Joe Lee Burns

RIP Lyle Beckers, Fighter Pilot

Sad news from Jeannie Beckers on September 24, 2014, about the passing of her husband Lyle C. Beckers.  Col. Beckers was the commander of the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron when it went TDY from Kunsan AB, Korea, to Da Nang AB, South Vietnam and Korat AB, Thailand in 1972.  Lyle lead many 35th TFS strike escort missions into Route Pack VI and shot down two MiG-21s.

Jeannie sent a message to family and friends that said:

“It is with a very sad heart I am writing to let you know my precious Lyle passed away this morning at 5:AM EST.    He died peacefully with Lisa, Laurie, Rob and I at his side.  Patti will be here Saturday.  A private Memorial Service will be held in our home Sunday morning.  His final internment will be at a later date in Arlington Cemetery.  He was a brave Warrior to the end.  We shall miss him always.”

Joe Lee Burns sent an email message in which he said:

“Lyle was a hero to me, a role model.  I wanted to be able to fly as good as he could, and he tried to teach me that. I love him and started missing him before now. Godspeed, Sir.  Save me a seat.

I will share one Lyle Story: 81ST TFS out of Hahn AB, W Germany. We were at Wheelus AB, Libya for gunnery camp to escape bad weather in Germany in December (1968). Major Lyle Beckers was flight lead (I think I was Comet . . er . .I mean, #6 – flight lead of the last 4 jets) for the Saturday morning 9 ship departure (one jet was hard broke for parts) to Aviano AB, Italy and then back to Hahn in time for Christmas. Our Callsign was something like “Panther 21” flight.

Lyle briefed the takeoff sequence, rejoin ground track, and final flight check in before departing Wheelus airspace. Flight lead took off single ship from runway 29; flew about 2 miles, made a loose 180 degree turn for rejoin. The rest of the Phantoms took off as 2 ships and rejoined in trail. After another 180 degree turn the fight requested a flyby at 1,000 feet AGL, which was approved. Our formation was a single followed by 4 line-abreast 2 ships.

Abeam the tower, Lyle calls, “Santa Flight Check.”  As briefed, he followed with “Rudolph,” the next two ship responded “Dasher,” then “Dancer,” followed by “Prancer” and “Vixen,” then “Comet” and “Cupid,” and then “Donner” and “Blitzen.”  Tower clicked its microphone switch twice in response (probably because of the laughter in the tower). Before changing to Departure Control frequency, Lyle called, “Wheelus Tower, ‘Santa Flight’ departing your airspace, Merry Christmas, ‘Ho Ho Ho’”.!!!”

Jeannie replied: “Lyle said ‘HO HO HO!’ when he read it….said he was sorry he couldn’t add anything to your remembrance, but he knows you are right!!! Best love, Jeannie Beckers for Lyle.”

The F-4E flown by Lyle Beckers and Lt. Thomas Griffin on September 12, 1972, when Col Beckers got his second MiG-21 is now on static display at Soesterberg Air Base.

Here’s a 1972 group photo of the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron taken at Da Nang with Col. Lyle Beckers, the commander of the 35th TFS, in the front seat.  See the bigger version of this picture with names of the guys.  Note: Joe Lee Burns photoshopped himself into the top row.

2017-01-20T19:03:11+00:00 By |2 Comments

II Corps Close Air Support May 1972

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”.

Jim

The author is Joe Lee  Burns, USAF Fighter Pilot & Colonel, USAF retired

2017-01-20T19:03:12+00:00 By |0 Comments

Joe Lee Burns & Friends on the 35th TFS, Its MiG Kills, Flying the F-4 in Combat & Duty, Honor & Country

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

Doyle,

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

Doyle,

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
  • CAP/escort/strike/CAS missions
  • 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).

(more…)

2017-01-20T19:03:13+00:00 By |2 Comments

Joe Lee Burns’ Pictures

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.

2012-02-29T21:22:55+00:00 By |0 Comments

Rockin’ Robin

I just finished reading Fighter Pilot: The Memoirs of Legendary Ace Robin Olds, edited by his daughter Christina along with Ed Rasimus. When my daughter Kim sent it to me for Father’s Day, she had no idea that I had a long association with General Olds.

In the fall of 1967, I was beginning my second year as a cadet at the Air Force Academy. Then Colonel Olds arrived at USAFA to become the commandant of cadets. He took over from BGen Ted Seith, a well respected bomber pilot. Olds brought the swagger and bravado of a fighter pilot to the cadet wing. The change was palpable. General Olds would remain commandant for the remainder of my schooling, nearly three years.

Robin Olds, who died four years ago at age 85, lived a story-book life. He really was “larger than life.” His father Robert was an aviation pioneer from the WW I era so the boy grew up in the company of airpower greats like Hap Arnold, Billy Mitchell, and Tooey Spaatz. Naturally he wanted to follow in their footsteps.

That led 18 year old Robin to West Point in the summer of 1940. Because of the war, his class would graduate a year early in June 1943 and by that time, he had earned his pilot wings during summer training. He also played football, earning All American honors in 1942 as a tackle (he played at 6’2”, 205). Years later, he would be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

The reason Olds attended West Point was to obtain a regular commission and become a fighter pilot which he accomplished. His first fighter was the Lockheed P-38 Lightning. The P-38 flew primarily in the Pacific theater, but Olds’ group, the 479th went to England to join the 8th Air Force. He became an ace (5 enemy kills) in the P-38 before his group transitioned to the better P-51 Mustang. Olds ended the war in Europe with 13 air-to-air kills, 12 by ground strafing, the rank of major (at age 22) and command of a fighter squadron. He was well on his way to a remarkable career.

Robin Olds came of age in the golden age of aviation brought about by so much wartime innovation. Consequently, he flew dozens of different fighters during a time when new aircraft were introduced yearly. One of the most interesting things about this book is his detailed description of the flying characteristics of so many aircraft. For example, there is a great description of the problem of compressibility in the P-38 where the shock wave in a high speed dive renders the tail elevator inoperative. The only way to recover from the dive is for the aircraft to slow down sufficiently to regain control of the elevator. Robin was able to recover from this mistake. How many did not?

Returning from England, Olds was an early entry into the new technology of jets, qualifying to fly the P-80 Shooting Star. At an early air show featuring jet fighters, Robin met Hollywood siren Ella Raines. A year later they married, beginning a tempestuous 29 year relationship. In truth, they never reconciled their differences. Ella was a movie star and her husband, a hard-nosed fighter pilot. It was not a match made in heaven. Love does not always conquer all.

Robin continued his career, flying fighters and leading units and men. Ella would follow him some times, consenting to live in Washington, New York or London while her husband flew in Germany, England and North Africa. Two daughters were caught in the middle of their parent’s troubles.

When Olds was sent to the Pentagon, he was a caged tiger. Suffice it to say that he made just as many enemies as he did friends. After serving as wing commander at RAF Bentwaters in England, he arrived at Ubon, Thailand to command the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing in the fall of 1966. For a year, Olds led the Wolfpack into tough battles against the North Vietnamese. He flew 152 combat missions over the north, knocking down four MiGs with missiles from his F-4C Phantom II. His reward for the brutal year was a general’s star and command of the Academy’s cadet wing.

I learned a lot of things from General Olds, among them leadership by example. Robin led his men from the front. (Trust me; he would do more than sneer at anyone who suggests that you can lead from behind.) He believed that you should not ask anyone to do something you are unwilling to do yourself.

Robin Olds was an imposing man; after all, he was a tackle. He spoke with a raspy voice. He was a heavy drinker, but I observed that more of the whiskey in his glass would be poured over the head of some unsuspecting fellow than actually down his throat. At age 85, it wasn’t his liver that gave out but rather, his heart.

Fighter pilots are amazing, Type A personalities. They charge head-long into the fray, modern day knights of the air. They are masters of their machine. They live life on the edge. Robin Olds was a fighter pilot’s fighter pilot, the leader of the pack. I’ve met many unforgettable men over the years, and Robin Olds was at the head of the list.

2017-01-20T19:03:13+00:00 By |0 Comments

A Ridge Too Far: Shot Down by AAA & Rescued Off of Haiphong

Background

What can I say?  Happy Hour had been long and exuberant, and now 07:00 hours Saturday April 1, 1972 my squadron, the Black Panthers (35th Tactical Fighter Squadron), and its F-4Ds were on the move from Kunsan airbase Korea to South East Asia (SEA). TDY to Vietnam. (YES! Recall was on APRIL FOOL’S DAY! It was NOT pretty. But, that’s a whole ‘nuther’ story!).  It was just the beginning.  May 1972, hardly unpacked, we left the 366th TFWing at DaNang to join the 388th TFW at the Royal Thai Air Force base at Korat, Thailand.

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).

0600 Hours, 20 July 1972

We are being briefed on a mission to Route Package 6;  bombing the underground fuel storage area located about 12 nautical miles southeast of Hanoi.  Our mission is a mini- strike package with 16 of our F-4Ds acting as “iron haulers”.  That is, eight ships ((call signs “Caddy”(1st Striker) and “Buick” (3rd Striker)) each carrying 12 iron bombs (500 pound Mark 82) with delay fuzzes. An additional eight ships ((2nd Striker (“Dodge”) and 4th Striker (“Chevy”)) would be each be carrying 9 incendiary mix CBU 58s.

The ‘plan’ calls for Caddy and Buick flights to break open the earthen revetments with their 500 pounders and Dodge and Chevy flights to ignite the exposed fuel.  Our MIG cover would be provided by eight F-4Es (“Pistol” and “Saber” flights) armed with Sparrow (radar guided) and Sidewinder (heat seeking) missiles, plus the internal 20mm Gatling gun.  Each of the F-4s carried a radar jamming pod.  All the aircraft and spares would be flying out of Korat.  Support missions would include the mix of Wild Weasels, tankers and Command and Control aircraft.

Weather is reported to be scattered clouds in the target area, with a scattered to broken cloud deck to the east along our exit route toward the North Vietnam coast “feet wet”.  Intelligence warns us about a potential ‘new’ Surface-to-Air (SAM) missile site just north of Thud/Phantom ridge, roughly half way between Hanoi and the coast line to the east.

After ‘wheels-up’ the 24 ship strike force and spares are to join up and proceed to `Purple’ Tanker orbit abeam of  the city of Vinh out over the Gulf of Tonkin.  After mid-air refueling we would cross the North Vietnam coast (`feet dry’) North  East of Thanh Hoa.  Our Initiation Point would be Minh Binh and from there to the target.  After the strike we would egress NE then east just North of Thud/Phantom Ridge to feet wet, then South to Purple tankers and RTB (Return To Base – for us, back to Korat).

The Mission Commander, Caddy 1, is Major Walt Bohan and I, Caddy 3, am the Deputy Mission Commander.

The rest of the mission briefing is ‘normal – normal’.  Well, except for this.  Sometime during the mission brief, out of the corner of my eye, I notice that “Roscoe”, the Korat fighter pilot dog-warrior-mascot gets up and leaves the briefing room.  “Aw, heck”, says me.  That’s just a superstition, isn’t it? It probably doesn’t really mean this will be a “tough” mission (i.e., lose an aircraft).  Heck, sometimes a dog just has to take a whiz!

All 24 aircrews and spares ‘step’ at 9:15 for a 10:30 takeoff.

(Now here’s where the hair on the back of your neck should start bristling – as in: “oh oh”, things aren’t going “as briefed”!!  I know MINE did!)

Shortly after engine start Caddy 4 ground aborts Air Refueling Door Failure), dashes to a ground spare, but it ground aborts also.  A ground spare replaces Caddy 4.  (Capt. Jim Beatty in F-4D with 500 pounders, who had attended the Caddy flight briefing.)  Taxi as 4 ship.  At EOR (End Of Runway checkpoint) Caddy 2 ground aborts for a massive hydraulic leak.  Caddy Flight takes off on time as a flight of three with the rest of the strike force in tow.

(Did I ever tell you about Jim Beatty’s ‘world renown’ May ’72 supersonic Mig-21 gun kill while flying an F-4E out of DaNang.  Supersonic?  Yep!  He and his pitter had pretty sore necks as their F-4E went through ‘mach tuck’ and hit jet wash just as the Mig burst into flames!!  Pegged the G meter!!  The jet was down for a few days, too! )

Rendezvous with tankers in Purple orbit uneventful – gas passed in reverse order (i.e. – 4, then 3, then 1) per briefing – except for Caddy 1 who keeps getting disconnected.  He backs out so Caddy 3 and 4 can top off and then tries again. At about this time, an air spare joins Caddy flight. It’s an F-4E with CBUs from the 421st TFS, flown by Captain Sammy Small.  He tops off after Caddy 4.  Caddy 1 can’t get his Flight Control Augmentation System  (CAS) to stay on line, is VERY sensitive in the pitch axis and can’t take any more gas. He aborts, making Caddy 3 the mission commander.

(I’ve never been on a mission with this much ‘trouble’ BEFORE we even get to the target!!) 

Due to armament, flight call signs are rearranged.  Caddy check in is “Caddy 3 check”, “2” (Jim Beatty F-4D with bombs), 4″ (Capt. Sammy Small F-4E with CBUs).

(I am often questioned about proceeding with the mission as a 3 ship.  Best I can remember there was a Wing policy that covered going on a mission with less than the fragged number of aircraft, armament different from fragged, etc.  However, comma, the original Caddy 1 seemed to have been going to target with 3 jets; we had 12 ‘bombers’ and 8 ‘escorts’ right behind us; AND the target dictated delayed fused bombs to expose the POL followed by CBUs to assure the POL caught fire. “That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!”)

After drop-off from tankers, ingress proceeds as briefed: feet dry NE of Thanh Hoa, IP (Initial Point) at Ninh Binh to target.  Slight weaving along route at an altitude of 18,000 to 22,000 feet.

(Another bad sign!  When the flight switches ‘Master Arm On’, one of Caddy 2’s bombs just sorta falls off its rail!  Cripes!  Hope it doesn’t hit those Navy ships!!)

In bound route is eerily quiet.  My ‘pitter’ Lieutenant Mike Nelson and I discuss target area responsibilities again.  There is very little activity on the Radar Homing and Warning System (RHAW); only occasional, short beeps from various enemy radars (Ground Control Intercept (GCI), Fansong SAM (Surface-to Air Missile), and the larger Anti – Aircraft Artillery (AAA) tracking radars).

The ‘new’ Caddy 4, rightfully, since he was not in Caddy’s briefing, asks from which direction was roll in and moves to right combat echelon as we approach the target area.

I can see the target area is almost free of clouds – some scattered ones at 8 to 10,000 feet – a heavier, layered deck appears to cover the egress route.

For an underground fuel storage site, this one is fairly easy to identify from altitude due to good intelligence target photos of the dirt roads.  As Caddy flight approaches the roll in point, a single 85-mm AAA gun starts shooting in the vicinity of the target area – dense black flak balls widely scattered at 15 to 18,000 feet.  It’s 1145 hours.

“Caddy, check switches hot – Caddy has target in sight – Lead’s in.”

Ground level winds in the target area were forecast from the NE and it looks about right to me from the movement of low clouds and smoke from ground fire.  Briefed aim point for Caddy’s bombs and Dodge’s CBUs was the SW half of the target area, so that Buick and Chevy flights could target the NE half of the target area without being hindered by smoke from Caddy and Dodge’s ordinance (and, hopefully, secondary explosions).

Caddy 1 is thundering ‘down the chute’ at 500+ miles per hour in a 60-degree dive.  I stop the wind drift with the ‘pipper’ (aiming device) directly on the target and ‘pickle’ off my deadly weapons at 14,000 feet.  (Funny how the ‘light, sporadic 85 mm flak seems MUCH heavier during the pass!!)  All bombs off, I start a hard 6 ‘G’ pull, jink left, and then jink hard right as we bottom out about 7000 feet. I continue in a hard right turn climbing toward 10,000 feet and heading for the north side of Thud/Phantom Ridge.

Coming off target, Mike and I crane our necks against the G forces scanning the ground and skies for SAMs, AAA and Migs. I notice several 37 or 57 mm AAA guns joining in the defense of the target area – but still only at the ‘moderate’ level.  As I look back over my right shoulder, I see my two wingmen below and inside my turn – no immediate threat to them or us, says my fearless pitter, 1/Lt Mike Nelson.  As the join up to combat spread formation ensues, I get a look at the target area some 10 – 15 miles away.  Black, heavy smoke, with fires visible at the ground, rising to some 18,000 feet as the second wave’s ordinance starts to impact.  (Sierra Hotel!!  We won’t have to come back to bomb THIS fuel dump for a while!!)

(That feeling of knowing that the bombs are on target is wonderful.  The fact is our bombs didn’t always hit the target, or that if they hit the target, the ‘target’ really wasn’t there anymore – i.e., no secondary explosions.  So far on THIS mission, it appeared the mission objective is accomplished and things look pretty good!)

As Caddy 2 and 4 join to combat spread (I’d been turning enough in a high-speed climb to give them cutoff), we see the thickening cloud deck to the East from 5 to 12,000 feet.  This observation, plus the intelligence briefing on a possible new SAM (Surface-to Air Missile) site, makes me decide to drop down and egress at 500 feet Above Ground Level (AGL).

(YES, the thought also crosses my mind that a few MIGs might be lurking at low altitude to snipe at us along our egress route.  Specially since I had just been on our Wing DCO’s wing the day before when he went out north of Thud/Phantom Ridge at low altitude!!  Mike was busy fine tuning the radar in search of low altitude ‘bogies’.)

I hear a little UHF radio chatter as the following flights come off target, rejoin and start their egress.  It sounds like we got lots of bombs on target with good secondary explosions and big fires.  Not much activity on the RHAW scopes, but there is a SAM (Surface-to Air Missile) radar warning call from one of the flights exiting the area above 20,000 feet.  I am maintaining my easterly heading at 500 to 1,000 feet AGL, in a slight weave with my wingmen in Vee formation.  Mike splits his time between the radar scope, visually searching the skies for threats, and checking our geographical egress route.  We are cross checking our location by counting the smaller north – south oriented ridges coming off the main East – West ridge.  I radio the flight for a fuel check.  All 3 of us have good fuel status.

(more…)

2017-01-20T19:03:14+00:00 By |8 Comments

Assisting Caddy 03

by Scott Powell, Colonel, USAF, Retired

I was in the 34th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Korat Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, in 1972. We were the “Men in Black.” I was a very junior Captain then, but had come directly from a previous assignment at DaNang Air Base, South Vietnam. All USAF squadrons in Southeast Asia seemed to be manned by junior officers. There was usually only one or two patch wearers per base, plus a handful of second tour fighter types, plus a handful of heavy drivers and (old . . . it seemed at the time) Lt. Cols who had avoided a combat tour to that point. Eighty percent were Lieutenants it seemed.

So, by virtue of having been in theatre longer, I was one of the more experienced pilots in my squadron. Fairly soon after Linebacker I commenced in 1972, I found myself leading four ship flights on the North Vietnam air raids. I always brought my flight home intact, did the job to and from the target, and never did anything operationally to embarrass my commander. So, I remained in that role throughout the summer of 1972.

I well remember the arrival of the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Korat. They had a more seasoned mix of pilots and had been training operationally in Korea for things they were about to do in combat. The 34th and 469th TFS were mostly comprised of eager, but young talent that only had the benefit of a six month RTU (replacement training unit, i.e., F-4 basic flight training school) before being sent to their war theatre assignment.

Leadership of the 35th was strong. So it was the 469th, by the way. I remain loyal to my leadership in the 34th, but some have said it was a cut below the others. Future Lt. General Chuck Cunningham was one of my Ops Officers, then. He was a top notch combat leader and USAF leader. Anyway, I freely admitted while engaged in all this, that the performance of the 35th turned out to be a cut above the other squadrons. On a per-combat-day basis, they got more positive results than the other two squadrons.

Lt. Col. Lyle Beckers, squadron commander of the 35th TFS, after the war headed the Nellis Air Force Base survey of what the USAF needed to change post Vietnam. The answers turned out to be almost everything, including training, tactics, weapons, human-factor fighter design, visibility and switchology among other things. Because I had exchanged hostile missile fire over the North, I was asked for my input in that survey process. We got Fluid Four ash canned and got a decent air-to-air training doctrine out of it. There are some real Nellis heroes from that time . . . those who fought city hall. The rest is history.

The USAF and the Tactical Air Command under General Momyer at that time, did a good job of preparing RTU students for air to ground operations, but a hellatiously bad job of preparing young fighter pilots for air-to-air combat. I thought many times that the powers that be were legally negligent in failing to adequately train fighter pilots for one of their primary missions. “If I see a MiG, what do I do?” was a common refrain among those who suddenly found missiles on their aircraft instead of bombs. On paper, the USAF thought its fighter pilots were trained for aerial combat, but in reality, we were not.

Strike Escort

As Linebacker I quickly came to be organized, Korat Air Base assumed the “strike escort” role, whereby our flights of F-4Es configured with missiles instead of bombs escorted strike flights. The purpose of strike escorts was to ward off MiG attacks and protect the F-4 bombers going to and from the target area and generally help sound the alarm for threats of all kinds. So, typically, three or more flights of four F-4s of bombers and the same number of strike escorts would travel to and from the target of the day. There were some exceptions, but that role is what most of the missions up North were for the F-4 squadrons based at Korat.

On July 20, 1972, the route of the day to the target in Route Pack VI North Vietnam was over water, with all participants rendezvousing over the South China Sea northeast of Da Nang. We then proceeded north to the drop-off point with ingress from southeast of Hanoi and egress eastbound to the north of Banana Ridge, north of the Red River as it meanders toward Haiphong. A feet-wet post strike refueling gave us enough fuel to make our way back to our respective bases in Thailand.

The Long Delay

On that day, the mission briefer at Korat made a very specific point for me to wait until the preceding flight had taken off before doing so with my four ship flight. The ground choreography on that day was as precise and dramatic as any of the other Linebacker launches. We were toward the back of the parade to the runway. There was a relatively inexperienced Lt. Col. leading the flight ahead of me. The Korat arming area was large enough for two flights to arm, with spares. My flight was in position on time, next to the other flight. We armed up and were ready, but the flight ahead of me had a problem and was delayed for a long time. As more and more time passed it become apparent that making our tanker rendezvous at the designated time was going to be very difficult or impossible. The order for me to take off after the preceding flight was so public and so clear that I did not request permission to take off ahead of the preceding flight. Radio equipped supervisors were all over the place, but none of them told me to take off before the other flight. I followed orders, an old and important military tradition. We waited for the flight ahead of us to depart.

Finally, they launched. We followed immediately. I knew then that we would be lucky to even reach the tankers before they departed the track north bound. We pushed it up while we flew the 1.2 hour trek to the refueling track. We did all the normal in-flight systems checks and kept checking watches.

We were the last to arrive and got the tanker cell in sight just as they rolled out north. We cut them off and joined our assigned tanker, but with minimal time for refueling. I called my flight over to squadron common radio frequency and said, “Here’s the plan. One and two will refuel and escort our strike flight on in. Three and four, refuel after we depart. Then, take your two-ship up the coast to the egress point, perhaps you’ll be able to do some good as we’re coming out. Be sure to let the Navy know who and where you are so they don’t start calling you out as MiGs.”

Caddy 3 Goes Down

July 20, 1972, was the day Caddy 3 (Joe Lee Burns in the front and Mike Nelson in the back) got shot down. See “A Ridge Too Far,” for Joe Lee Burns’ first person account of getting shot down. Most of us egressed north of the ridge after the mission as planned, but my memory is that Joe Lee egressed south of the ridge, where he could see (and be seen) by the major line of communication east from Hanoi and its defenses. Joe would remember better, but I think it was a 57mm shell that put a big hole in his aircraft. I remember hearing the emergency beeper on guard frequency after Joe and Mike ejected and some of the radio traffic as it became clear that somebody got hit and went down. Caddy 3 managed to make it feet wet just off the mouth of the Red River in the vicinity of Haiphong. They were among the Karst islands. The rest of us were overflying them in the water on the way out of North Vietnam, but we worried about making it to our post-strike tankers to refuel.

Soon after I heard the beepers on the radio there were two rafts in the water. A fairly large unpowered water craft manned with multiple North Vietnamese from a nearby island was paddling toward our downed airmen. Meanwhile, overhead, my number 3 and 4 were taking control of the SAR (search and rescue) and trying to get the Navy to scramble its rescue resources. My second element saw the incoming sampan and went guns hot. They strafed across the bow of the gomer boat, one pass each. The gomers executed an immediate 180 degree turn and paddled even more furiously back toward their village.

Having probably never strafed over water before, our land-lubber USAF F-4 pilots both said that they almost killed themselves with the overwater strafe. It was hard to judge altitude and distance over water without any good references. As it turned out, it was fortuitous that my second element was too late to the tanker and not able to ingress into North Vietnam because they were waiting at the egress point in case they were needed. On that day, Joe Lee Burns and Mike Nelson needed their help.

Anyway, the Rescue CAP (combat air patrol) was successful. The Navy came through for the endgame and Joe Lee Burns and Mike Nelson lived to fight another day. I mentioned the happenings of the day to my Ops Officer / Squadron Commander from the perspective of my flight, in case “they” inquired about the anomaly, but nobody seemed to care. We all resumed the war the next day – business as usual.

In 1972 at Korat, there was a tactical rebellion among some of the younger F-4 pilots against the fluid four formation and its tactics. Whenever we could, we used a self-invented form of two ship formation and tactics while over North Vietnam. On July 20, 1972, my wingman was somewhat practiced and certainly willing when I told him to “assume the #3 role and position.” The strike leader uttered a negative epithet when I told him that he would be escorted by a flight of two F-4s rather than four on that day. I think we did it better. Fewer aircraft to keep track of, better proportion of resources assigned to the necessary roles, and a better fighting unit should it have been required.

© 2007, Scott Powell, All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission of Colonel Scott Powell, Fighter Pilot.

2017-01-20T19:03:14+00:00 By |1 Comment

Joe Lee Burns on Being a Fighter Pilot

Fighter Pilot University published an email message written by Joe Lee Burns.  Here are some quotes from Joe Lee:

“I loved flying like a mistress. Flying was first priority in my life after family, just below my love for America. I wasn’t ever the “best fighter pilot” in the world, but I was somewhere in the top ten for a while. What I really wanted to be was the best WINGMAN in the AF. I got to be pretty good. I wanted to be trusted, to be counted upon by my fellow pilots in the air.

 I mentioned camaraderie. I cannot overstate the bond (facing danger, sharing views of mother earth from above, and sharing the excitement of challenge and success in the air) that is formed between fellow pilots who fly together regularly in training. Multiply by ten when you fly together in combat. And, no, it is seldom verbalized at the time. But you can see it in each other’s eyes every time you meet thereafter.”

2017-01-20T19:03:14+00:00 By |0 Comments