Rescues

The Last Flight of Hobo 28

By Timothy Karpin & James Maroncelli

Ok, this article is not about flying the F-4 in combat, but as a person who sat on nuclear alert at Kunsan Air Base, Korea, in 1972 and 1973 with a nuke bomb on my F-4 I found it very interesting.  Here is the beginning of the article:

“Major Alfred D’Amario thought the worst was over after his violent ejection from the dark and smoky cockpit of his Boeing B-52G Stratofortress. The bomber he had abandoned was diving in flames toward the nearby ice-covered Bylot Sound off Thule Air Force Base in northwestern Greenland. D’Amario knew that the one-point safe bombs would not go “nuclear” in a crash. As he descended, the major sighted an orange fireball eight miles to the west. Suddenly, an intensely bright white light outshone the orange jet fuel blaze as the high explosives in four hydrogen bombs in the bomb bay detonated from the shock of impact. A supersonic blast wave tore outward in all directions into the subfreezing arctic air. In several seconds, D’Amario’s easy downward drift was interrupted. As he recounted in his book Hangar Flying: “I watched it [the bright light] for a few seconds and, suddenly, all Hell broke loose. My parachute and the life raft both took off to my right leaving me what looked like ten or fifteen feet to the left of them. Then, I started swinging back and forth between them.” D’Amario and five of his fellow crewmen made it safely to the ground. One crew member did not. Thus began one of the U.S. Air Force Strategic Air Command’s worst “Bro­ken Arrow” nuclear incidents of the Cold War.”

2017-10-14T09:44:35+00:00By |0 Comments

F-4 Hit by Flak Lands without Its Backseater

The backseater who ejected from this F-4 is a pilot named Kenny Boone. Kenny was one of my instructor pilots when I went through F-4 replacement training unit (RTU) at Luke AFB, Arizona, 1971 – 1972. Kenny was a pilot flying in the back seat on an orientation mission over the Ho Che Minh trail over Laos on November 18, 1968.  Kenny’s airplane was hit by AAA while bombing the trail.  Ray Battle, the aircraft commander, thought the airplane was going to crash so he told Kenny to eject. The frontseater recovered the airplane and landed it after Kenny departed.

Kenny landed in high trees in Laos. He was 200+ feet above the ground.  Kenny heard the bad guys shooting and and acted as a tree-borne forward air controller.  Kenny decided he would be safer in the trees so he did not use his tree lowering device to let down to the ground. It was getting dark and the search and rescue guys told Kenny they could not rescue him until the morning. Kenny stayed atop the trees in his parachute harness all night. The next morning the Jolly Green helicopter dropped Kenny a tree penetrator and lifted him from the trees to safety.

Kenny is the only instructor pilot I remember from my F-4 RTU.  One day in 1972 Kenny’s brother talked to my class about his experience as a slow forward air controller flying the O-2 Skymaster in southeast Asia.  He had recently finished his FAC tour and returned to the U.S.  I distinctly remember 8 mm movies Kenny’s brother showed us taken during some of his FAC missions. 

What follows is Ray Battle’s comments on the mission:

Kenny Boone and I were flying a fast mover FAC mission along the Ho Chi Min trail in Laos. It was an orientation ride for Kenny as he was newly assigned to my unit. We were at 4,000 feet and Kenny was flying the airplane when I heard an explosion, the aircraft shuddered and the front windscreen was covered in what turned out to be hydraulic fluid.

My sensation was that the aircraft as out of control and I ordered Kenny to eject which he did. Instinctively, I took the stick and throttles in hand and to my amazement, the aircraft as flyable. I called for help for Kenny and headed back for Thailand where we were stationed. I was given the option of ejecting or landing gear up as the landing gear would not come down.

I elected to land gear up and catch the runway wire with my tail hook. I have 150 aircraft carrier landings and thought I could easily make and arrested landing on the runway. I pulled the power off just as I touched down and the aircraft settled onto the wire cutting it.

The aircraft slid down the runway and veered off to the right before fish-hooking to the right and stopping. It caught on fire and I jumped out safely. As you know Kenny was recovered after spending a nervous night hanging in a tree in Laos In retrospect, My ordering Kenny to eject was a mistake which I have always regretted. I felt at the time I was saving his life and I intended to eject after he did. We both survived the incident for which I am grateful.”

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The picture below is B flight of the 311 Tactical Fighter Training Squadron at Luke AFB 1972.  I’m in the back row 6th guy from the left.  Kenny is in the front row third from the left.

More About Kenny Boone

After attending Undergraduate Pilot Training at Reese Air Force Base, Lubbock, Texas, F-4 Replacement Training, Air Force Survival Training and Jungle Survival Training, he was assigned to the 497th Tactical Fighter Squadron ‘Night Owls’, 8th Tactical Fighter Wing ‘Wolfpack’, Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand in 1968 as a Weapons System Operator (WSO) aka Guy In Back (GIB) flying the F-4D, Phantom II.

On November 18, 1968, just six days after the first Wolf mission was flown out of the 8th TFW, Ubon RTAFB, Major Benjamin Ray Battle (433rd TFS) and 1st. Lt. Robert Kenneth ‘Kenny’ Boone (497th TFS) while flying a 433rd TFS aircraft were hit in Southern Steel Tiger. A 37mm impacted the radome and entire radome was blown off.

Unfortunately Kenny died in 2010.  See Kenny’s memorial web page.

2017-10-04T12:51:50+00:00By |0 Comments

Seeking Phantom & Thud Drivers

Forty-nine years ago, Streetcar 304 was rescued just southwest of Tchapone. Pete Lappin here, Nail 69 that day. I am looking for any Phantom or Thud drivers who took part in that rescue. After a tour and a half in the F-4 I went to NKP for a tour as a FAC. June 2 1968, I had the privilege of being the FAC that saw the best our Air Force had to offer. Bad weather, rough terrain, and plenty of guns! You silenced the guns and the Sandys and Jolly Greens were able to get him out. I would like to organize a 50th anniversary reunion of that rescue next year and while he doesn’t know it yet the Navy pilot who was rescued that day, KENNY FIELDS, will be there. Please let me know if you are interested.

Pete Lappin
pblaappin@cox.net

2017-06-04T17:20:50+00:00By |0 Comments

Wolf FAC

by Major Bob Hipps (USAF, Ret)

Bob writes about the two days in November 1972 when he and Captain Alexander H. (Sandy) Murchison III flew missions to rescue the two crew members of a downed F-105 Wild Weasel.

“Right around briefing time, we were informed by the command post that a weasel crew had been downed by a SAM the previous evening somewhere north of Vinh and Blue Chip wanted us to head up there and see if they could raise them on the radio. Turned out the crew was nowhere near the position we got from 7th Air Force (7AF). In fact, we didn’t even have a map of the area where we eventually found them. Anyhow, we launched with our wingman and headed north through Laos and hit our first tanker of the day. The weather steadily worsened the further north we flew and we thought there was no way the survivors could be recovered if they hadn’t been captured already.”

 

2017-01-20T19:03:11+00:00By |0 Comments

Roger Locher Talks about Getting Shot Down & Evading for 23 Days

On May 10, 1972, USAF Captain Roger Locher and his front seater Major Bob Lodge were shot down over North Vietnam in 1972 shortly after they downed their third MiG-21.  Bob Lodge elected not to eject and went down with the F-4D.  Roger Locher ejected and survived, but knew not to get on the radio because it would tip off the North Vietnamese that he was alive and where he was located.
 
During the intelligence briefing before the mission that day the aircrews were told that their mission over North Vietnam that day would to too far inside of North Vietnam so helicopter rescue would be impossible.  Roger knew his only chance to avoid capture or death was to walk west until he arrived at a location where he could be rescued.
 
Roger spent a record 23 hair-raising days evading capture and walking west before he was rescued and returned to Udorn Air Base, Thailand.  In this video from October of 2015 Roger Locher describes the mission that day, getting shot down, evading and being rescued.
 
2016-11-08T13:03:10+00:00By |0 Comments

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

USAF F-4 WSO Captain Roger Locher of the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron describes the mission on May 10, 1972, when he and Maj. Robert A. Lodge in Oyster 1 attacked four MiG-21s, shot down one of them with an AIM-7 using a head on attack and were immediately thereafter shot down by a MiG-19 they never saw until it was too late.  The stricken F-4D immediately went out of control and was on fire.  With the airplane in an inverted descent below 9,000 feet Roger said to Bob that he was going to eject.  Major Lodge said “why don’t you eject then.”  Roger ejected, but he never saw Bob’s chute or what happened to him.  Robert Lodge was later declared Killed in Action.

When I was stationed at Kunsan Air Base, Korea, in 1973 I read the Intel debriefing report Roger gave after he returned to Udorn.  I remember Roger said that before their 10 May 72 mission Bob Lodge told Rodger he would never be a prisoner of war and that Roger speculated that Bob decided to stay with the F-4 rather then eject because of his mindset.

In most of the two part 45 minute audio report Roger Locher describes in detail what happened, his escape and evasion plan and how he successfully evaded the North Vietnam for 23 days.  Before his mission the Intel briefing said that if you got shot down east of  a certain distance from Hanoi you would be a POW because the powers that be decided that search and rescue missions too close to Hanoi were too dangerous for the rescue forces.

When Roger made his first radio contact with US forces 22 days after being shot down the USAF tried to rescue him that day, but the ground fire was too heavy.  The next day USAF General Vogt cancelled the bombing mission scheduled for North Vietnam and sent the entire strike force and supporting aircraft (119 total aircraft) to rescue Roger Locher. It was the deepest rescue made inside North Vietnam during the entire war.

I don’t know when Roger made the tape, but it sounds like it may have been made shortly after his rescue to other aircrews at Udorn Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, with the purpose of helping them in case they were shot down.

The audio is in two parts:

To learn more about Roger Locher and his 10 May 72 mission and rescue 23 days later 60 miles northwest of Hanoi five miles south of Yen Bai Airfield, North Vietnam, read his story on Wikipedia.

Read “Valor: A Good Thought to Sleep On” about Roger Locher.

Watch the two videos Sgt. Joey Hill made about Robert Lodge and Roger Locher at ” Sgt. Joey Hill, the Crew Chief of F-4D 650784 & His 2 Fabulous Videos of Robert Lodge & Roger Locher.”  Joey Hill’s two videos contain his personal photos and the audios of the mission tapes Lodge and Locher made of their missions over North Vietnam during which they shot down their first and second MiGs.  Lodge and Locher gave their crew chief, Sgt. Joey Hill, copies of the audio cassette tapes they made of the two missions.

After you listen to Roger describing his 23 day ordeal, you must watch and listen to the video of Brigadier General Steve Ritchie describing hearing Roger’s first radio call for help on day 22 and the incredible rescue mission that successfully returned Roger to his comrades and freedom.  Steve Richie is the only USAF pilot ace of the Vietnam War.  He was in the same squadron and four ship flight of F-4s as Roger Locher and Robert Lodge on May 10, 1972, the day the two o them were shot down too far inside North Vietnam to be rescued.  Over 150 airplanes were dedicated to rescuing Rocher Locher on day 23.

Listen carefully to the end of Ritchie’s speech when he talks about Americans who risk it all to save one man’s life and freedom and compare that to Barack Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s abandonment of the four patriots who died in Benghazi because the U.S. did nothing to save them.  General Ritchie concludes by saying:

We come to fully understand the effort to which we will go, the resources we will commit, the risks that we will take to rescue one crew member, one American, one ally.  Isn’t it a very powerful statement about what kind of people we are?  About the value that we place on life, on freedom and on the individual? . . . The real mission, yours and mine, business, government, civilian, military, is to protect and preserve an environment, a climate, a system, a way of life where people can be free.

This nine minute video by General  Ritchie describes in detail his memories of the day Roger Locher and Bob Lodge were shot down and Roger’s rescue 23 days later.  It is a great speech.  I recommend you watch the entire video.

I also recommend Steve Ritchie’s paper entitled “Leadership that Inspires Excellence,” about Roger Locher, his rescue and leadership.  He wrote the paper when he attended the Air War College.

2017-01-20T19:03:13+00:00By |11 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+00:00By |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+00:00By |1 Comment