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35th Tactical Fighter Squadron MiG Kills
by Richard Keyt
On April 1, 1972, while members of the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Kunsan Air Base, Korea, slept, an early morning phone call summoned USAF Colonel Tyler G. Goodman to the 3rd Tactical Fighter Wing command post. After communicating with 5th Air Force headquarters in Japan via the secure "walk-talk" teletype system, Colonel Goodman instituted the squadron's silent recall procedure, which was designed to reduce the chances that nonessential personnel would know of the recall.
Thus began the April Fool's day deployment of the 35th TFS to Vietnam and Thailand to participate in the "Southeast Asia War Games" and Operation Linebacker I. Later that day, 14 F-Ds departed Kunsan Air Base for Clark Air Base, Philippines. On April 5, 1972, 35th TFS crews began flying combat missions from Ubon Air Base, Thailand. The following day, other 35th TFS crews began flying combat missions from DaNang Air Base, South Vietnam.
The 35th TFS soon consolidated the squadron and moved all of its men and F-4Ds to Korat Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, where I joined it. During the summer and fall of 1972 as part of Operation Linebacker I, the 35th TFS conducted strike escort missions into Route Pack VI, the most heavily defended area in the history of aerial warfare. Each strike escort mission consisted of four 35th TFS F-4s flying in "fluid four" formation on the perimeter of the strike force (the F-4s carrying bombs) as the strike force ingressed and egressed the target in Route Pack VI. The strike escorts usually flew the F-4E armed with four AIM-9 Sidewinder heat seeking missiles, 3 or 4 AIM-7 Sparrow radar guided missiles and one six barreled 20MM gatling gun. When a strike escort carried only three Sparrows, it was because a single AIM-7 missile was replaced by an ALQ-119 jamming pod that jammed enemy SA-2 Guideline surface to air missile ("SAM") radars.
The SA-2 SAM was a 32 foot long flying supersonic telephone pole. The radar guided missile could fly Mach 3.5 (three and one half times the speed of sound) and had a range of 25 miles and a maximum altitude of 60,000 feet. It was a formidable weapon and responsible for the loss of many U.S. aircraft over North Vietnam. The missile had a warhead that weighed 195 kg (130 kg of which is high explosive) and could detonate via proximity (when it got as close as it was going to get), contact and command fusing. At the altitudes F-4s flew over North Vietnam, the missile had a kill radius of approximately 65 meters, but anything within 100-120 meters of the detonation would be severely damaged.
The strike escort F-4s were the second line of defense if enemy MiGs got past the MiG CAP (combat air patrol) F-4s. The job of the strike escorts was to engage and destroy MiGs that threatened the strike force. If the MiGs got too close to the F-4 bombers, the bombers would be forced to jettison their bombs and take evasive action to avoid being shot down.
In the hierarchy of flying, the jet fighter is the pinnacle, but aerial
combat is the fighter pilot's ultimate experience. Tom Wolfe said that fighter pilots "have the right
stuff" in his best selling book of the same name. Tom also wrote a short
story called "Jousting with Sam and Charlie, the Truest Sport." It is about a
F-4 crew that took off from a US aircraft carrier and got shot
down by a surface to air missile (a "SAM"). The crew was rescued from the Gulf
of Tonkin by a Navy helicopter and ate dinner that night in the officer's mess /
ward room or whatever the Navy guys called it. I believe the short story
is in Wolfe's book called "Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine." It was
first published in a magazine, but I cannot remember which one.
But, I digress. This is about the men of the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron who achieved the ultimate fighter pilot dream, to engage and destroy an enemy MiG in aerial combat. The vast majority of military pilots who flew in the Vietnam war were not fighter pilots so they never had a chance to engage a MiG. Most fighter pilots who flew in the Vietnam war never flew into North Vietnam where the MiGs were. Most of the fighter pilots who flew into North Vietnam never engaged a MiG. The fraternity of Vietnam era fighter pilots who actually engaged a MiG in life or death aerial combat is very small and very elite.
My squadron had a lot of members of the aerial combat fraternity because it was tasked with the strike escort mission in Route Pack VI. The following table lists the members of the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron who were credited with MiG kills during the time we were TDY to Korat Air Base, Thailand, in the summer and fall of 1972. When they made their kills, all of the aircrews were flying the F-4E with the internal 20MM six-barrel gatling gun.
*Major Lucas was a 34th Tactical Fighter Squadron pilot.
Dan Autrey was my roommate. Dan and Gary Retterbush were awarded the Silver Star for their kill. Dan made a great tape recording of a mission north of Hanoi during which he and Gary Retterbush had a spoofed SAM launched at them while they were attacked by two MiG-21s from low and behind that each fired two Atoll heat seeking missiles at them. Dan told me after the mission what it felt like when he heard Lt. Col. Beckers in Lark 01 call "Lark 3 break left." Dan looked to his F-4's seven o'clock position, saw four supersonic missiles coming at him and said "oh shit, left, left, left." I have the tape and will soon write a story about that close encounter of the frightening kind.
About the Author
Richard Keyt, J.D., LL.M. (income taxation New York University Law School) is a business, LLC, real estate, transactions, contracts and estate planning attorney licensed to practice law in Arizona. He has formed over 2,900+ Arizona limited liability companies in the last few years because his low cost high quality LLC package is second to none and it only costs $599 for everything. Rick has practiced law in Arizona since 1980. Rick can be reached by telephone at 602-906-4953, ext. 1. Email at email@example.com and fax at 602-297-6890. Rick's web site located at www.keytlaw.com had over 6,000,000 visitors in 2006 - 2010. To follow Rick on Twitter go to www.keytlaw.com/twitter. Rick does not accept matters involving landlord / tenant disputes or litigation of any kind (other than tax lien foreclosures). Communicating with Richard Keyt via email or otherwise does not cause you to become a client or cause your communications to be confidential or subject to the attorney client privilege.
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