Fuel tanks jettisoned by US jets in Vietnam War recycled by locals

Fuel tanks jettisoned by US jets in Vietnam War repurposed by locals

Photo story (Clockwise from top left): (1) A jettisoned US jet fuel tank has been repurposed and being operated by a local Vietnamese (2) Many other jettisoned tanks recycled by locals to be used as usable motor boats (3) Similar jettisoned US jet fuel tanks still unmodified waiting to be converted along with other war time military scrap (4) The label on the fighter jet fuel tank reads Royal Jet, Inc., Alhambra California tank fuel aircraft external removable.   

The 20 year long Vietnam War was the incessant Cold war era proxy war fought between U.S. led anti communist countries and USSR led communist countries in Vietnam from 1st November 1955 to 30th April 1975. US supported South Vietnamese forces had around 1,830,000 soldiers and the Russian supported North Vietnam had approximately 461,000 soldiers. The war caused huge human cost; with 480,538-807,564 soldiers & civilians of South Vietnam and its allies dead, of whom 58,220 were US soldiers, and 451,462-1,166,462 soldiers & civilians of North Vietnam and its allies dead. As the US could not reach the objective of preventing communist expansion in Vietnam, it is considered that they have lost the war. The US Air Force carried out 5.25 million air raids over North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos; and lost 2,251 aircrafts in the process.

For military aircrafts, external fuel tanks are vitally important as they contribute additional fuel to integrated internal fuel tanks and extend the endurance of the fighter jets and bombers. Tactical fighter jet aircrafts heavily depend on the JP-8 jet fuel loaded on the additional external fuel tanks though they can be refueled by aerial fuel tankers during flight.

Video story: An F-15E Strike Eagles aircraft receives fuel from a KC 135R Strato-tanker during an assignment over Persian Gulf on 30th August 2013.

However, jet aircraft maneuverability is greatly reduced and additional drag is produced due to carrying the additional weight of the auxiliary fuel tanks. Jettison means discarding, abandoning, throwing or ejecting cargo from aircraft, ship or vehicle. During wartime combats these external fuel tanks are jettisoned when these become empty or as soon as the airplane requires to accelerate and increase maneuverability against enemy fighter aircrafts or to dodge a SAM, surface to air missile.

Freelance journalist David Cenciotti’s famous aviation weblog, The Aviationist reported that the several thousand jet fuel tanks which were jettisoned over Southeast Asia, especially in Vietnam, during the Vietnam War had been recycled by the locals into serviceable motor boats which look quite similar to the traditional watercrafts. It’s a good example of recycling wartime military trash.

Mohammad Rafi Saad

Mohammad Rafi Saad is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE