On June 2, 1972, at approximately 1330 hours, Brenda 01, a hard-wing F-4E, tail number 68210, flown by Major Phil Handley shot down a MiG-19 with the 20mm cannon approximately 40 miles northeast of Hanoi. At the time of the kill, the estimated flight parameters were: F-4 mach 1.2+ (800+ kts/hour); MiG-19 0.77 mach (500 kts/hour); altitude above terrain 500 feet; slant range 200-300 feet; and flight path crossing angle 90 degrees. This was the only MiG-19 shot down by an F-4 gun during the Vietnam War and is believed to be the highest speed gun kill in the history of aerial combat.
I served onboard the USS Chicago (CG-11) in 1971 and 1972 in the Tonkin Gulf where I was the Air Intercept Controller Supervisor. I worked with many Air Force F-4s during air-to-air engagements
with enemy Migs, during their airborne emergencies, and I guided some of them to minimum-state emergency inflight-refueling. During my time on-station I used the call-sign Red Crown. My personal call sign was ACE and my AICS number was 0012.Lou Drendel talked about me in his book ‘….AND KILL MIGs’ on page 74, captioned “The Voice of Red Crown”.In December 1971 I began providing critical information and guidance to air force fighters which were being threatened by enemy Migs in North Vietnam and Laos. I was officially credited for assisting in 9 MIG-kills while controlling the air force fighters. I was involved in more than 100 live air-to-air engagements. Additionally, I was also given credit for preventing four F-4s from running out of fuel by arranging emergency expeditious rendezvous’ for them with KC-135s when they reached minimum fuel while deep in North Vietnamese airspace.At one point in 1972 an air force command in Thailand invited me to come over for an interview with the press but my commanding officer would not allow me leave the ship as he believed the trip was too dangerous to make. I was offered a “box of squadron goodies” by one pilot but I could not give my mailing address to him as we were not on a secure net. I never got a chance to meet or talk to anyone in the air force about the engagements and saves, but I would surely love to.In late 1972 I was awarded the Navy Distinguished Service Medal for my work on USS Chicago as an air-intercept-controller while in the Gulf of Tonkin and in 2005 I was inducted into the US Navy Surface Warfare Hall of Fame for that same work. I would certainly appreciate it if you would publish this letter or some other suitable notice in your MIG SWEEP as request any of your RRVFPA members who were involved in any of the incidents mentioned herein to contact me. My telephone is 865-898-9273 and my e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.Very Respectfully,
The Aviation Geek Club: “The first official American aerial victory of the Vietnam War was scored on Apr. 9, 1965 by Lt. (j.g.) Terrence M. Murphy and his Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) Ens. Ronald J. Fegan from Fighter Squadron 96 (VF-96), who downed a Chinese MiG-17 while flying from the USS Ranger (CVA-61) in F-4B Phantom II BuNo 151403, callsign ‘Showtime 602.’ The story behind Murphy and Fegan’s victory is quite interesting because several details of their engagement are still classified today.”
Former Navy Commander Dick Nelson got a message from former Commander J.B. Souder in which Commander Souder wrote about meeting with thirteen former MiG pilots in San Diego, California, on September 21, 2017. Commander Nelson wrote:
J.B. was, by all accounts, one of the Navy’s top RIOs in the F-4 Phantom II. He received the Silver Star for one of his missions, in which he saved several friendly aircraft by his tactical expertise, during a large MIG engagement. He flew over 300 combat missions, and crewed an F-4 that shot down a MIG. Ironically, a flight leader’s bad judgment resulted in J.B. and his pilot being shot down by another MIG, and he spent a tour in the Hanoi Hilton.
He recently attended a get-together with a dozen former North Vietnamese MIG pilots and U.S. pilots with MIG kills—a gathering of eagles. His narrative of this unusual meeting is truly fascinating. This is a little long, but well worth the read:
Below is the text of J.B. Souder’s very informative and interesting account of the meeting between the former adversaries.
I’m cruising along at 37,000 feet some place over Arizona. I’m headed back to Port Orange after a fantastic adventure in San Diego with some of my old fighter squadron friends and others from my days at NAS Miramar. I’ve decided to write a little recap of the event for a bunch of friends with different backgrounds so the language will vary for the benefit of those who have combat or aviation experience and others who don’t. The “facts” I’m reporting are subject to my diminished hearing and my failing memory.
About 8-10 months ago a retired Marine colonel named Charlie Tutt assembled a group of aviators to go to Hanoi, Vietnam, to meet with some Mig pilots from the war. They went, had a great time, and decided to invite the Mig drivers to come to the USA. The Mig drivers accepted the invitation and arrived in San Diego on September 20th.
Nine American former pilots and one RIO hosted the meeting with thirteen Vietnamese pilots. The Americans went out on the internet and invited any/all of us who had tangled with Migs during the war, or who were just interested in it, to attend the meeting both to get good looks at the Mig pilots “up close and personal” and to add to the stories. I went. There were about 25—30 American former aviators in all. Among the Mig pilots were guys who had flown the Mig-17, the 19 and the 21, and among them were three retired Lt Generals. Two of the Lt Gens were aces with six kills each, and the other one had four. Most of the other ten pilots had American kills. Among the Americans were navy F-4 pilots and RIOs, USAF F-4 pilots and WSOs, F-105 pilots, and two navy guys who’d flown the A-1 and A-4. Our navy Phantom crew who made ace, Randy Duke Cunningham and his RIO, Willy Driscoll, were there. Six American former POWs were there too, four Air Force and two navy. My dear friend Bob Jeffery was there. Bob was a USAF F-4 pilot who got smoked on his FIRST mission on December 10, 1965, and spent the next 7 & 1/2 years in Hanoi. Some of the Viets brought their wives as there were five or six women there too.
The event opened with a meeting in the conference room of the Holiday Inn Bayside at 0830 on Thursday the 21st. A rostrum was set-up in the front of the room with a microphone and the American and Vietnamese flags properly displayed. There were several cloth covered round tables which seated ten each situated all around the room, each with note pads and pens at place. There were coffee and ice-water urns in the rear of the room. The Vietnamese pilots and American crews mixed and schmoozed the first half-hour or so until the meeting was formally opened by Charlie Tutt who sort of MC’d the whole day.
The idea was for the pilots who had actually engaged each other in the air to form panels to discuss what happened then to brief all of us on the events after they got all their lies….uh….er….facts straight. Several were able to identify each other so they met at the two front tables and with the aid of interpreters got their stories and events synced up. After about an hour they went to the rostrum and told their stories by one pilot talking a few minutes then the interpreter doing her work, then the other pilot taking his turn talking with the interpreter doing her work again.
The first interpreter was a woman who had to interpret a stranger-than-usual southern Vietnamese dialect into a northern dialect so the other interpreter could understand before translating it into English. Needless to say, that process was laborious and we lost a lot of the meaning, sentiment and emotion while it took place. One interesting thing though, was a long session with 82 year old Sen.Col. Nguyễn Văn Bảy, the most highly decorated Vietnamese Mig-17 pilot. He got 7 kills and became “a national treasure” so Ho Chi Minh pulled him out of combat and limited him to instructing for the next few years. Van Bay was the spittin’ image of Ho Chi Minh himself, incidentally…
After an hour and a half lunch break we had a new interpreter who did a much better job and everybody seemed to enjoy the stories much more. That interpreter was a former Mig-21 pilot, now airline Captain Nguyen Nam Lien who flies 787 Dreamliners for Vietnam Airlines. Before the afternoon session began I introduced myself to him and I was startled to hear him say “Oh yes, I know you, we have met before”. I asked him when-where-and how and he said he’d been the AirBus pilot who flew me and “Jeremy” Morris from Hong Kong to Hanoi back in 2000—-17 years earlier— when Jerry and I went over there trying to meet-up with the guy who Jerry and I helped bag back in 1967. That guy is the infamous (now retired Lt General) Mai van Cuong…one of Vietnam’s three pilots tied for 2nd leading ace of the war.
Jerry and I had stopped to chat with Lien as we were getting off the AirBus in Hanoi and Lien remembered us by name! Lien had written a book in Vietnamese about all the air-battles between the US and Vietnamese and had detailed descriptions of each one (at least as detailed as he could get) from combing through tons of official records in Hanoi, American military libraries and books authored by credible American and foreign writers, as well as personal interviews. It was interesting to have him read about both of my encounters with Mig-21s to me. The one intercepting van Cuong was sketchy but factual and the one which told how Hoang Quoc Dung (pronounced Zoong) intercepted me was virtually the same as which Zoong had told me—but it was a lie. Zoong told both Lien and me that he climbed to about 15,000 feet while heading south to meet us then after sighting me he swooped down to my six (behind me) and smoked me with an Atoll, a heat-seeker missile. I knew it was a lie because the Vietnam Airlines AirBus captain who took Jerry and me back to Hanoi in 2006 knew Zoong personally and he told us what really happened. The truth was that Zoong came at me from a head-on intercept, flying under the almost solid undercast, then did an Immelmann up to my six o’clock and shot me. I’d told people for years that a 2nd Lieutenant on his familiarization-two flight could have shot me down for all the degree of difficulty it was. My flight-leader, the most exalted fighter-pilot the navy had ever known, led us right into a trap and handed us to the Zoong on a silver platter. Anyway, after that “personal” session with Lien he opened the afternoon session and did a great job of translating the interesting facts of the fights.
Before he started the translations Lien took the time and made a special effort to emphasize that “Now we can finally tell the truth…all the records in Vietnam have been opened and studied for the facts and the truth is now exposed. From now on we will finally tell only the truth”. I found that to be interesting because it tacitly admitted that they had been lying in the past…or at least evading or hiding the truth. That also made me wonder why Zoong had lied to us about how he shot me down.
One revealing, and at the same time funny, story was about the lone kill the US got with a Talos missile. The C.O. of the USS Chicago forty years ago has wanted to know for years if the one Talos he fired brought down the entire flight of four Mig-17s he was shooting at that day in May 1972. I’m thinking it was the 12th. The answer is NO, it brought down only ONE Mig; and the guy who it brought down told the story. He was on his very first mission after becoming combat qualified in the Mig-17 and he was #2 in a “loose” flight of four. They were at about 18,000 feet south of Hanoi and headed south. His lead gave him a signal to cross-over to the opposite side of the formation and he did. Just seconds after he did, the missile exploded, tearing his Mig to small pieces. To say the least, he was VERY surprised but ejected successfully. Later, after meeting up with his leader again he accused him of knowing the missile was coming and had crossed him over in order that the missile would guide on him instead of the leader. We all got a big laugh out of that.
Another interesting snippet was that the North Koreans had asked the Vietnamese if they could send some pilots to fly with them so they could get some experience fighting Americans. Yes, but the Koreans had to be under the Viets’ control and fly according to their doctrine. Originally the Koreans sent 16 pilots then sent more later, and the Koreans did indeed fly against the US. There was no mention of a Korean ever shooting an American down, but there is a monument to deceased flyers in Hanoi and there are 20 North Koreans listed on it. I wonder if Kim Jung Un knows about that monument…..?
NO RUSSIANS EVER FOUGHT AGAINST US. The Russians sent instructors to Hanoi and they did fly instructional flights, but none ever flew in combat. It was against Ho Chi Minh’s wishes to get the Russians involved in actual combat. They DID provide all the Mig-21s the Vietnamese flew but they didn’t actually fight against us…except once! They didn’t say where it took place—Kep, Phuc Yen or Yen Bai, but here’s the story:
One of the Viet’s best pilots had been injured, or had been sick, and he was grounded for a while. When it came time for him to “get back in the saddle” he was paired with a Russian instructor to fly an unarmed two-seat Mig-21 to refresh his skills. Shortly after they took off they were jumped by two USAF Phantoms and the Russian was having a terrible time trying to defend against the two Phantoms. The Viet pilot was an accomplished combat pilot and took control of the plane. He masterfully evaded both the Phantoms until (I guess) the F-4s got so low on fuel they had to knock it off and departed the area. The Mig pilot landed the 21 and when they got on the ground the Russian instructor was “shaking like a leaf”. He told the Viet pilot “Alright then, you saved my life, so come on over to my place and I will give you some VODKA!!!!!!” BIG LAUGHS again by both the Viets and the US crews. That is the only recorded time any Russian did air-battle with an American [in this war].
A similar story was that one day the US attacked one of the Migs’ air fields. A 21 pilot went up against them and stayed engaged until the Americans departed. By the time the fights were over and the Americans were gone the Mig pilot realized he was out of gas and wouldn’t have enough gas to fly a regular approach and landing. So he just flew right back to directly overhead the field and ejected.
Another big laugh-getter was a short story by one of the Viets. He said that he had barely gotten into combat when on one of his very first missions he had been shot down. He said he was angry at the American pilot who embarrassed him by bagging him until he realized the truth of the situation. After a lot of thought he was able to adequately mentally insult the unknown pilot. He said he was finally able to imagine saying to the American, “OK, big deal, congratulations, that was a big accomplishment. You managed to shoot-down a private pilot”.
There was one Mig-19 pilot in their group, Lt.Col. Phùng Văn Quảng. He had only one kill and nobody there had fought a 19 so Quang gave us a brief on the 19. He said it was grossly underpowered and on a hot day they had to turn it into the wind to help get it started. He said he had a couple of occasions to chase Phantoms and F-105s out of the Hanoi area but he could never catch up to them—-he could never close the gap. He seemed a little embarrassed to be a 19 pilot. He said all the 19s came from Russia except one which they got from China. And if I heard it correctly, all the Mig-17s the Viets flew came from China too.
A lot of the afternoon was taken up by an interview with Lt General Pham Phu Thai, a four-kill Mig-21 driver. He was very animated and smiled a lot and was told a good story. He had been the Chief of Staff of the Viet Air Force at one time as was in on a lot of the “big thinking”. He said at one time too many Viet pilots were claiming kills which they could not substantiate. So, in order to keep the pilots honest, if they claimed a kill their bosses told the pilots to “bring me the tail of the airplane”. They literally had to get a piece of the plane they’d shot down. He said after they made that rule the claims died down a lot.
I told LtGen Thai that we Americans did tours in Southeast Asia then returned home, but the Viet pilots were at home and stayed at home. I asked him if he had stopped counting missions or if he knew how many he’d flown, expecting to hear a sum of several hundred. To my surprise he said he’d flown only 215 missions. I asked about engagements and he said he’d had 25 engagements, only 20 of which he would consider true dogfights. I had 334 missions in three cruises, so I still don’t understand the reason for the big difference in numbers. I did not get to talk to Thai again or I would have asked him to ‘splain….
Someone asked Thai who the Viets preferred to fight, the USAF or the NAVY. He was ever the diplomat and said they preferred the USAF as (1) they had to fly a long time from Thailand in order to get to targets in Vietnam so hopefully they were tired when they got there, (2) they brought a LOT of airplanes with them which provided more to pick-on, and (3) they stayed in the area longer providing more opportunities for fights. He said the navy just came screaming in, did their bombing job and dashed back out across the coastline to the safety of the water…much better chance for a rescue in case the plane went down. He also said a navy plane going down in the water “made it a lot harder to get the tail of the airplane”. BIG LAUGH there. At the end of his talk, in whispered tones from the corner of his mouth, he also said, “Navy more difficult”.
During another brief interview, a Viet pilot said his most dreaded adversary was the navy F-8 Crusader, that it was the hardest to fight against as it had a gun. That made me wonder if the era the Mig pilot referred to was before TOP GUN came along [when the F-4 community finally learned to dogfight].
FLASH BACK: During that first meeting back in Hanoi one of the navy guys had asked the question of the most senior officer in the group, himself a six-kill Mig-21 pilot, Lt General Nguyễn Đức Soát, (pronounced “Swat”) who were the better adversaries, the USAF or the NAVY. Soat gave a diplomatic answer too, but while the group was laughing or otherwise distracted, he whispered to the questioner, “I think we both know the answer to that”.
After that session there was a three-hour break before the “From Dogfights to Detante” night on the USS Midway Museum and another long Q & A session for the public. I’d had enough by 3:30 so I took the rest of that day off and rejoined them around noon the next day at MCAS Miramar for the air show.
The commanding general of the Third Marine Air Wing, Major General Wise and CO of the air station, Colonel Woodward, invited the Viets and their hosts to watch the air show in the “BIG TENT”. I had been invited by the CO, Marine Air Group Eleven, Colonel Simon “Simple” Doran, a long-time and highly valued friend, to do the same. There were plenty of tables with programs and there was a delicious buffet set up and a bar complete with beer, wine and whiskey, and a photo booth for souvenir photographs. They also had a huge tub of vanilla ice cream with a myriad of toppings for dessert. The Viets were all over, most of them sporting TOP GUN ball caps which Cunningham had given them, and they were scurrying back and forth to get good views of the airplanes and the jet-powered truck. Bob Jeffery and one of his side-kick pals from his Viet squadron days was there and I explained basic differences in US Navy/Marine Corps and US Air Force philosophy/policy/doctrine/viewpoints/ways of doing things to them. They both understood our ways but found it hard to believe and accept.
When the Blues took off the Viets were all eyes to the skies and you could see by their smiles and gestures that some of them were flying right along with the Blues. I sat with Lt Gen Nguyễn Kim Cách another six-kill Mig-21 pilot and I pointed out to him the tail hooks down on the F-18s as they came by inverted or during the dirty loop, and I gestured to him that I snubbed my nose at the USAF guys in the tent. He understood and we laughed. He was a charming fellow and I decided that from his stories the day before and his animated conduct now he was the most mischievous of all the Viets.
After the air show—around 5—we went over to the O-Club and Bob and his pal were once again “wowed”. Bob said he’d never seen an O-Club like that before. I told him there were none. I saw retired Lt General Tom Conant who had been the Commanding General of the Third Marine Air Wing at Miramar a few years back and who is now working for Lockheed Martin in the F-35 program. It was GREAT to see Tom again after about six-seven years and he invited us to fly the F-35 simulator they had set up in the club’s dining room. I told Tom that Bob had been cooped up in Hanoi for 7+ years so I’d really like to see Bob fly it. Bob flew it. He liked it, but he claims he just FORGOT to try for a carrier trap. Heh-Heh…..Sure…
I took Bob into the WOXOF room (a bar) and he could hardly believe the decor. The Marines have made it look like a bunker compete with one wall of sand bags and large, carved wooden plaques displayed all over the place (each time a Marine squadron goes on cruise they have a plaque made which depicts their squadron and its theme, mission and personnel). We had a grand time reuniting with old friends and around six the Viets showed up and a few minutes later the Blues showed up. They had a mutual-friends-society back-slapping session in one of the back rooms then they all came out to have some libations in the main bar and on the back patio—both of which were packed! I met the incoming BOSS of the Blues, Commander Eric “Popeye” Doyle, a long-time and close friend of Simple’s, and I took the opportunity to give him some learned advice on leading the Blues next year; I told him to not F it up! He said that was the best advise he had gotten so far and I told him I normally gave out advice too younger and lesser experienced aviators…and there wasn’t even a charge for it. He looked at me kinda funny.
The Viets left and the Blues mingled and I drank two-three-seven too many more Jack ’n Cokes and kept schmoozing, then around 9:30 I left too…and I sure was glad I had a designated driver.
I thoroughly enjoyed both the days I spent with the Mig drivers and the events were well planned and superbly executed…the host aircrew did great jobs making things happen “behind the scenes”. I must mention, however, that our pal Jack—Fingers—One Gun—Ensch seemed to do the heavy-lifting because he was everywhere at one time. I didn’t see him much but every time I looked up I could tell he’ d been there because I could see his smoke. He was in and out of minimum burner the whole time, darting all over the place assuring that things were going as intended and on schedule. At one point I did hear him say the day at the Miramar air show reminded him of taking the kids to Disneyland. I suspect Jack’s work and “attention to detail” was the primary cause the event went so well and was so much fun for the rest of us. Just like 44 years ago in Hanoi, Jack’s great personality and sense of humor made it a lot easier—-not fun—-but a lot easier—-for us to be there.
Well, we’re over east Texas or Louisiana now and my memory—-and my fingers—-are about exhausted. I wish more of my old squadron mates, the Fighter Squadron 143 Pukin’ Dogs, would have come to that interesting and “awesome” meeting with our former enemies, but they didn’t. I also wish they had come to the O-Club for reunions with some of our old navy buddies (I saw several from the two reserve F-4 squadrons at Miramar in the early ‘70s) but they didn’t. I felt very selfish having all that fun to share with only Bob Jeffrey, but I just soldiered on and endured it.
That meeting with the Mig pilots made me think of when Jerry Morris and I went back to Hanoi that second time in 2006 when we had that terrific experience of meeting with Hoang Quoc Dung: it was surreal. This meeting was a lot more fun since we got to do more than just talk and it was a lot more laughs with 13 of them. It felt GREAT to have a kind of “cathartic experience” with Zoong and it was really fun to watch the other Americans in the group as they intermingled and interrelated with the Vietnamese. All our exchanges were cautiously friendly and respectful, although you could tell there was that ever-present “fighter pilot playfulness” and people felt free to joke and tease each other a little and laugh a lot. If anyone reading this has an opportunity to mix with some former Vietnamese enemies I highly recommend you meet them and get to know them and have fun with them…they aren’t our enemies any more…
Jaybee Souder….somewhere in the free skies above the USA…
Visiting VN Pilots:
1. Lt.Gen. Nguyễn Đức Soát MiG-21 6 victories
2. Sen.Col. Nguyễn Văn Bảy MiG-17 7 victories
3. Sen. Col Lê Thanh Đạo MiG-21 6victories
4. Lt.Gen. Phạm Phú Thái MiG-21 4 victories
5. Sen. Col. Ha Quang Hung MiG-21
6. Sen.Col. Nguyễn Thanh Qúy MiG-21
7. Lt.Col. Phùng Văn Quảng MiG-19 1 victory
8. Sen.Col Từ Đễ MiG-17
9. Lt.Col. Nguyễn Sỹ Hưng MiG-21
10. Lt.Gen. Nguyễn Kim Cách MiG-21 6 victories
11.Sen. Col. Lữ Thông MiG 17/21
12 Lt.Col. Vũ Phi Hùng 921st Fighter Regiment
13. Mr. Nguyễn Nam Liên 910th Fighter Regiment—Interpreter
US Host Aircrews:
1. Curt Dose’ USN F-4J, 1 victory
2. Jack Ensch USN F-4B, RIO, POW, 2 victories, 1 loss [received the Navy Cross with Mugs McKeown ’61 as his RIO]
3. Rick Hartnack USMC F-4B
4. Jim Hoogerwerf USAF C-130B, TAC Airlift
5. Clint Johnson USN A-1, 1 victory
6. John Ed Kerr USN F-4J
7. Pete Pettigrew USN F-4J, 1 victory
8. Dave Skilling USAF F-100, Misty FAC
9. Charlie Tutt USMC F-4B
Some Others attending:
1.Winston Copeland USN F-4N, 1 victory
2.Denny Wisely USN, 1 victory
3.Jaybee Souder USN RIO, POW (the only one there to win 1, lose 1)
4. John Cerak USAF F-4 pilot, POW1 loss
5. Tom Hanton USAF F-4 WSO, POW 1 loss
6. Chuck Jackson USAF F-4, POW 1 loss
7. Bob Jeffery USAF F-4, POW 7 1/2 years
8. Jim Fox USN RIO, F-4J
9. Matt Connelly USN F-4J, 2 victories”
On November 14, 2015, retired USAF Brigadier General Steve Ritchie one of the most highly decorated fighter pilots of the Vietnam War spoke at the Museum of Flight.
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, the Crew Chief of F-4D 650784 & His 2 Fabulous Videos of Robert Lodge & Roger Locher
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
- 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.
- RTB = return to base
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
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
- 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).
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.
- Aces and Aerial Victories – Part I & II: 1965 – 1968
- Aces and Aerial Victories – Part III: 1972 – 1973
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.”
See an August 27, 1967, newspaper story about Lt. Waldrop’s MiG kills.
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, which he 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,
On April 1, 1972, while members of the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Kunsan Air Base, Korea, slept, an early morning phone call summoned USAF Colonel Tyler G. Goodman to the 3rd Tactical Fighter Wing command post. After communicating with 5th Air Force headquarters in Japan via the secure “walk-talk” teletype system, Colonel Goodman instituted the squadron’s silent recall procedure, which was designed to reduce the chances that nonessential personnel would know of the recall.
Thus began the April Fool’s day deployment of the 35th TFS to Vietnam and Thailand to participate in the “Southeast Asia War Games” and Operation Linebacker I. Later that day, 14 F-Ds departed Kunsan Air Base for Clark Air Base, Philippines. On April 5, 1972, 35th TFS crews began flying combat missions from Ubon Air Base, Thailand. The following day, other 35th TFS crews began flying combat missions from DaNang Air Base, South Vietnam.
Some of the 35th TFS Guys Pose for a Group Photo in front of the Squadron Building Just Prior to Departing Kunsan AB, Korea, for Southeast Asia.
The 35th TFS soon consolidated the squadron and moved all of its men and F-4Ds to Korat Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, where I joined it. During the summer and fall of 1972 as part of Operation Linebacker I, the 35th TFS conducted strike escort missions into Route Pack VI, the most heavily defended area in the history of aerial warfare. Each strike escort mission consisted of four 35th TFS F-4s flying in “fluid four” formation on the perimeter of the strike force (the F-4s carrying bombs) as the strike force ingressed and egressed the target in Route Pack VI. The strike escorts usually flew the F-4E armed with four AIM-9 Sidewinder heat seeking missiles, 3 or 4 AIM-7 Sparrow radar guided missiles and one six barreled 20MM gatling gun. When a strike escort carried only three Sparrows, it was because a single AIM-7 missile was replaced by an ALQ-119 jamming pod that jammed enemy SA-2 Guideline surface to air missile (“SAM”) radars.
The SA-2 SAM was a 32 foot long flying supersonic telephone pole. The radar guided missile could fly Mach 3.5 (three and one half times the speed of sound) and had a range of 25 miles and a maximum altitude of 60,000 feet. It was a formidable weapon and responsible for the loss of many U.S. aircraft over North Vietnam. The missile had a warhead that weighed 195 kg (130 kg of which is high explosive) and could detonate via proximity (when it got as close as it was going to get), contact and command fusing. At the altitudes F-4s flew over North Vietnam, the missile had a kill radius of approximately 65 meters, but anything within 100-120 meters of the detonation would be severely damaged.
The strike escort F-4s were the second line of defense if enemy MiGs got past the MiG CAP (combat air patrol) F-4s. The job of the strike escorts was to engage and destroy MiGs that threatened the strike force. If the MiGs got too close to the F-4 bombers, the bombers would be forced to jettison their bombs and take evasive action to avoid being shot down.
In the hierarchy of flying, the jet fighter is the pinnacle, but aerial combat is the fighter pilot’s ultimate experience. Tom Wolfe said that fighter pilots “have the right stuff” in his best selling book of the same name. Tom also wrote a short story called “Jousting with Sam and Charlie, the Truest Sport.” It is about a Navy F-4 crew that took off from a US aircraft carrier and got shot down by a surface to air missile (a “SAM”). The crew was rescued from the Gulf of Tonkin by a Navy helicopter and ate dinner that night in the officer’s mess / ward room or whatever the Navy guys called it. I believe the short story is in Wolfe’s book called “Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine.” It was first published in a magazine, but I cannot remember which one.
In 1980 I was working on a masters degree in tax law at New York University School of Law. Tom Wolfe gave a talk to the students about his book “The Right Stuff.” I attended and found it very interesting. Tom spoke about a chapter he wrote for the book, but his editor didn’t let him put in the final version because it didn’t have anything to do with the rest of the book. Wolfe spent a lot of time researching “The Right Stuff” by hanging out with fighter pilots on Air Force and Navy bases. The deleted chapter was all about fighter pilots and what it was like to fly fighters in the US military. Tom said that his research showed that most fighter pilots were white Anglo Saxon protestants who were first born sons.
After Tom finished the speech he came into the audience and talked to people and signed autographs. I approached him from behind and waited for a chance to get his attention. I finally called out “Mr. Wolfe,” but he did not turn around. I then said “I am a white Anglo Saxon protestant first born son who flew F-4s in Vietnam.” That got his attention. Tom turned around and we had a lively discussion for an extended period of time about flying fighters. Tom told me that I should read “Jousting with Sam and Charlie, the Truest Sport.”
A few weeks later, I was wasting time in the library. I grabbed a volume of bound magazines off the shelf and thumbed through it. By chance I came across “Jousting with Sam and Charlie, the Truest Sport.” Excellent story. What are the odds of randomly finding the story? I searched for the story on the net tonight, but only found references to it.
But, I digress. This is about the men of the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron who achieved the ultimate fighter pilot dream, to engage and destroy an enemy MiG in aerial combat. The vast majority of military pilots who flew in the Vietnam war were not fighter pilots so they never had a chance to engage a MiG. Most fighter pilots who flew in the Vietnam war never flew into North Vietnam where the MiGs were. Most of the fighter pilots who flew into North Vietnam never engaged a MiG. The fraternity of Vietnam era fighter pilots who actually engaged a MiG in life or death aerial combat is very small and very elite.
Lt. Colonel Ferguson’s F-4D that he flew back to Kunsan AB, Korea, in October 1972 when the 35 TFS RTBd.
Ask Joe Lee Burns or Gary Rettebush Why 8 Air to Air MiG Kills are Listed
Official USAF Records Credit the 35 TFS with 6 MiG Kills
My squadron had a lot of members of the aerial combat fraternity because it was tasked with the strike escort mission in Route Pack VI. The following table lists the members of the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron who were credited with MiG kills during the time we were TDY to Korat Air Base, Thailand, in the summer and fall of 1972. When they made their kills, all of the aircrews were flying the F-4E with the internal 20MM six-barrel gatling gun.
Read Gary Retterbush’s article on his MiG kills called “Gary Retterbush 2 – North Vietnamese Air Force 0.”
*Major Lucas was a 34th Tactical Fighter Squadron pilot.
Dan Autrey was my roommate. Dan and Gary Retterbush were awarded the Silver Star for their kill. Dan made a great tape recording of a mission north of Hanoi during which he and Gary Retterbush had a spoofed SAM launched at them while they were attacked by two MiG-21s from low and behind that each fired two Atoll heat seeking missiles at them. Dan told me after the mission what it felt like when he heard Lt. Col. Beckers in Lark 01 call “Lark 3 break left.” Dan looked to his F-4’s seven o’clock position, saw four supersonic missiles coming at him and said “oh shit, left, left, left.” I have the tape and will soon write a story about that close encounter of the frightening kind.
by Gary Retterbush, USAF Fighter Pilot
My First MiG-21, 12 Sep 72
On September 12, 1972, I was a Major in the United States Air Force and the pilot of Finch 3, an F-4E Phantom II. Finch flight was a flight of four Phantoms led by Lt. Col. Lyle Beckers, the squadron commander of the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron. The 35th TFS was permanently based at Kunsan Air Base, Korea, but was on temporary duty (TDY) at Korat Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, to assist in Operation Linebacker I .
Finch flight was part of a large strike package of aircraft flying in the general area of Hanoi, in Route Pack VI, North Vietnam. The strike force consisted of:
- F-4 fighter bombers carrying bombs
- F-4 strike escorts whose job was to prevent the MiGs from attacking the strike force
- F-4 chaff bombers whose job was to drop small pieces of tin foil along the route to the target to degrade the enemy’s radar
- F-105 wild weasels whose job was to troll for SA-2 Guideline surface to air missiles (SAMs, which were 32 foot long flying telephone polls with a speed 3 times the speed of sound) and destroy the SAM sites, and
- F-4 hunter killers, who flew with the wild weasels and whose job was drop general purpose bombs and cluster bomb units (CBUs) on the SAM site.
While we were heading to the target, several North Vietnamese MiG-21s jumped the strike force. The MiG’s came from high and behind my flight and dove down through us firing their missiles as they came. It was a rather chaotic time!
During the maneuvering that followed, our flight broke apart and we ended up as two elements of two F-4s. I maneuvered to the six o’clock position behind a MiG-21 and Dan Autrey, my backseater, got a good radar lock on the MiG. Conditions were excellent; almost text book. I fired two AIM-7 Sparrow radar guided missiles, which did not guide. They simply went ballistic and did nothing except alert the MiG pilot to his impending peril.
I had a lot of overtake and continued to close on the MiG. I changed my armament switches from the AIM-7 to the AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking infrared missile. As soon as I was within AIM-9 range (approximately 9,000 feet), I got a good audio tone for the AIM-9’s. I fired three Sidewinders at the MiG, but they either did not guide or their proximity fuses did not work.
The last missile went close by the cockpit and got the MiG pilot’s attention! He broke hard and I followed and continued to close on him. I got in position to use my 20mm canon (a six barreled Gatling gun in the nose that was capable of firing 6,000 rounds/minute) so I fired a couple of short bursts at the MiG. Some of the bullets hit the MiG’s left wing near where it joined the fuselage. The MiG started burning immediately. I was now closing way too fast. I did a high speed yo-yo. The maneuver once again put me in position to fire another burst from my gun. These bullets hit in and around the cockpit and the aircraft pitched up. I saw the pilot slumped forward in the cockpit. The aircraft then stalled and snapped down as I flew past it. I watched the burning MiG until it hit the ground and exploded in a cloud of smoke and fire.
Ground Crew Paints a Red Star on the Side of this F-4 that Killed a MiG
My Second MiG-21, 8 Oct 72
On October 8, 1972, I was the leader of Lark flight, a flight of four F-4E Phantoms flying cover for a flight of four F-4Ds on a bombing mission near Yen Bai Airfield in North Vietnam. I was also the mission leader of this very small strike package.
My backseater, Captain Bob Jasperson, had a problem getting his canopy to lock just prior to takeoff. Bob cycled his canopy several times. He finally pulled it down on the rails and got it to lock. Bob told me later that he knew this would be his last Southeast Asia flight and he didn’t want to abort on the ground. Thanks, Bob!
After we refueled from the KC-135 tankers on the ingress route, one of my F-4s in my flight had a mechanical problem. I sent that airplane and a wingman home. Under the rules of engagement at that time, I should have aborted the mission since I only had two fighters in my flight, but I chose to continue the mission.
As we approached the border of North Vietnam, “Disco” (the USAF airborne EC-121 warning aircraft orbiting in Laos) warned us that a MiG was scrambling and that we were probably its target. As we continued inbound, Disco gave us frequent warnings of the MiG’s progress and location. It was indeed coming our way.
The engagement was almost like a GCI (ground controlled intercept) in reverse. Disco announced the MiG was at our 10:30 high. Sure enough, my backseater, Bob Jasperson, pointed out a silver glint in the sun as the MiG turned down on us. I called a “hijack” and had the fighters jettison their external fuel tanks and light afterburners as we turned into the MiG. A few seconds later I had the F-4 bomber flight break as the MiG came closer to the bombers.
The MiG dove down trying to attack the breaking bombers. I was on his tail, but at a very high angle off. Angle off is the angle between the attacking airplane and the target if you extended a line straight back from the target’s tail and then measured the angle between the attacker and the extended line. The book said that the AIM-9 Sidewinder would not guide to the target if the angle off at the time of firing was greater than 45 degrees.
I fired two AIM-9 heat seeking missiles at the diving MiG. I did not expect either of them to guide because the angle off was far beyond the limits. Both missiles went ballistic as I anticipated. I then tried to jettison the rest of my missiles including the three AIM-7 Sparrow radar guided missiles. I was yelling for Bob to give me a caged gun sight because the reticle was completely off of the windscreen due to the high angle off and the high Gs we were pulling. Bob got the gun sight locked. I very quickly did a little Kentucky windage estimate, pulled the pipper way out in front of the MiG and high and fired a short burst from my 20mm Gatling gun.
To my pleasant surprise the bullets hit the MiG in the fuselage near the left wing and it immediately burst into flames. The pilot did not hesitate and ejected immediately. Then came an even bigger surprise; he had a beautiful pastel pink parachute! I circled him one time and then regrouped the flight for our trip home.
The entire engagement was visible from the Yen Bai, North Vietnam airfield tower, if anyone was in it at that time. The engagement lasted only a minute or two from start to finish. When I landed, I checked the gun and found that I had fired only 96 rounds, including the exciter burst that was probably about the half bullets fired.
I was extremely pleased that I had a gun camera for this mission (not all birds had them) and it had checked out good going in. When I removed the film pack it looked like it had functioned correctly. I gave the film to the gun camera guys and told then to really take care in developing it. About an hour later they came to me with the results and a great film, but all of it was flying straight and level after the refueling. I tested the gun after leaving the tanker and the camera apparently continued to run after the test firing. All of the film was used long before the dogfight began. So, unfortunately, I did not have the great MiG kill camera film that I had hoped for!
Check six, Busch.
Simulated Video of Busch’s first MiG Kill
This vidoe is pretty cool. The text under the video on Youtube says: “In game video of a YAP2 mission loosely based on an actual gun kill by an F-4E Phantom piloted by Gary Retterbush over N. Vietnam on September 12 1972. He later went on to earned a second gun kill just a month later.”
A 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron F-4D killed a MiG. F-4D 65-0608 was the spare on 12 September 72 and filled in as Robin 2 with a flight of 3 F-4Es from the 469th TFS, 388th TFW. It was flown by a crew from the 469th on a strike escort mission defending smart bombers attacking a railroad bridge near Yen Bai Air Base, North Vietnam, 60 miles northwest of Hanoi. The aircraft was credited with a Mig-21 kill. F-4D 65-0608 is now on permanent static display at Duluth, MN, with its Mig-21 kill star on the engine intake.