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A Vietnam War era 20th Helicopter Squadron Pony Express patch


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Greetings fellow patch peeps,

Lately I've been blessed to pick up some not often seen Vietnam War era Thai made US Air Force pieces,and here is one of them.

I will post the others as time allows.
This patch is for the 20th Helicopter Squadron,which transitioned to the 20th Special Operations Squadron (SOS),the famous "Pony Express" and "Green Hornets" that flew secret missions in Laos,North Vietnam,and Cambodia.
Because the unit was known as the 20th Helicopter Squadron only between the years 1965-68,I believe this to be an early piece,used before the unit was renamed as the 20th Special Operations Squadron in August 1968.



Here is some info about the unit I found online:

The 20th Helicopter Squadron "Pony Express" was one of the most extraordinary and outstanding combat units in Southeast Asia. The Pony Express' primary highly classified mission was counterinsurgency. They flew their unarmed helicopters from Thailand to various friendly airstrips in Laos where they could refuel and await to launch their missions. They would fly indigenous troops into unprepared sites in Laos and North Vietnam to gather intelligence on troop/truck movements, etc. This information would in turn be forwarded to the appropriate Military agencies to select targets for air strike missions.
The unit aircraft were basic CH-3C Sikorsky helicopters models. No armor was deemed necessary at this time since the mission was to be clandestine and the power/weight ratio was considered more important. Even then, with the equipped engines, power was sometimes very marginal. In early 1968, the engines were upgraded from the 1300 hp model to the 1500 hp models which was a vast improvement in the high temperature/humidity environment. With the upgrading of the engines, armor was installed on the engine cowling doors, the transmission doors, and around the tail rotor gearbox. Designation was changed from CH-3C to CH-3E.
Due to the classified nature of their mission, the 20th CH-3's did not display any U.S. markings or insignia. They were equipped with slotted hangers to insert the USAF insignia when flying "in country". The pilots had no insignia on their flight suits. The helicopters were painted the standard camouflage pattern, except one. CH-3C #63-09676 was painted flat black to determine the color feasibility for our mission. It soon was given the nickname of "Black Mariah". (It was the only black H-3 to serve in SEA and is now on display at the USAF Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB, Dayton, Ohio.)
The infil/exfil site would be selected and studied. Previous to the flight an airborne "recon" of the site would be made, often using CAS Beech Baron or Air America Pilatus Porter aircraft. Since the Air America aircraft were constantly flying over the country, they would hardly be noticed. The mission tactics would usually include two helicopters. One would be the "high bird" and would orbit at a discreet distance to distract the enemy and to act as a rescue aircraft if needed. The "low bird" would fly in at low altitude to the selected site to offload the troops. This was usually accomplished at dusk to give the ground troops a chance to disperse if enemy forces were encountered. If any enemy ground fire was encountered on the "infil" approach, the mission would be aborted and the troops not put at undue risk.
As previously stated, the helicopters were not equipped with armor. The crew would wear the "flak vest" and place another flack vest under the pilot seats to provide personal protection. Their only weapons were the crewmember's personal weapons, an M-16 rifle and a .38 caliber revolver. The infil portion of the mission required secrecy and not a firefight. The "exfil" though might another matter. Sometimes the ground troops would encounter enemy forces and would require extraction while under enemy fire. The "Ponies" depended on "top cover" usually supplied by A-1 Skyraider fighter aircraft, call sign depended on where they were stationed and could be "Sandy", Hobo" or "Firefly", to provide close air support with their guns and bombs, if needed. In the early days at Udorn, the Ponies were sometimes accompanied by World War II twin engine B-26 Invader aircraft callsign "Nimrod".
The Pony Express other mission was in support of TACAN navigational sites in Laos. These sites were important in guiding fighter and bomber aircraft on strike missions into North Vietnam. The helicopters would deliver personnel and needed supplies, such as power generators and diesel fuel, to the remotely located sites. One of the most important of these sites was at Lima Site 85 on top of a 5800' karst mountain, 19 km south of the Laotian/North Vietnam border and 125 miles southwest of Hanoi. LS85 also was supplied with super secret equipment used to direct strike missions around Hanoi.
In the spring of 1968, some pilots and CH-3s of the 20th HES were transferred to Nakhon Phanom RTAFB (NKP) to form the 21st Helicopter Squadron.
In July 1968, four UH-1F's and 10 pilots from the 20th Helicopter Squadron, "E" Flight, "Green Hornets," arrived from Nha Trang. The "new" Pony Express Hueys flew virtually all the same missions as the H-3's. There were a few of the H-3 missions in Northern Laos that the Hueys were not involved in due to the extreme distance and limited range of the UH-1. On occasion, the Huey would carry a 55-gallon barrel of fuel in the cabin. If the Huey required the extra fuel, the crewchief would hook up his safety strap, step out onto the chopper's skid and hold the refueling hose as the other crewman pumped the fuel into the Huey's fuel tank. This was done at cruising altitude.
In August 1968 the 20th Helicopter Squadron was redesignated the 20th Special Operations Squadron (SOS). The Pony Express continued to fly many missions in support of DOSA (Director of Operations for Special Activities) through 1968 and into 1969. The Ponies flew 75% of their flying time as combat time and over 75% of their time flying their primary DOSA missions. The Pony Express always had two large and important missions, TACAN support and DOSA missions fragged by 7/13th AF in support of the secret war in Laos. The Ponies did not have sufficient helicopters and pilots to accomplish every mission adequately. Some of their large missions required the use of up to 20 CH-3E helicopters and they only had nine CH-3's and four UH-1's assigned. On many occasions the Pony Express called upon the 21st SOS at NKP to help with these large missions. Many times they were assisted by helicopters from Air America.
On 5 Sep 1969,when the 20th SOS CH-3E's were transferred to the 21st SOS, without ceremony or fanfare, the "Pony Express" part of the 20th Special Operations Squadron ceased to exist.


Here is a link to where I found the info :



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While doing some research I found an awesome site with some great stories and pics from this fascinating unit.I'll post some here and also post a link to the awesome site where I found them.


One of the 20th Pony Express Helos; #63-09676 was named the "Black Mariah".She was the only CH-3C to be completely painted black during the Vietnam War.Just when or why Mariah was painted black is not completely documented. Apparently a plan to conduct night infiltration missions into Laos and North VietNam was in the works and the thought was that a “black” bird would be harder to detect but the enormous hazards of night operations in those areas quickly dispelled this idea.There was no real need to repaint the aircraft now known as the “Black Mariah”, so black she stayed.

The Black Mariah flew many support and counter-insurgency missions while assigned to the “Pony Express”. It was rumored that the VC had a $50,000 bounty on the Black Mariah.


The “Black Mariah” is now proudly on display at the USAF Air and Space Museum, Wright-Patterson AFB, at Dayton, Ohio.



Here is a link to the full story and history of the Black Mariah:




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Here's another view of the "Black Mariah" from the site I linked to.





Caption for the photo is:
"Schwab, Hall and Deviney preparing for mission launch, Udorn RTAFB, Thailand 1967"


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  • 3 weeks later...

I was looking through some of my Air Force patches and came across this.IIRC,this is the early US made version of the 20th Helicopter Squadron that was used pre-Nam.An interesting design that shows a spinning rotor surrounded by a cargo net,stretcher,and a St. Bernard with a cask around his neck! ^_^

It has been ID'd on the back by a prior owner and looks like it was sewn onto something at one point.


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Here's a bush hat I just picked up with the Pony Express patch sewn to the side. To the front is a Laotian 3rd Military Region Special Guerrilla Unit wing.


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