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This video is a tribute to Air Force and Navy pilots who flew north of the Red River in the northern most part of North Vietnam during the Vietnam war. People who flew north of the Red River were eligible to join an exclusive club called the Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association and called River Rats. The north Vietnamese propaganda machine and Jane Fonda called them Yankee Air Pirates. See the River Rats Facebook page.
On May 10, 1972, the USAF and Navy shot down 11 North Vietnam MiGs in the skies over North Vietnam at a cost of two USAF and two Navy F-4s shot down. Jeffrey Ethell and Alfred Price wrote a great book about this day called “One Day in a Long War, May 10, 1972, Air War, North Vietnam” that describes in detail events of that day. I recommend this book. It’s in my collection of books written about the Vietnam air war. A lot of people I know are mentioned in the book or the appendix that contains the names of all USAF and Navy F-4 air crews who flew north that day. F-4 drivers of the Vietnam war era will probably recognize a lot of names.
“One Day in a Long War recounts firsthand accounts of almost one hundred eye witnesses, analyzes cockpit voice recordings and draws from official documents, many declassified for the first time, to tell its story. During May 10 an elite corps of American fighter pilots – many of them first-generation Top Gun graduates – flew more than 330 sorties against major transportation centers around Hanoi and Haiphong. But the Vietnamese fought back with 03 ground to air missiles and 40 MiG fighters.
What words are spoken in the cockpit of a Phantom as the crew prepares to engage MiGs closing in at nearly 1,000 miles per hour? What thoughts go through the mind of a pilot struggling to hold his crippled plane in the air for one minute longer, to get clear of enemy territory so he and his crewmen can parachute into the sea? How does it feel to be in a Phantom running in to attack the notorious Paul Doumer Bridge at Hanoi with laser guided bombs as missile after missile streaks through the formation? And what tactics would enable a force of 16 of these fighter bombers to carry out such an attack without the loss of a single plane?
One Day in a Long War is a definitive reconstruction of the most intensive air combat day of the Vietnam conflict.”
Sgt. Joey Hill was the crew chief of the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron‘s F-4D tail number 650784 on February 21, 1972, when Major Robert Lodge & Capt. Roger Locher got their first of three MiG kills. Watch these two videos Joey made with his pictures and the two mission audio tapes given to him by Roger Locher and Bob Lodge. The audio tapes are the actual cockpit voice recordings of the two missions during which Lodge & Locher shot down their first and second of three MiGs.
They got their third MiG on May 10, 1972, but were immediately shot down by an unseen MiG. Major Lodge elected not to eject because on that day Intel briefed the aircrews that their mission would take them deep into North Vietnam into an area where helicopter rescue was not possible. Major Lodge had told people that he would never become a prisoner of war. Roger Locher ejected safely and escaped and evaded on the ground for 22 days before getting on his radio and calling for help. Roger knew he had to walk west far enough to an area where the helicopters could get to him. For more about Locher’s incredible story in his own words and Brig. Gen. Steve Richie’s story of the rescue read “Roger Locher Describes Shooting Down a MiG, Getting Shot Down by a MiG-19, Ejecting & Evading Capture on the Ground in North Vietnam for 23 Days.”
On May 11, 1972, General Vogt, Commander of the 7th Air Force, cancelled all strike missions into North Vietnam and dedicated over 150 aircraft and USAF resources to rescuing one American. Although many risked their lives that day the USAF did not suffer a single loss. Contrast the importance the U.S. gave to saving American lives in 1972 to the dishonorable mindset and abandonment of the four Americans who died in the Benghazi, Libya, consulate on September 11, 2012, when President Obama refused the doomed American’s cries for help. General Vogt spared no resource to save Roger Locher, but President Obama chose to ignore Ambassador Steven’s pleas because the President had to go to Las Vegas.
The following video contains the audio of the February 21, 1972, MiG kill mission.
On May 8, 1972, Major Robert Lodge, gave another combat mission audio tape to Sgt. Hill. On this day Bob Lodge and Capt. Locher shot down their second MiG 21 while flying F4_D 650784.
Listen to the actual combat missions to hear Bob and Roger talking intra-cockpit and the radio transmissions made by other aircrews in the strike force and Red Crown, the Navy airborne warning ship in the Gulf of Tonkin.
Here is a translation of some of the jargon used by the aircrews and Red Crown:
Falcon 62 = Lodge & Locher’s call sign on the February 21, 1972 mission.
Oyster 01 = Lodge & Licher’s call sign on the May 8, 1972, mission
triple A or AAA = antiaircraft artillery = guns on the ground shooting at F-4s
mach = airspeed in relation to the speed of sound where mach 1 = the speed of sound, which is 700+ miles per hour depending on the altitude and other factors
beeping noises = various types of radar energy hitting Falcon 62 and picked up and decoded by the radar homing and warning aka RHAW gear
on the nose = at the airplane’s 12 o’clock position
Red Crown = Navy ship in the Gulf of Tonkin that could detect all airplanes airborne over North Vietnam and identify them as friend or foe. Red Crown warned US aircraft of approaching MiGs and vectored US airplanes to MiGs to shoot down the MiGs.
Disco = USAF equivalent of Red Crown, but it was an EC-121 radar airplane airborne over Laos.
Bandit = enemy MiG airplane
Blue Bandit = enemy MiG-21 airplane
Bulls-eye = Hanoi, North Vietnam aka “downtown.”
067/22 = location of a Bandit where the first number “067″ is the radial (bearing off of downtown Hanoi and the second number “22″ is the number of nautical miles the Bandit is from downtown Hanoi.
Guard = UHF radio frequency 243.0, a radio frequency monitored most of the time by airborne F-4s and used in emergencies such as when somebody got shot down and was calling for help on the personal radio all aircrew men carried.
pecker head = enemy MiG airplane
SAM = surface to air missile, a 32 foot long Soviet made SA-2 radar guided flying telephone pole missile
shit hot = shit hot
overtake = knots at which your airplane is approaching another airplane – two airplanes heading directly at each other at 500 knots each have an overtake of 1,000 knots.
“Steadily we climb, turning a few degrees, easing stick forward some, trimming, climbing, climbing, then suddenly—on top! On top where the moonlight is so damn marvelously bright and the undercast appears a gently rolling snow-covered field. It’s just so clear and good up here, I could fly forever. This is part of what flying is all about. I surge and strain against my harness, taking a few seconds to stretch and enjoy this privileged sight.”
One of the things I loved about flying the Phantom was the incredible views from the air of the earth, sky, stars, the moon, clouds and storms.
The F-4 Phantom is a supersonic jet fighter loved by people like me who were lucky to have flown it. It was a great airplane to fly, but it was also a very dangerous machine. Whenever you throw an airplane at the ground at high dive angles and high descent rates, fly in formation with other fighters or jink back and forth in real or simulated aerial combat, bad things can happen. It was always a comfort to me knowing that when I flew the Phantom I was sitting on a wonderful life-saving device known as the Martin Baker MK-H7 ejection seat.
The F-4 ejection seat saved many lives. When activated a rocket motor fired and blasted the seat and its occupant out of the cockpit and away from the speeding F-4. The Martin Baker seat had a zero zero capability meaning that in theory if a person was sitting in the cockpit while the airplane was parked and stationary on the ground and fired the seat (zero altitude and zero airspeed) the person would be launched 300 feet in the air, the chute would open and the person would safely float back to earth.
The MK-H7 ejection seat system can provide the crew with a safe and efficient escape from the aircraft. The seat is propelled from the aircraft by an ejection gun on the back of the seat which is assisted by a rocket motor on the bottom of the seat. . . . If necessary, ejection can be accomplished at ground level between zero and 550 knots airspeed with wings level and no sink rate providing the crewmember does not exceed a maximum boarding weight of 247 pounds. . . .
During dual automatic ejection initiated from either cockpit, the rear seat fires . . . approximately 0.54 seconds after initiation. Front canopy jettison is initiated after approximately 0.75 seconds and the front sequence actuator will fire the front seat automatically approximately 1.39 seconds after initiation. This ensures adequate clearance between the two ejection seats and the aircraft canopies.
The last paragraph above says that the difference in time from when the back seat fires until the front seat fires is .85 seconds.
One Second – the Difference Between Life and Death
When I was in F-4 RTU (replacement training unit) in 1971 – 1972 at Luke AFB, Arizona, learning how to fly the Phantom there was a tragic F-4 accident on the Gila Bend bombing range. Two students were in the F-4 doing practice dive bombing (probably 30% dive angle, but it could have been 45%, both of which were common dive angles). The pilot rolled in to drop his practice bomb, but he was too steep. Both the flight leader and the range control officer warned the pilot on the radio that he was too steep.
The time between roll in and pull up is between 5 – 10 seconds depending on the dive angle, the roll in altitude and the release altitude of the particular bomb. There is little margin for error when the airplane is screaming toward the earth at 450 knots in a 30% dive bomb. At some point in the dive the altitude needed to recover the airplane without hitting the ground becomes more than the airplanes altitude over the ground. When that happens the crew will either die or eject with the possibility of death or serious injury.
Either or both the flight leader or the range office recognized the F-4 could not avoid hitting the ground and yelled over the radio for the crew to eject. It was obvious to those watching the diving airplane that it was going to crash. I don’t recall who initiated the ejection, but both ejection seats fired. The backseater lived and the frontseater died when he hit the ground before his parachute opened. Had the ejection seat been started ONE SECOND EARLIER, the frontseater would have lived.
Flying Fighters Was/Is Dangerous
I knew many guys who flew the Phantom who ejected and lived. I knew some who died in the F-4. When I was in flying the F-4 it was not possible to get life insurance other than one $35,000 military life insurance policy. Commercial life insurance companies did not sell life insurance to fighter pilots because they had too high of a risk of dying.
I saw three fighters crash. The first crash I witnessed occurred the day I arrived in Korea at Osan Air Base in May or June of 1972 (can’t remember when I actually arrived there). I was waiting on the flight line for an passenger plane to take me to Kunsan AB, Korea, where my squadron was stationed. I noticed several fire engines racing out to the runway. This was a frequent event because whenever an airplane declared an emergency the fire engines were routinely deployed to the runway in case they were needed.
Since I was bored waiting I decided to watch and see what the emergency was all about. I could see an F-4 making a landing approach with a lot of black smoke trailing behind it. As I watched the airplane suddenly plunged to the ground and blew up. The crew ejected safely. I found out later that the airplane had an engine fire. The pilot shut down what he thought was the engine that was on fire, but he actually shut down the good engine. The accident report said that the maintenance people had mistakenly reversed the fire warning lights. The pilot’s instruments told him exactly the opposite as far as which engine was on fire.
The second airplane crash I witnessed was an F-4 from my squadron, the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron, during the winter of 1973. I describe that accident in my story called “The Gibb LADD.” The third crash I saw was a T-38 trainer that had some problem with its landing gear that resulted in the aircrew ejecting and abandoning the airplane rather than trying to land it. I never did learn what happened in that crash.
The Martin Baker MK-H7 Ejection Seat
I loved my ejection seat, but it scared the daylights out of me. People died because of ejection seat accidents. If the seat fired when it was not supposed to somebody could die. There were maintenance men who died while working in the cockpit of the F-4 because they did something that inadvertently caused the seat to fire.
The first thing the F-4 pilot was supposed to do when he got to the F-4 before a flight was a Before Exterior Inspection (Front Cockpit) check. The first three items in the F-4 checklist relate to the ejection seat and are:
1. Face curtain and seat mounted initiator safety pins – INSTALLED
2. Canopy interlock cable & interdictor link safety pin assembly – INSTALLED CORRECTLY & ATTACHED TO CANOPY
3. Lower ejection handle guard – UP
The following is the beginning parts of the Front Cockpit Interior Check checklist that involved the ejection seat:
The ejection seat had 7 safety pins all of which had to be removed for the seat to fire. When the F-4 was not actually occupied by a crew before, during and after a flight, the ground crew always inserted all seven safety pins into their insertion points in the seat. All seven pins were tied together with a nylon line. The purpose of these pins was to prevent the accidental firing of the seat.
When a crew member arrived at the airplane for a flight, the crew chief normally would have already removed six of the seven safety pins and put the six pins and the nylon line that attached the pins into a pouch and laid pouch on the top of the seat. Before I sat in the ejection seat I always made sure that all six of the pins that were supposed to be removed were in fact removed. I did not remove the last safety pin (the face curtain pin) until I was completely strapped into the seat. To get strapped in I had to do the following:
1. Connected the two D rings on my parachute harness to the two snap connectors on the seat survival kit to connect the the kit to me. The survival kit had a radio, water, food and other survival items in case of ejection in the boonies.
2. Connected my lap belt to strap me into the seat.
3. Connected both of my leg restraints. Each leg had two garters – one that went around the calf just above the boot and the other that went around the thigh just above the knee. These four garters were connected to two nylon lines that went into the bottom of the ejection seat. During an ejection the seat pulled the nylon lines tight which caused both legs to be locked close to the seat to prevent the legs from flailing in the wind stream at high speeds, which could severely injure legs.
4. Connected both parachute risers (lines connected to the parachute) to my parachute harness. The F-4′s parachute was built into the top of the ejection seat, which required that pilots attach their parachute harness to the parachute risers. It was very nice not to have to lug a heavy parachute around like the F-105 drivers had to do.
After completing the four steps listed above I pulled the seventh pin out of the face curtain and inserted it in the pouch with the other six pins and counted to make sure all seven pins were in the pouch. I then stowed the pouch until I landed and replaced the seventh pen into the top of the seat.
The F-4 ejection seat system was designed to prevent the seat from firing if the canopy was attached to the air-frame. There was a steel cable that had one end permanently attached to the back of the canopy and the other end was attached to a safety pin that went into the banana links on the top of the seat. The seat would not fire unless that safety pin was removed. Normally when an ejection was initiated the first thing that happened was the canopy thrusters on the bulkhead just below the canopy pushed up and caused the canopy to begin to open. As soon at the front of the canopy opened enough to allow the air-stream to go underneath the front of the canopy the massive amount of air caused the canopy to rapidly open and depart the air-frame taking the steel cable and the safety pin with it.
Fortunately I never had to eject from a Phantom. Nor did I ever come close to ejecting. I did have one very bad emergency where on landing I was ready to eject if the slightest thing went wrong, but the landing was smooth even though it was 200+ knots without normal brakes and no nose gear steering. That’s a story for another day.
Watch Phil Describe His Martin Baker MK-H7 Ejection Seat
A Video about the Martin Baker Company & Its Ejection Seats
This is a war story from my service in Vietnam. Although the incident happened 40 years ago, the details are still fresh in my mind. It was June 1972. My fighter squadron, the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron, had just transferred from flying combat at DaNang to Korat Air Base in Thailand. On this day, I was assigned to fly in the rear cockpit of the third aircraft in Gator Flight piloted by my flight commander, Captain Charlie Cox. Our Linebacker target for the day was significant – the Thai Nguyen steel factory located about 30 miles north of Hanoi.
Gator Flight’s responsibility was to bomb the rail marshal yards adjacent to the factory. Each of our four F-4D Phantoms were armed with twelve 500-pound bombs carried on MERs (multiple ejector racks) located on the outboard stations.
Our Phantoms were grossed out at the maximum takeoff weight of 58,000. That meant that our takeoff roll would be longer than usual and because our center of gravity was shifted forward by the bombs on stations 1 and 9, our nose wheel liftoff speed and takeoff speed would be nearly identical and quite fast.
Everything was fairly uneventful through preflight, engine start and taxi. When tower gave us our clearance, we wheeled four aircraft on the runway, checked engines, and released brakes. With combat loads, we took 20 second spacing between aircraft so 40 seconds after our leader released brakes, Gator 3 began to rumble down Korat’s 10,000 foot runway. Even with 34,000 pounds of thrust from our two J-79 engines, it took a while for our speed to build.
As advertised at 185 knots, the nose wheel lifted off the runway. A few seconds later the aircraft began to fly and the main landing gear struts extended. What happened next was not as advertised – stray voltage was sent to the jettison circuits on stations 1 and 9 and both loaded MERs departed the aircraft.
Fighter aircraft have jettison circuits to release external stores in case of an emergency; however these circuits are disabled when the aircraft is on the ground. A squat switch runs through the main landing gear; when the struts extend the jettison circuit is armed.
In the cockpit, we had no idea what was happening behind and underneath the aircraft because the underside of the wing is not visible. But since we had just jettisoned about 15 percent of our gross weight, the aircraft accelerated like a banshee!
There were a lot of puffy cumulous clouds that day, and when we joined formation on our leader’s left wing, no one gave us a look as they navigated around the clouds. A minute or so later, we heard from the fourth aircraft as he joined the flight: “Gator 3, this is 4; you lost all your bombs on takeoff.”
Well, to say that came as a shock would be an understatement. Our leader was squadron commander Lyle “Sky King” Beckers and he immediately snapped his head in our direction and confirmed that we were missing both MERs and their bombs.
About a minute later when Cox and I had sorted out all that we knew and our pulse was under control, we called back to lead, “Boss, there’s not much point in us going with you.” Now that was an understatement – there’s little to be gained by taking a bomber to the target if he can’t do anything more than sight-see.
We got a chuckle out of that logic and Beckers cleared us to leave the formation. I dialed-in the frequency for Fort Apache (Korat’s command post) and we heard quite a commotion in the background. At this point, the incident caused by our takeoff was only about 5 minutes old.
When the noise died down, we called in and requested permission to RTB – return to base. An excited controller called back, “Negative, negative Gator 3, we’ve been bombed. The runway is closed. Divert to another base!”
We patiently explained that we had more than an hour of fuel remaining, that our aircraft would be impounded upon landing and it would be a much better plan to land the jet at our home base rather than another airfield. After some consultation, Korat agreed and about an hour later, they announced that the runway was reopened. We received clearance to land and did so uneventfully.
Of our 12 bombs, three exploded in a low-order detonation which damaged a couple of aircraft on the field but fortunately, no one was hurt. Poor old Gator 4 had been lumbering down the runway at about 60 knots when this entire conflagration occurred in front of his aircraft. He swore that when he took off with his right wheel in the dirt, but we later determined that his tire, although off the runway, was still on asphalt.
Initially, maintenance could not duplicate the stray voltage problem which energized the outboard jettison circuits, and the wing commander ordered the jet sent back to our home base in Korea. About two months after our little incident, the same aircraft jettisoned two 370-gallon wing fuel tanks from stations 1 and 9. Because stray voltage is here one moment and gone the next, it is very difficult to trace.
In retrospect, our saving grace was that the two bomb racks released simultaneously. Had they come off asymmetrically, we would not have been able to stop the roll into the heavy wing at barely 200 knots and … well I wouldn’t be writing this column right now.
So ends the saga of Gator 3 and the day I bombed my own airfield.
Not sure of the exact date, but late in the DaNang AB (366th TFW “Gunfighters”) part of the TDY by the 35th TFS (F-4Ds) from Kunsan AB, South Korea. (DaNang became a “turn” base in July of 1972; 35th moved to Korat RTAFB (388th TFW.))
The approximate date would be May 22nd or 23rd 1972. The mission was what we called a “Bien Hoa double turn”.
Launch from DaNang, work with assigned airborne FAC (O-2/OV-10) for Close Air Support (CAS) mission (usually helping US or SVN Army units engaged with enemy ground forces) or a fixed target identified by the FAC (usually a Viet Cong truck park, troop formation, small AAA activity, etc.). Land at Bien Hoa for gas and rearm; launch again and recover at Bien Hoa; then launch and recover at DaNang. Armament load was normally 10 MK 82 HiDrag 500# bombs (called Snake Eye, Snake or Shake) and 6 Napalm canisters (called Napalm or Bake). (Usually called ‘Shake and Bake’.)
This mission was the first mission of the day for our 4 ship, call sign “Bullet”, I believe. Capt Will Mincey was the scheduled flight lead. We were briefed a “standard” FAC mission with a couple of other options depending on where we were sent after takeoff. The procedures applied for all 3 scheduled sorties. As you might imagine, some in-flight procedure revisions (audibles) were often required. Normal items covered: bingo fuel to Bien Hoa by drop region (Corp area); bomb pattern (altitude, dive angles, right hand wagon wheel, FAC called roll-in headings, only 2 passes with any ground fire, bombs ripple, then napalm ripple, etc.); visual overhead pattern recovery, weather permitting; weather drop options, diverts, airborne emergencies, etc.
An unknown (unremembered) Lt was #2. Jim Beatty was #3 and I was #4 (As a SEFE, I may have been giving a tactical or instrument check to someone in the flight.)
After 0730 takeoff, contact was made with Hillsboro (?) control who passed the flight off to a Covey (?) FAC in II (two) Corps. Covey briefed a TIC (troops in contact) situation; mixed USA and ARVN forces under fire from Viet Cong holding a line of 10 to 15 huts/hutches along a north-south segment of road WSW of Qui Nhon. Covey is in contact with ground FAC, who states they are in trouble and are receiving heavy automatic gunfire from 50 to 100 Viet Cong. Due to location of friendly forces, our run-in is restricted from the east to west (good, since sun will be behind us; but, bad because the road and line of low buildings run north/south) and between 260 to 300° release heading. As we arrive in the target area, Covey marks (2.75” FFAR white smoke rocket) the northern most hut.
Lead calls ‘tally smoke’; echoed by 2, 3, 4. Given the friendlies’ situation and the perpendicular attack heading to the line of huts, Will, the flight lead, calls “pairs”.
The Lt missed the “pairs” call, apparently, and holds high and dry after his pre-briefed 2 passes. His strings of 10 Snake and 6 Nape ran a ‘little’ long to the west of the road and made the friendlies hunker down.
The 3 remaining of us (all target arms) give a text book demonstration of FWS Grad accuracy low angle weapon employment. The Covey FAC would occasionally move our aim point up and down the road based on the ground FAC’s info on where the automatic gunfire was coming from. Our 15 MK82 High Drag releases decimate the huts along the road with some surprisingly large secondary explosions. The Covey FAC is pretty cool, telling us the ground guys are jumping up and down in glee as we wipe out the enemy. A couple of times we could hear the ground FAC’s excited voice over Covey’s radio.
(On about our 3rd bomb pass, I was a little too close behind Beatty on his pass, so I moved my aim point to a remaining hutch toward the north end of the line. As I am lining up for my run-in, I check #3 to see if he’s taking any ground fire. What I do see is one of Beatty’s 2 MK82s come off in “slick” configuration, i.e., the fins on one bomb did not open up and cause it to decelerate – it was sailing along pretty close to Jim’s F-4. I called “Beatty, pull up, bomb went slick.” He snatches the jet up and away from the frag pattern (I don’t think there was any damage to the jet). Whew!
Not sure now if Will called singles for the napalm, but we all dropped singles, burning what was left of the structures along the road. Covey’s feedback to us during and after our drops was really heartwarming. He and the ground FAC made us feel like superheroes for ‘saving’ our US and ARVN troops from serious casualties. The BDA report (as I remember) from the ground was ~ 5 buildings, 11 structures destroyed and 79 KIAs.
This was the most personally gratifying combat mission I ever flew. I was proud to have helped out our Army brothers. (And eternally grateful to be an Air Force jock instead of an Army platoon leader on the jungle floor.)
From Jim Beatty:
I clearly remember the call to pull up as it scared the living s–t out of me. Thank God you called or I would probably have been a mort. If there had been a bitchin’ Betty in the jet she would have been a-squawkin’. I think the LT’s name was” Larry Taylor” but wouldn’t swear to it… I do know we all jumped in his chili for not paying attention to lead as to what he wanted and when, plus putting the friendlies at undue risk. It was surely a gratifying mission as we accomplished what CAS is all about and did so in a very accurate and professional manner. Considering the experience level of at least three of us, one would expect nothing less. God, it is so great to remember the good things we accomplished. It made it all worth while and I am sure we would all gladly do it all over again “no questions asked”.
The author is Joe Lee Burns, USAF Fighter Pilot & Colonel, USAF retired
Compilation of 35th TFS Stories – Kunsan / DaNang / Korat – Circa ’72
This is in response to Emails from Doyle Glass (author) and Rick Keyt (Webmaster 35th TFS F-4 site). I plan to share this document with my kids and grandkids.
Joe Lee writes: 4/30/07 in response to an Email on several subjects
Do you have a framework for question topics or is it free-flowing experience?? I am a Texan and proud of it. I’d fly on Lyle Becker’s wing anywhere, anytime. (Big fighter pilot compliment.) Come to think of it, I guess I already have flown on his wing everywhere. (81st at Hahn AB, Germany and 35th Kunsan/DaNang/Korat, SEA)
Joe Lee writes: 5/3/07 in response to interview – clarifications
If you can, let me know how Lyle sounds next week. He’s been under the weather. I thoroughly enjoyed being in the same squadron with him at Hahn (81st TFS) and then the 35th. If he sounds too “tight” tell him I told you what his middle name is . . . . . He always used to say his name was Lyle “f-ing” Beckers. I have to hook you up with another 35th Panther – Jim Beatty. He shot down a MiG-21 with the F-4E 20 mm gun. Break, Break.
Some names of Air Force people who had a direct, strong influence on my growth as a fighter pilot in roughly chronological order:
Capt Jim LaChance (ex-F-100 pilot) – Emergency Procedure Officer in my T-37 pilot training squadron at Reese. ‘64
Capt Dave Connett – my AC at George and Ubon. Taught me lots about flying. ‘65-‘66
Capts Bob Hutton and Bob Ashcraft at George and Ubon. Represented what a fighter pilot should be. Smart and fun-loving. ’65-‘66
Majs Mike Kidder, Bob Foster, Wally Aunan, Gary Retterbush and Lyle Beckers at Davis-Monthan and Hahn. The tricks (and hard work) of being a good fighter pilot. Living through flunked ORIs. I wanted to do good, so these guys would be proud of me. ’67-‘70
DID NOT want to be like 49th Wing CC at Holloman Col “Black” Jack Bellamy. He “led” by using fear and intimidation on his troops – not very effective. Aunan & Beckers were at Holloman, too. ’70-‘71
35th TFS – Lt Col Lyle Beckers, Maj Retterbush; and contemporaries: Capts Jim Beatty, Joe Moran, Will Mincey, George Lippemeier – I was in the company of fighter pilot heroes. And my hope for the future AF, Lt Jack Overstreet who I took under my ‘wing’ at Kunsan/DaNang/Korat. ‘72. LtCol Boots Boothby, Ted Laudise, Jerry Nabors, Maj Randy O’Neill – great leaders at Nellis 64th FWS Aggressor Squadron. ’72-‘74
Joe Lee writes: 6/27/07 Recap of Telephonic Interview
Sep 1971 – Oct 1972. Personnel “toads” wanted to send me to SAC flying Bombers! after FWS graduation. I fought it very hard. I won, BUT got sent “remote” to Korea as retribution. Kunsan AB, Korea – 35th TFS, “Panthers” – F-4D (close to Chonju and Iksan ) Weapons Flight Commander. We sat nuke alert for a few months, then it was cancelled. (Yea!) 3rd Tac Ftr Wing Stan Eval / Flight Examiner (Standardization Evaluator/Flight Examiner). Lyle Beckers was a friend and a damn good SQ/CC.
1 April 1972 APRIL FOOL’S DAY – recall was a disaster!!
The 35th was alerted and deployed to DaNang AB, South Viet Nam. Later moved to Korat RTAFB, Thailand. I didn’t join the squadron in-theater until about 15 April. I flew:
37 missions over North Viet Nam
19 of which were ‘Linebacker’ Route Package Six
48 combat missions South Viet Nam / Laos
20 July 1972, my trusty F-4 was shot down by AAA and we were (finally) rescued by Navy chopper.
Note: Counting both combat tours (assignments), I ended up with 137 total missions over North Viet Nam (18½ missions in Route Package 6) and a total of 257 combat missions.
Apr 1, 1972 – Jun 5, 1972. Deploy to DaNang AB, South Viet Nam
The 35th was one of the most experienced F-4 squadrons in South East Asia (SEA. Although we had about 8 1Lt aircraft commanders, we had been training them for 6 months prior to deployment. The rest of the squadron averaged over 1800 hours of F-4 time and included 8 Fighter Weapons School graduates. Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Lyle Beckers, Major Walt Bohan, and Captains Charlie Cox, Jim Beatty, Joe Moran, George Lippemeier, Will Mincey, and me. Gary Retterbush was another very experienced fighter pilot with over 1000 hours of F-105 time.)
The 35th TFS was ‘scrambled’ to deploy to DaNang because of the North Vietnam Army’s Tet offensive. Recall was the early morning of Saturday, 1 April, 1972. It was ‘slow’ at first because of hangovers from Friday Happy Hour(s), AND it WAS April Fool’s Day! I was home on mid-tour leave at the time, but joined the squadron mid-April.
Capt Jim Beatty gave me my ‘local checkout’ ride (~16 April ’72, I think) – supposed to be a milk-run close air support mission – but, we were diverted into NVN across the DMZ to Route Pack 1 to attack two (2) SAM sites!!!! Jim always says he snuffed out his Benson and Hedges cigarette in his palm when Hillsboro Control said “the fingers lake area” – it was a known hot spot to avoid if you weren’t going to attack it!! They shot lots of AAA and an SA-2 at us!!! Jim (who was in my back seat) said I passed the ‘check-out’ “because we didn’t die”.
We flew 2 sometimes 3 times a day, mostly close air support missions – low threat and high satisfaction (the Forward Air Controllers passed on the kind words from the ground commanders).
These pictures are from Joe Lee Burns collection. Click on the first photo to enlarge it. See Joe Lee Burn’s bigger version of the Da Nang AB picture of the 35th TFS guys with arrows going from the names to the people in the picture plus a list of guys in the squadron the day the picture was taken who missed the photo op.
You many then click on the >> or << symbols to move forward or backwards in picture viewer.
Jeannie Beckers, Lyle Becker’s wife, found this video that all fighter pilots must watch. I personally don’t know anybody like the retired fighter jock in the video. Here are some of my favorite lines:
I flew jets – the supersonic attack jet known as the F-4 fighter-bomber, mostly bomber. It does have a tendency to make women swoon.
Strapping on a high powered jet is not an easy task, but someone has to do it.
Have you ever traveled faster than the speed of sound or the speed of stink?
Have you ever arrived at your destination prior to your departure?
Have you ever called a tally ho on six bogeys when you knew there were eight in the environment surrounding you?
This guy is hot. This guy can fly jets like nobody’s business.
At one point the young lady responds “You have got to be shitting me!”
I have numerous plaques, trophies and awards that have been strategically placed on my walls.
Craig Baker has the best website by far of all websites about airplanes that participated the Vietnam war. His site is Craig Baker’s F-105 Site. Craig did not fly any military airplane, but like many of us he loves the F-105 Thunderchief. The site has tons of pictures, mission audio tapes, Thud manuals and checklists and first person stories. Craig is the guy who made my “Dressed for the Aerial Office” picture page. Bookmark his site because it will take many visits to see and hear everything.
by John T. Correll
Air Force Magazine
To those who fought there, it seems like yesterday, but it was 40 years ago this August that the US Air Force deployed in fighting strength to Southeast Asia. The Air Force and the Navy flew their initial combat missions in late 1964 and early 1965. The Vietnam War began in earnest in March 1965 with Operation Rolling Thunder, which sent US aircraft on strikes against targets in North Vietnam. Soon, our ground forces were engaged as well. Eight years would pass before US forces withdrew from the war, which had by then claimed 47,378 American lives.
It was a war we didn’t win but one in which the US armed forces performed with honor, courage, dedication, and capability. On the 40th anniversary of its beginning, this almanac collects the numbers, the dates, and the key facts of the US Air Force experience in that war.
by Walter J. Boyne
Air Force Magazine
After 42 years, this token of Patrick Wynne’s academy days came home at last. First Lt. Patrick Wynne, a United States Air Force pilot, perished in 1966 in the Vietnam War. He had been flying on Aug. 8 in the backseat of an F-4C during a dangerous raid over North Vietnam. Wynne and the F-4’s pilot, Capt. Lawrence H. Golberg, were shot down north of Hanoi, near China.
Wynne, a 1963 graduate of the Air Force Academy, died wearing his class ring. Though his remains were returned in 1977, his ring was not. It was, in fact, missing and all but forgotten until last year. Then, in an astounding turn of events, it was handed over to a former Secretary of the Air Force—Michael W. Wynne, Patrick’s younger brother.
On that fateful day in 1966, 24-year-old Patrick Edward Wynne volunteered to fly one of the most hazardous missions yet assigned to the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron, stationed at Ubon RTAB, Thailand.
Joe Lee Burns wrote in a February 2, 1012, email message:
A colleague who is F22 pilot for the Virginia ANG had honor of flying a Phantom at Eglin. He flew the aircraft we had at the reunion. Here is the F-22 pilot’s thoughts on flying the F-4:
I flew your jet a couple days ago (see attached). I had a little trouble getting the engines started, so I climbed out and shoveled some more coal in the back; after that she fired right up. Ground ops were uneventful, although I couldn’t figure out why the cockpit smelled like body odor, Jack Daniels and cigars…and that was BEFORE I got in it! By the way, what’s with the no slip crap on top of the intakes, it’s like you have permanent icing conditions due to that spray on rhino truck bed liner on top of the aircraft. It’s no wonder you needed so much coal (I mean thrust) to get airborne.
Take off scared the sh*t out of me. I lit the burners at brick one and 2 miles and 45 minutes later we were ready to rotate. After barely clearing the tree tops, the gear came up and I climbed away at a VERY impressive 2 degrees nose high. In case you don’t remember, “Trim” is your friend in the F-4 (pretty sure it’s also a good friend on the ground too). Once I got her up to speed and a moderate altitude, we were ready for the G-Ex. Two G-turn’s later and I’m sinking like a rock…the F-4’s energy seems to bleed like Holyfield’s ear in the Tyson fight! After the G-Ex it was time to do a little Advanced Handling Characteristics (AHC) and by “advanced handling” I mean the same crap the Wright Brothers were doing back in 1903…just trying to keep it airborne.
The jet flies much like my old man’s station wagon used to drive…You turn the wheel (push the stick) a few inches and nothing happens, then all of a sudden the steering kicks in, inertia takes over, and all HELL breaks loose! You’re pretty much along for the ride at that point and only gravity has a real say in your lift vector placement. “Checking 6” was really quite easy…. because you CAN’T! Scratch that off the list of “Sh*t I need to do to keep myself alive in combat today”. Breathing, however, was surprisingly easy in the F-4 when compared to that of the F-22 (thank you Lockheed)…LOX works, who knew!
I think I may have burned my legs a bit from the steam pouring out from behind the gauges. Where are my 6 mini-flat screen TV’s, I’m lost without my HD jet displays (editors note: actually, I’m an analog guy stuck in a digital world too…I really do like the “steam driven” gauges). After the AHC, I decided to take her up high and do a supersonic MACH run, and by “high” I mean “where never lark nor even eagle flew”; but not much higher, a foot or two maybe. I mean, we weren’t up there high-fiving Jesus like we do in the Raptor, but it was respectable. It only took me the width of the Gulf of Mexico to get the thing turned around while above the Mach. After the Mach run we dropped to the deck and did 600 kts at 500’; a ratllin’ and shakin’ we will go…. I though all the rivets were going to pop out. Reference previous station wagon analogy! Very quickly we were out of gas and headed home.
As I brought the jet up initial, I couldn’t help but think that the boys who took this thing into combat had to have some pretty big brass you know whats!
My first F-4 landing was a little rough; sub-standard really by Air Force measure… but apparently “best seen to date” according to the Navy guys. Did you know that there’s no such thing as an aerobrake in the F-4? As soon as the main gear touches down, the nose comes slamming down to the runway with all the force of a meteor hitting the earth….I guess the F-4 aerobrake technique is to dissipate energy via denting the runway.
Despite an apparently “decent” landing, stopping was a whole different problem. I reached down and pulled the handle to deploy the drogue chute…at which point a large solid mass of canvas, 550 cord, metal weights and cables fell out and began bouncing down the runway; chasing me like a lost puppy and FOD’ing out the whole runway. Perfect. I mashed down on the breaks and I’m pretty sure at this point the jet just started laughing at me. Why didn’t you warn me that I needed a shuttle landing strip to get this damn thing stopped?
All kidding aside, VERY COOL jet! Must have been a kick to fly back when you were in Vietnam! Just kidding!
Rufus Harris said: “Tan Son Nhut ’68, little remembrance…just arrived in country. Rather than falling in line at the PAX terminal with all the grunts for a C-130 ride to Pleiku and my Spad squadron, which might mean hanging around the airport for a day or two, I went over to base ops to see if I could find my own hop. Sure enough, A C-7 pilot says he’s taking some Purple Hearts up to the 4th Division at Pleiku and I’m welcome to hitch a ride. I’m thinking sure, I can just hold the medals in my lap, so we walk out to the plane as the loadmaster finishes strapping down a 700 pound pallet of Purple Hearts. Whoa, maybe a couple of extra days at Tan Son Nhut wouldn’t be that bad!”
Jack McTasney responded: ” Why were you in such a hurry to get to Plieku? Good to see you are still out there enjoying old age like the rest of us. Actually I remember going to DaNang in a C-130 hauling ammunition, and wondering what would happen if we were hit? When we landed and taxied in the “Hillsboro” C-130 hulk was still on the ramp from the rocket attack in July 1967. I sort of wondered if I was getting into trouble ; but then the good old AF started building bunkers, revetments and having us sandbag our hootches. Once you moved to the bottom bunk on the ground floor you didn’t even put your helmet on when the rockets came in, but the guy in the top bunk hit the deck and the “Gunfighters” on the top floor usually went to the bunkers. Then again we were probably just stupid and lucky.”
The picture on the Time magazine cover for April 23, 1965, was Air Force Lt. Col. Robinson Risner. The cover story, “The Fighting American,” featured 10 US military members in Vietnam, with fighter pilot Risner—a rising star in the Air Force—foremost among them.
“At the time it was a great honor,” Risner said. “But later, in prison, I would have much cause to regret that Time had ever heard of me.”
On Sept. 16, Risner was shot down over North Vietnam and captured. The additional bad news was that the North Vietnamese had seen Time magazine and knew who he was. “Some good soul from the United States had sent them the copy,” he said, “and they thought I was much more important than I ever was.”
The magazine article told them not only that Risner was an F-105 squadron commander who had led 18 missions against North Vietnam, but also that he was a Korean War ace, having shot down eight MiGs. It also disclosed details about his family. His captors knew they had an important officer and were determined to break him. “The Vietnamese regarded Robbie as their No. 1 one prized prisoner,” said Col. Gordon Larson, a fellow POW. “Robbie was by far the most abused POW there because of who they thought he was.” All of the POWs were tortured and ill-treated, but Risner got an extra portion.
Risner was a leader among the airmen held by the North Vietnamese, first as senior-ranking officer and then as vice commander of the 4th Allied POW Wing formed in Hoa Lo Prison, the infamous “Hanoi Hilton.” According to Larson, Risner was “the most influential and effective POW there.
The President of the United States in the name of The Congress takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to
THORSNESS, LEO K.
Rank and organization: Lieutenant Colonel (then Maj.), U.S. Air Force, 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron. Place and date: Over North Vietnam, 19 April 1967. Entered service at: Walnut Grove, Minn. Born: 14 February 1932, Walnut Grove, Minn.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. As pilot of an F- 105 aircraft, Lt. Col. Thorsness was on a surface-to-air missile suppression mission over North Vietnam. Lt. Col. Thorsness and his wingman attacked and silenced a surface-to-air missile site with air-to-ground missiles, and then destroyed a second surface-to-air missile site with bombs. In tile attack on the second missile site, Lt. Col. Thorsness’ wingman was shot down by intensive antiaircraft fire, and the 2 crewmembers abandoned their aircraft. Lt. Col. Thorsness circled the descending parachutes to keep the crewmembers in sight and relay their position to the Search and Rescue Center. During this maneuver, a MIG-17 was sighted in the area. Lt. Col. Thorsness immediately initiated an attack and destroyed the MIG. Because his aircraft was low on fuel, he was forced to depart the area in search of a tanker. Upon being advised that 2 helicopters were orbiting over the downed crew’s position and that there were hostile MlGs in the area posing a serious threat to the helicopters, Lt. Col. Thorsness, despite his low fuel condition, decided to return alone through a hostile environment of surface-to-air missile and antiaircraft defenses to the downed crew’s position. As he approached the area, he spotted 4 MIG-17 aircraft and immediately initiated an attack on the MlGs, damaging 1 and driving the others away from the rescue scene. When it became apparent that an aircraft in the area was critically low on fuel and the crew would have to abandon the aircraft unless they could reach a tanker, Lt. Col. Thorsness, although critically short on fuel himself, helped to avert further possible loss of life and a friendly aircraft by recovering at a forward operating base, thus allowing the aircraft in emergency fuel condition to refuel safely. Lt. Col. Thorsness’ extraordinary heroism, self-sacrifice, and personal bravery involving conspicuous risk of life were in the highest traditions of the military service, and have reflected great credit upon himself and the U.S. Air Force.
Art Cormier, Neil Black, and Bill Robinson showed excellence in the POW camps around Hanoi.
In 1967, there was a “unit” of approximately 300 Americans fighting the Vietnam War from within a Hanoi prison. The unit—later named the 4th Allied POW Wing—was located in the drab North Vietnamese capital. Within this unit, every man had the same job: prisoner of war.
All—except three enlisted airmen—were officers, including me. Our job description was to continue fighting for the United States while imprisoned.
The three enlisted airmen were SSgt. Arthur Cormier, Amn. Arthur Neil Black, and SSgt. William A. Robinson. All were crewmen on helicopters that rescued aircrews from downed aircraft. The three were shot down in 1965.
They were captured, taken prisoner, and ended up in the Hoa Lo prison in Hanoi (the “Hanoi Hilton,” in POW parlance).
Purchase Leo’s book “Surviving Hell: A POW’s Journey” from Amazon.
This wonderful two part book describes air to air combat between USAF and Navy fighters and North Vietnamese MiG fighters over the deadly skies of North Vietnam during 1965 – 1973.
During the war in Southeast Asia, U.S. Air Force fighter pilots and crewmen were repeatedly challenged by enemy MIG’s in the skies over North Vietnam. The air battles which ensued were unique in American history because U.S. fighter and stike forces operated under stringent rules of engagement. With periodic exceptions, for example, MIG bases could not be struck. The rules generally forbade bombing or strafing of military and industrial targets in and around the enemy’s heartland, encompassing the capital of Hanoi and the port city of Haiphong.
These restrictions gave the North Vietnamese substantial military advantage. Free from American attack and helped by its Soviet and Chinese allies, the enemy was able to construct one of the most formidable antiaircraft defenses the world has even seen. It included MIG forces, surface-to-air missile (SAM) batteries, heavy concentrations of antiaircraft artillery (AAA) units, and an array of early warning radar systems. These elements sought to interdict and defeat the U.S. bombing campaign against North Vietnam’s lines of communication and its military and industrial base. The primary mission of U.S. fighter pilots was to prevent the North Vietnamese MIG’s from interfering with U.S. strike operations. This book tells how American airmen-assisted by an armada of other USAF aircraft whose crews refueled their planes, warned of approaching enemy MIG’s and SAM’S, and flew rescue missions when they were shot down managed to emerge from their aerial battles with both victories and honor.
JOHN W. HUSTON, Major General, USAF
Chief, Office of Air Force History
Aces and Aerial Victories is a collection of firsthand accounts by Air Force fighter crews who flew combat missions over North Vietnam between 1965 and 1973. They recall their air battles with enemy MIG fighters, the difficult and dangerous tactical maneuvers they had to perform to survive, and their victories and defeats. The narratives are taken directly from aircrew after-action reports. A number of direct quotations have been altered, but only to clarify for the reader the very specialized language of their profession (e.g., code words).
When the Air Force found itself engaged in aerial combat over North Vietnam beginning in 1965, it had no plan for handling claims or awarding victory credits. A year elapsed before Headquarters Seventh Air Force, located at Tan Son Nhut Air Base (AB) in South Vietnam, developed a method for awarding credits. By this time at least 16 MIG’s had been downed by USAF crews. On 12 November Seventh Air Force published a regulation to govern victory credits; however, it was not until 1967 that Headquarters USAF authorized the Pacific Air Forces to publish confirming orders. In accordance with the Seventh Air Force regulation, each combat wing or separate squadron was required to establish an Enemy Aircraft Claims Evaluation Board of four to six members. Each was composed of at least two rated officers, the senior operations officer, and the unit’s intelligence officer.
A crew seeking confirmation of a “kill” was required to submit a written claim to the board within 24 hours after the shootdown. The board had 10 days to process the claim and to forward it through the unit commander to Seventh Air Force headquarters, where another board was convened to review the evidence. This headquarters board consisted of six officers-three from operations, two from intelligence, and one from personnel. They reviewed the evidence and were required to confirm or deny the claim within 24 hours. Credit for destroying an enemy aircraft became official upon publication of a Seventh Air Force general order.
An enemy aircraft was considered destroyed if it crashed, exploded, disintegrated, lost a major component vital for flight, caught fire, entered into an attitude or position from which recovery was impossible, or if its pilot bailed out. The claim had to be substantiated by written testimony from one or more aerial or ground observers, gun camera film, a report that the wreckage of the enemy aircraft had been recovered, or some other positive intelligence that confirmed its total destruction. No more than two 2-man crews could be credited with downing a single enemy aircraft, thus limiting the smallest share in a victory credit to one-fourth. Every detail had to be described as clearly as possible to insure that claims were evaluated judiciously and speedily.
Aces and Aerial Victories is a fabulously detailed retelling of many USAF MiG kills. It is divided into three parts that are chock full of maps, illustrations and pictures.
Owl 08” – The Story of Capt. James Steadman, USAF • Capt. Robert Beutel, USAF, 497th Tactical Fighter Squadron “Nite Owls” – 8th Tactical Fighter Wing • Ubon RTAFB, Thailand, November 26, 1971
by Joseph Mortati
July 1, 2009
The purpose of this document is to provide the next-of-kin of Capt. James Steadman and Capt. Robert Beutel, USAF, MIA (Case 1781) a better understanding of what happened when their loved ones went missing on November 26, 1971. It is the result of over 500 hours of analysis of forensic and historical evidence uncovered by the Department of Defense’s Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC, formerly Joint Task Force-Full Accounting). It includes declassified documents, interviews with men who flew F-4s out of Ubon, Thailand in 1969-1971, as well as the author’s own flight experience in the F-4.
This document is neither a critique of, nor a commentary on, JPAC’s efforts. It simply attempts to translate a large volume of data into information understandable by someone without a military background. It is current as of the date below and all assumptions, analyses, recommendations, and conclusions are the author’s own and he could be wrong about any or all of them.
Writing this story would not been possible without the help of nearly a dozen people – the Steadman and Beutel Families, civilians, active and retired military, and Air Force Academy graduates – all of whom were gracious enough to give their time to help create this account.
The official Air Force record shows that Owl 08, an F-4D assigned to the 497th Tactical Fighter Squadron – “Nite Owls” – was lost on Friday, November 26, 1971 while on a singleship, night Forward Air Control mission over Laos. The fate of the crew and the location of the aircraft remain a mystery more than thirty-five years after the incident. Of the basic questions of history – who, what, when, where, why, how? – only the “who” and “when” are known and this document is an attempt to answer the others. To do so, it takes the approach of working from the known to the unknown by presenting the facts of this case, analyzing them, and then attempting to explain what might have happened to Owl 08. Nothing can be certain until JPAC resolves the case but this document is the author’s best guess based on the available information to date.
USAF F-4 WSO Captain Roger Locher of the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron describes the mission on May 10, 1972, when he and Maj. Robert A. Lodge in Oyster 1 attacked four MiG-21s, shot down one of them with an AIM-7 using a head on attack and were immediately thereafter shot down by a MiG-19 they never saw until it was too late. The stricken F-4D immediately went out of control and was on fire. With the airplane in an inverted descent below 9,000 feet Roger said to Bob that he was going to eject. Major Lodge said “why don’t you eject then.” Roger ejected, but he never saw Bob’s chute or what happened to him. Robert Lodge was later declared Killed in Action.
When I was stationed at Kunsan Air Base, Korea, in 1973 I read the Intel debriefing report Roger gave after he returned to Udorn. I remember Roger said that before their 10 May 72 mission Bob Lodge told Rodger he would never be a prisoner of war and that Roger speculated that Bob decided to stay with the F-4 rather then eject because of his mindset.
In most of the two part 45 minute audio report Roger Locher describes in detail what happened, his escape and evasion plan and how he successfully evaded the North Vietnam for 23 days. Before his mission the Intel briefing said that if you got shot down east of a certain distance from Hanoi you would be a POW because the powers that be decided that search and rescue missions too close to Hanoi were too dangerous for the rescue forces.
When Roger made his first radio contact with US forces 22 days after being shot down the USAF tried to rescue him that day, but the ground fire was too heavy. The next day USAF General Vogt cancelled the bombing mission scheduled for North Vietnam and sent the entire strike force and supporting aircraft (119 total aircraft) to rescue Roger Locher. It was the deepest rescue made inside North Vietnam during the entire war.
I don’t know when Roger made the tape, but it sounds like it may have been made shortly after his rescue to other aircrews at Udorn Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, with the purpose of helping them in case they were shot down.
Watch the two videos Sgt. Joey Hill made about Robert Lodge and Roger Locher at ” Sgt. Joey Hill, the Crew Chief of F-4D 650784 & His 2 Fabulous Videos of Robert Lodge & Roger Locher.” Joey Hill’s two videos contain his personal photos and the audios of the mission tapes Lodge and Locher made of their missions over North Vietnam during which they shot down their first and second MiGs. Lodge and Locher gave their crew chief, Sgt. Joey Hill, copies of the audio cassette tapes they made of the two missions.
After you listen to Roger describing his 23 day ordeal, you must watch and listen to the video of General Steve Ritchie describing hearing Roger’s first radio call for help on day 23 and the incredible rescue mission that successfully returned Roger to his comrades and freedom. Steve Richie is the only USAF pilot ace of the Vietnam War. He was in Oyster flight the day Oyster 1 was shot down. Listen carefully to the end of Ritchie’s speech when he talks about Americans who risk it all to save one man’s life and freedom.
This nine minute video by General Ritchie describes in detail his memories of the day Roger Locher and Bob Lodge were shot down and Roger’s rescue 23 days later. It is a great speech. I recommend you watch the entire video.
I also recommend Steve Ritchie’s paper entitled “Leadership that Inspires Excellence,” about Roger Locher, his rescue and leadership. He wrote the paper when he attended the Air War College.
Norman F. Conant, Jr., sent me an email message that contained a Robin Olds story. It is David B. Waldrop’s story of the day over North Vietnam when he and his F-105 Thunderchief shot down two MiGs, one of which was moments away from becoming then Col. Robin Olds’ 5th MiG kill. Here’s Norm’s story:
“About 10 years ago when I was a MD-11 copilot at Delta, I set out on a trip to Tokyo from Atlanta. There were two full crews in the cockpit. The captain I was paired with was a very nice, slender, unassuming guy. We flew the 14 hours in and out of breaks talking about various subjects including both of our backgrounds in fighter aviation. Turns out he was a Thud driver in Vietnam. All four of us were former military with both copilots being current Guard/Reservist and the other captain a Navy pilot in Viet Nam.
Upon reaching the hotel in Tokyo, it was decided that we would adjourn to the crew lounge with the beer vending machine for a cold one. The Navy pilot was anxious to get my captain speaking about the old days for some reason. Finally, Dave Waldrop relented and told us the story about his phone call from then Col. Robin Olds. [Note: This is the way I remember the story. Reality may be nothing close, or maybe a reasonable facsimile thereof. Fortunately for me, I don't GAS (give a shit).]
Dave said that he was heading North in a large formation of Thuds. They had been told on several missions during that time frame that they were supposed to have F-4′s show up at some point, but it was hit or miss if they did. Just South of Hanoi, he looked over and saw a MiG closing in behind one of the other aircraft in the flight. He shouted in the radio for the Thud to break right for a MiG. This caused the entire alpha strike to break right with many cleaning off the jets. Dave’s gunsight light didn’t work so, just as I had done on occasion years later in my F-4, he had made a grease pencil mark for the estimated mil depression of his planned drop angle and altitude. Not very useful on this occasion.
Instead, he closed on the MiG and filled his wind screen up with MiG before pulling the trigger. The MiG blew up and he was going to fly through the debris causing him to pull up hard and fly into the overcast. The 1Lt was on one hand very exhilarated to have just shot down a MiG, but on the other hand, he was currently upside down in the clouds having to ease his way back into the VMC world with pure chaos below him. He said that he eased his way out of the clouds after what seemed like a long time (may have been seconds) and as he gained visual to the fight. He was still upside down, canopy to canopy with another MiG- only slightly behind the MiG who didn’t see him. He pulled the power back and eased the nose over while righting the ship. Again, he filled the wind screen up with MiG and pulled the trigger. Another MiG blew up in front of him. The fight was over as fast as it started and 1Lt Dave Waldrop flew back to his base in Thailand as fast as he could.
Back at the base, while partying and debriefing, Dave got the message that there was a phone call he had to take. When he got to the phone, a deep gruff voice said, “Waldrop, are you the SOB who got my MiG?” Dave said, “I don’t know what you mean sir?” Then the man introduced himself as Col. Robin Olds and went on to explain that he was arriving at the melee at the same time as the MiG’s and quickly found a MiG to hunt down. As he was about to let an AIM-9 fly, some crazy bastard in a Thud comes out of the clouds upside down right in the same field of view of the sidewinder! Col. Olds congratulated the 1Lt and hung up. Later Col. Olds even had to vouch for the kill when the Air Force didn’t want to credit it to Dave. That MiG would have been Col. Olds 5th kill in Viet Nam making him an ace and the only double ace including WWII and Viet Nam. It also could have been a Thud that was shot down had Olds shot the missile a second or two earlier! Col. Olds never got another chance for that 5th kill.”
The following is the text of an email message I received from Dennis VanLiere, the backseater in Veins 2, a two ship flight of 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron F-4s flying a close air support mission in Military Region 1, the northern most sector of South Vietnam:
I was TDY to the 35th TFS from late April 1972 into October 1972, from the 36th TFS. I was a WSO and flew a replacement F-4 in shortly after the squadron arrived in DaNang, and then joined them a couple of weeks later. Along with Gene Doyle, we left a previously perfectly good F-4 in a rice paddy near and around the Qua Viet River on May 25, 1972 as part of Veins flight two ship.
We landed around 8:30 a.m. near some South Vietnamese Marines who were not supposed to be there, walked, then rode out on an APC after talking to the US Marine Captain advisor who had been coordinating with the FAC. He told us he thought he saw a trail of smoke away from the aircraft when he heard the explosion which blew part of a stabilator off. The airplane stopped flying soon after that and we punched out immediately.
The APC took us to a rear area where we talked to a USMC Lt Col, Major and CMSGT who were manning bunker with the first TOW ground missiles being used in the war. They showed us a North Vietnamese Army tank trying to hide under a palm tree while they worked other F-4s on it. We flew out of there with a USMC chopper to Hue. Met the Air Force command team at Big Control and gave them a short debrief. The Colonel there took us on a jeep tour of the city and saw an Army Colonel friend of his warming a chopper up on a pad and asked him to take us to Phu Bai, a few minutes away. He did and took us up to their ready room and showed us some trophies they had gotten from tanks and armored vehicles they had taken out with helicopter missiles.
While there someone came and asked if the Air Force guys wanted a ride back to DaNang, and if so, they needed to get down to the flight line where a USAF chopper was warming up. We made that flight and landed in front of Gun Fighter Village on the flight line at about 4:30 p.m. . . . out of touch with home the whole day. After debriefing, we made a quick stop in the squadron where someone had written on the beer refrigerator Doyle/VanLiere – $16,000,000 at $.25 apiece for beers. If you forgot to sign out to fly, you had to buy throw in $4.00 for 16 beers for the squadron beer supply. I guess losing an F-4 (Unit price of an F-4D was $4Million) was more serious than not signing out.
As I was going back to the quarters, the night crews were just getting ready to go to the squadron. My roommate, Joe Boyle was just coming out as I was coming in. I was muddy and more than a little bedraggled. He said “What happened to you? You look like you got shot down!” As I passed him to go to bed I replied “I did.”
The 35th was a special group, a good bunch of flyers with great leaders who did more than their share of damage to the enemy cause. I was also the squadron intel guy, combing through the daily intel reports for results of our missions.
FYI: I have an audio tape made by John Huwe who was in the back seat of Veins 1 when Veins 2 was shot down. The crew of Veins 2 is heard trying to get a visual on Veins 1 when one of them says something like “Nice secondary.” He saw a big fire ball on the ground and at first thought it was an ammunition supply exploding after being hit by a Mark 82 500 pound bomb. The fireball, however, was the F-4 exploding when it hit the ground. One of the crewmen then sees the two parachutes and then realizes that Veins 2 was shot down.
One morning during the winter of 1973 I left the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron building located adjacent to the center of the Kunsan AB, Korea, runway. Four of us were on our way to the south end of the runway to sit on air defense alert. During my time at the Kune the wing always had two F-4s on air defense alert to intercept any unidentified airplanes that approached the Korean Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). We had to be airborne within ten minutes from the time the bell rang – literally there was a very loud bell sound that when activated caused us to run to the airplane, do a cartridge start and blast off into the sky and follow the instructions from the air traffic controller who vectored our two F-4Ds to the target.
I will never forget this particular morning because the four of us watched as one of our F-4D models crashed and burned trying to make a heavy weight take off. The D model had three external tanks with full fuel plus a simulated B-43 nuke bomb (2,060 or 2,120 lbs). I don’t have the D model weight stats handy, but a block 50 E model with this configuration would have been 57,120 lbs. That is a heavy takeoff weight!
The airplane didn’t crash entirely because of its weight. The Phantom crashed primarily because it had an engine fire right after max abort speed and never got enough airspeed to stay in the air. The Phantom was on fire as it got airborne. I could see the flames coming out of the airplane as it passed me a few hundred feet off of the ground. We watched as the airplane disappeared behind a small island at the south end of the Kunsan runway. The airplane descended behind the small hill on the little island. We then saw a big orange and black fire ball, but no chutes. I remember the awful feeling I had at the time watching two of my friends die. Fortunately both guys ejected safely behind the small hill on the little island, but we could not see their chutes.
Chuck Banks, the pilot, told us later that he realized he was on fire immediately after getting airborne plus the tower told him on the radio. As Chuck was reaching for the panic button to blow everything off the airplane he was distracted when the Phantom lost all electrical power while just a few hundred feet above the runway. The loss of power got the crew’s attention. Instead of pushing the panic button anyway (it had a battery backup) Chuck put the RAT (ram air turbine) out to get electrical power. He then became distracted by the stalling airplane and never did hit the panic button. The heavy weight of the airplane and the loss of power caused by the engine fire meant that the airplane did not have much airspeed and was unable to climb. As the airplane slowed and started to descend because of no power the frontseater gave the eject order. I recall the backseater telling us later he said “I’m out of here” as he pulled the ejection handle.
The reason the airplane was configured with the tanks and two nuke bombs is because that is how it was configured when the Operational Readiness Inspection team landed at Kunsan. The airplane and crew were on nuclear alert when the ORI team arrived so during the ORI they were going to be tested by flying a low level mission in the same configuration and dropping their bombs on target +/- two minutes of their TOT.
Joe Boyles says Chuck Banks was the pilot. Ron Price was the GIB. I recall us laughing in the squadron building when the crew returned because Ron Price said they busted their ORI check ride because Chuck attempted a GIB Ladd that was 100+ (or however many miles Kunsan was from the bombing range) miles short of the target and he was not within 2 minutes of the TOT. The low angle drogue delivery (LADD) was one of two bombing profiles USAF F-4s used to drop nuclear bombs.
Click on the title above to see Chuck Banks’ comment to this story.
A man sent me the following query in an email message:
“Just re-looking at your F-4 specs; realize my Navy Phantom (it was a B with J79-GE-8) was in some ways different; as example I’m sure it was 60 feet in length, rather that the 58 you list in your AF. But it’s weight that confuses me a bit. You list max take-off weight as 55,000. My admittedly lousy memory is that internal tanks were 2,000 gals., the center external was 600 gals and the 2 wing tanks were 370 each; making fuel at 3,300 gals. 23,400 lbs. The 4 Sparrows were 1,000 pounds each and the 4 Sidewinders were 250 each making take-off 61,312 pounds about 6,000 pounds heavier tan you list for max take-off. Are my numbers off? Just wondering what you think?”
3. Block 50 E model GW clean with full internal fuel and Aero-27A rack = 33,000 lbs.
4. Block 50 E model full load of internal + external fuel = 3,402 gallons = 22,113 lbs
5. Block 50 E model GW with full internal fuel, two full wing tanks, one full centerline tank and Aero-27A rack = 55,000 lbs
6. Block 50 E model GW with full internal fuel, two full wing tanks, one full centerline tank, four AIM-7s (435 lbs/missile – in 1972 we only carried 3 AIM-7s and a jamming pod in the 4th station), four AIM-9s (164 lbs/missile), and Aero-27A rack = 57,396 lbs
7. Block 50 E model GW with full internal fuel, two full wing tanks, 12 mark 82 snake eye 500 pound bombs (560 lbs/bomb) (typical close air support load in 1972) = 57,220 lbs
Note the minimum go speed charts (shows max weight = 57,000 lbs) and the max abort speed charts (shows max weight 60,000 lbs). In looking at the inflight checklists for the F-4E that I saved, I note that the checklist did not require us to compute the maximum weight. We had to compute the min go speed and max abort speed.
I found a question in my master question file that asked what is the max recommended takeoff weight. The multiple choice answers are: 62,000, 60,000, 46,000 & 58,000. The question wasn’t answered, but my guess today is 60,000 because that is the heaviest weight contemplated on the max abort speed charts.
If you are into F-4 trivia, answer these questions:
1. How many concentric circles on the trim button?
2. How many steps on the removable ladder?
3. How many safety pins were in the Martin Baker ejection seat?
On January 3, 2012, Nadine S. Pearish wrote the following to friends of her father, James M. Beatty, Jr:
It is with a sadden heart that I am sending you this e-mail. I am writing to inform you of James M. Beatty’s Jr passing today, January 3, 2012. I found your addresses among my father’s belongings and felt that the closeness that was shared in life would be continued in his death. As the tears stream down my face there are many names that I remember from my childhood days and other names that I have heard my father speak fondly of. I know he will be missed by many.”
Joe Lee Burns wrote the following about his good friend and comrade in arms:
’66 - Ubon – Jim Beatty story - Does anybody remember when the Base Commander brought Robert Mitchum into the O’Club bright and early one morning and how we greeted him and what occurred after that? I do. As Mitchum entered the club one of our fearless leaders (I believe it was Bob Ashcraft) shouted out “lets say hello to Robert Mitchum“; to which we all replied (as taught to do by our elders) “hello Arz-hole,” then came the call to say hello to the ‘Arz- hole’ to which we all replied “hello Mitchum“. WE then asked him to please join us at our table which he did, excusing himself from the Base Commander by saying he wanted to get to know us a little better. This occurred at about 0830. From that point on until about 1100, we tried and successfully accomplished getting him thoroughly shiffassedon his favorite drink of gin and tonic. After several unsuccessful attempts by the Base Commander to rescue him, whichhe declined, we all ended up in front of the club having pictures taken with him. By that time his eyes, which are normally squinted, were barely slits. I remember being amazed as to how well-informed he was and his sincerity in talking to us. . He was a pretty much down to earth guy. Just another day in an otherwise dull combat tour for us!!
’72 DaNang - Capt Jim Beatty gave me my ‘local checkout’ ride (~16 April ’72, I think) – supposed to be a milk-run close air support mission -but, we were diverted into NVN across the DMZ to Route Pack 1 to attack two (2) SAM sites well guarded with AAA!!!! Jim always says he snuffed out his Benson and Hedges cigarette in his palm when they said “the fingers lake area” – it was a known hot spot to avoid if you weren’t going to attack it!! They shot lots of AAA and an SA-2 at us!!! Jim (who was in my back seat) said I passed the ‘check-out’ “because we didn’t die”.
’72 DaNang May – Close Air Support – Troops in Contact with the enemy – (On about our 3rd bomb pass, I was a little too close behind Beatty on his pass, so I moved my aim point to a remaining hutch toward the north end of the line. As I am lining up for my run-in, I check #3 to see if he’s taking any ground fire. What I do see is one of Beatty’s 2 MK82s come off in “slick” configuration, i.e., the fins on one bomb did not open up and cause it to decelerate – it was sailing along pretty close to Jim’s F-4. I called “Beatty, pull up, bomb went slick.” He snatches the jet up and away from the frag pattern (I don’t think there was any damage to the jet).
’72 Korat 20 July - Jim was also my wingman when I ‘accidentally’ got shot down departing North Vietnam.”
Read Joe Lee Burns detailed description of the mission in which he was shot down, ejected and rescued by the Navy in the Gulf of Tonkin called “A Ridge to Far.”
Joe Moran wrote:
“We were in the 35 TFS TDY to Danang from Kunsan. Jim was #3. Rolled up and found 2 MiG 21s 4,000′ directly below him same direction. Barrel rolled back, stoked the AB’s and started across the circle. Claims he did not go supersonic. Unable to get AIM 9Js to growl. Closing fast went to guns. He was in an old E model (no pinkie switch). MiGs broke. He pulled pipper in front for high angle shot. KILL. Over g when he pulled up. Egressed at speed of stink. No truth to the rumor that airplane never flew again. Jim claims low altitude butter fly dart sorties in the FWIC syllabus prepared him for that shot. He always went down and away to get there the quickest (with the greatest angles). This was end of April 1972. First gun kill in an F-4E. Handley’s book claimed he was the first in May. I talked to Phil ’bout that and he concedes Jim was the first but his book was already out and ‘you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube’.“
Here is the obituary of Major James M. Beatty, Jr.
Maj. James M. Beatty Jr. was one of America’s unsung heroes. He flew 229 combat mission, 147 in North Vietnam, and during one of those missions got a confirmed gun kill on a MIG 21. Maj. Beatty earned the Silver Star, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, and 14 Air Medals among many other awards and decorations during his combat flying. He had 3,250 hours in the F-4 and F-15 aircraft. Maj. Beatty was a recognized expert in aerial combat, and culminated his Air Force career as the Air-To-Air Test Project Manager in the Fighter Weapons test Group, Nellis AFB, Nevada.
After leaving the active Air Force, he continued to serve his country as an F-15 academic and simulator instructor for more than 22 years at Tyndall AFB, Panama City, Fla. His service in the U.S. Air Force and his vast experience was essential in developing future Air Force warriors. As an instructor pilot and simulator instructor, he trained more than 1,000 F-15 pilots and air Battle Managers for the combat air forces during his time at Tyndall. His superior instructional skills enabled the 325th Fighter Wing to meet pilot and air battle manager production goals.
Maj. Beatty was born in Eau Claire, Pa., and had lived in Panama City since 1988. He was a graduate of Grove City College, and served in the USAF from 1963 to 1976.
He is survived by his wife, Mary C. Beatty of Panama City; his children, Natalie L. Hauck and husband, Raymond, of Panama City, Nadie S. Pearish of Panama City, Lisa M. Campbell of Butler, Pa., and John W. Fecich III and wife, Patty, of South Hampton, N.J.; his grandchildren, Alecia N. Mills and husband, Jeremy, Thomas E. Hager III and wife, Julia, Samuel J. Hauck, Jacey L. Hauck, Jolene L. Eiler, Joseph M. Eiler, Troy S. Pearish, Kristopher R. Pearish, Christopher J. Campbell, Jacob F. Campbell and John W. Fecich IV; his great-grandchildren, Serenity A. Murphy, James J. Murphy, Lena M. Mills and Ayden C. Hager; his brother, Dean G. Beatty and wife, Carol, of Eau Claire, Pa.; his sisters, Gail Buzard and husband, Jack, of Eau Claire, Pa., and Faye Herman and husband, Ken, of Pittsburgh, Pa.; and numerous nieces and nephews.
No services will be held locally. Funeral arrangements in Pennsylvania will be handled by H. Jack Buzard Funeral Home, 201 S. Washington St., Eau Claire, PA 16030,