Udorn R.T.A.F.B. is located in South East Asia, some 250 air miles northeast of Bangkok, (the capital city of Thailand). Udorn RTAFB is located in northeastern Thailand, on the southern outskirts of the city of Udonthani (Udon) ,….. or better known as “Udorn”. Northeastern Thailand and the people who reside there are called “Isan” , (which is pronounced “EEE-Sahn” ) .
Udorn has two general pronunciations : American G.I.’s call it “You-Dorn” (as in ‘Udorn’), while Thai’s pronounce it “Oooo-Don” (for ‘Udon’ – as in Udonthani) ……. But either pronunciation and a fist full of Baht (money) gets you to the same place in a Taxi or Samlor.
During the Vietnam War, about 80% of all USAF air strikes over North Vietnam originated from air bases in Thailand. At its peak in 1969 more airmen were serving in Thailand than were serving in South Vietnam. After years of official denial, by mid-1967 the White House announces to America and the world that we have secret U.S. military personell and equipment positioned in Thailand.
In October 1967 the 20th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron (RF-101’s) was deactivated and replaced by the 14th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron , flying UNarmed RF-4-C’s. The 11th and 14th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadrons accounted for more than 80 percent of all reconnaissance activity over North Vietnam.
The 555th (“Triple Nickle”) Tactical Fighter Squadron arrived at Udorn in May 1968 from previous PCS assignment at Ubon RTAFB , flying F-4-D’s, and was credited with 27 MIG kills, the last seven while at Udorn. By the end of 1968, Udorn RTAFB had 14 different combat flying units as well as Tactical Reconnaissance Squadrons.
Under Thailand’s “gentleman’s agreement” with the U.S., the bases were considered Royal Thai Air Force bases and were commanded by Thai officers. Thai air police controlled access to the bases; U.S. air police who helped them did carry weapons. Command of the American units, however, remained with U.S. wing commanders and their Seventh Air Force/Thirteenth Air Force headquarters.
At Udorn, just 40 minutes by air from Hanoi supersonic, unarmed RF-101 and RF-4C photo-reconnaissance jets launched and flew missions over target areas immediately before and after a raid to photograph the damage so assessments of attacks could be made. Udorn also hosted three squadrons of F-4C/D & E Phantoms which flew escort, sweep, and Air Combat Patrol missions to protect other U.S. strike aircraft. From Korat, Takhli and Ubon came the Republic F-105 Thunderchiefs and F-4C and F-4D Phantoms that actually delivered the bombs and also General Dynamics F-111s with terrain-following radar from Takhli.
Udorn RTAFB was the Asian headquarters for Air America (17.3863°N 102.788°E), a US passenger and cargo airline covertly owned and operated by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) which provided essential resources for the war in Laos and elsewhere. Its predecessor, Civil Air Transport (CAT), started operations from Udorn on 11 September 1955 with the arrival of three C-46s delivering food and emergency aid into Indochina. By the end of September, CAT had flown more than 200 missions to 25 reception areas, delivering 1,000 tons of emergency food. Conducted smoothly and efficiently, this airdrop relief operation marked the beginning of CAT’s and, later, Air America’s support of US assistance programs in Laos.
Air America’s roles supportive of covert and overt situations related to hostilities in Southeast Asia and elsewhere worldwide provided buffers and solutions to problems the United States faced in various locations. Operations were focused in Laos as part of the “secret war” the United States carried out against the Pathet Lao forces operating in the country. Udorn RTAFB also served as the site of “Headquarters 333”, the Thai organization in charge of their forces in Laos.
Air America continued operations from Udorn into Laos until 3 June 1974.