Thailand’s Vietnam War-Era U-Tapao Airport in the news

Thailand’s Vietnam War-Era U-Tapao Airport in the news

Above Photo: A B-52 bomber comes into land at U-Tapao airbase in Thailand during the Vietnam War.

Nowadays most people who live in Thailand think the B52s were a 1980s rock band or some kind of fancy drinks, but not long ago, in an age when U-Tapao was a vast US airbase servicing the Vietnam War, B52s were regularly flying in to and out of Pattaya’s airport.

B52 taking off from U-Tapao during the war.

B52 taking off from U-Tapao during the war.

Unfortunately, nowadays, it has been revealed that even deadlier aircraft are now taking off and landing at U-Tapao; namely thousands of charter flights containing Russians, some of whom are excessively pissed-up.

When you see a press headline screaming “Booze and broken noses: Russia’s in-flight brawlers” you could be forgiven for thinking you were reading an In Pattaya Now story, or one in The Sun (or The National Enquirer). However, when this headline appears in a blog on the Financial Times website, as it did last week, you know it must be serious. It headlined a story of how a charter flight to Thailand was turned back when a Russian became drunk and violent, and detailed other alcohol-fuelled air-rage incidents on Russian planes (it’s firewalled, so I won’t bother linking to it).

U-Tapao today.

U-Tapao today.

In case anyone thinks this is just another boring case of anti-Russian-in-Thailand bias, here’s the (English-language) story from RIA Novosty, the Russian state news agency, which of course leaves out all the nasty detail and the videos shot by petrified passengers on the planes in question. http://en.rian.ru/russia/20130203/179205565/Russia-Mulls-Ban-on-Duty-Free-Alcohol-on-Planes.html

A more welcome Russian arrival at U-Tapao (Panormio)

A more welcome Russian arrival at U-Tapao (Panormio)

 The other U-Tapao-related news story recently was the announcement that the airport is scheduled for a massive expansion, with a second runway to be added. This is in addition to the current upgrade which will increase the airport’s capacity from 600,000 tourists a year to three million. 
B52s parked at U-Tapao.

B52s parked at U-Tapao. (AFWing.com)

...And preparing preparing for Operation Linebacker (AFwing.com)

…And preparing preparing for Operation Linebacker (AFwing.com)

U-Tapao has had a fascinating history, and still regularly features in the news, for example when Bangkok airport was invaded by the Yellow Shirts in  2008, and U-Tapao handled the resulting crisis to almost universal acclaim.
New Planes at U-Tapao.

New Planes at U-Tapao.

 Also, not long ago, U-Tapao was at the centre of a major Thai/US government row when the US wanted to locate some, ahem, climate research equipment there, and the Thai government said no, although, when it comes to U-Tapao, the Thai military have a habit of ignoring the government anyway, so that project is probably rolling along quite happily somewhere on the base.
B-52s on the ground at U-Tapao during the Vietnam War.

B-52s on the ground at U-Tapao during the Vietnam War.

A good example of this special military relationship was when a notorious incident occurred at the end of the Vietnam War, in 1975, when the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia hijacked a US ship called the Mayaguez and the Thai civilian government explicity refused US requests to allow U-Tapao to be used as a base for operations to recover the ship’s crew.

Notwithstanding that refusal, there are no prizes for guessing where the rescue crews were based for that operation, with the full support of the Thai military…

For a modern-day take on the Vietnam War, POWs/MIAs and Adventure Backpackers trekking into the war-ravaged jungles of Asia, see: http://peteralanlloyd.com/back-part-2/backpackers-meet-the-vietnam-war-back-screenplay-finally-finished/

For POWs left behind in Laos, see also:

Utapao Airport – approximate location shown in red circle.

© Peter Alan Lloyd

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Front cover of BACK Part 1.

Front cover of BACK Part 1.

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Front cover of BACK Part 2.

 

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