GEAR & TECH

The United States used combat hovercraft to kick butt in Vietnam

(Jeff Quitney)

When people think hovercraft, the Landing Craft Air Cushion (also known as the LCAC) comes to mind. Understandably so — that hovercraft has been a vital piece of gear for the Navy and Marine Corps when it comes to projecting power ashore. But these are not the first hovercraft to be used in service. In fact, hovercraft saw action with both the Navy and Army during the Vietnam War.


In 1966, the Navy acquired four Patrol Air Cushion Vehicles, or PACVs (pronounced "Pack-Vees"), for test purposes and deployed them to Vietnam. The hovercraft quickly proved very potent, delivering a lot of firepower and speed and reaching areas inaccessible to traditional tracked or wheeled vehicles.

Patrol Air Cushion Vehicles packed a lot of firepower and were fast — but they never got past an operational test.

(US Navy)

A PACV was equipped with a turret that held one or two M2 .50-caliber machine guns mounted on top of the cabin, which held a crew of four. There were also two M60 general-purpose machine guns, one mounted to port and the other to starboard. Additionally, there were two remote-controlled emplacements for either M60s or Mk 19 automatic grenade launchers.

The hovercraft could reach a top speed of 35 knots and had a maximum range of 165 nautical miles. But as maintenance and training proved problematic, especially given the trans-Pacific supply lines, the Navy decided to pull the plug. The Army, however, remained interested. The hovercraft operated primarily from a land base, but could also be deployed from amphibious ships (like today's LCACs).

PACVs worked with the Navy's Light Attack Helicopter Squadron Three (HAL-3), providing a fast response to enemy activity.

(US Navy)

The Army acquired three Air-Cushion Vehicles, which operated within the 9th Infantry Division. Two were configured for attack missions and both were destroyed in 1970. The other, which was tooled as a transport, was shipped back to the United States.

Learn more about these early hovercraft that did some damage in Vietnam in the video below.