Coc was born in the Viet Yen district of the province of Bac Giang in French Indochina, north of Hanoi. When he was 5 years old, his father, Nguyen Van Bay, who was Chairman of the Viet Minh in the district, and his uncle, also a member of the Viet Minh, were killed by the French. Fearing further trouble with the French, his mother relocated the family, which led to him spending the rest of his childhood near Chu air base, which kindled an interest in aircraft.
He attended Ngo Si Lien school in Bac Giang and upon completion of his schooling, enlisted in the Quan Chung Khong Quan (Vietnamese People's Air Force, VPAF) in 1961 and underwent his initial training at Cat Bi Airbase in Haiphong. He subsequently spent four years undergoing pilot training in the Soviet Union at the Batajsk and Krasnodov Soviet Air Force bases. Of the 120 trainees who were dispatched in Nguyens’s draft to the Soviet Union, he was one of the seven who graduated as a MiG-17 pilot.
After a brief spell back in North Vietnam serving with the 921st Sao Do (Red Star) Fighter Regiment, he returned to the Soviet Union and underwent conversion training to the MiG-21 in a two-seat Mig-21U, before returning to the 921st Fighter Regiment in June 1965. He began operational flying in December 1965.
On 2 January 1967, he was among a group of pilots who fell into the trap set up by F-4 Phantom IIs of the United States Air Force's 8th Tactical Fighter Wing (Operation Bolo). The American fighters flew to Hanoi using the same flight patterns and radio callsigns as F-105 Thunderchief fighter-bomber formations. As a result, the North Vietnamese fliers encountered interceptors armed with air-to-air missiles instead of fighter-bombers loaded with bombs. Coc was among the five Vietnamese pilots shot down, with all ejecting safely.
Flying a MIG-21PF, he normally served as a wingman. He scored all his victories using the heat-seeking R-3S Atoll missile.
In 1969, he was awarded a Huy Hiew medal for each of his nine claimed kills. The end of the American Operation Rolling Thunder bombing campaign on October 31, 1968 removed him from the opportunity for further air combat. In that year, he was transferred from operational duties so that his valuable combat experience could be put to use in training new pilots. Among the pilots he trained was Nguyen Duc Soat, who obtained five kills in 1972.
After the war, he remained with the Vietnamese National Air Force, retiring with the rank of Chief Inspector in 2002 after a period of health decline.
Air combat victories
Nine air-to-air combat kills of United States aircraft were credited to him during the Vietnam War. Of these, seven have currently been acknowledged by the United States Air Force. While sometimes U.S. forces may have attributed aircraft losses to surface-to-air missiles, since it was considered "less embarrassing", in fact there was often doubt about cause of the loss. Coc also claimed an F-4 Phantom and F-105 Thunderchief in November and 17 December 1967 but there are no corresponding American losses.
- 30 April 1967: USAF F-105D piloted by Robert A. Abbott of the USAF 355th TFW. This was his first air victory and occurred while he was acting as a wingman to Nguyen Ngoc Do, who also downed an aircraft.
- 23 August 1967: USAF F-4D (serial number 66-0238) of Major Charles R. Tyler (pilot) and Captain R. N. Sittner (WSO) of the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron. Tyler was captured and Sittner was killed.
- 9 October 1967: USAF F-105D piloted by Clements.
- 3 February 1968: USAF F-102A piloted by 1st Lt. Wallace L. Wiggins of the 509th FIS/405th FIW.
- 23 February 1968: F-4D of Guttersen (pilot) and Donald (WSO).
- 7 May 1968: On the afternoon of 7 May 1968, three flights of MiG-21 fighters from the VPAF 921st Regiment were flying towards Tho Xuan Air Base, as part of redeployment in response to the U.S. bombing halt above the 19th Parallel. The flights were led by Dang Ngoc Ngu, Nguyen Van Minh and Nguyen Van Coc. Due to the lack of coordination between the different sections of the VPAF 921st Fighter Regiment and the ground-based air-defense forces, the MiG-21 flights were mistakenly identified as U.S. fighter-bombers, so North Vietnamese anti-aircraft artillery fired on them. Moments later, Ngu also mistook an escorting flight of MiG-21 fighters flown by Nguyen Dang Kinh and Nguyen Van Lung for U.S. fighters, so he responded by dropping his fuel tanks to prepare for an attack. Ngu then aborted the attack when he realized they were North Vietnamese.
Later, Ngu and Coc arrived over the skies of Do Luong, north-east of Vinh, and they made three circuits over the area when they were told that enemy aircraft were detected coming from the sea, and they were real U.S. fighters. The U.S. flight detected were a formation of five F-4B Phantom II from Fighter Squadron 92 (VF-92), USS Enterprise, led by Lieutenant Commander Ejnar S. Christensen. Over North Vietnamese airspace, a U.S. Navy EKA-3A electronic warfare aircraft tried to jam North Vietnamese communications but it failed, so Nhu’s flight of MiG-21 fighters were able to be guided towards their target by ground controllers unhindered.
While trying to engage the VPAF MiGs, the F-4B formation became separated due to confusion in radar control. In the ensuing dogfight, two AIM-7 missiles were fired by the U.S. Navy fighters but both rounds missed. Ngu then noticed two F-4B Phantoms about 5 kilometers (3.1 mi) to starboard, but he could not get into a suitable firing position. Coc was right behind Ngu at the time, but he wanted to disengage from the fight as his aircraft was running low on fuel. However, Coc quickly changed his mind after he spotted an F-4B ahead of him at an altitude of 2,500 meters (8,200 ft). Coc immediately gave chase to the F-4B, which were flying out to sea, and successfully scored a hit after he fired two R-3S Atoll missiles from an altitude of 1,500 meters (4,900 ft). The F-4B Phantom II burst into flames and crashed into the sea at 6:44 pm.
The action gave the VPAF their first aerial victory over the airspace above the Military Zone IV of North Vietnam and gave Nguyen Van Coc his seventh aerial victory. The U.S. Navy confirmed that the downed F-4B had been BuNo 151485, callsign Silver Kite 210, of VF-92 launched from Enterprise. The pilot of BuNo 151485, Lieutenant Commander Ejnar S. Christenson, and his Radar Intercept Officer, Lieutenant (jg) Worth A. Kramer were able to eject safely from their aircraft before impact, and were recovered a short time later.
- 20 December 1969: A USAF AQM-34 Firebee. It is possible that due to Vietnamese pilots being unfamiliar with these drones, this could have been an OV-10 Bronco whose two crewmembers perished when it was shot down in the same area.
- Davies, page 48.
- VPAF Ejections during the SEA conflict to the present in chronological order, Retrieved 2 December 2009.
- Gordon, Yefim "MiG-21" ISBN 978-1-85780-257-3
- Vietnamese Air-to-Air Victories, Part 1
- Vietnamese Air-to-Air Victories, Part 2
- http://www.acig.org/artman/publish/article_245.shtml. Air Combat Information Group - IndoChina Database. Retrieved 29 November 2009.
- Toperczer, p. 20
- Toperczer, p. 21
- Davies, p. 60
- Michel, p. 147
- http://www.acig.org/artman/publish/article_246.shtml. Air Combat Information Group - IndoChina Database. Retrieved 29 November 2009.
- Davies, page 60.
- Davies, Peter (2008). F-4Phantom II vs Mig-21 - USAF & VPAF in the Vietnam War. Oxford: Osprey Publishing Ltd. pp. 80 pages.. ISBN 978 1 84603 316 2.
- Michel, Marshal L. (2007). Clashes: Air Combat over North Vietnam, 1965–1972. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1-59114-519-6.
- Toperczer, Istvan (2001). MiG-21 Units of the Vietnam War. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-84176-263-6.
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