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Project Tailchaser

Initial gunship flight tests were conducted on a C-131B under Project Tailchaser. On 28 October 1963 a new flight-test plan established Project Tailchaser as a lateral-sighting project because of resistance to the firing phase. The plan prescribed use of a C-131 and later a T-28 in flights from Wright-Patterson AFB, possibly Ft. Rucker, AL and Eglin AFB. The plan projected three hundred testing hours spread over one year. It allotted two weeks for installing test apparatus, followed by twenty-five flying hours in a C-131 to select targets, check out equipment, and develop pilot techniques. A second phase specified that flight-test pilots validate experimental designs and techniques. The final phase stipulated that a C- 131 evaluate designs by tactical pilot subjects. Flight tests were expected to include simulated firing passes at point, line, or area targets, and at varying altitudes and airspeeds.

Crablike progress ensued and the C-131B camera test equipment stood idle. The part-time officers were recalled by their units for higher-priority duties. Project Tailchaser was virtually at the bottom of the list of priorities and was likely to stay there, in view of the increased attention given Vietnam-related counterinsurgency developments. Test flight were hard to arrange. In seven months the C-131B made just two flights and these were preliminary procedure checkouts. Not a single actual or camera-verified firing test had taken place. People remained skeptical of the whole concept.

In February 1964 technicians reinstalled the cameras (they had been removed from the C-131 B) and boresighted them like guns [a boresight line is an optical reference line used in harmonizing guns, rockets, or other weapon launchers]. Finally a few flights were made in the summer of 1964.

The project pilot, Captain Hatzenbuehler, was replaced by Maj. Richard M. Gough and he in turn by Capt. Ronald W. Terry. The appearance of Captain Terry as a project pilot proved a propitious development. In the spring of 1963 he had served on an Air Force Systems Command (AFSC) team in South Vietnam. Its job was to assess problems in the field and suggest hardware developments to deal with them, the overall goal being a five-year development program to satisfy Southeast Asia requirements. The team probed for almost six weeks, visiting bases and talking with the men who worked alongside of and advised the South Vietnamese.

Captain Terry first came across Project Tailchaser while perusing the files in Flight Test Operations at Aeronautical Systems Division [ASD]. Obviously, the project had been dormant for some time. Yet as he read, Terry was intrigued by the potential of the idea for development and use in Vietnam. Disregarding the skeptics who branded the concept unworkable, he obtained permission to work on Tailchaser. Immersed in the project, Terry's interest heightened and he gained approval at several points to evaluate the idea further. Finally, he drafted a scenario for a tactical operation employing a side-firing weapon system, mainly in defense of hamlets and forts. He viewed this system as performing a policeman-on-the-corner or prowl-car role, prepared for anything and able to respond anywhere at most anytime. ASD's Limited War Office warmly welcomed the scenario and promised to sponsor it.

In August 1964 the ASD Limited War Office and Flight Test Operations, together with the Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory, took a significant step in the testing of the lateral-sighting study. An amendment to the flight-test plan specified that one or two small-caliber guns, remotely fired by the pilot, be installed in the cargo doorway of a C-131 "to determine the feasibility of firing guns with the lateral sighting system." Eglin AFB would help install the guns and conduct the ground tests, firing blanks to determine if the mounts could stand the recoil.

Groundwork had been laid for the long-awaited firing test. The C-131 was flown to Eglin to become the testbed for the firing. A relatively new weapon was selected and installed on the left side of the aircraft's cargo compartment. The General Electric SUU-11A, 7.62-mm gun pod (Gatling gun) could fire 6,000 rounds-per-minute.

The first live-firing tests occurred in late summer. The pilot flew the C-131 with line-of-sight distance to the target varying from 1,750 to 9,000 feet. Altitudes ranged from 500 to 3,000 feet and airspeed from 115 to 250 knots. On Eglin's water range a one-second firing burst scored twenty-five hits on a minimum ten-foot-square raft and seventy-five hits on a maximum fifty-foot-square one. A testing phase on the land range saw twenty-five manikins scattered in different positions over three-quarters of an acre. A three-second firing run on this area target hit nineteen manikins, ten of them considered "killed." The test results exceeded expectations.

At this point ASD assumed management of the program. The C-131 test results aroused the interest of 1st Combat Application Group personnel at Eglin AFB. They asked Tailchaser crewmembers if a gun kit in side-firing mode could be built into other aircraft. Specifically, they wanted to modify a C-47 or C-123, since Air Force Special Forces units in South Vietnam were using these aircraft.In short order three of the Gatling guns (called miniguns) were installed in a C-47 cargo compartment.49 The C-47 side-firing tests in September 1964 repeated the successes of the C-131 tests.

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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 02:26:39 ZULU