Operation BLUE LIGHT, in late 1965, was the first combat operational test of the C-141. A total of 88 C-141 sorties, 126 C-133 sorties, and 11 C-124 sorties delivered an infantry brigade directly from Hawaii to Pleiku, South Vietnam, where the Viet Cong were massing for a major attack.
From March into May of 1966 the Buddhist chaplains of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam's (ARVN) crack 1st Infantry Division incited their troops to open mutiny. To suppress the mutiny, commanders decided to send 1st Troop (M41A3), 5th ARVN Cav from Xuan Loc in In Corps to Da Nang. The only way to get it there in time was to airlift it, so they called upon Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) for help. Senior Advisor, Republic of Vietnam (RVNAF) Armor Command, Colonel Raymond R. Battreall received instructions from MAC 53 (MG William De Puy, later CG, TRADOC) to supervise the loading of 1/5 Troop aboard four USAF C-133s at Tan Son Nhut Airbase. The C-133's internal dimensions could accommodate two M41s if they could be gotten inside without tearing the plane apart and if the load would stay balanced. There would be only %-inch clearance on each side.
Battreall, tells the story: "When the fully combat-loaded tanks (fuel, ammo, rations, and crew individual gear) met the aircraft, I gave the U.S. loadmaster their weight from the vehicle's tech manual. He labored with a slide rule and then told me where to place them inside. Having learned long before that the best way to load armor on a train was for the officers to lead the way to the loading dock and then get out of the way while the sergeants and drivers did their thing, I gave the word to the ARVN platoon sergeants and stood back to watch. Everything went slowly but smoothly as each tank backed into the plane. This having been done and the tanks tied down, I asked the loadmaster where he wanted the crews to sit. He replied in horror, "My God, Sir, we can't take the crews. We already have waivers for wing load and floor load, and besides they'd screw up my center of gravity." I explained that the weight of the crew was included in the weight of the tank I'd given him, and he replied, "Well then, Sir, I guess they'd better ride in their tanks." And that's exactly what they did!"
By the time the last aircraft was ready to go, the first had returned from Da Nang for a second load. Each plane flew two sorties, and one flew a third to deliver the seventeenth tank. These C-133s supported the combat-operational airlift of tanks in the history of warfare. Units had flown empty tanks once around the airfield to prove it could be done on Strategic A&Y corps (STRAC, FORSCOM's predecessor) mobility exercises; and aircraft had flown empty tanks over Oceans when the delivery priority was high enough. But never before had combat-loaded tanks flown with crews ready to go into action on arrival at the other end. That is just what 1/5 ARVN Cav did. The M41s shown on TV clearing the streets of Da Nang of mutinous elements were theirs.
In August 1967, two years and twenty-seven days after the departure of the 1st Brigade, the remainder of the 101st Airborne Division was alerted for deployment to Vietnam from Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Originally, the Division was scheduled to be in country on 10 February 1968. However, this movement was subsequently rescheduled for early December 1967. The culmination of the Division's preparation for deployment was Operation EAGLE THRUST. This lift was keynoted by the departure on 8 December of the Commanding General, Major General Olinto M. Barsanti, in an aircraft piloted by General Howell M. Estes, Jr., Commander of the Military Airlift Command. On 18 December 1967 the last airplane touched down in Vietnam ending the largest and longest military airlift ever attempted into a combat zone. The move had required 369 C-141 Starlifter aircraft missions and 22 C-133 Cargomaster aircraft missions, ultimately airlifting 10,024 troops and over 5,300 tons of the Division's essential equipment.
By 1961 managers within NASA began thinking about modes of transportation to ensure rapid delivery of upper Saturn stages, beginning with the S-IV. The size of the S-IV ruled out delivery to the Cape by rail or road. As the lead center of launch vehicle development, MSFC let a contract in 1960 to the Douglas Aircraft Corporation to determine the feasibility of air transport. A Douglas assessment team spent several months on the project and came up with a proposal that envisioned a "piggyback" concept that used an Air Force C-133 transport. Design studies included pictures of the rocket stage positioned above the C-133 and perched atop streamlined fairings. Because the stage was exposed to the passing airstream, planners expected to fit the stage with a streamlined nose cone, with vertical stabilizers at the rear to enhance its aerodynamic qualities in transit.
An investigation was made by NASA at a Mach number of 0.2 to determine the aerodynamic characteristics of a scale model of a transport airplane having bodies with diameters greater than the fuselage mounted above the fuselage. The bodies represented were the Saturn first stage, a Saturn upper stage, and a capsule large enough to contain either stage. All bodies had nose and tail fairings. The addition of bodies'to the airplane model resulted in a large loss of directional stability. The airplane-capsule configuration required a vertical- tail area about 2.5 times the original area to provide satisfactory directional characteristics. Although the bodies had a detrimental effect on the longitudinal stability, the modifications to the vertical and horizontal tails that were necessary for directional stability resulted in the combinations having greater longitudinal stability than the basic model. airplane-body combinations were 50 to 70 percent greater than that of the original airplane configuration.
Suggestions from other sources ran the gamut from airplanes to gliders to lighter-than-air vehicles. One proposal envisioned the use of a blimp, which would putter along from California to Florida with a swaying S-IV stage slung underneath. As late as 1963 serious thought was given to resurrecting a modern successor to the prewar dirigible, with an interior cargo hold to carry rocket stages.
NASA used Cargomasters to drop-test early space capsules and to transport a variety of space products. A comparison of several aircraft (fixed and rotary wing) relative to their use as carriers for command module air-drop tests was made. To meet the test criteria established by the Apollo mechanical systems group, an air-drop vehicle must be capable of achieving a minimum altitude of 20,000 ft. In January 1963 a preliminary contract change proposal (CCP) was submitted to NASA for modification, maintenance, operation, and support of a C-133A aircraft for use in parachute subsystem testing on the Apollo earth landing system. In April 1962 NASA was negotiating with Northrop-Ventura (formerly Radioplane) and Douglas Aircraft Comapny for modification of the C-133A Aircraft. Attempts were being made to obtain the aircraft by bailment. Douglas was to provide the C-133A not later than 1 September 1962 in order to modify it and turn it over to Northrop-Ventura by 15 October 1962.
On 30 October 1967 a parachute test (Apollo Drop Test 84-1) failed at EI Centro, Calif. The parachute test vehicle (PTV) was dropped from a C-133A aircraft at an altitude of 9,144 meters to test a new 5-meter drogue chute and to investigate late deployment of one of the three main chutes. Launch and drogue chute deployment occurred as planned, but about 1.5 seconds later both drogue chutes prematurely disconnected from the PTV. A backup emergency drogue chute installed in the test vehicle and designed to be deployed by ground command in the event of drogue chute failure also failed to operate. The PTV fell for about 43 seconds before the main chutes were deployed. Dynamic pressure at the time of chute deployment was estimated at about 1.2 newtons per square centimeter (1.7 pounds per square inch). All parachutes failed at or shortly after main parachute line stretch. The PTV struck the ground in the drop zone and was buried about 1.5 meters.