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When The Marines First Moved Into Chu Lai in 1965 Every Takeoff Was Like A Catapult Launch

Want to Fly Skyhawks and Crusaders From a 2,000 Foot Runway? Here’s How You Do It

The first arrested landing at Chu Lai circa 1965. Official US Marine Corps Photograph

In the film “CE-2 Trackless Aircraft Launcher” produced by the Naval Air Engineering Center in 1966, the concept of Short Airfield for Tactical Support (SATS) is explained. SATS consisted of a 2,000 foot aluminum planked runway with a trackless aircraft launcher and field arresting gear. A Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (Seabees) and Marine Corps Air Group Twelve (MAG-12) installed a test version of SATS at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Chu Lai in South Vietnam during early 1965. Get an eyeful (and an earful) of Douglas A-4 Skyhawks and Vought F-8 Crusaders using the SATS system in this time-capsule video. If you’ve ever wanted to build an airfield in your backyard, this is how you would do it! Thanks to YouTuber Jeff Quitney for uploading this look back at an idea that never really took off…

Although the geography of the area and the soft sand under the aluminum planked runway made the installation of the SATS troublesome, it didn’t stop the Marine aviators from using Chu Lai as a major base supporting fellow Marines and troops in the bush. A Marine Corps VMA-225 A-4C Skyhawk flown by none other than the Commander of MAG-12 made the first landing on the Chu Lai SATS on June 1st 1965. A Marine Corps F-8 Crusader landed there later the same day. The Marines began flying combat missions off the Chu Lai SATS not long after that, using jet-assisted takeoff (JATO) bottles to enhance thrust in order to operate off from the as-yet uncompleted runway. By the end of Octotober 1965 there were more than 80 Scooters based at Chu Lai. Eventually more conventional runways were built at Chu Lai, but not far from the original SATS.

Marine Corps A-4E at Chu Lai. Official US Marine Corps Photograph

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Written by Bill Walton

Bill Walton

Bill Walton is a life-long aviation enthusiast and expert in aircraft recognition. As a teenager Bill helped his engineer father build an award-winning T-18 homebuilt airplane in their Wisconsin basement. Bill is a freelance writer, an avid sailor, engineer, announcer, husband, father, uncle, mentor, coach, and Navy veteran. Bill lives north of Houston TX with his wife and son under the approach path to KDWH runway 17R, which means they get to look up at a lot of airplanes. A very good thing.

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