The first time I saw that place was in June 1965 coming down thru the clouds behind a Air America H-34. Tony Poe got us lost and AA had to lead us in. We (two H-43B's and crews) were first in there in uniform since 1961, and not sheepdipped! After being feted by Gen Vang Pao the first night, we flew up around the PDJ getting familiarized with the Lima Sites all the way to LS 36. On the way back coming down the Nam Nhung canyon between layers was where we passed a AA Caribou heading north. His comment to the bird behind him was, "Lookout! Here come two dual rotor, single motor purple people pluckers!" The weather was so bad that day after we got back into Alternate that Air America quit flying! I don't know if it was true or not, but I heard the only way they quit was being told, "All pay stops at 1600!" About three weeks later, we (Tom Curtis, Walt Turk & I) started taking turns flying with the H-3 crews on the same familiarization tour.
The karst rock at the end of the runway forced all fixed wing aircraft to take off from that end and to land toward the rock (barrier). The CIA manned a TUOC and a small billeting facility with Bar. I spent a few nights there when the weather trapped us in. They had a sun bear in a cage at the end of the building. I recall that the bear liked beer but they had to restrict his intake or he got grouchy in the morning.
I can remember the first time I landed at 20 Alternate and walked over to the “café”. I looked down and was VERY nervous seeing that I was walking over ammo, mortar rounds, and “who knows what” pressed into the dirt of the ramp area. Once I got to the building, I did a “double take” when I saw a couple of our Air America brethren sitting at a table drinking coffee. They both looked like Bogart directly out of Rick’s Café in Casablanca, with rumpled white “airline” shirts, second or third day whisker growth, and “20 mission crush” airline hats. Really colorfully dressed ‘locals’ all around the airfield. LOTS of aircraft wreckage strewn all around the airport from ill-fated landing/takeoff attempts (big karst at one end of the runway… fixed wing can only land and take off in one direction).
I’m not sure whether we were evacuating the site. But we had a very heavy load. One that would require a rolling takeoff. As shown in the picture that was not an option. We picked up to about 5 feet and that really said “No Way”. But this mission was of urgent need, so my AC said we were going to hover forward and dive over the edge. Away we went and as you know with airspeed come lift. The rest of the flight was routine. Again with Dusty’s, if there is no pucker factor we will create one!
The first time I was there we parked along the side of the runway. The pilots had walked up to karst area and the FEs remained with the aircraft for obvious reasons. We were watching the locals and their livestock leisurely cross the runway. Suddenly there was a burst of automatic gunfire, the people immediately cleared the runway as an aircraft come roaring out of the karst area on takeoff roll. We quickly learned how they cleared the runway for aircraft launches as well as aged a few years.