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A Hundred Feet Over Hell: Flying With the Men of the 220th Recon Airplane Company Over I Corps and the DMZ, Vietnam 1968-1969 Hardcover – May 10, 2009

4.7 out of 5 stars 165 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Every generation must face tough choices as life unfolds less idyllically than imagined in the protected environment of adolescence or the shelter of a college campus. Those of us who graduated in the late 1960s faced “fight or flight” decisions not unlike those of the World War II and Korean War eras as the conflict in Viet Nam escalated and the nation once again called her sons to war. Some responded with patriotic fervor, some volunteered reluctantly, some took their chances with the draft lottery. Others sought to avoid the obligation all together. Regardless of the how’s and why’s, those who fought in Viet Nam learned about life and death, but most of all about themselves. In the story you are about to read, there is a universal truth: warriors don’t fight for their country or flag, they fight for each other, often going far beyond what their country asks. It was an honor to serve at the same time as these men. This story is about the nation’s best!”
—Lance W. Lord, General, USAF (ret)

“This is a story about the warrior spirit that has existed in our fighting forces since the birth of our nation. Jim Hooper has nailed this small piece of the Viet Nam War as seen through the eyes of the Bird Dog pilots of the 220th Reconnaissance Airplane Company. It is a moving tribute to the intrepid men that flew these small aircraft with skill, courage, determination and a whole lot of brass.”

—Mike Seely BG (ret) 74th RAC '65-'66; 245th SAC '68-'69

“I flew A-4 Skyhawks out of Chu Lai, and then Bird Dogs with the VMO-6 Fingerprints at Quang Tri for the second half of my tour. You have done a magnificent job of presenting the deadly environment we all faced on a daily basis. I can't thank you enough for telling the story of the "Catkillers", because it is the story of not only about them, but everyone who flew in I Corps. Your book is outstanding."
—Jim Lawrence, LTCOL

"[A Hundred Feet Over Hell] shows us the sheer guts, ingenuity, compassion, and humor of those who serve in defense of freedom [It’s]a tribute to the Catkillers...and the thousands who follow in their footsteps, warriors all -- old and new!"
—Brigadier General Robert H. Holmes USAF

“The settings cover so many places I've been—Quang Tri, Dong Ha, Rockpile, Vandergrift (LZ Stud), Con Thien and others. Having been in a grunt unit and in 3rd Force Recon in I Corps, I felt truly a part of the pictures the author has painted.  Although I am hopefully a very stable individual, he provided me with a 'verbal flashback' that made me breath harder and brought a tear to my eye. [Hooper does] a remarkable job of providing the sights and sounds of a unit in trouble. 
—Tom Wilson, 3rd Force Recon

"I felt as though I was reliving it—my heart was pounding in my chest. [Hooper has] assembled a true work of art.”
—Tom Coopey, Recon Platoon, 1-61

A classic story of war … From hell-raising antics in the clubs and bars to hair-raising combat operations, where death was often only inches away, this is a must read. Those who have "seen the elephant" … will instantly identify with the actions of their fellow warriors. Flying an unarmored aircraft well within the effective range of every enemy weapon on the battlefield to protect the grunts in close combat takes a special breed of heroes. This book chronicles the exploits of such men.
—Gary L. Harrell, LTGEN, USA (ret)

“Hooper examines various combat encounters from many points of view to build detailed composite pictures of events. And he delves deeply into the emotions and bonds that held the unit together, recounting amusing after-hours high jinks, the grim humor of wartime, and the washing away of a day’s stress in that universal solvent, alcohol.

“The best thing about the book is that—conversational re-creations notwithstanding—every page rings true, and with very rare exception, names are named. Writing fearlessly and with an artfulness that few others have managed, Hooper has captured the ironies, the buccaneer’s ethos, and the rhythms of men at war.

“Thirty years ago, Robert Mason published Chickenhawk, a classic personal account of Vietnam helicopter operations that is still as potent as a satchel charge. I’d rank A Hundred Feet Over Hell right up there with it.”

-Air & Space Magazine

From the Inside Flap

Forward air controllers in Vietnam were acknowledged as having perhaps the most dangerous aviation role of the war. Flying at speeds well below the top end of most family cars, they spent hours over hostile terrain in flimsy, propeller-driven Cessna O-1 Bird Dogs. Their work was crucial in finding and stopping the enemy before they could attack American troops, and supporting those troops with artillery and air strikes when battle was joined.


Of the many army Bird Dog units in Southeast Asia, none operated in as hostile an environment as the “Catkillers” of the 220th Reconnaissance Airplane Company. Their tactical area of operations was up against the Demilitarized Zone (an oxymoron if ever there was one) in I Corps, the northern-most combat zone in South Vietnam. At the time it was estimated that there were seventy-eight thousand NVA soldiers in the area.


The Catkillers were under the operational control of the 3rd Marine Division. Unlike the U.S. Army aerial forward observers farther south, who could only direct field artillery against enemy targets, Catkillers were authorized and trained to control air strikes, which they did regularly in support of both marine and army ground units. Elsewhere in Vietnam air strikes had to be controlled by U.S. Air Force FACs.


In the DMZ with the 220th RAC’s 1st Platoon, it was normal to come under fire on almost every mission. Bullet holes in their aircraft were so common that they were barely worthy of mention. When crossing the Ben Hai River into North Vietnam in search of enemy artillery, flying at 120 miles per hour in the sights of an array of anti-aircraft weapons, only good fortune kept more Catkillers from being lost. The stories of these valiant men in their small planes has been largely overlooked before, but the risks they took on a daily basis ensured more U.S. servicemen made it home. A Hundred Feet Over Hell ensures their stories are not forgotten, as the men relive their missions in their own words.



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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Zenith Press; First edition (May 10, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0760336334
  • ISBN-13: 978-0760336335
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (165 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #678,016 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Jim Hooper's "A Hundred Feet Over Hell" is the story of his brother's Vietnam War experiences flying the O-1 Bird Dog Observation Aircraft. Bill Hooper was a Tactical Air Controller - Airborne, or a TACA. He flew this low-flying, slow-speed aircraft with the 220th Reconnaissance Aircraft Company, a unit known by their call-sign "Catkillers". In the second war of the Jet Age, the Bird Dog was a very unglamorous aircraft, but to the men on the ground, having a Bird Dog overhead was like having your own personal guardian angel. Hooper's book does an outstanding job of documenting the contributions of the Catkillers between 1968 and 1969.

"A Hundred Feet Over Hell" is a very personal story told by the men who lived the war. Hooper does an amazing job telling the story of how these aviators called in airstrikes in support of ground troops. After reading the book, the reader gains a new appreciation for the difficulty of simultaneous flying a plane; describing a target to a jet aircraft traveling four times as fast and 10,000 feet higher than you; and avoiding ground fire. American aviators were the best in this lethal business.

In the chapter "Busy Month of June", Hooper describes a Catkiller attack on a North Vietnamese Truck Convoy. "I started climbing, mentally computing where I wanted to roll in. At about eight hundred feet, I nosed over. Fixed on the windscreen of the lead truck, I armed both outboard tubes. The truck grew larger, and I could see the driver leaning forward to look up. Steaadyyy. Passing through five hundred feet, I squeezed the trigger, holding the dive for the split second it took the rockets to ignite and clear the tubes. In less time than it takes to describe, they hit. What happened next was not part of the plan.
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Format: Hardcover
This was a fantastic read. It pulled me in and didn't let me go until I finished it. The author weaves an incredible tale of young men in small, slow aircraft facing death every day while striving to save the lives of their fellow soldiers. Well researched through interviews with the actual pilots who flew these missions, it is a fascinating story. One page could have me laughing and the next page could fill me with sadness. The writing style is superb.
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Format: Hardcover
This terrific book tells the story of a company of Army fixed-wing aviators performing forward air controller duties flying very slow, prop-driven, single engine Cessna aircraft over some of the hottest battlefields of the Vietnam war.

From grunts on the ground wading through the swamps of the Delta or struggling through the jungle highlands, to medical personnel providing care to wounded warriors, to the pilots and crews of helicopters or "fast-mover" jet aircraft, to small Special Forces units patrolling deep in enemy-controlled areas in Vietnam, Cambodia, or Laos, each veteran saw the war from their individual perspective. In this book, Jim Hooper tells about the Vietnam war from the perspective of his brother Bill and his fellow aviators providing their forward air controller services in support of Marines and Army grunt units on the ground in the northern part of South Vietnam known as I Corp.

As a veteran of the U.S. Army (1967-70), I served both stateside and elsewhere in the Asia during the period covered by this book. Probably because of my service as well as my long-standing fascination with military history, I have read many books about war and I can say that this book ranks right up there with the very best.
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Format: Hardcover
Very few books capture my rapt attention enough to read them through without stopping. A Hundred Feet Over Hell is one of those. Jim Hooper has skillfully crafted the 220th Catkiller story by seasoning first person accounts from those that served as Catkillers with his own third person narrative to add context only when necessary. It's a blend that works and does justice to their incredible story of skill, courage, sacrifice, humor and sadness set in the backdrop of the Vietnamese DMZ during the late sixties.

As a retired military professional and Army aviator of a more recent era, I am simply amazed and deeply impressed at the hair raising feats these Army FACs and their Marine observers accomplished over and across the DMZ on a daily basis with their small and frail O-1 Bird Dogs, a few marking rockets, M-16s, grenades, radios and a map. It's the stuff of legend and a proud legacy for all current and future warriors to be inspired by.

I highly recommend this book for your reading and library collection. You won't be disappointed.

Above the Best!
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Format: Hardcover
If you were in the Viet War, this is a must read book. The boys flying these little, flmsey planes did not get enough credit for saving lives on the ground while risking theirs. A 21 gun salute to all you brave flyers.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book's message is in good hands. The author is a seasoned war correspondent whose brother, Bill, served in Vietnam as a "Catkiller" pilot in the 220th Reconnaissance Airplane Company. Bill and his merry band of "Myth Makers" had the role of flying flimsy little single-engine Cessnas, that could barely exceed speeds of a passenger car, to seek out the positions of the enemy, provide assistance to troops in peril, and engage in combat if necessary.

I've ridden in one of these airplanes; my dad owned and flew one on the farm in the '70's. These are little more than motorized tin cans with some wings and plastic windows. The very idea that these pilots would fly into some of the most hostile terrain in the war, scribbling radio frequencies and coordinates with wax pencils on the windows, communicating with troops under fire and ground control, in zero-visibility weather, literally hanging out of their windows shooting weapons and throwing grenades, all at only hundreds of feet above the ground in mountainous territory and with plumes of napalm exploding around them...it is terrifying. These boys had nerves of steel.

When Jim Hooper began to help his brother compile his thoughts about his experiences in Nam, he located some of his brother's platoon mates and found them eager to share their memories as well. As horrific as the war was, it seems that they were not only adrenaline junkies, feeding off the constant thrill of near-death experiences, but also felt the camaraderie and the bond of a unified cause to be unparalleled in life. The result was something more than just a book. It is a real-time narrative, with all of the players taking turns, jumping in with their contribution to the story.
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