Lance Peter Sijan was a United States Air Force officer and F-4 fighter pilot. On March 4, 1976, he posthumously received the Medal of Honor, the United States’ highest military award, for his selflessness and courage in the face of lethal danger.
Here is the text of Lance’s Medal of Honor citation:
“While on a flight over North Vietnam, Capt. Sijan ejected from his disabled aircraft and successfully evaded capture for more than 6 weeks. During this time, he was seriously injured and suffered from shock and extreme weight loss due to lack of food. After being captured by North Vietnamese soldiers, Capt. Sijan was taken to a holding point for subsequent transfer to a prisoner of war camp. In his emaciated and crippled condition, he overpowered 1 of his guards and crawled into the jungle, only to be recaptured after several hours. He was then transferred to another prison camp where he was kept in solitary confinement and interrogated at length. During interrogation, he was severely tortured; however, he did not divulge any information to his captors. Capt. Sijan lapsed into delirium and was placed in the care of another prisoner. During his intermittent periods of consciousness until his death, he never complained of his physical condition and, on several occasions, spoke of future escape attempts. Capt. Sijan’s extraordinary heroism and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty at the cost of his life are in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force and reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Armed Forces.
Lance is the only graduate of the United State Air Force Academy who received the Medal of Honor.
Lance ejected from his stricken F-4 on November 9, 1967 over Laos near the border of North Vietnam. Wikipedia says:
“During his violent ejection and very rough parachute landing on the karst ridge, Sijan had suffered a fractured skull, a mangled right hand, and a compound fracture of the left leg. He was without food, with very little water, and no survival kit; nevertheless, he evaded enemy forces for 46 days. During this entire period, Sijan was only able to move by sliding on his buttocks and back along the rocky limestone ridge and later along the jungle floor. After managing to move several thousand feet, Sijan crawled onto a truck road along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, where he was finally captured by the North Vietnamese on Christmas Day, 1967. Very emaciated and in poor health, Sijan was imprisoned in an NVA camp. Soon thereafter, he managed to incapacitate a guard and escape into the jungle, but was recaptured several hours later.
Sijan was transported to a holding compound in Vinh, North Vietnam, where he was placed in the care of two other recently captured POWs, Air Force Major Robert R. Craner and Air Force Captain Guy Gruters. Although in terrific pain from his severe wounds and brutal beatings and torture from his captors, Sijan had not disclosed any information other than what the Geneva Convention guidelines allowed (name, date of birth, service, rank, and service number). Suffering terribly from exhaustion, malnutrition, and disease, he was soon transported to Hanoi, under the attentive care of both Craner and Gruters. However, in his weakened state, he contracted pneumonia and died in Hỏa Lò Prison (better known as the “Hanoi Hilton”) on January 22, 1968.
The four objectives of the operation (which evolved over time) were to boost the sagging morale of the Saigon regime in the Republic of Vietnam; to persuade North Vietnam to cease its support for the communist insurgency in South Vietnam without sending ground forces into communist North Vietnam; to destroy North Vietnam’s transportation system, industrial base, and air defenses; and to halt the flow of men and material into South Vietnam. Attainment of these objectives was made difficult by both the restraints imposed upon the U.S. and its allies by Cold War exigencies, and by the military aid and assistance received by North Vietnam from its communist allies, the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China and North Korea.
The operation became the most intense air/ground battle waged during the Cold War period; it was the most difficult such campaign fought by the United States since the aerial bombardment of Germany during World War II.
On June 2, 1972, at approximately 1330 hours, Brenda 01, a hard-wing F-4E, tail number 68210, flown by Major Phil Handley shot down a MiG-19 with the 20mm cannon approximately 40 miles northeast of Hanoi. At the time of the kill, the estimated flight parameters were: F-4 mach 1.2+ (800+ kts/hour); MiG-19 0.77 mach (500 kts/hour); altitude above terrain 500 feet; slant range 200-300 feet; and flight path crossing angle 90 degrees. This was the only MiG-19 shot down by an F-4 gun during the Vietnam War and is believed to be the highest speed gun kill in the history of aerial combat.
One of the guys in my F-4 Phantom squadron, the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron based at Kunsan Air Base, Korea, in 1972 made a video about the squadron’s deployment to Southeast Asia. I was reviewing old compact discs and found the video. I can’t remember who made it or how long it has been sitting in my closet on the CD.
After I published this post Ray Seymour sent me the following message:
“Dave Lowder and I supplied the photos and I put it together for the Rats Phoenix convention in May of 2012. That’s when Joe Lee Burns organized a mini reunion of the 35th in memory of Jim Beatty. No credit needed. Be well. On a separate note, Gene Doyle’s son Eric is the commander of the Blue Angels.
Then Lt. Harlan Elseth made a great video of pictures he took in 1967 – 1968 when he flew 148 combat missions in the F-4 as a member of the 13th and 555th Tactical Fighter Squadrons during the Vietnam war. He had 100 missions over North Vietnam and 48 missions over Laos while flying out of Ubon & Udorn Air Bases, Thailand.
I love this documentary about heroic men who flew the single seat F-105 Thunderchief, aka the “Thud,” in the air war over North Vietnam in 1966. I first saw the film in the fall of 1970 when I was in Officer Training School (OTS) at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. I was in awe then just as I am now watching these men talk about flying combat missions over the most heavily defended area in the history of aerial warfare.
The Thud drivers in the movie were flying in operation Rolling Thunder. “There is a Way” was filmed at Korat Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, the same base my squadron, the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron, flew from in 1972 during operation Linebacker I. The Thud pilots in “There is a Way” were in the 421st Tactical Fighter Squadron of the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing.
Legendary American hero 1st Lt. Karl W. Richter explains why he volunteered to fly an additional 100 missions over North Vietnam after flying his first 100 missions. It was standard operating procedure for Thud drivers to be returned to the United States after they completed 100 missions over North Vietnam because the 100 mission quota was so difficult to achieve. When Lt. Richter was flying combat missions 43 percent of F-105 pilots were either killed or declared missing in action before they completed 100 missions over North Vietnam. Lt. Richter was single and did not have any children and he loved flying the Thud so he asked to stay at Korat and fly a second 100 missions over North Vietnam.
Lt. Richter beat the odds and successfully completed his second 100 missions. Unfortunately on July 28, 1967, Karl Richter was killed in action when his airplane was shot down by flak. Richter was rescued by a helicopter, but died on the chopper before it could get him to a hospital. In another article I wrote about Richter I said:
“There is a statue of Karl Richter at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, on which is inscribed, the following words from the prophet Isaiah: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Here am I. Send me.” Lt. Richter gave his life in the service of his country. Karl Richter’s spirit and sacrifice will live on in the annals of the United States Air Force and American history. The December 1992 issue of Air Force Magazine contains an article called “Here Am I. Send Me” about Karl Richter. Read Lt. Col. Hank Brandli’s article called “Karl Richter’s Last Mission” to learn more about this American hero.”
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.
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.
This video is a tribute to Air Force and Navy pilots who flew north of the Red River in the northern most part of North Vietnam during the Vietnam war. People who flew north of the Red River were eligible to join an exclusive club called the Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association and called River Rats. The north Vietnamese propaganda machine and Jane Fonda called them Yankee Air Pirates. See the River Rats Facebook page.
On May 10, 1972, the USAF and Navy shot down 11 North Vietnam MiGs in the skies over North Vietnam at a cost of two USAF and two Navy F-4s shot down. Jeffrey Ethell and Alfred Price wrote a great book about this day called “One Day in a Long War, May 10, 1972, Air War, North Vietnam” that describes in detail events of that day. I recommend this book. It’s in my collection of books written about the Vietnam air war. A lot of people I know are mentioned in the book or the appendix that contains the names of all USAF and Navy F-4 air crews who flew north that day. F-4 drivers of the Vietnam war era will probably recognize a lot of names.
“One Day in a Long War recounts firsthand accounts of almost one hundred eye witnesses, analyzes cockpit voice recordings and draws from official documents, many declassified for the first time, to tell its story. During May 10 an elite corps of American fighter pilots – many of them first-generation Top Gun graduates – flew more than 330 sorties against major transportation centers around Hanoi and Haiphong. But the Vietnamese fought back with 03 ground to air missiles and 40 MiG fighters.
What words are spoken in the cockpit of a Phantom as the crew prepares to engage MiGs closing in at nearly 1,000 miles per hour? What thoughts go through the mind of a pilot struggling to hold his crippled plane in the air for one minute longer, to get clear of enemy territory so he and his crewmen can parachute into the sea? How does it feel to be in a Phantom running in to attack the notorious Paul Doumer Bridge at Hanoi with laser guided bombs as missile after missile streaks through the formation? And what tactics would enable a force of 16 of these fighter bombers to carry out such an attack without the loss of a single plane?
One Day in a Long War is a definitive reconstruction of the most intensive air combat day of the Vietnam conflict.”
Sgt. Joey Hill was the crew chief of the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron‘s F-4D tail number 650784 on February 21, 1972, when Major Robert Lodge & Capt. Roger Locher got their first of three MiG kills. Watch these two videos Joey made with his pictures and the two mission audio tapes given to him by Roger Locher and Bob Lodge. The audio tapes are the actual cockpit voice recordings of the two missions during which Lodge & Locher shot down their first and second of three MiGs.
They got their third MiG on May 10, 1972, but were immediately shot down by an unseen MiG. Major Lodge elected not to eject because on that day Intel briefed the aircrews that their mission would take them deep into North Vietnam into an area where helicopter rescue was not possible. Major Lodge had told people that he would never become a prisoner of war. Roger Locher ejected safely and escaped and evaded on the ground for 22 days before getting on his radio and calling for help. Roger knew he had to walk west far enough to an area where the helicopters could get to him. For more about Locher’s incredible story in his own words and Brig. Gen. Steve Richie’s story of the rescue read “Roger Locher Describes Shooting Down a MiG, Getting Shot Down by a MiG-19, Ejecting & Evading Capture on the Ground in North Vietnam for 23 Days.”
On May 11, 1972, General Vogt, Commander of the 7th Air Force, cancelled all strike missions into North Vietnam and dedicated over 150 aircraft and USAF resources to rescuing one American. Although many risked their lives that day the USAF did not suffer a single loss. Contrast the importance the U.S. gave to saving American lives in 1972 to the dishonorable mindset and abandonment of the four Americans who died in the Benghazi, Libya, consulate on September 11, 2012, when President Obama refused the doomed American’s cries for help. General Vogt spared no resource to save Roger Locher, but President Obama chose to ignore Ambassador Steven’s pleas because the President had to go to Las Vegas.
The following video contains the audio of the February 21, 1972, MiG kill mission.
On May 8, 1972, Major Robert Lodge, gave another combat mission audio tape to Sgt. Hill. On this day Bob Lodge and Capt. Locher shot down their second MiG 21 while flying F4_D 650784.
Listen to the actual combat missions to hear Bob and Roger talking intra-cockpit and the radio transmissions made by other aircrews in the strike force and Red Crown, the Navy airborne warning ship in the Gulf of Tonkin.
Here is a translation of some of the jargon used by the aircrews and Red Crown:
Falcon 62 = Lodge & Locher’s call sign on the February 21, 1972 mission.
Oyster 01 = Lodge & Licher’s call sign on the May 8, 1972, mission
triple A or AAA = antiaircraft artillery = guns on the ground shooting at F-4s
mach = airspeed in relation to the speed of sound where mach 1 = the speed of sound, which is 700+ miles per hour depending on the altitude and other factors
beeping noises = various types of radar energy hitting Falcon 62 and picked up and decoded by the radar homing and warning aka RHAW gear
on the nose = at the airplane’s 12 o’clock position
Red Crown = Navy ship in the Gulf of Tonkin that could detect all airplanes airborne over North Vietnam and identify them as friend or foe. Red Crown warned US aircraft of approaching MiGs and vectored US airplanes to MiGs to shoot down the MiGs.
Disco = USAF equivalent of Red Crown, but it was an EC-121 radar airplane airborne over Laos.
Bandit = enemy MiG airplane
Blue Bandit = enemy MiG-21 airplane
Bulls-eye = Hanoi, North Vietnam aka “downtown.”
067/22 = location of a Bandit where the first number “067” is the radial (bearing off of downtown Hanoi and the second number “22” is the number of nautical miles the Bandit is from downtown Hanoi.
Guard = UHF radio frequency 243.0, a radio frequency monitored most of the time by airborne F-4s and used in emergencies such as when somebody got shot down and was calling for help on the personal radio all aircrew men carried.
pecker head = enemy MiG airplane
SAM = surface to air missile, a 32 foot long Soviet made SA-2 radar guided flying telephone pole missile
shit hot = shit hot
overtake = knots at which your airplane is approaching another airplane – two airplanes heading directly at each other at 500 knots each have an overtake of 1,000 knots.
The F-4 Phantom is a supersonic jet fighter loved by people like me who were lucky to have flown it. It was a great airplane to fly, but it was also a very dangerous machine. Whenever you throw an airplane at the ground at high dive angles and high descent rates, fly in formation with other fighters or jink back and forth in real or simulated aerial combat, bad things can happen. It was always a comfort to me knowing that when I flew the Phantom I was sitting on a wonderful life-saving device known as the Martin Baker MK-H7 ejection seat.
The F-4 ejection seat saved many lives. When activated a rocket motor fired and blasted the seat and its occupant out of the cockpit and away from the speeding F-4. The Martin Baker seat had a zero zero capability meaning that in theory if a person was sitting in the cockpit while the airplane was parked and stationary on the ground and fired the seat (zero altitude and zero airspeed) the person would be launched 300 feet in the air, the chute would open and the person would safely float back to earth.
The MK-H7 ejection seat system can provide the crew with a safe and efficient escape from the aircraft. The seat is propelled from the aircraft by an ejection gun on the back of the seat which is assisted by a rocket motor on the bottom of the seat. . . . If necessary, ejection can be accomplished at ground level between zero and 550 knots airspeed with wings level and no sink rate providing the crewmember does not exceed a maximum boarding weight of 247 pounds. . . .
During dual automatic ejection initiated from either cockpit, the rear seat fires . . . approximately 0.54 seconds after initiation. Front canopy jettison is initiated after approximately 0.75 seconds and the front sequence actuator will fire the front seat automatically approximately 1.39 seconds after initiation. This ensures adequate clearance between the two ejection seats and the aircraft canopies.
The last paragraph above says that the difference in time from when the back seat fires until the front seat fires is .85 seconds.
One Second – the Difference Between Life and Death
When I was in F-4 RTU (replacement training unit) in 1971 – 1972 at Luke AFB, Arizona, learning how to fly the Phantom there was a tragic F-4 accident on the Gila Bend bombing range. Two students were in 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:
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
Rufus Harris said: “Tan Son Nhut ’68, little remembrance…just arrived in country. Rather than falling in line at the PAX terminal with all the grunts for a C-130 ride to Pleiku and my Spad squadron, which might mean hanging around the airport for a day or two, I went over to base ops to see if I could find my own hop. Sure enough, A C-7 pilot says he’s taking some Purple Hearts up to the 4th Division at Pleiku and I’m welcome to hitch a ride. I’m thinking sure, I can just hold the medals in my lap, so we walk out to the plane as the loadmaster finishes strapping down a 700 pound pallet of Purple Hearts. Whoa, maybe a couple of extra days at Tan Son Nhut wouldn’t be that bad!”
Jack McTasney responded: ” Why were you in such a hurry to get to Plieku? Good to see you are still out there enjoying old age like the rest of us. Actually I remember going to DaNang in a C-130 hauling ammunition, and wondering what would happen if we were hit? When we landed and taxied in the “Hillsboro” C-130 hulk was still on the ramp from the rocket attack in July 1967. I sort of wondered if I was getting into trouble ; but then the good old AF started building bunkers, revetments and having us sandbag our hootches. Once you moved to the bottom bunk on the ground floor you didn’t even put your helmet on when the rockets came in, but the guy in the top bunk hit the deck and the “Gunfighters” on the top floor usually went to the bunkers. Then again we were probably just stupid and lucky.”
USAF F-4 WSO Captain Roger Locher of the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron describes the mission on May 10, 1972, when he and Maj. Robert A. Lodge in Oyster 1 attacked four MiG-21s, shot down one of them with an AIM-7 using a head on attack and were immediately thereafter shot down by a MiG-19 they never saw until it was too late. The stricken F-4D immediately went out of control and was on fire. With the airplane in an inverted descent below 9,000 feet Roger said to Bob that he was going to eject. Major Lodge said “why don’t you eject then.” Roger ejected, but he never saw Bob’s chute or what happened to him. Robert Lodge was later declared Killed in Action.
When I was stationed at Kunsan Air Base, Korea, in 1973 I read the Intel debriefing report Roger gave after he returned to Udorn. I remember Roger said that before their 10 May 72 mission Bob Lodge told Rodger he would never be a prisoner of war and that Roger speculated that Bob decided to stay with the F-4 rather then eject because of his mindset.
In most of the two part 45 minute audio report Roger Locher describes in detail what happened, his escape and evasion plan and how he successfully evaded the North Vietnam for 23 days. Before his mission the Intel briefing said that if you got shot down east of a certain distance from Hanoi you would be a POW because the powers that be decided that search and rescue missions too close to Hanoi were too dangerous for the rescue forces.
When Roger made his first radio contact with US forces 22 days after being shot down the USAF tried to rescue him that day, but the ground fire was too heavy. The next day USAF General Vogt cancelled the bombing mission scheduled for North Vietnam and sent the entire strike force and supporting aircraft (119 total aircraft) to rescue Roger Locher. It was the deepest rescue made inside North Vietnam during the entire war.
I don’t know when Roger made the tape, but it sounds like it may have been made shortly after his rescue to other aircrews at Udorn Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, with the purpose of helping them in case they were shot down.
Watch the two videos Sgt. Joey Hill made about Robert Lodge and Roger Locher at ” Sgt. Joey Hill, the Crew Chief of F-4D 650784 & His 2 Fabulous Videos of Robert Lodge & Roger Locher.” Joey Hill’s two videos contain his personal photos and the audios of the mission tapes Lodge and Locher made of their missions over North Vietnam during which they shot down their first and second MiGs. Lodge and Locher gave their crew chief, Sgt. Joey Hill, copies of the audio cassette tapes they made of the two missions.
After you listen to Roger describing his 23 day ordeal, you must watch and listen to the video of 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.
Finch flight was part of a large strike package of aircraft flying in the general area of Hanoi, in Route Pack VI, North Vietnam. The strike force consisted of:
F-4 fighter bombers carrying bombs
F-4 strike escorts whose job was to prevent the MiGs from attacking the strike force
F-4 chaff bombers whose job was to drop small pieces of tin foil along the route to the target to degrade the enemy’s radar
F-105 wild weasels whose job was to troll for SA-2 Guideline surface to air missiles (SAMs, which were 32 foot long flying telephone polls with a speed 3 times the speed of sound) and destroy the SAM sites, and
While we were heading to the target, several North Vietnamese MiG-21s jumped the strike force. The MiG’s came from high and behind my flight and dove down through us firing their missiles as they came. It was a rather chaotic time!
During the maneuvering that followed, our flight broke apart and we ended up as two elements of two F-4s. I maneuvered to the six o’clock position behind a MiG-21 and Dan Autrey, my backseater, got a good radar lock on the MiG. Conditions were excellent; almost text book. I fired two AIM-7 Sparrow radar guided missiles, which did not guide. They simply went ballistic and did nothing except alert the MiG pilot to his impending peril.
I had a lot of overtake and continued to close on the MiG. I changed my armament switches from the AIM-7 to the AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking infrared missile. As soon as I was within AIM-9 range (approximately 9,000 feet), I got a good audio tone for the AIM-9’s. I fired three Sidewinders at the MiG, but they either did not guide or their proximity fuses did not work.
The last missile went close by the cockpit and got the MiG pilot’s attention! He broke hard and I followed and continued to close on him. I got in position to use my 20mm canon (a six barreled Gatling gun in the nose that was capable of firing 6,000 rounds/minute) so I fired a couple of short bursts at the MiG. Some of the bullets hit the MiG’s left wing near where it joined the fuselage. The MiG started burning immediately. I was now closing way too fast. I did a high speed yo-yo. The maneuver once again put me in position to fire another burst from my gun. These bullets hit in and around the cockpit and the aircraft pitched up. I saw the pilot slumped forward in the cockpit. The aircraft then stalled and snapped down as I flew past it. I watched the burning MiG until it hit the ground and exploded in a cloud of smoke and fire.
Ground Crew Paints a Red Star on the Side of this F-4 that Killed a MiG
My Second MiG-21, 8 Oct 72
On October 8, 1972, I was the leader of Lark flight, a flight of four F-4E Phantoms flying cover for a flight of four F-4Ds on a bombing mission near Yen Bai Airfield in North Vietnam. I was also the mission leader of this very small strike package.
My backseater, Captain Bob Jasperson, had a problem getting his canopy to lock just prior to takeoff. Bob cycled his canopy several times. He finally pulled it down on the rails and got it to lock. Bob told me later that he knew this would be his last Southeast Asia flight and he didn’t want to abort on the ground. Thanks, Bob!
After we refueled from the KC-135 tankers on the ingress route, one of my F-4s in my flight had a mechanical problem. I sent that airplane and a wingman home. Under the rules of engagement at that time, I should have aborted the mission since I only had two fighters in my flight, but I chose to continue the mission.
As we approached the border of North Vietnam, “Disco” (the USAF airborne EC-121 warning aircraft orbiting in Laos) warned us that a MiG was scrambling and that we were probably its target. As we continued inbound, Disco gave us frequent warnings of the MiG’s progress and location. It was indeed coming our way.
The engagement was almost like a GCI (ground controlled intercept) in reverse. Disco announced the MiG was at our 10:30 high. Sure enough, my backseater, Bob Jasperson, pointed out a silver glint in the sun as the MiG turned down on us. I called a “hijack” and had the fighters jettison their external fuel tanks and light afterburners as we turned into the MiG. A few seconds later I had the F-4 bomber flight break as the MiG came closer to the bombers.
The MiG dove down trying to attack the breaking bombers. I was on his tail, but at a very high angle off. Angle off is the angle between the attacking airplane and the target if you extended a line straight back from the target’s tail and then measured the angle between the attacker and the extended line. The book said that the AIM-9 Sidewinder would not guide to the target if the angle off at the time of firing was greater than 45 degrees.
I fired two AIM-9 heat seeking missiles at the diving MiG. I did not expect either of them to guide because the angle off was far beyond the limits. Both missiles went ballistic as I anticipated. I then tried to jettison the rest of my missiles including the three AIM-7 Sparrow radar guided missiles. I was yelling for Bob to give me a caged gun sight because the reticle was completely off of the windscreen due to the high angle off and the high Gs we were pulling. Bob got the gun sight locked. I very quickly did a little Kentucky windage estimate, pulled the pipper way out in front of the MiG and high and fired a short burst from my 20mm Gatling gun.
To my pleasant surprise the bullets hit the MiG in the fuselage near the left wing and it immediately burst into flames. The pilot did not hesitate and ejected immediately. Then came an even bigger surprise; he had a beautiful pastel pink parachute! I circled him one time and then regrouped the flight for our trip home.
The entire engagement was visible from the Yen Bai, North Vietnam airfield tower, if anyone was in it at that time. The engagement lasted only a minute or two from start to finish. When I landed, I checked the gun and found that I had fired only 96 rounds, including the exciter burst that was probably about the half bullets fired.
I was extremely pleased that I had a gun camera for this mission (not all birds had them) and it had checked out good going in. When I removed the film pack it looked like it had functioned correctly. I gave the film to the gun camera guys and told then to really take care in developing it. About an hour later they came to me with the results and a great film, but all of it was flying straight and level after the refueling. I tested the gun after leaving the tanker and the camera apparently continued to run after the test firing. All of the film was used long before the dogfight began. So, unfortunately, I did not have the great MiG kill camera film that I had hoped for!
Check six, Busch.
Simulated Video of Busch’s first MiG Kill
This vidoe is pretty cool. The text under the video on Youtube says: “In game video of a YAP2 mission loosely based on an actual gun kill by an F-4E Phantom piloted by Gary Retterbush over N. Vietnam on September 12 1972. He later went on to earned a second gun kill just a month later.”