The first video shows two F-4s making a formation take off then making passes at an air show.
The following videos are from an F-4 pilot’s helmet cam. They give you a feel for how great it is to fly the Phantom.
The first video shows two F-4s making a formation take off then making passes at an air show.
The following videos are from an F-4 pilot’s helmet cam. They give you a feel for how great it is to fly the Phantom.
The F-4 Phantom II’s final flight in US military service at Holloman AFB, New Mexico, is open to the public. The last flying U.S. F-4s are in the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron (Det 1). The squadron announced the F-4 will fly for the last time on December 21, 2016. The public is invited to see this legendary fighter roar into the skies one last time.
Here’s the schedule:
**The La Luz gate is the only gate open for non-DOD cardholders and public access.
Airshow Stuff: “We met up with likely the last ever USAF F-4 pilot, Lieutenant Colonel Ron “Elvis” King of the 82nd Aerial Target Squadron, Detachment 1, while he was displaying one of the 21 remaining Phantoms at the Spirit of St. Louis Air Show & STEM Expo on May 14-15 2016. Lt. Col. King was kind enough to talk with AirshowStuff about the status of the target drone program, flying the F-4, and his job overseeing the final days of the famed Phantom.
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.
I was very lucky to have been able to fly the F-4 Phantom for five years in the United States Air Force from 1971 – 1976, including three years teaching men to fly the F-4 while an instructor at George Air Force Base, California. I loved flying the Phantom. There is something very special about flying a supersonic jet fighter that is hard to put into words. No matter how eloquent the speaker may be, words just cannot describe the out of this world experience of flying a fighter.
Video, however, is more than a picture worth a 1,000 words. Below I am linking to two videos that give the non-fighter pilot viewer a true-life glimpse into what best described in the poem “High Flight.”
Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds –
and done a hundred things You have not dreamed of –
wheeled and soared and swung high in the sunlit silence.
Hovering there I’ve chased the shouting wind along
and flung my eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long delirious burning blue.
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace,
where never lark, or even eagle, flew;
and, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
the high untrespassed sanctity of space,
put out my hand and touched the face of God.
The above sonnet was written by John Gillespie Magee, an American pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force in the Second World War. He came to Britain, flew in a Spitfire squadron, and was killed at the age of nineteen on 11 December 1941 during a training flight from the airfield near Scopwick, England.
Flying the A-10 Warthog
Flying the F-16 Falcon
The second video shows F-16 Falcons from the 35th Fighter Squadron at Kunsan, Korea participating in Red Flag exercises in Alaska in 2014. This is my old squadron from Korat Air Base, Thailand (1972) and Kunsan Air Base, Korea (1973). We were the Panthers (see the picture on the squadron patch at the top of this page), but now the squadron’s nickname is Pantons. According to the Urban Dictionary “panton” means:
Noun or adjective – Some one who is full throttle, to push it up, or lights their hair on fire. Also a good dude; a current or former member of the technically, tactically, strategically, aesthetically, and especially socially superior fighter squadron.
There are many things I remember about flying the F-4. I think that the single most enjoyable F-4 experience that I loved was four ship formation take offs. The mission started with the briefing that typically began two hours before the scheduled take off time. During the briefing the flight leader would describe the procedure for starting engines, radio check-in, time to remove the chocks and begin to taxi, how to line up the four airplanes to taxi to the arming area in formation and the procedures for the actual formation take off. Mission briefings lasted 45 – 60 minutes after which the aircrews would make a pit stop then slip on G suits and parachute harnesses and board the truck to be delivered to their designated F-4.
After arriving at the airplane we went through the checklists as we inspected the outside of the airplane and then the cockpit inspections and before engine start checklist. My recollection is that we usually started engines at 20 minutes before our scheduled take off time. After starting engines and doing the flight control checks the flight leader would make a radio call that started with the flight’s call sign. For example, if the call sign was “Lark” the flight leader would say “Lark check.” Then each member of the flight would check in and we would all hear “2, 3, 4” on our radios. The flight leader then asked ground control for permission to taxi to the runway. After getting approval from ground control to taxi each airplane would add power and head for the marshaling area, which was the area on the taxi way designated by the flight commander in the briefing where the four airplanes would join into taxi formation.
I always felt a great sense of pride as my powerful flying machine started to move because at that time the crew chief standing on the left side of the airplane would come to attention and salute. I returned the salute. I appreciated the hard work the crew chiefs performed to keep our F-4s in top flying condition.
Yes, we taxied in formation to the arming area at the end of the runway. The flight leader would have his left or right main gear on the taxi line as we taxied in formation to the end of the runway. Numbers 2, 3 and 4 would be in order behind the leader in staggered position. If the leader had his right main gear on the taxi line then 2 and 4 would have their left main gears on the taxi line and 3 would have his right main gear on the taxi line. Each pilot maintained the briefed distance behind the F-4 in front of his airplane so that the distance between each airplane would be the same.
We were professionals who took pride in the smallest thing. We taxied to the end of the runway like we were the Thunderbirds performing before a large crowd. I was very proud to be in formation with three other F-4s as we taxied to the end of the runway. We always stopped in the arming area at the approach end of the runway so that ground crews could button up all the doors, check the exterior of the airplane and arm any ordinance. All four airplanes would be parked in the arming area line abreast in order, i.e., 1, 2, 3 and 4. When ground personnel finished arming our ordinance and doing the before take off checks it was time for the four airplanes to take the runway.
The flight leader in #1 would look at #2 who would look at #3 who would look at #4. When #4 was ready to take the runway, the aircraft commander, i.e., the guy in the front seat, would nod his head, which caused #3 to nod his head, which caused #2 to nod his head. Three head nods meant that all three wingmen were ready to depart the arming area and move into position on the end of the active runway.
The flight lead’s backseater would then tap his helmet, which caused #2′s backseater then #3′s backseater to tap their helmets. #4 watched #3 who watched #2 who watched #1. Next the flight leader’s backseater would put his head back, which caused #2′s backseater and#3′s backseater to put their heads back. When #1′s backseater moved his helmet forward #2′s backseater did the same and number #3′s backseater followed #2′s head move. The helmet forward move was the signal to put the canopies down. The end result of all of this was that all the canopies of all four backseaters were closed at the same time.
Once the backseaters canopies were down, the frontseaters repeated the same procedure. The flight leader could have simply said on the radio “backseaters put your canopies down on the count of three then said 1, 2, 3, which would have caused all four backseat canopies to close in unison. However, we were professionals who took pride in little things like doing things at the same time without using the radio.
When all the canopies were closed and the tower gave us clearance to go onto the active runway the flight leader would add some power and taxi to the runway while the three wingmen followed in order. The flight leader would stop short on the end of the runway with his right main gear on the centerline. #2 would pull into close formation just to the left of #1. The element leader in #3 would pull into close formation on the right side of #1 with his left main gear on the centerline. #4 would pull into close formation with #3 on his right wing. Once stopped in take off position all four airplanes were in close “finger tip” formation.
Each crew then went over the before takeoff checklist and prepared to make a formation take off. When the flight leader was ready he would get a head nod from #2 and #3 after he got a head nod from #4. Four head nods was the signal that all four airplanes were ready to begin the formation take off.
The flight leader would then put his head back, which was the pre-release brakes signal. When the flight leader moved his helmet forward that was the signal to #2 to move the throttles forward and release brakes. #1 and #2 would then begin their take off roll side by side. #2′s job was to stay in fingertip formation while accelerating. Shortly after becoming airborne the flight leader would nod his head, which was the signal to bring the landing gear up. Shortly thereafter the flight leader would nod his head again, which was he signal to bring the flaps up. After crossing the end of the runway the first element would climb and start a left or right turn to allow the second element to join in a four ship fingertip formation.
My favorite position was #4 in the second element. I will never forget my excitement as I watched #1 and #2 begin their take off rolls. I had a great view of the exhaust end of the two Phantoms and the flames from four afterburners. I also enjoyed feeling the jet blast wash over my airplane. The jet blast caused the airplane to jiggle and shake.
I loved rolling down the runway with my wingtip ten feet from the wingtip of the other airplane. It is very exhilarating to go from a dead stop to 450 knots in a few seconds while maintaining close formation with the other airplane in my element. After getting airborne and putting the flaps and gear up I could see the first element higher above me in a climbing turn. My element leader would cut across the circle and join up with #1 and #2 and we would have four Phantoms in close finger-tip formation as we climbed and began our mission for that day.
I also loved formation landings, but that is a story for another day.
2 Ship Formation Take Off & Flying
The video below starts with two F-4s taking off in formation. The rest of the video shows #2 following #1 in very loose formation. It’s not finger-tip formation, but the video gives you a good feel for how fabulous it is to fly an F-4 in formation with another F-4.
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:
F-4 fighter pilot and author Mark Berent writes about one of his close air support missions over the Ho Chi Minh trail. His mission that night was to escort an AC-130 gunship as it destroyed targets on the main supply line between North and South Vietnam. Here is a part I especially like:
“Steadily we climb, turning a few degrees, easing stick forward some, trimming, climbing, climbing, then suddenly—on top! On top where the moonlight is so damn marvelously bright and the undercast appears a gently rolling snow-covered field. It’s just so clear and good up here, I could fly forever. This is part of what flying is all about. I surge and strain against my harness, taking a few seconds to stretch and enjoy this privileged sight.”
One of the things I loved about flying the Phantom was the incredible views from the air of the earth, sky, stars, the moon, clouds and storms.
The F-4 Phantom is a supersonic jet fighter loved by people like me who were lucky to have flown it. It was a great airplane to fly, but it was also a very dangerous machine. Whenever you throw an airplane at the ground at high dive angles and high descent rates, fly in formation with other fighters or jink back and forth in real or simulated aerial combat, bad things can happen. It was always a comfort to me knowing that when I flew the Phantom I was sitting on a wonderful life-saving device known as the Martin Baker MK-H7 ejection seat.
The F-4 ejection seat saved many lives. When activated a rocket motor fired and blasted the seat and its occupant out of the cockpit and away from the speeding F-4. The Martin Baker seat had a zero zero capability meaning that in theory if a person was sitting in the cockpit while the airplane was parked and stationary on the ground and fired the seat (zero altitude and zero airspeed) the person would be launched 300 feet in the air, the chute would open and the person would safely float back to earth.
Here is some pertinent information about the MK-H7 ejection seat taken from the F-4 owner’s manual aka the TO-1F-4E-1:
The MK-H7 ejection seat system can provide the crew with a safe and efficient escape from the aircraft. The seat is propelled from the aircraft by an ejection gun on the back of the seat which is assisted by a rocket motor on the bottom of the seat. . . . If necessary, ejection can be accomplished at ground level between zero and 550 knots airspeed with wings level and no sink rate providing the crewmember does not exceed a maximum boarding weight of 247 pounds. . . .
During dual automatic ejection initiated from either cockpit, the rear seat fires . . . approximately 0.54 seconds after initiation. Front canopy jettison is initiated after approximately 0.75 seconds and the front sequence actuator will fire the front seat automatically approximately 1.39 seconds after initiation. This ensures adequate clearance between the two ejection seats and the aircraft canopies.
The last paragraph above says that the difference in time from when the back seat fires until the front seat fires is .85 seconds.
One Second – the Difference Between Life and Death
When I was in F-4 RTU (replacement training unit) in 1971 – 1972 at Luke AFB, Arizona, learning how to fly the Phantom there was a tragic F-4 accident on the Gila Bend bombing range. Two students were in an F-4 doing practice dive bombing (probably 30% dive angle, but it could have been 45%, both of which were common dive angles). The pilot rolled in to drop his practice bomb, but he was too steep. Both the flight leader and the range control officer warned the pilot on the radio that he was too steep.
The time between roll in and pull up is between 5 – 10 seconds depending on the dive angle, the roll in altitude and the release altitude of the particular bomb. There is little margin for error when the airplane is screaming toward the earth at 450 knots in a 30% dive bomb. At some point in the dive the altitude needed to recover the airplane without hitting the ground becomes more than the airplane’s altitude over the ground. When that happens the crew will either die or eject with the possibility of death or serious injury.
Either or both the flight leader or the range office recognized the students’ F-4 could not avoid hitting the ground and yelled over the radio for the crew to eject. It was obvious to those watching the diving airplane that it was going to crash. I don’t recall who initiated the ejection, but both ejection seats fired. The backseater lived and the frontseater died when he hit the ground before his parachute opened. Had the ejection sequence been intiated ONE SECOND EARLIER, the frontseater would have lived.
Flying Fighters Was/Is Dangerous
I knew many guys who flew the Phantom who ejected and lived. I knew some who died in the F-4. When I was in flying the F-4 it was not possible to get life insurance other than one $35,000 military life insurance policy. Commercial life insurance companies did not sell life insurance to fighter pilots because they had too high of a risk of dying.
I saw three fighters crash. The first crash I witnessed occurred the day I arrived in Korea at Osan Air Base in May or June of 1972 (can’t remember when I actually arrived there). I was waiting on the flight line for a passenger plane to take me to Kunsan AB, Korea, where my squadron was based. I noticed several fire engines racing out to the runway. This was a frequent event because whenever an airplane declared an emergency the fire engines were routinely deployed to the runway in case they were needed.
Since I was bored waiting I decided to watch and see what the emergency was all about. I could see an F-4 making a landing approach with a lot of black smoke trailing behind it. As I watched the airplane suddenly plunged to the ground and blew up. The crew ejected safely. I found out later that the airplane had an engine fire. The pilot shut down what he thought was the engine that was on fire, but he actually shut down the good engine. The accident report said that the maintenance people had mistakenly reversed the fire warning lights. The pilot’s instruments told him exactly the opposite as far as which engine was on fire.
The second airplane crash I witnessed was an F-4 from my squadron, the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron, during the winter of 1973. I describe that accident in my story called “The Gibb LADD.” The third crash I saw was a T-38 trainer that had some problem with its landing gear that resulted in the aircrew ejecting and abandoning the airplane rather than trying to land it. I never did learn what happened in that crash.
The Martin Baker MK-H7 Ejection Seat
I loved my ejection seat, but it scared the daylights out of me. People died because of ejection seat accidents. If the seat fired when it was not supposed to somebody could die. There were maintenance men who died while working in the cockpit of the F-4 because they did something that inadvertently caused the seat to fire.
The first thing the F-4 pilot was supposed to do when he got to the F-4 before a flight was a Before Exterior Inspection (Front Cockpit) check. The first three items in the F-4 checklist relate to the ejection seat and are:
1. Face curtain and seat mounted initiator safety pins – INSTALLED
2. Canopy interlock cable & interdictor link safety pin assembly – INSTALLED CORRECTLY & ATTACHED TO CANOPY
3. Lower ejection handle guard – UP
The following is the beginning parts of the Front Cockpit Interior Check checklist that involved the ejection seat:
2. Leg restraint lines – BUCKLED & SECURED
3. Harness and personal equipment leads – FASTEN
4. Ejection seat height – ADJUST
5. Face curtain & seat mounted initiator safety pins – REMOVED
The ejection seat had 7 safety pins all of which had to be removed for the seat to fire. When the F-4 was not actually occupied by a crew before, during and after a flight, the ground crew always inserted all seven safety pins into their insertion points in the seat. All seven pins were tied together with a nylon line. The purpose of these pins was to prevent the accidental firing of the seat.
When a crew member arrived at the airplane for a flight, the crew chief normally would have already removed six of the seven safety pins and put the six pins and the nylon line that attached the pins into a pouch and laid pouch on the top of the seat. Before I sat in the ejection seat I always made sure that all six of the pins that were supposed to be removed were in fact removed. I did not remove the last safety pin (the face curtain pin) until I was completely strapped into the seat. To get strapped in I had to do the following:
1. Connected the two D rings on my parachute harness to the two snap connectors on the seat survival kit to connect the the kit to me. The survival kit had a radio, water, food and other survival items in case of ejection in the boonies.
2. Connected my lap belt to strap me into the seat.
3. Connected both of my leg restraints. Each leg had two garters – one that went around the calf just above the boot and the other that went around the thigh just above the knee. These four garters were connected to two nylon lines that went into the bottom of the ejection seat. During an ejection the seat pulled the nylon lines tight which caused both legs to be locked close to the seat to prevent the legs from flailing in the wind stream at high speeds, which could severely injure legs.
4. Connected both parachute risers (lines connected to the parachute) to my parachute harness. The F-4’s parachute was built into the top of the ejection seat, which required that pilots attach their parachute harness to the parachute risers. It was very nice not to have to lug a heavy parachute around like the F-105 drivers had to do.
After completing the four steps listed above I pulled the seventh pin out of the face curtain and inserted it in the pouch with the other six pins and counted to make sure all seven pins were in the pouch. I then stowed the pouch until I landed and replaced the seventh pen into the top of the seat.
The F-4 ejection seat system was designed to prevent the seat from firing if the canopy was attached to the air-frame. There was a steel cable that had one end permanently attached to the back of the canopy and the other end was attached to a safety pin that went into the banana links on the top of the seat. The seat would not fire unless that safety pin was removed. Normally when an ejection was initiated the first thing that happened was the canopy thrusters on the bulkhead just below the canopy pushed up and caused the canopy to begin to open. As soon at the front of the canopy opened enough to allow the air-stream to go underneath the front of the canopy the massive amount of air caused the canopy to rapidly open and depart the air-frame taking the steel cable and the safety pin with it.
Fortunately I never had to eject from a Phantom. Nor did I ever come close to ejecting. I did have one very bad emergency where on landing I was ready to eject if the slightest thing went wrong, but the landing was smooth even though it was 200+ knots without normal brakes and no nose gear steering. That’s a story for another day.
Watch Phil Describe His Martin Baker MK-H7 Ejection Seat
A Video about the Martin Baker Company & Its Ejection Seats
This is a war story from my service in Vietnam. Although the incident happened 40 years ago, the details are still fresh in my mind. It was June 1972. My fighter squadron, the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron, had just transferred from flying combat at DaNang to Korat Air Base in Thailand. On this day, I was assigned to fly in the rear cockpit of the third aircraft in Gator Flight piloted by my flight commander, Captain Charlie Cox. Our Linebacker target for the day was significant – the Thai Nguyen steel factory located about 30 miles north of Hanoi.
Gator Flight’s responsibility was to bomb the rail marshal yards adjacent to the factory. Each of our four F-4D Phantoms were armed with twelve 500-pound bombs carried on MERs (multiple ejector racks) located on the outboard stations.
Our Phantoms were grossed out at the maximum takeoff weight of 58,000. That meant that our takeoff roll would be longer than usual and because our center of gravity was shifted forward by the bombs on stations 1 and 9, our nose wheel liftoff speed and takeoff speed would be nearly identical and quite fast.
Everything was fairly uneventful through preflight, engine start and taxi. When tower gave us our clearance, we wheeled four aircraft on the runway, checked engines, and released brakes. With combat loads, we took 20 second spacing between aircraft so 40 seconds after our leader released brakes, Gator 3 began to rumble down Korat’s 10,000 foot runway. Even with 34,000 pounds of thrust from our two J-79 engines, it took a while for our speed to build.
As advertised at 185 knots, the nose wheel lifted off the runway. A few seconds later the aircraft began to fly and the main landing gear struts extended. What happened next was not as advertised – stray voltage was sent to the jettison circuits on stations 1 and 9 and both loaded MERs departed the aircraft.
Fighter aircraft have jettison circuits to release external stores in case of an emergency; however these circuits are disabled when the aircraft is on the ground. A squat switch runs through the main landing gear; when the struts extend the jettison circuit is armed.
In the cockpit, we had no idea what was happening behind and underneath the aircraft because the underside of the wing is not visible. But since we had just jettisoned about 15 percent of our gross weight, the aircraft accelerated like a banshee!
There were a lot of puffy cumulous clouds that day, and when we joined formation on our leader’s left wing, no one gave us a look as they navigated around the clouds. A minute or so later, we heard from the fourth aircraft as he joined the flight: “Gator 3, this is 4; you lost all your bombs on takeoff.”
Well, to say that came as a shock would be an understatement. Our leader was squadron commander Lyle “Sky King” Beckers and he immediately snapped his head in our direction and confirmed that we were missing both MERs and their bombs.
About a minute later when Cox and I had sorted out all that we knew and our pulse was under control, we called back to lead, “Boss, there’s not much point in us going with you.” Now that was an understatement – there’s little to be gained by taking a bomber to the target if he can’t do anything more than sight-see.
We got a chuckle out of that logic and Beckers cleared us to leave the formation. I dialed-in the frequency for Fort Apache (Korat’s command post) and we heard quite a commotion in the background. At this point, the incident caused by our takeoff was only about 5 minutes old.
When the noise died down, we called in and requested permission to RTB – return to base. An excited controller called back, “Negative, negative Gator 3, we’ve been bombed. The runway is closed. Divert to another base!”
We patiently explained that we had more than an hour of fuel remaining, that our aircraft would be impounded upon landing and it would be a much better plan to land the jet at our home base rather than another airfield. After some consultation, Korat agreed and about an hour later, they announced that the runway was reopened. We received clearance to land and did so uneventfully.
Of our 12 bombs, three exploded in a low-order detonation which damaged a couple of aircraft on the field but fortunately, no one was hurt. Poor old Gator 4 had been lumbering down the runway at about 60 knots when this entire conflagration occurred in front of his aircraft. He swore that when he took off with his right wheel in the dirt, but we later determined that his tire, although off the runway, was still on asphalt.
Initially, maintenance could not duplicate the stray voltage problem which energized the outboard jettison circuits, and the wing commander ordered the jet sent back to our home base in Korea. About two months after our little incident, the same aircraft jettisoned two 370-gallon wing fuel tanks from stations 1 and 9. Because stray voltage is here one moment and gone the next, it is very difficult to trace.
In retrospect, our saving grace was that the two bomb racks released simultaneously. Had they come off asymmetrically, we would not have been able to stop the roll into the heavy wing at barely 200 knots and … well I wouldn’t be writing this column right now.
So ends the saga of Gator 3 and the day I bombed my own airfield.
Not sure of the exact date, but late in the DaNang AB (366th TFW “Gunfighters”) part of the TDY by the 35th TFS (F-4Ds) from Kunsan AB, South Korea. (DaNang became a “turn” base in July of 1972; 35th moved to Korat RTAFB (388th TFW.))
The approximate date would be May 22nd or 23rd 1972. The mission was what we called a “Bien Hoa double turn”.
Launch from DaNang, work with assigned airborne FAC (O-2/OV-10) for Close Air Support (CAS) mission (usually helping US or SVN Army units engaged with enemy ground forces) or a fixed target identified by the FAC (usually a Viet Cong truck park, troop formation, small AAA activity, etc.). Land at Bien Hoa for gas and rearm; launch again and recover at Bien Hoa; then launch and recover at DaNang. Armament load was normally 10 MK 82 HiDrag 500# bombs (called Snake Eye, Snake or Shake) and 6 Napalm canisters (called Napalm or Bake). (Usually called ‘Shake and Bake’.)
This mission was the first mission of the day for our 4 ship, call sign “Bullet”, I believe. Capt Will Mincey was the scheduled flight lead. We were briefed a “standard” FAC mission with a couple of other options depending on where we were sent after takeoff. The procedures applied for all 3 scheduled sorties. As you might imagine, some in-flight procedure revisions (audibles) were often required. Normal items covered: bingo fuel to Bien Hoa by drop region (Corp area); bomb pattern (altitude, dive angles, right hand wagon wheel, FAC called roll-in headings, only 2 passes with any ground fire, bombs ripple, then napalm ripple, etc.); visual overhead pattern recovery, weather permitting; weather drop options, diverts, airborne emergencies, etc.
An unknown (unremembered) Lt was #2. Jim Beatty was #3 and I was #4 (As a SEFE, I may have been giving a tactical or instrument check to someone in the flight.)
After 0730 takeoff, contact was made with Hillsboro (?) control who passed the flight off to a Covey (?) FAC in II (two) Corps. Covey briefed a TIC (troops in contact) situation; mixed USA and ARVN forces under fire from Viet Cong holding a line of 10 to 15 huts/hutches along a north-south segment of road WSW of Qui Nhon. Covey is in contact with ground FAC, who states they are in trouble and are receiving heavy automatic gunfire from 50 to 100 Viet Cong. Due to location of friendly forces, our run-in is restricted from the east to west (good, since sun will be behind us; but, bad because the road and line of low buildings run north/south) and between 260 to 300° release heading. As we arrive in the target area, Covey marks (2.75” FFAR white smoke rocket) the northern most hut.
Lead calls ‘tally smoke’; echoed by 2, 3, 4. Given the friendlies’ situation and the perpendicular attack heading to the line of huts, Will, the flight lead, calls “pairs”.
The Lt missed the “pairs” call, apparently, and holds high and dry after his pre-briefed 2 passes. His strings of 10 Snake and 6 Nape ran a ‘little’ long to the west of the road and made the friendlies hunker down.
The 3 remaining of us (all target arms) give a text book demonstration of FWS Grad accuracy low angle weapon employment. The Covey FAC would occasionally move our aim point up and down the road based on the ground FAC’s info on where the automatic gunfire was coming from. Our 15 MK82 High Drag releases decimate the huts along the road with some surprisingly large secondary explosions. The Covey FAC is pretty cool, telling us the ground guys are jumping up and down in glee as we wipe out the enemy. A couple of times we could hear the ground FAC’s excited voice over Covey’s radio.
(On about our 3rd bomb pass, I was a little too close behind Beatty on his pass, so I moved my aim point to a remaining hutch toward the north end of the line. As I am lining up for my run-in, I check #3 to see if he’s taking any ground fire. What I do see is one of Beatty’s 2 MK82s come off in “slick” configuration, i.e., the fins on one bomb did not open up and cause it to decelerate – it was sailing along pretty close to Jim’s F-4. I called “Beatty, pull up, bomb went slick.” He snatches the jet up and away from the frag pattern (I don’t think there was any damage to the jet). Whew!
Not sure now if Will called singles for the napalm, but we all dropped singles, burning what was left of the structures along the road. Covey’s feedback to us during and after our drops was really heartwarming. He and the ground FAC made us feel like superheroes for ‘saving’ our US and ARVN troops from serious casualties. The BDA report (as I remember) from the ground was ~ 5 buildings, 11 structures destroyed and 79 KIAs.
This was the most personally gratifying combat mission I ever flew. I was proud to have helped out our Army brothers. (And eternally grateful to be an Air Force jock instead of an Army platoon leader on the jungle floor.)
From Jim Beatty:
I clearly remember the call to pull up as it scared the living s–t out of me. Thank God you called or I would probably have been a mort. If there had been a bitchin’ Betty in the jet she would have been a-squawkin’. I think the LT’s name was” Larry Taylor” but wouldn’t swear to it… I do know we all jumped in his chili for not paying attention to lead as to what he wanted and when, plus putting the friendlies at undue risk. It was surely a gratifying mission as we accomplished what CAS is all about and did so in a very accurate and professional manner. Considering the experience level of at least three of us, one would expect nothing less. God, it is so great to remember the good things we accomplished. It made it all worth while and I am sure we would all gladly do it all over again “no questions asked”.
The author is Joe Lee Burns, USAF Fighter Pilot & Colonel, USAF retired
Compilation of 35th TFS Stories – Kunsan / DaNang / Korat – Circa ’72
This is in response to Emails from Doyle Glass (author) and Rick Keyt (Webmaster 35th TFS F-4 site). I plan to share this document with my kids and grandkids.
Joe Lee writes: 4/30/07 in response to an Email on several subjects
Do you have a framework for question topics or is it free-flowing experience?? I am a Texan and proud of it. I’d fly on Lyle Becker’s wing anywhere, anytime. (Big fighter pilot compliment.) Come to think of it, I guess I already have flown on his wing everywhere. (81st at Hahn AB, Germany and 35th Kunsan/DaNang/Korat, SEA)
Joe Lee writes: 5/3/07 in response to interview – clarifications
If you can, let me know how Lyle sounds next week. He’s been under the weather. I thoroughly enjoyed being in the same squadron with him at Hahn (81st TFS) and then the 35th. If he sounds too “tight” tell him I told you what his middle name is . . . . . He always used to say his name was Lyle “f-ing” Beckers. I have to hook you up with another 35th Panther – Jim Beatty. He shot down a MiG-21 with the F-4E 20 mm gun. Break, Break.
Some names of Air Force people who had a direct, strong influence on my growth as a fighter pilot in roughly chronological order:
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:
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).
Joe Lee Burns wrote in a February 2, 1012, email message:
A colleague who is F22 pilot for the Virginia ANG had honor of flying a Phantom at Eglin. He flew the aircraft we had at the reunion. Here is the F-22 pilot’s thoughts on flying the F-4:
I flew your jet a couple days ago (see attached). I had a little trouble getting the engines started, so I climbed out and shoveled some more coal in the back; after that she fired right up. Ground ops were uneventful, although I couldn’t figure out why the cockpit smelled like body odor, Jack Daniels and cigars…and that was BEFORE I got in it! By the way, what’s with the no slip crap on top of the intakes, it’s like you have permanent icing conditions due to that spray on rhino truck bed liner on top of the aircraft. It’s no wonder you needed so much coal (I mean thrust) to get airborne.
Take off scared the sh*t out of me. I lit the burners at brick one and 2 miles and 45 minutes later we were ready to rotate. After barely clearing the tree tops, the gear came up and I climbed away at a VERY impressive 2 degrees nose high. In case you don’t remember, “Trim” is your friend in the F-4 (pretty sure it’s also a good friend on the ground too). Once I got her up to speed and a moderate altitude, we were ready for the G-Ex. Two G-turn’s later and I’m sinking like a rock…the F-4’s energy seems to bleed like Holyfield’s ear in the Tyson fight! After the G-Ex it was time to do a little Advanced Handling Characteristics (AHC) and by “advanced handling” I mean the same crap the Wright Brothers were doing back in 1903…just trying to keep it airborne.
The jet flies much like my old man’s station wagon used to drive…You turn the wheel (push the stick) a few inches and nothing happens, then all of a sudden the steering kicks in, inertia takes over, and all HELL breaks loose! You’re pretty much along for the ride at that point and only gravity has a real say in your lift vector placement. “Checking 6” was really quite easy…. because you CAN’T! Scratch that off the list of “Sh*t I need to do to keep myself alive in combat today”. Breathing, however, was surprisingly easy in the F-4 when compared to that of the F-22 (thank you Lockheed)…LOX works, who knew!
I think I may have burned my legs a bit from the steam pouring out from behind the gauges. Where are my 6 mini-flat screen TV’s, I’m lost without my HD jet displays (editors note: actually, I’m an analog guy stuck in a digital world too…I really do like the “steam driven” gauges). After the AHC, I decided to take her up high and do a supersonic MACH run, and by “high” I mean “where never lark nor even eagle flew”; but not much higher, a foot or two maybe. I mean, we weren’t up there high-fiving Jesus like we do in the Raptor, but it was respectable. It only took me the width of the Gulf of Mexico to get the thing turned around while above the Mach. After the Mach run we dropped to the deck and did 600 kts at 500’; a ratllin’ and shakin’ we will go…. I though all the rivets were going to pop out. Reference previous station wagon analogy! Very quickly we were out of gas and headed home.
As I brought the jet up initial, I couldn’t help but think that the boys who took this thing into combat had to have some pretty big brass you know whats!
My first F-4 landing was a little rough; sub-standard really by Air Force measure… but apparently “best seen to date” according to the Navy guys. Did you know that there’s no such thing as an aerobrake in the F-4? As soon as the main gear touches down, the nose comes slamming down to the runway with all the force of a meteor hitting the earth….I guess the F-4 aerobrake technique is to dissipate energy via denting the runway.
Despite an apparently “decent” landing, stopping was a whole different problem. I reached down and pulled the handle to deploy the drogue chute…at which point a large solid mass of canvas, 550 cord, metal weights and cables fell out and began bouncing down the runway; chasing me like a lost puppy and FOD’ing out the whole runway. Perfect. I mashed down on the breaks and I’m pretty sure at this point the jet just started laughing at me. Why didn’t you warn me that I needed a shuttle landing strip to get this damn thing stopped?
All kidding aside, VERY COOL jet! Must have been a kick to fly back when you were in Vietnam! Just kidding!
This wonderful two part book describes air to air combat between USAF and Navy fighters and North Vietnamese MiG fighters over the deadly skies of North Vietnam during 1965 – 1973.
During the war in Southeast Asia, U.S. Air Force fighter pilots and crewmen were repeatedly challenged by enemy MIG’s in the skies over North Vietnam. The air battles which ensued were unique in American history because U.S. fighter and stike forces operated under stringent rules of engagement. With periodic exceptions, for example, MIG bases could not be struck. The rules generally forbade bombing or strafing of military and industrial targets in and around the enemy’s heartland, encompassing the capital of Hanoi and the port city of Haiphong.
These restrictions gave the North Vietnamese substantial military advantage. Free from American attack and helped by its Soviet and Chinese allies, the enemy was able to construct one of the most formidable antiaircraft defenses the world has even seen. It included MIG forces, surface-to-air missile (SAM) batteries, heavy concentrations of antiaircraft artillery (AAA) units, and an array of early warning radar systems. These elements sought to interdict and defeat the U.S. bombing campaign against North Vietnam’s lines of communication and its military and industrial base. The primary mission of U.S. fighter pilots was to prevent the North Vietnamese MIG’s from interfering with U.S. strike operations. This book tells how American airmen-assisted by an armada of other USAF aircraft whose crews refueled their planes, warned of approaching enemy MIG’s and SAM’S, and flew rescue missions when they were shot down managed to emerge from their aerial battles with both victories and honor.
JOHN W. HUSTON, Major General, USAF
Chief, Office of Air Force History
Aces and Aerial Victories is a collection of firsthand accounts by Air Force fighter crews who flew combat missions over North Vietnam between 1965 and 1973. They recall their air battles with enemy MIG fighters, the difficult and dangerous tactical maneuvers they had to perform to survive, and their victories and defeats. The narratives are taken directly from aircrew after-action reports. A number of direct quotations have been altered, but only to clarify for the reader the very specialized language of their profession (e.g., code words).
When the Air Force found itself engaged in aerial combat over North Vietnam beginning in 1965, it had no plan for handling claims or awarding victory credits. A year elapsed before Headquarters Seventh Air Force, located at Tan Son Nhut Air Base (AB) in South Vietnam, developed a method for awarding credits. By this time at least 16 MIG’s had been downed by USAF crews. On 12 November Seventh Air Force published a regulation to govern victory credits; however, it was not until 1967 that Headquarters USAF authorized the Pacific Air Forces to publish confirming orders. In accordance with the Seventh Air Force regulation, each combat wing or separate squadron was required to establish an Enemy Aircraft Claims Evaluation Board of four to six members. Each was composed of at least two rated officers, the senior operations officer, and the unit’s intelligence officer.
A crew seeking confirmation of a “kill” was required to submit a written claim to the board within 24 hours after the shootdown. The board had 10 days to process the claim and to forward it through the unit commander to Seventh Air Force headquarters, where another board was convened to review the evidence. This headquarters board consisted of six officers-three from operations, two from intelligence, and one from personnel. They reviewed the evidence and were required to confirm or deny the claim within 24 hours. Credit for destroying an enemy aircraft became official upon publication of a Seventh Air Force general order.
An enemy aircraft was considered destroyed if it crashed, exploded, disintegrated, lost a major component vital for flight, caught fire, entered into an attitude or position from which recovery was impossible, or if its pilot bailed out. The claim had to be substantiated by written testimony from one or more aerial or ground observers, gun camera film, a report that the wreckage of the enemy aircraft had been recovered, or some other positive intelligence that confirmed its total destruction. No more than two 2-man crews could be credited with downing a single enemy aircraft, thus limiting the smallest share in a victory credit to one-fourth. Every detail had to be described as clearly as possible to insure that claims were evaluated judiciously and speedily.
Aces and Aerial Victories is a fabulously detailed retelling of many USAF MiG kills. It is divided into three parts that are chock full of maps, illustrations and pictures.
Owl 08” – The Story of Capt. James Steadman, USAF • Capt. Robert Beutel, USAF, 497th Tactical Fighter Squadron “Nite Owls” – 8th Tactical Fighter Wing • Ubon RTAFB, Thailand, November 26, 1971
by Joseph Mortati
July 1, 2009
The purpose of this document is to provide the next-of-kin of Capt. James Steadman and Capt. Robert Beutel, USAF, MIA (Case 1781) a better understanding of what happened when their loved ones went missing on November 26, 1971. It is the result of over 500 hours of analysis of forensic and historical evidence uncovered by the Department of Defense’s Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC, formerly Joint Task Force-Full Accounting). It includes declassified documents, interviews with men who flew F-4s out of Ubon, Thailand in 1969-1971, as well as the author’s own flight experience in the F-4.
This document is neither a critique of, nor a commentary on, JPAC’s efforts. It simply attempts to translate a large volume of data into information understandable by someone without a military background. It is current as of the date below and all assumptions, analyses, recommendations, and conclusions are the author’s own and he could be wrong about any or all of them.
Writing this story would not been possible without the help of nearly a dozen people – the Steadman and Beutel Families, civilians, active and retired military, and Air Force Academy graduates – all of whom were gracious enough to give their time to help create this account.
The official Air Force record shows that Owl 08, an F-4D assigned to the 497th Tactical Fighter Squadron – “Nite Owls” – was lost on Friday, November 26, 1971 while on a singleship, night Forward Air Control mission over Laos. The fate of the crew and the location of the aircraft remain a mystery more than thirty-five years after the incident. Of the basic questions of history – who, what, when, where, why, how? – only the “who” and “when” are known and this document is an attempt to answer the others. To do so, it takes the approach of working from the known to the unknown by presenting the facts of this case, analyzing them, and then attempting to explain what might have happened to Owl 08. Nothing can be certain until JPAC resolves the case but this document is the author’s best guess based on the available information to date.
© 2009 GTG Consulting. This work may be reproduced and redistributed, in whole or in part, without alteration and without prior written permission, provided the copyright holder is acknowledged as the source of the material.
The text above is the introduction to a very detailed 39 page analysis of the night forward air control “Fast FAC” mission flown by Owl 08. The article has a lot of pictures and information about F-4s and flying them in combat in 1971 over Southeast Asia.
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.
One morning during the winter of 1973 I left the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron building located adjacent to the center of the Kunsan AB, Korea, runway. Four of us were on our way to the south end of the runway to sit on air defense alert. During my time at the Kune the wing always had two F-4s on air defense alert to intercept any unidentified airplanes that approached the Korean Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). We had to be airborne within ten minutes from the time the bell rang – literally there was a very loud bell sound that when activated caused us to run to the airplane, do a cartridge start and blast off into the sky and follow the instructions from the air traffic controller who vectored our two F-4Ds to the target.
I will never forget this particular morning because the four of us watched as one of our F-4D models crashed and burned trying to make a heavy weight take off. The D model had three external tanks with full fuel plus a simulated B-43 nuke bomb (2,060 or 2,120 lbs). I don’t have the D model weight stats handy, but a block 50 E model with this configuration would have been 57,120 lbs. That is a heavy takeoff weight!
The airplane didn’t crash entirely because of its weight. The Phantom crashed primarily because it had an engine fire right after max abort speed and never got enough airspeed to stay in the air. The Phantom was on fire as it got airborne. I could see the flames coming out of the airplane as it passed me a few hundred feet off of the ground. We watched as the airplane disappeared behind a small island at the south end of the Kunsan runway. The airplane descended behind the small hill on the little island. We then saw a big orange and black fire ball, but no chutes. I remember the awful feeling I had at the time watching two of my friends die. Fortunately both guys ejected safely behind the small hill on the little island, but we could not see their chutes.
Chuck Banks, the pilot, told us later that he realized he was on fire immediately after getting airborne plus the tower told him on the radio. As Chuck was reaching for the panic button to blow everything off the airplane he was distracted when the Phantom lost all electrical power while just a few hundred feet above the runway. The loss of power got the crew’s attention. Instead of pushing the panic button anyway (it had a battery backup) Chuck put the RAT (ram air turbine) out to get electrical power. He then became distracted by the stalling airplane and never did hit the panic button. The heavy weight of the airplane and the loss of power caused by the engine fire meant that the airplane did not have much airspeed and was unable to climb. As the airplane slowed and started to descend because of no power the frontseater gave the eject order. I recall the backseater telling us later he said “I’m out of here” as he pulled the ejection handle.
The reason the airplane was configured with the tanks and two nuke bombs is because that is how it was configured when the Operational Readiness Inspection team landed at Kunsan. The airplane and crew were on nuclear alert when the ORI team arrived so during the ORI they were going to be tested by flying a low level mission in the same configuration and dropping their bombs on target +/- two minutes of their TOT.
Joe Boyles says Chuck Banks was the pilot. Ron Price was the GIB. I recall us laughing in the squadron building when the crew returned because Ron Price said they busted their ORI check ride because Chuck attempted a GIB Ladd that was 100+ (or however many miles Kunsan was from the bombing range) miles short of the target and he was not within 2 minutes of the TOT. The low angle drogue delivery (LADD) was one of two bombing profiles USAF F-4s used to drop nuclear bombs.
Click on the title above to see Chuck Banks’ comment to this story.
A man sent me the following query in an email message:
“Just re-looking at your F-4 specs; realize my Navy Phantom (it was a B with J79-GE-8) was in some ways different; as example I’m sure it was 60 feet in length, rather that the 58 you list in your AF. But it’s weight that confuses me a bit. You list max take-off weight as 55,000. My admittedly lousy memory is that internal tanks were 2,000 gals., the center external was 600 gals and the 2 wing tanks were 370 each; making fuel at 3,300 gals. 23,400 lbs. The 4 Sparrows were 1,000 pounds each and the 4 Sidewinders were 250 each making take-off 61,312 pounds about 6,000 pounds heavier tan you list for max take-off. Are my numbers off? Just wondering what you think?”
I sent him this reply:
I’ve attached some pages from my F-4E and F-4C/D dash 1 for your info. Note the following:
1. Length of the C/D model is 58’3”
2. Length of the E model is 63’
3. Block 50 E model GW clean with full internal fuel and Aero-27A rack = 33,000 lbs.
4. Block 50 E model full load of internal + external fuel = 3,402 gallons = 22,113 lbs
5. Block 50 E model GW with full internal fuel, two full wing tanks, one full centerline tank and Aero-27A rack = 55,000 lbs
6. Block 50 E model GW with full internal fuel, two full wing tanks, one full centerline tank, four AIM-7s (435 lbs/missile – in 1972 we only carried 3 AIM-7s and a jamming pod in the 4th station), four AIM-9s (164 lbs/missile), and Aero-27A rack = 57,396 lbs
7. Block 50 E model GW with full internal fuel, two full wing tanks, 12 mark 82 snake eye 500 pound bombs (560 lbs/bomb) (typical close air support load in 1972) = 57,220 lbs
Note the minimum go speed charts (shows max weight = 57,000 lbs) and the max abort speed charts (shows max weight 60,000 lbs). In looking at the inflight checklists for the F-4E that I saved, I note that the checklist did not require us to compute the maximum weight. We had to compute the min go speed and max abort speed.
I found a question in my master question file that asked what is the max recommended takeoff weight. The multiple choice answers are: 62,000, 60,000, 46,000 & 58,000. The question wasn’t answered, but my guess today is 60,000 because that is the heaviest weight contemplated on the max abort speed charts.
If you are into F-4 trivia, answer these questions:
1. How many concentric circles on the trim button?
2. How many steps on the removable ladder?
3. How many safety pins were in the Martin Baker ejection seat?
4. How many holes in the variable inlet ramp?
Keep your mach up.
by Gary Retterbush, USAF Fighter Pilot
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:
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.
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.”
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).
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.
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.
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.
by Robin Olds, Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.)
Like a brooding hen, she squats half asleep over her clutch of eggs. Her tail feathers droop and her beak juts forward belligerently. Her back looks humped and her wing tips splay upward. Sitting there, she is not a thing of beauty. Far from it. But she is my F-4, and her nest is a steel revetment-her eggs 6, M-117, 750-pound bombs. This avian has fangs-very unbirdlike. They nestle under her belly and cling to her wings. She is ready to go, and so am I.
She receives me and my backseater, and we become a part of her as we attach ourselves to her with straps and hoses and plugs and connectors. A surge of juice and a blast of compressed air and she come alive. We are as one-tied together-the machine an extension of the man-her hydraulics my muscles -her sensors my eyes-her mighty engines my power.
She screams and complains as we move through shimmering heat waves along an endless expanse of concrete. Final checks .. then her nose pointed down nearly 2 miles of runway, and we are ready. Throttles forward, then outboard THUMP, THUMP- the afterburners kick in. Now my bird roars and accelerates rapidly toward her release from mother earth, leaving a thunder behind that rattles windows and shakes the insides of those who watch.
I look over at my wingmen as we climb effortlessly toward a rendezvous with our tanker. All is well with them, and I marvel again at the transformation of our ugly duckling into a thing of graceful beauty-yet she’s businesslike and menacing, thrusting forward and upward with deadly purpose.
Refueling done, we drop off and lunge forward, gathering speed for this day’s task. We hurtle across the Black, then the Red Rivers, pushing our Phantoms to the limit of power without using afterburners, weaving and undulating so as not to present a steady target for the gunners below.
Then a roil of dust down to our left, and the evil white speck of a surface-to-air missile rises to meet us. We wait and watch. That missile is steady on an intercept course, and we know we are the target. Then, on signal, we start down. The missile follows-and now HARD DOWN-stick full forward-the negative G forces hanging us in our straps. The missile dives to follow, and at a precise moment we PULL, PULL – as hard as we can-the positive Gs now slamming us into our seats with crushing force.
Our heavy bird with its load of bombs responds with a prolonged shudder, and we are free for the moment, the missile passing harmlessly below, unable to follow our maneuver. On to the target-weaving, moving up and down, leaving the bursts of heavy flak off to the side or down below. The F-4 is solid, responsive, heeding my every demand quickly and smoothly.
We reach the roll-in point and go inverted, pulling her nose down, centering the target in the combining glass as we roll into our 70-degree dive toward the release point. My Phantom plunges toward the earth through an almost solid wall of bursting flak. Then “PICKLE!” And the bird leaps as her heavy load separates and we pull with all our force around to our egress heading. There are MiGs about, and my F-4 becomes a brutal beast, slamming this way, then that, snarling with rage, turning, rolling, diving, hurtling skyward like an arrow, plunging down with savage force.
The melee over, the rivers crossed, and headed for our post-strike refueling, and my bird is once again a docile, responsive lady, taking me home, letting my heart beat slow, giving me comfort in having survived once again. I gather the flock close by, and we slowly circle each other-top, bottom, and each side, looking for flak damage, rips, leaks, jagged holes. None found, we press on to meet our ticket home and gratefully take on fuel from our tanker friends. A bit of follow-the-leader up and over the beautiful mountains of dazzling white nimbus, just to relax-to enjoy the special privilege given us in flying this magnificent bird and the home runway lies ahead there near the little town of Ubon-ratchitani. Landing done, post-flight checks finished, engines shut down, and my F-4 vents its tanks with a prolonged sigh, speaking for both of us, glad it’s over, anticipating a brief respite before the next day’s work.
It’s an unusual pilot who doesn’t give his bird a private touch of loving gratitude before he leaves her nest.
How a fighter-bomber-recon-attack superstar ended up as fodder for target practice. This January 2009 Smithsonian Air & Space magazine article includes quotes by Richard Keyt.
The F-4 Phantom II lives. But the life it leads today is an odd one.
It still flies in other countries; in northern Iraq, for example, the Turks use it in combat with the Kurds. But in the United States, it leads a twilight existence. It’s a warplane, but it no longer fights. Its mission is weapons testing, but no pilot flies it. Mostly, you’ll find these F-4s either sitting in the desert or lying at the bottom of the sea. . . .
Since 1991, 254 Phantoms have served as unpiloted flying targets for missile and gun tests conducted near Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida and Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. The use of F-4 drones (designated QF-4s) is expected to continue until 2014.
Click on this link to see me, 1Lt. Richard Keyt, dressed in my flight suit, G suit, parachute harness and survival vest ready to fly a combat mission in the F-4 in the summer of 1972 out of Korat Air Base, Thailand.
I was fortunate to have been able to fly the F-4 Phantom II supersonic (mach 2+) fighter bomber for five years from 1971 – 1976. Although I joined to United States Air Force to avoid being drafted into the U.S. Army and going to Vietnam, fate ultimately sent me to Vietnam.
During the summer and fall of 1972, I was a member of the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron flying combat missions over South Vietnam, North Vietnam and Laos. The 35th TFS was based at Korat Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, but was on temporary duty (TDY) from Kunsan Air Base, Korea. We brought our F-4D models from Korea, but we also flew the F-4E models based at Korat. The primary difference between the D and E models was that the D model did not have a 20mm canon and the E model had a 20mm canon built into the nose.
During the summer and fall of 1972, the 35th TFS had two primary missions:
Strike escort missions as part of operation Linebacker I 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 Phantoms carrying bombs) as the strike force ingressed and egressed the target in the Route Pack VI area of North Vietnam. 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 escort 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.
When I arrived at Korat in the summer of 1972, the 35th TFS was divided into two groups. One group, the older and more experienced guys, flew daily Operation Linebacker I missions into Route Pack VI and the other group flew close air support missions. Because I was a young, inexperienced and very green 1st Lt., I was assigned to the close air support missions. I did not mind too much because the Route Pack VI missions were much more dangerous.
Although I did get to fly combat missions into Route Pack VI, most of the combat missions I flew were close air support missions at night in the northern part of South Vietnam or Laos. I usually flew two missions a night. After dropping all my bombs on the first target, my flight of two F-4s landed at DaNang Air Base, South Vietnam, to rearm and refuel. I then rendezvoused with another Forward Air Controller and dropped another load of bombs on the bad guys and returned to Korat.
My typical bomb load was twelve Mark 82 500 pound general purpose bombs. It was common for six of the bombs to have fuse extenders. Every bomb had at least one fuse, which was the device that caused the bomb to detonate. A fuse extender was a three foot metal tube that screwed into the nose of the bomb with the fuse on the tip of the tube. The purpose of a fuse extender was to cause the bomb to detonate three feet above the ground for maximum blast effect against troops in the open. Each bomb had a nose and a tail fuse that was selected by the pilot before dropping the bomb. If a building or a structure was the target, the tail fuse was preferred because it would cause the bomb to detonate after the bomb first penetrated the structure so that the full force of the blast would occur inside the structure.
My normal work day consisted of waking in the late afternoon then showering, shaving and getting dressed in my nomex green fire retardant flight suit. I then rode the shuttle bus or hitched a ride to the Korat Air Base Officer’s Club for breakfast just before dark. After eating, I went to Fort Apache (scroll to the bottom of the page for two pictures of Fort Apache taken by Col. Grady Morris), the intelligence building on the flight line, to plan and brief my mission for the night.
Mission briefings usually started two hours before take off. First, an intelligence officer briefed all the crews on recent events in the ground and air war and specific information about my target area. We also got a weather briefing. Next, the flight leader of each flight of two or four F-4s conducted individual briefings for his flight. Most of the night missions involved flights of two F-4s.
During the briefing, we talked about the types of weapons delivery to be used to drop our ordnance, emergency air fields, search and rescue procedures, missing wingman procedures, rendezvousing with the forward air controller, and return to base (“RTB”) procedures. I usually had 10 – 30 minutes after the briefing to prepare to go to the airplane.
This 10 – 30 minutes of inactive time was when I was most afraid because the idleness allowed me to think about what I was preparing to do — use a multi-million dollar supersonic flying machine to drop bombs on fellow human beings who were trying to kill me at the same time I was trying to kill them. It was during this time I always went to the bathroom at the insistence of my nervous bowels.
About fifteen minutes before station time (the time designated to depart Fort Apache for the flight line and my airplane) I dressed for aerial combat. I put my wallet, money and all personal affects in my locker. The only identification I carried when I flew combat missions was my Geneva convention card and my US Department of Defense military ID card.
While flying the F-4, I wore a G suit or technically I suppose it was an “anti-G suit” because its purpose was to allow me to withstand Gs when turning hard in the F-4. The normal force of gravity we all experience is called “one G” or one gravity force. When a fighter turns hard, it can cause the airplane and its occupants to experience multiple gravity forces. During normal combat maneuvers, the F-4 frequently “pulled” 4 or 5 positive Gs. Five Gs means that the pilot’s body weights five times its weight. Moving while pulling 4 or 5 Gs is difficult, especially turning the head around to check the five or seven o’clock positions. While pulling Gs, I sometimes had to use my arm to push my head backwards so I could look behind the airplane.
The purpose of the G suit is to help fighter pilots pull more Gs before they gray out (lose peripheral vision) or black out (become unconscious). The G suit looks like an ugly weird set of pants and is worn over the flight suit. It zips on around each leg and the abdomen. The G suit has air bladders over the stomach, around the thighs and the calves of each leg. It also has a hose that plugs into an outlet in the cockpit. When the G forces increase, the airplane pumps air into the bladders in the G suit. More Gs means more air pumped into the suit. When the Gs decrease the air pressure in the G suit decreases until there is no air pressure in the G suit when the G force equals one. The G suit increases a pilot’s ability to withstand G forces because it constricts the lower half of the body and makes it more difficult for blood to flow from the upper body to the lower body. The result is that it takes more G forces to push blood from the brain thus giving the pilot the ability to withstand greater G forces before graying or blacking out.
My G suit was also a place to store items that otherwise could not be carried in the cramped cockpit of the F-4. My G suit had a pocket on the inner thigh in which I carried a USAF issued switchblade knife tied to a lanyard that was secured to the G suit. One end of the knife was always open because it was a special hook shaped blade the sole purpose of which was to cut four parachute lines to make the parachute more maneuverable. I also had a large jungle knife in a sheath with a sharpening stone attached to my G suit. I made sure I had several strips of gray USAF tape on the thigh area of my G suit. I used the tape to cover instrument lights that were too bright when I flew at night.
Next I donned my survival vest made of light-weight nylon material. It contained the following survival gear: two two-way radios, 50 rounds of .38 caliber ammunition, compass, tourniquet, first aid kit, two smoke flares (to make a lot of colored smoke) and several pen gun flares (to be fired into the sky). When I flew, I also wore a parachute harness into which the parachute straps contained in the ejection seat connected. The parachute harness had two under arm life preserver units (lpus) to be inflated if I ejected over water and three hundred feet of nylon line in a pack on the back of the harness. Because much of Southeast Asia was covered by thick jungles with trees over 200 feet high, the nylon line in the parachute harness would allow me to slowly lower myself to the ground if I ejected and my parachute got stick in the trees.
I took special care to check the two radios I carried in my survival vest. I made sure each radio worked properly and that the batteries were fully charged. I also put two extra radio batteries in my anti-G suit pocket along with two plastic bottles of ice. If I were shot down, the only way I would be rescued would have been to make contact with US forces on one of the three radios I carried (two in my survival vest and one in the survival kit in my ejection seat).
The last thing I did after putting on my survival vest, anti-G suit and parachute harness was to check out my Smith & Wesson .38 caliber Combat Masterpiece revolver from the survival gear people. I then grabbed six .38 caliber bullets from the big tin of bullets and loaded my little pea shooter and inserted it into the holster strapped to my leg. Although I had an additional 50 rounds of bullets in two bandoliers on my survival vest, the weapon was no match for an enemy soldier with an AK-47, but it might be useful for self defense against tigers and cobra snakes than inhabited the jungles of Southeast Asia.
An hour before take off a USAF step van took us to the airplanes. The first thing I did was put my gear in the cockpit and do the Preflight Checks that consisted of:
During the Exterior Inspection Check, I inspected each ordnance item. I made sure the ordnance was securely fastened to the airplane and that each fuse had a safety wire in it. The fuses had little propellers on their tips. The bombs were not armed (ready to explode) unless they had a fuse and the fuse was active. Before a fuse could become active, the propeller on the fuse had to spin in the wind fast enough to cause the fuse to become active. The purpose for the fuse, the propellers and the arming of the fuse was to prevent a bomb from colliding with another bomb when released and detonating under the airplane or from simply detonating spontaneously when released.
Before bomb release, the propellers on the fuses could not spin in the wind because they had a safety wire inserted in the propeller that prevented the propeller from spinning. When the bomb was released, the safety wire remained attached to the airplane and pulled free from the propeller. With the safety wire removed, the little propeller spun in the wind and armed the fuse. Once armed, the bomb would detonate when the fuse was “jostled.”
My airplane usually carried three AIM-7 Sparrow radar guided missiles and one ALQ-119 jamming pod in the four missile bays on the bottom of the fuselage. There were no MiGs in the South Vietnam airspace so the AIM-7s were not needed. Although there were a few SA-2 Guideline surface to air missiles (“SAMs”) in the northern part of South Vietnam during the NVA’s Easter 1972 offensive, I do not recall one being fired at me outside of North Vietnam.