to support those on the ground. Flying over Vietnam in two-seater Cessnas, they often made the difference between a soldier returning alive to his family or having the lonely sound of “Taps” played over his grave. Based on extensive interviews, and often in the men’s own words,  A Hundred Feet Over Hell puts the reader in the plane as this intrepid band of U.S. Army aviators calls in fire support for the soldiers and marines of I Corps.

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From the Inside Flap:

Forward air controllers in Vietnam were acknowledged as having perhaps the most dangerous aviation role of the war. Flying at speeds well below the top end of most family cars, they spent hours over hostile terrain in flimsy, propeller-driven Cessna O-1 Bird Dogs. Their work was crucial in finding and stopping the enemy before they could attack American troops, and supporting those troops with artillery and air strikes when battle was joined.

 

Of the many army Bird Dog units in Southeast Asia, none operated in as hostile an environment as the “Catkillers” of the 220th Reconnaissance Airplane Company. Their tactical area of operations was up against the Demilitarized Zone (an oxymoron if ever there was one) in I Corps, the northern-most combat zone in South Vietnam. At the time it was estimated that there were seventy-eight thousand NVA soldiers in the area.

 

The Catkillers were under the operational control of the 3rd Marine Division. Unlike the U.S. Army aerial forward observers farther south, who could only direct field artillery against enemy targets, Catkillers were authorized and trained to control air strikes, which they did regularly in support of both marine and army ground units. Elsewhere in Vietnam air strikes had to be controlled by U.S. Air Force FACs.

 

In the DMZ with the 220th RAC’s 1st Platoon, it was normal to come under fire on almost every mission. Bullet holes in their aircraft were so common that they were barely worthy of mention. When crossing the Ben Hai River into North Vietnam in search of enemy artillery, flying at 120 miles per hour in the sights of an array of anti-aircraft weapons, only good fortune kept more Catkillers from being lost. The stories of these valiant men in their small planes has been largely overlooked before, but the risks they took on a daily basis ensured more U.S. servicemen made it home. A Hundred Feet Over Hell ensures their stories are not forgotten, as the men relive their missions in their own words.

 

About the Author:

Jim Hooper is a war correspondent and author. Wounded twice while covering Africa as a freelance journalist and photographer, he has reported on wars in Angola, Chad, Namibia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, and Uganda. He is equally familiar with the Balkans, filing dispatches from Bosnia (where he was captured by Muslim fundamentalists and escaped execution only by extraordinary good luck), Croatia, and Montenegro. His most recent book was Bloodsong! Firsthand Accounts of a Modern Private Army in Action: Angola 1993–1995. The younger brother of a wounded veteran of the 220th RAC, he lives in London.

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