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KEVIN LYLES
VIETNAM: US UNIFORMS IN COLOUR PHOTOGRAPHS

PILOT, 227TH AVIATION BATTALION (ASSAULT HELICOPTER)

The number of US Army helicopters in Vietnam reached its peak in March 1970 with a total of 3,926 aircraft in-country. The dispersal of these aircraft amongst aviation assets varied from division to division. The most common type of aviation unit, upon which the concept of airmobility was based, was the Assault Helicopter Company (AHC). A typical AHC of the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) would comprise 24 to 27 aircraft in three Platoons: two lift or ' slick' platoons - so called because the outline of the aircraft was 'clean' and unencumbered by the various protruding pods and rigs which characterised the gunships - flying UH-1 Hueys, and one gunship platoon of either Hueys or AH-1 Cobras. Throughout the war the Army's aviation school at Fort Rucker, Alabama, was tasked with training the maximum number of pilots for Vietnam duty. Pilot shortages would be a constant problem, and early in the war a programme was started whereby soldiers graduating in the upper portions of specialist non-aviation courses were asked if they wished to take flight training. Those that accepted, some as young as eighteen, were confirmed as Warrant Officers and would fly alongside commissioned pilots in Vietnam. From 1961 to 1973 a total of 1,045 Army aviators were killed during flying operations in the Republic of Vietnam.

The 'baseball' utility cap was the most common form of non-flight headgear, the example shown being a Vietnamese-made private purchase item. Embroidered Captain's bars and aviator's wings are fixed to the front.

The Shirt and Trousers, Flying, Hot Weather Fire Resistant were introduced for Army aviation personnel in 1969. The two-piece uniform was manufactured in a 4.4 oz Nomex, a fire resistant synthetic. The shirt featured two chest pockets and a pen pocket on the upper left sleeve. The trousers also had large thigh pockets for maps, etc.; Velcro tabs at both wrists and ankles enabled the uniform to be fastened for maximum fire protection. To this end trousers were designed to be unbloused and shirt sleeves rolled down, though these directives were often ignored. On the shirt are worn subdued rank and branch collar insignia, US Army and nametapes, as well as the wings of an Army aviator. On the left arm is the SSI of the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile); that on the right sleeve indicates a previous combat posting to the 25th Infantry Division. On the right chest pocket is the insignia of Company B, 227th Aviation Battalion (Assault Helicopter). These locally-made unofficial insignia usually took the form of an embroidered pocket patch and were typically in full colour, though subdued examples existed.

Flight personnel were warned to avoid the use of nylon clothing as these garments would melt onto the body in the event of an aircraft fire. For this reason some pilots flew in leather boots, as here, in preference to tropical combat boots which were nylon-reinforced. The cowboy-style leather belt rig for the .45 auto pistol is a typical affectation of aviation personnel. This Vietnamese-made example has bullet loops on the belt, a twin magazine pouch, and an additional magazine pocket on the holster itself.

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