Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

My Most Memorable Mission

by Gary Oline

Although I was reasonably highly decorated in SEA (2 SS, 5 DFC’s, 13 Air Medals), my most memorable mission was one where I was awarded nothing. My logbook is missing, but I will attempt to recreate the mission as best I remember it. Although I am the only USAFA grad involved, I think it will attest to the camaraderie and courage of all those who flew in SEA -- especially the other F-105 pilots in our class.

It was Sep ‘66 and I was ground spare for “Shark” flight. Shark was to be the last four a/c to roll in that day. Our tactics at that time were to ingress at medium altitude in a “pod“ or “box” formation of 16 a/c with four Weasels out in front of the package.. The target that day was something not significant enough to remember on the eastern edge of Hanoi, but I do recall the weather as severe clear - a rarity for “downtown.” Our flight lead was LtCol Tom Kirk (shot down the following month and a POW for the duration). #3 was Capt Cal Jewett - my best friend - who later became Northrop’s chief test pilot for the B-2. #2 was Capt Ed Deck (RIP), who was on his first mission to Pak 6.

Ed had come to Takhli via SAC where he was a misfit. He had rolled a B-47, got into a shuffle with his wing commander and specifically volunteered for Thuds to “help win the war.” SAC was happy to get rid of the elderly captain.

Number 4 aborted that day, so I filled in and would be #16 down the chute. …Not a favorite spot, as all the gunners would be awake by then!!! As I rolled in to the target for the planned 45-degree dive bomb run, the radio lit up with many “Mig” calls. It seemed that we had flown through a training area of Mig-17’s as they weren’t really in an attack mode, but were rather scattered about everywhere. I was in a high-G roll-in to inverted flight at 50 degrees dive angle. Not an easy maneuver for any Mig to follow, so I continued my focus on attacking the target. I would roll 180-degrees to be wings level for a just a few seconds of tracking before getting rid of my bombs. After that, I’d worry about any Migs on my tail.

After bomb release I pulled hard back up to the horizon and began jinking out of the target area. A couple quick checks of 6 o’clock revealed nothing on my tail. There were still lots of Mig calls from other members of the package, so I focused my attention forward on what should have been 15 other Thuds jinking and exiting the target area. I did not see any Migs, but reasonably close and below me, I saw an F-105 “falling” in a leaf-like spin. It was not a fully-developed spin, but it sure as heck wasn’t flying with the pointy end forward.

I began a hard turn over the a/c in order to try and tell whether the canopy was on and to watch the impact. I had heard no “beeper,” so assumed the pilot was still in the aircraft. I got out a quick call: “Shark 3, are you hit?” Since the rest of the force was now miles away, I assumed the stricken a/c must be Cal. “Negative,” was his reply.

After more than 90 degrees of turn I was now about one mile ahead and several thousand feet above the stricken Thud. Another quick check behind me and I was still clear of any Migs on my tail, but I knew that I would be attracting them by “loitering” in the target area.

About the time that the stricken Thud was down to only a couple of thousand feet altitude, the a/c recovered and started flying again, rather miraculously headed out on the egress heading. I could see his shadow on the ground, so he wasn’t very high. And then, there it was!! A second shadow on the ground behind the Thud‘s shadow!! It was easy to acquire the Mig-17 now closing in on the hapless Thud who was doing maybe 300 knots if he was lucky. I was still doing over 500 knots, and about a mile above and in front of the action below me.

My fangs came out. I jettisoned my wing tanks, lit the burner, and started a hard 5-g barrel roll to try and get separation behind the Mig that was attacking my buddy-- whoever that buddy was….

After 180 degrees of roll I was directly over the Mig, and gaining position, I felt, to continue the maneuver for an attack on him. I was way above the action below me, so another quick check of 6 and “HOLY SHIT!!” There’s a Mig-17 “camped” about 1500 feet behind me, but lagging my roll by about 90 degrees. I was still pulling hard, 4 to 5 G’s , so he couldn’t get good tracking on me. About then I heard Cal call: “Shark 4 BREAK.” But the guy behind me wasn’t shooting (yet) and I felt that if I broke off my attack on the Mig below me, that Mig would get the Thud below me which he was clearly tracking. So my thought process was “continue my attack and worry about the Mig on my ass after I’ve dispatched the one below.”

But, when I tried to reacquire the Thud and Mig below me, they were gone!! Not there where they had been only moments before. So enough of my “heroics,” now it was time to survive the guy behind me. Tracers of 30mm off the right wing tip helped make this decision real easy. I eased her down to the tops of the rice paddies and easily outran the Mig.

Shortly thereafter, Cal (who had come back towards the target area based on my earlier call), Ed Deck, and I joined up. Ed still had three 750# bombs on his centerline MER, because he had “quick-pickled” -- not held the bomb button down sufficiently long for all the bombs to release. I still hadn’t figured it out, but Ed was the guy doing the “falling leaf” maneuver.

During debrief, the story began to unfold and make sense. Ed had pulled off his bomb run and spotted a Mig at his 1 o’clock. He tried to pull lead on the Mig, but the Mig easily out-maneuvered the less-agile Thud and quickly got on Ed’s tail. Now Ed, not being the brightest star in air-to-air combat (remember B-47), had heard a story at the bar about a maneuver designed to throw any attacker off your tail. He tried what he had heard: full forward stick, full aileron in one direction, and full opposite rudder. Three bombs remaining didn’t help the maneuver. Hence the out-of-control falling leaf that I had witnessed.

The Mig had been thrown off the attack, for sure, but just waited for Ed to either crash or get flying again and then resumed his attack. After Ed got his airplane flying again, he spotted another Mig out in front of him, and began to set up for an attack on it!!! When Cal had come back and called “Shark 4 BREAK,” we don’t know whether he saw Ed and his Mig, or me and my Mig.

Ed’s comment in debrief was: “I knew that I wasn’t Shark 4, but after all I’d been through, a break seemed in order. That explained how I had lost sight of Ed in the middle of my attack… I’d spent a couple of too-long seconds looking down the intake of that Mig behind me.

I asked Ed if he’d considered ejection during his wayward maneuver. He replied: “Hell no. I was still on the outskirts of Hanoi!!”

Cal and I were “old” heads with around 25 missions so we pretty much knew it all! We chewed out Ed for doing everything wrong. We told him he was damn lucky to be alive after all the errors he had made. Ed, who had never been humble, left debrief with his head down muttering to himself that was indeed lucky to be alive.

When we all got to the bar that evening, Cal and I kept it up, telling everyone what dumb-shit maneuvers Ed had tried to pull. Again, Ed was reticent and admitted the error of his ways. However, after about his eighth (probably more) gin-and-tonics, he was throwing glasses at the “exit” sign and saying “I should have had that sonuvabitch!!

Aaahh, the fighter pilot mentality!!!

The above story illustrates the story about the Thud pilot who might not have been an Ace, but he would surely have had a couple of Mig kills except for a design deficiency in the F-105: the damn gun was pointed forward!!!

Cal, Ed, and I all finished our 100 missions. Ed later became a flying rep for Mitsubichi Aircraft, but passed away around 2000 of natural causes.

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