|This group is
made up of the QANTAS crews who flew a total of over 600 charter flights
to/from Viet Nam 1965-1972 and who marched last year in Canberra at the
re-dedication of the Vietnam War Memorial. They assembled about 45-50
ANZAC Day 2003 behind their new banner , just behind the Infantry Battalions
who served in Vietnam.
The Big Silver
The crews of the Qantas "Champagne
Flights" which ferried Australian troops between Sydney and Saigon
during the Vietnam War marched together on Anzac Day 2003 for the first
Up to 50 former crewmen - Qantas only
employed men for the run - reunited in Sydney's 2003 parade under
their nickname of Skippy Squadron.
Between 1965 and 1972 Qantas flew more
than 600 military charters on its Boeing 707s - about 300 flights carrying
fresh troops to Vietnam, and 300 bringing home those whose tour was over.
To the crew members, who volunteered for
Skippy Squadron, the Sydney-Saigon-Sydney route was a long trip with a few
hours' break for refueling - but it also changed dramatically from leg to
"It was a nervous flight over, but
the guys on the way back were totally different from the guys we'd take in
- a total change of personality, they had grown up," said Ray
Stephan, 57, a former Qantas Chief Steward from Georges Hall who flew 26
than 500 pilots, cabin staff, navigators and ground crew served with
Qantas's Skippy Squadron, and are eligible for the Australian Active
Service Medal with Vietnam clasp and/or the Vietnam Logistics and
Alan Kitchen, 59, of Blakehurst, was 2nd
Steward on six of the flights: "We could carry about
130 soldiers ... and on the way over, you could have heard a pin drop,
especially between Singapore and Saigon," Mr. Kitchen said. "We
felt sympathy for them. They were about the same age as us, or maybe just
a couple of years younger. We'd say to them: 'We'll be here in 12 months
time to pick you up.'
"But then when the returning
soldiers got on to come home, it was roll your sleeves up and serve the
booze, even before take-off. The aircraft was drunk dry."
The white-bodied, red-tailed Qantas
commercial aircraft stood out among the thousands of warplanes at Saigon
airport, Mr. Kitchen said. Skippy Squadron received escorts from United
States jetfighters when approaching or leaving Saigon airport, for fear of
firing from Vietcong. "The American air traffic controllers
affectionately called us the 'Red Tail Rats' or the 'White Rats', Mr.
"We had kangaroos painted on the
planes, but they never called us kangaroos, just rats."
March 1968 Tan Son Nhut Airport, Saigon
QANTAS QF177.122 after reports of artillery fire to
11,000 ft on descent, having arrived and waiting to board 165 very
happy Aussies back to Australia on the return flight QF178.122 .
technically minded : Taxi Weight 326,O00 lbs , 92% of runway
used or 9,200 ft. 707-338 VH EBV "City of
Tamworth" Photo by Hans Smit
Bob Freshfield, 54, of Merrylands,
caught a Red Tail Rat to war and back as a national service infantryman in
1971. "We used to call them the 'champagne flights'. I took them
twice, because I also flew back on R and R once," said Mr.
Freshfield, a member of the Granville Vietnam Veterans Association.
dress uniform that QANTAS Stewards wore as they walked on/off
the aircraft. Usually changed into Bow ties Cummerbund and Eton
Jacket (Officers Mess Jacket) .
coats off, ties off, sleeves rolled up and serve as much booze as
quickly as you can. Usual cut off place was Alice Springs by O.C. if
they took notice of him.
There were 7 male
cabin crew and the Chief steward had 3 x 1/2 gold bars with burgundy
between. 2nd.Steward 2x1/2 gold bars burgundy between.
The other 5 crew
usually at this stage 1 burgundy bar, until you had been flying 3
Technical Crew same
uniform only full gold bars with 4 for a Captain etc , full wing on
uniform coat and shirt , rest of crew 1/2 wing with S for Steward, N
for Navigator and E for Flight Engineer.
The tail of aircraft
was true to the 707's during 1965-1972.
He remembers the prodigious service of
alcohol, "a lot of confusion" and a "long delay" at
Darwin en route to Sydney. "A steward told me that they didn't want
us at Mascot until midnight to keep us away from the protesters," Mr.
But Mr. Kitchen said planes arrived and
departed at night so they could be reconfigured for commercial daytime