Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

Combat Experiences

The mission that we were awarded the Silver Star for was flown on 5 Jan 1968. The targets were Route 3, the north railroad out of Hanoi, Ha Gia and Phuc Yen airfield. My aircraft commander was the vice commander, 432nd TRW at Udorn AB. I was in the pit as the “seeing eye” captain since the rules said the colonel needed another pilot in the pit of the RF-4C. Since I had been a pilot systems operator on my first tour out of Saigon, I got the job. The vice didn’t need the extra help. The man had excellent hands and nerves of steel.

Since our targets were in Route Pack 6, yet out of the ten mile ring around Hanoi, our TOT was the same as the strike package going in that morning. If the targets for us had been within that ring, we’d have ingressed with the strike package. Instead, we’d proceed on our own.

Per normal, we launched as a four-ship, and the spares turned back at the edge of the early warning net after we’d confirmed all systems were functioning. Configuration was three bags of gas and two ALQ-87 jamming pods. Since recce assets didn’t get tanker support on the ingress, we would jettison tanks as they went dry. The plan was to ingress at low level on the northern side of Thud Ridge and pop to ten to thirteen thousand feet for the run. The slipper tanks went dry just prior to the pop and were jettisoned. We popped with a right-hand turn just south of Thuy Nugyen with the wingman low, inside the turn and to the west. The primary threat was a SAM site near the base of Thud Ridge. The maps from that era also show heavy concentrations of 57mm, 85mm and 100mm flak extending the length of our run.

As we rolled wings level at the top of the pop, the RWR was alight and active with threat warnings. The RF-4C is faster than greased lightening when she’s clean and has plenty of “Q” to maneuver with, so we were smokin’ coming down the slot towards Phuc Yen. We jinked in the vertical between ten and thirteen thousand. The SAM’s started coming off the rails from the site on the right at the base of Thud Ridge when we were about half way down the run. They were rippled in sticks of three. There were between twelve and fifteen SAM’s airborne. The middle one in the second or third stick guided on us. At the last instant, the boss rolled hard into the SAM, pegged the G-meter, and rolled out back on track as the SAM slid by in front of us. The SAM passed us about fifty feet in front of the nose, slightly high. It was close enough that I could read the number on the side, “125.” To give you an idea how fast the sequence was, when we looked at the film, you could see road and railroad in one frame, clouds in the next, then road and railroad in the next frame. Even at the altitudes we were at, the KS-87 shutter had to be fast to catch the imagery.

We finished the run then sliced right and down to exit behind Thud Ridge. We did a fuel check after we were back in the weeds, and the wingman was something like 3000 pounds less than us. We needed a tanker. Since the RF-4C has a HF radio, Pizza (the nav in the other aircraft) and I were calling for a tanker and SAR forces in case they had to bail out. Evidently, they’d been hit somewhere during the run. The tanker extended his track to come and get us. We got number two on the tank, but he was unable to take fuel. The tanker had turned back towards Udorn, so we had all the pieces headed in the right direction. We wanted to get them back across Laos, then over the Mekong River before they had to dismount and fight on foot.

Their gas lasted until we were just northwest of Udorn and across the Mekong. They did a textbook controlled ejection. A Super Jolly Green from Udorn was waiting for them. They were picked up quickly and flown back to Udorn. They were waiting for us when we shutdown. Total flying time was two hours and five minutes according to my Form 15 and personal log.

We found out that the strike package had been twenty minutes late, and we were the only targets for gunners up there. At least we understood why the reception was so hot for us.
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