Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

Friday the 13th

Mike Robbins

I was flying RF-4Cs at Udorn in early 70s. In addition to being a line pilot, I was also the maintenance officer because the real maintenance officer had to go on emergency leave. On Thursday, November 12, 1970 I was called to the flight line to inspect one of our returning RF-4Cs with major structural damage. The pilot was Rich Siner (USAFA Class of 1965) who had flown a mission over North Vietnam to photograph a SAM site. As he approached the site at low level the gunners opened up, and Rich pulled something like 12 g’s to avoid the AAA. The aluminum skin on the wing was almost pulled off due to the high g forces.

When I returned to the squadron to get my mission for the following day, Friday the 13th, I discovered that I was supposed to return to the same SAM site that fired on Rich. I was supposed to overfly the site at 500 feet for the photo mission. I talked with Rich about the defenses and the best routes in and out of the area. After doing my mission planning I turned the map in to our ops officer who forwarded mine and three other North Vietnam missions for the 13th to 7th AF in Saigon.

Late in the evening I got a call from someone in wing ops who told me that someone had mixed up the routes and names and that I was supposed to fly one of the other missions, and someone else would fly my mission. I replied that I was not going to fly a route that I had not planned and no one should have to fly my route. They said to hang tight and they would get back to me. They called back later and agreed that we would all fly the routes we had planned but that my mission for the 13th had been cancelled.

Since I wasn’t supposed to fly in the morning, I slept a little later than normal and headed to the maintenance section. As I was checking on one of the aircraft for the morning missions someone asked me where I had been. Apparently someone from the squadron had tried to call me at the hooch to tell me that my mission was back on, but the Thai maid didn’t understand what they wanted. My flight commander, Dave Wright, was in the squadron and was able to go to the required briefing, and he was going to take my flight.

About an hour and a half later I was in the squadron when the ops officer took a phone call. I don’t know what it was about the call, but I immediately got goose bumps on my arms. I knew something bad had happened. When the ops office hung up the phone he told me that Dave Wright’s plane had been shot down over the SAM site and both Dave and his backseater were killed. Dave’s plane came in at 500 feet and another recce was at 4,500 feet. The higher aircraft saw the AAA open up on Dave’s aircraft and saw it explode.

I guess it wasn’t my time. Since that day I have always felt lucky on Friday the 13th.
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