The Vietnam War presented new challenges for American aircraft carriers. While technological advances provided naval aviators with greater strike potential, diplomatic issues put them at greater risk.
While Korea illustrated the need for carriers in modern conventional combat, Vietnam put them to the test. The Navy utilized both modernized World War II-era carriers and new super carriers during the Vietnam War. Twenty-one carriers participated in 86 war cruises. Task forces were deployed to two sectors off the coast of Vietnam - Yankee Station to the north and Dixie Station to the south.
Naval aircraft bombed North Vietnamese targets and supported the movements of American soldiers. Soviet surface-to-air missiles, which were deployed by the North Vietnamese, changed naval aviation tactics. To avoid the missiles, aircraft had to either fly higher, diminishing the accuracy of their bombs, or lower, exposing them to small arms fire. Nonetheless, naval aircraft were instrumental in knocking out enemy vehicles, roads, bridges, barracks, and other defenses to aid American ground forces.
USS Nimitz (CVN 68) cap given to President Gerald R. Ford at the ship's commissioning on May 3, 1975. Courtesy Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.
Lt. Richard Lee Law's Aviators Flight Log Book from the Vietnam War. Law flew more than 200 combat missions through two deployments. He was killed in action when his F-8 Crusader was hit by ground fire in April 1966. Loan Courtesy of the National Naval Aviation Museum, Pensacola, Florida.
The Douglas A-1 Skyraider served the U.S. Navy as a first-line, carrier-based aircraft for over two decades. It was flexible, fast, reliable, and maneuverable, and saw extensive combat in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Loan Courtesy of Andrew DeBoer.
Vietnam War-era Naval flight helmet. Loan Courtesy of the the Kalamazoo Air Zoo.