Singular Aerial Victory in the Vietnam War
A singular aerial victory in the Vietnam War serves as a lasting and inspiring reminder of the heroism and courage of Air America employees. The moment is captured in a painting by Keith Woodcock entitled “Lima 85,” which now hangs at CIA Headquarters.
During the war, Air America—a CIA proprietary airline—flew a variety of missions in the Far East. Former Air America employees recently helped unveil “Lima 85,” which now is part of the CIA Museum’s Intelligence Art Gallery. CIA Museum curator Toni Hiley says, “The dramatic imagery of a painting or sculpture can often convey a story with more power than a volume written about the incident. These events in Agency history, dimmed by time, will be brought to life by superb works of art—to inform…instruct…and inspire.”
Lima 85 was a US radar facility that provided critical and otherwise unavailable all-weather guidance to F-105 fighter-bombers flying strike missions against Communist supply depots, airfields, and railroad yards in North Vietnam.
Recognizing the threat posed by this facility, the People’s Army of Vietnam Air Force made an unprecedented effort to destroy the radar equipment. On Jan. 12, 1968, four AN-2 Colt biplanes—painted dark green and modified to drop “bombs” improvised from 122-mm mortars and 57-mm rockets—took off from a North Vietnamese airfield to attack Lima 85.
At about 1:30 p.m., the Colts approached their target and split into two formations. While two of the aircraft circled in the area, the other two turned toward the mountain and conducted separate single bombing and strafing passes.
Air America pilot Ted Moore, in his unarmed UH-1D “Huey” helicopter, saw the biplanes attacking. Moore and his flight mechanic Glenn Woods took chase of the first Colt. Woods pulled out his AK-47 rifle and began firing at the lumbering biplane. The pursuit continued for more than 20 minutes until the second AN-2 flew underneath the helicopter and both airplanes attempted to gain altitude.
Moore and Woods watched as the first AN-2, apparently hit by gunfire, dropped and then crashed into a mountain ridge less than two miles west of the North Vietnamese border. Minutes later, the second Colt hit the side of a mountain located some three miles farther north of the first crash. The two AN-2 Colts circling to the southeast of Lima 85 did not take part in the attack and retreated back to North Vietnam.
The painting captures one North Vietnamese Colt fleeing and the other being pursued by the Air America Huey piloted by Moore, as mechanic Woods fires his AK-47 at the cockpit. This daring action by Moore and Woods gained them—and Air America—the distinction of having shot down an enemy fixed-wing aircraft from a helicopter, a singular aerial victory in the entire history of the Vietnam War.
On March 11, 1968, in a night raid, North Vietnamese commandos overran Lima 85 in the deadliest single ground loss of US Air Force personnel during the Vietnam War. A year later, Woods was killed in action.
The CIA Museum supports the Agency’s operational, recruitment, and training missions and helps visitors better understand CIA and the contributions it makes to national security. The museum’s collection includes material associated with the CIA’s predecessor, the Office of Strategic Services; foreign intelligence organizations; and the CIA itself.
Marius Burke and Boyd D. Mesecher donated “Lima 85,” an oil on canvas.