Monday, November 30, 2009

History Repeats Itself (I hope not!)

A year ago or so, I posted the picture you see at the right of this comment. It illustrates arrogance and demonstrated to the world that appeasement is delectable. The cheers were short lived as the we descended into a global conflict. We are headed in the same direction on a similar highway. Our president is an appeaser and his cronies are afraid to call him on his dangerous ineptitude. I fear that many will die for a global cause which has nothing to do with our security. Click the title to see the original post.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Milk Run - Epilog

Like I said, the plane never flew again. The next day, my crew chief came around and told me about what they'd found.

The four embedded sparrow air to air missiles had more than one hundred pieces of shrapnel in them, but none had caused them to explode. For the most part, the 37mm shell had exploded downward, or early, if it was a proximity (but I don't think they had those). It came within a foot of blowing the left main gear off. It took out most of the hydraulics on the left side (good concept - redundancy), somehow the left main had worked in the gravity/pneumatic mode. The leading edge flap was severed and the aileron and spoilers were inop.

He also handed me a pound of lead which was the top of a 37mm shell, which he had found somewhere in the leading edge of the wing. I use it to this day for a paperweight on my desk. You can see how the detonating mechanism is mis-aligned. This has been a constant reminder of that day and how the good Lord had His hand upon me, even though I didn't have a clue.

Friday, November 20, 2009


How much fun is it to think about my dad and what he'd think of this world and the mess we're in? I get in these moods (and especially on his birthday) when I get a sniff of Canadian Club. Bizarre, I know. That smell and that of a freshly dry-cleaned suit, bring back memories of my youth, my family and the security I felt as I grew up.

Now dad was not a boozer. Don't think for a minute that I smelled the CC on him whenever I saw him. But there is something about the odor that takes me back to Seattle in the late forties and the pleasant routine of life for the Wilsons. Going for an apple pie on a Sunday evening. Listening to "Lum and Abner" "The Shadow" and "Amos and Andy" (, innocent things that are missing in today's frenetic lifestyle in the glow of the TV.

Pop, I wish I could talk to you and say how much I love you. We'll meet in heaven - we'll talk.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Milk Run - Ride ‘em Fuzz

 When I began this entry on the blog, I really didn’t think that it would take so long for me to get my act together, work through “writer’s block” and find the right words to express my delight that some even cared whether I wrote it down or not. It is almost forty-four years since that afternoon in 1965 (16 November). In some ways it seems like yesterday. It was a lifetime ago.

Final approach didn’t take as long to fly as it takes to write about it. At higher final airspeeds, you have to descend at a higher rate to get to the same point at the end of the runway (DUH!). Anyway, Bill and I set the bird up and rode it down without really sensing any danger. It never occurred to me that we wouldn’t walk away from this thing.

Geez, looking back and trying to relate what I felt, it was exciting and almost fun! What a dummy.

My wingman checked us over for one last time and broke off at about 500 feet. The next several seconds went by and I simply put that sucker on the ground. I spiked it as hard as I could, pretty much where I thought we’d passed the first barrier and before we whizzed by the second one - the only one that would work for us.

Now the micro second that nothing happened during roll out seemed to last forever! Then all that planning paid off with a deceleration that made me glad I’d locked my shoulder harness. The hook worked as advertised and we came to a dead stop in about a second or so.

Right in the middle of a sigh of relief, I was completely startled when the airplane began to roll backwards and sort of “ground looped”  as the nose wheel turned during the barrier cable retraction. This was probably the most unsettling part of the whole day. Some say I have control issues. It really took us by surprise.

We sat there for a couple of minutes, opened the canopies and took off our masks. No matter what the mission or its results, taking off that mask always felt good. I can’t remember whether I lit up a Marlborough in the cockpit, or whether I waited until my foot hit the ground. My crew chief was the first to get to us and he had two bottles of Heineken. Best ones we’d ever have, I suspect. I think I actually remembered to sign the plane’s log (781?). I wish I could remember what I might have written in it. We walked around the airplane a bit, got into a crew van and went to debrief. I never thought to take a picture and I have regretted that for a long time. The airplane never flew again, I believe. I heard that they had put it on a barge after cannibalizing it and took it to the Philippines. That was that.

In the debrief, many shook our hands (the Wing D.O. included), and then my flight commander, Jesse, chewed my ass for five minutes for getting low on a bombing run.

That’s about it. The next night it was back to north of Hanoi, in the dark, under the flares. Maybe daylight flying shouldn’t have  held the allure it did.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Milk Run - My First Trap

Since 350 knots seemed to work OK going up and jinking, I saw no real reason to worry about slowing way down for the trip to Ubon. Willy had proceeded on ahead with his low oil pressure light, and one of the guys had gone home with him and the last guy in our foursome stayed with Bill and me.

The base had been alerted and was getting ready for our arrival and landing. It seemed like only a few minutes before we started descending and setting ourselves up for some sort of long straight in approach (something else we didn’t really practice under VFR). I could use the ILS for a back up reference, but it didn’t really work very well with a 200K final, or at least it seemed weird. It was obvious that I wasn’t going to approach initial and break. The airplane wouldn’t like that at all. Control was OK, but I had to lead roll in, roll out, etc. by a huge margin. The rudders helped a lot, Lord, it was sloppy!

As we came down into the local area, I decided to wait for three or flights of four to recover from up North, so I sort of “held” over a point (more or less) north and east of the strip. It was during one of those 360’s that some O-6 in the tower told me to set up for a low pass before I tried the approach. I guess he wanted to see how extensive the damage was or something. I encouraged him to change his mind or pretended I didn’t hear him or something. Anyway, one line up and approach was enough for that afternoon. I never did hear back about it, so I guess he was OK with my decision.

Once everybody had recovered I got lined up several miles out, (probably a whole lot further than several) at what I remember was about 2000 feet above field elevation. We ran some various check lists and got the gear down and locked. My chase said they looked good and I had green lights now to go with all of the amber ones. I remembered to put the hook down (first time for everything!) and proceeded to settle the airplane in at about 190K. The Phantom, once trimmed, was a very stable airplane. That probably came from its initial design as an air to air platform for fleet defense. The thud drivers had to work harder than we did at low airspeeds, but at 500K the “Farmingdale Squat Bomber” was stable as a rock. Anyway, once we got on the final approach heading, we were pretty much under control. I used the rudder for alignment and thrust management kept us on some sort of acceptable glide path. Obviously, I didn’t need as much power going down clean as you did with the leading edge boundary layer and full flaps. That was a little strange, as we RARELY pulled the power back below 83-87% on final at approach speeds. I had a student do that for me later in life, and he nearly killed us. But I digress.

The airplane had to take the number one wire (there was no number two or three) and I had to miss the MA1A chain link barrier. This means that the hook had to hit in a space some fifty feet in length or there would be a go around and lots more talking. Oh well, guys in the brown shoe Navy do it all the time. What’s to worry?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Milk Run - Coming to a Close

The briefings that were held at happy hours tended to be somewhat superficial, if you really want to know. A lot of ideas were always put forth and a lot of posturing would take place to defend one's ideas about almost any subject that was being discussed. When we talked about the so-called "approach end engagement" the conversations mostly dealt with why the hell you would have to do such a thing in the first place. This was a last ditch method to save one's neck without having to eject. Now Navy guys do this a lot. It's something they train for, wash out of the program for and spend a lot of time bragging about. Air Force professionals prefer large areas of concrete laid down on dirt. Landing on a floating piece of steel never seemed quite right somehow (how DOES that work, anyway?).

So here's your introduction to the piece of equipment known as the MA1A Barrier in combination with the Barrier Arresting Kit (BAK 9) (in the diagram).

(Quoting from an Ops Manual)

2. Types of USAF Systems.

2.1. MA-1A. The MA-1A emergency arresting system consists of a net barrier and

cable system designed to engage the main landing gear of an aircraft. Because it is a unidirectional system, it must always be installed in the overrun area.

Aircraft engaging this system above the speed and weight limits provided in Figure 2-

3 will result in a runout greater than 305 meters (1,000 feet), or cable failure. Most MA-1A systems employ ships' anchor chains as the energy absorber. These systems require a runout area of at least 259 meters (850 feet) plus the length of the aircraft. The chains lie on either side of the runway overrun, beginning at the barrier location and running in the direction of aircraft travel; however, some MA-1A systems use a BAK-9 instead of a ships' anchor chain

as the energy absorber. These systems require a runout area of at least 290 meters

(950 feet) plus the length of the aircraft. This configuration is an MA-1A/BAK-9 combination.

If you actually read all of that stuff above, you should note two important items:

First it says that this is a unidirectional system. It is designed to work one way.

Second, note which way the arrow is pointing. Right to left.

The thing is designed to catch a fighter that has aborted take off for whatever reason and it prevents the airplane from traveling out into the local boonies by arresting it with a net-like barrier or cable (like an aircraft carrier). It assumes a decelerating "catch" under about 180 knots (in typical use more like 80K). This is a departure end engagement.

In an approach end engagement, you engage the mechanism from left to right. Yup, wrong way on a one-way street. Oh and you don't want to catch the part of the barrier that is attached to the ship's anchor chains. Look at the diagram and you'll see that if used from right to left, you pick up the drag of one link, then two, then three and so forth. From left to right you grab the entire weight of the chain immediately and probably rip the ass off of your plane (or worse). You might want to note as well that there are about 35-50 feet between the chain catch and the cable catch.

I am starting to brag here.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Exciting Times!

Can't write about simple combat in airplanes, I get to see some real combat in the Swamp!

Jeanie and I are at the 30 yard line, 16 rows up. I'm waving.

Go Gators!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Something Important For This Intermission

About Vietnam Protesters

( And The Harm They Still Do )


Peace? Defeat?
What did the Vietnam protesters want?

The self-serving anti Vietnam war movement damaged our country beyond measure.

In the process, they shamelessly denigrated all Americans who fought there.

This site attempts to keep these facts fresh in the minds of the American public. This is especially important today, as similar cowardly ignorance threatens the freedom we have won for the people of Iraq.

Before you read further, review your impressions about Americans who fought and suffered in The Vietnam War.

Now, ask yourself if your impressions are consistent with these facts:

9,087,000 military personnel served on active duty during the official Vietnam era from August 5, 1964 to May 7, 1975

2,709,918 Americans served in uniform in Vietnam (Actual Vietnam Veterans).

The rest served their tours in Germany, Alaska, South America and the United States.

Many protesters claiming to be Vietnam Veterans never served in Vietnam or any branch of the military.

North Vietnam admittedly invaded democratic South Vietnam to further Marxist-Leninist ideology.

With instruction and aid from the entire communist bloc.

The American military did not lose a single significant battle in the Vietnam War.

The US lost 60,157 KIA and MIA

The Communists admit to 1,100,000 KIA and MIA.

The Tet Offensive of 1968 was a military disaster for Hanoi.

It resulted in the death of some 45,000 NVA troops and the destruction of most Viet Cong elements in South Vietnam.

The fall of Saigon happened 30 April 1975, two years AFTER the American military left Vietnam.

The peace settlement was signed in Paris on 27 January 1973.

It called for release of all U.S. prisoners, withdrawal of U.S. forces, limitation of both sides' forces inside South Vietnam and a commitment to peaceful reunification.

South Vietnam fell only because a pusillanimous congress failed to honor our pledges of support when the North violated the terms of the treaty.

The ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand stayed free of Communism.

This can be argued a result of the U.S. commitment to Vietnam.

This is one argument for the validity of the "Domino Theory"

Two-thirds of those who served during Vietnam were volunteers rather than draftees.

77 percent of those who died were volunteers.

Of those who died, 86 percent were Caucasian, 12.5 percent were African-American, and 1.2 percent were from other races.

Fully 91 percent of those who served in Vietnam combat stated that they were glad they had served their country.

74 percent said they had enjoyed their time in the military.

71 percent of those who expressed an opinion indicated that they would go to Vietnam again

Even knowing the end result.

Betrayed at home by the university elite, the media, and the privileged, in the final analysis they had fought for each other.

Most Americans who served in Vietnam were ordinary citizens, grateful to live in a Democracy, trusting our elected government to call upon them to bear arms only when necessary for the defense of our country and our freedoms. This has to be the assumption of anyone claiming citizenship in any country.

The Vietnam War was regarded by those who fought it as a struggle to help preserve freedom and democracy for the people of South Vietnam against communist invasion.

Post-war Communist documents show that was exactly the true situation.

Pampered celebrities, such as Hanoi Jane Fonda and John Kerry, arrogantly helped divide our country in the name of stopping "an unjust war."

As those Communist documents also show, these "protesters" actually helped cause unmeasurable tragedy, tragedy which better Americans sacrificed their own lives trying to prevent.

In our Democracy, any government position faces judgment at the next national election, but the duty to respond when called is 24/7 for any responsible citizen.

The main imbalance in the war, (as in the Korean War), was simply that the privileged avoided their obligations, and have persisted since that time in demeaning the war and the patriotism of those who did serve their country, in order to protect themselves from the judgment of history.

Hopefully, this brief account will help remind us all of the truths behind the war, and those who fought it as Americans.

In a very elementary way, America's actions in Vietnam define Patriotism.

They do so again today, in Iraq.

Search Site

KW Weapons


KW Photos

Bulletin Board


He was getting old and paunchy and his hair was falling fast,

And he sat around the Legion, telling stories of the past.

Of a war that he had fought in and the deeds that he had done,

In his exploits with his buddies; they were heroes, every one.

And tho' sometimes, to his neighbors, his tales became a joke,

All his Legion buddies listened, for they knew whereof he spoke.

But we'll hear his tales no longer for old Bill has passed away,

And the world's a little poorer, for a soldier died today.

He will not be mourned by many, just his children and his wife,

For he lived an ordinary and quite uneventful life.

Held a job and raised a family, quietly going his own way,

And the world won't note his passing, though a soldier died today.

When politicians leave this earth, their bodies lie in state,

While thousands note their passing and proclaim that they were great.

Papers tell their whole life stories, from the time that they were young,

But the passing of a soldier goes unnoticed and unsung.

Is the greatest contribution to the welfare of our land

A guy who breaks his promises and cons his fellow man?

Or the ordinary fellow who, in times of war and strife,

Goes off to serve his Country and offers up his life?

A politician's stipend and the style in which he lives

Are sometimes disproportionate to the service that he gives.

While the ordinary soldier, who offered up his all,

Is paid off with a medal and perhaps, a pension small.

It's so easy to forget them for it was so long ago,

That the old Bills of our Country went to battle, but we know

It was not the politicians, with their compromise and ploys,

Who won for us the freedom that our Country now enjoys.

Should you find yourself in danger, with your enemies at hand,

Would you want a politician with his ever-shifting stand?

Or would you prefer a soldier, who has sworn to defend

His home, his kin and Country and would fight until the end?

He was just a common soldier and his ranks are growing thin,

But his presence should remind us we may need his like again.

For when countries are in conflict, then we find the soldier's part

Is to clean up all the troubles that the politicians start.

If we cannot do him honor while he's here to hear the praise,

Then at least let's give him homage at the ending of his days.

Perhaps just a simple headline in a paper that would say,

Our Country is in mourning, for


© 1987 A. Lawrence Vaincourt


© Kortegaard Engineering ©

Document: Vietnam Protesters

Last Update: Sun, 30 Mar 2008 15:31:20 GMT


Monday, November 2, 2009

Milk Run - Heading Home

I probably wound up saying nothing except that which shouldn’t be posted here. It was pretty obvious what had happened. Like I said before, every now and then one of them pesky AA shells takes a life of its own and seeks a higher effective range than it’s suppose to. We were in its airspace.

First thing, fly the airplane. OK, so I did that and it seemed to respond to the controls. There was something distinctly different though. The best word that I can think of to describe the way the phantom was flying is wallowing - that is, it was rolling from side to side albeit in a controlled fashion. The F4C has hydraulically driven flight controls. It flies smoothly and reacts to pilot input quickly. This bird wasn’t flying that way. I found out later that left wing damage had pretty well cancelled out the effectiveness of the flight controls on that side. The ailerons and spoilers were not working properly, if at all. There was some new induced drag on that side of course since the sheet metal was all screwed up. The plane flew kind of like what I remembered the T-33 felt like. Big stick input. Wait! There! She’s beginning to move. Wallowing.

We were still heading up with a lot of power, so as I rolled back more or less level, I pulled back on the throttles and got that part of it under control. Level flight, heading to Ubon, reasonable speed. They say pilots react instinctively. That’s true. I can’t really remember doing anything as a result of analyzing the immediate situation. It was all reaction. Anyway, as soon as we could, Bill and I ran the checklist for lighted Christmas tree in the cockpit (the lights are in the lower right in the cockpit picture). One thing I do remember though, is how relieved I felt that we were still inside the airplane and not hanging on a parachute outside in the wind. That was a very good feeling.

My flight lead called and asked if everything was under control. He informed me that I was headed in the right direction and that he was joining up on me from seven o’clock low. Once there, he gave me a look over, but I have forgotten what he said. I’m sure that he mentioned that there were no more bombs attached (that’s good), I think he may have said something about all of hydraulic fluid stains under the wing. He was mainly interested in how we were doing and what our intentions were. First of all, my intention was to get the hell out of there and go “home”. We were already on the correct heading and our speed would get us there in about twenty minutes or so. That gave us time to think about what we were going to do to get the airplane on the ground. As Willy looked us over he had his own situation develop. He got one of those pesky low oil pressure lights and he had to RTB (return to base) ASAP. So long Willy. There were still a couple of guys nearby to watch us fly home. Meanwhile Bill and I assessed what we were dealing with.

I could control the aircraft fairly well. As it turns out I had flight controls on the right side only, that’s why it flew so sloppily. Some turning require almost a full stick deflection. There was a failure in the A system (PC 1) and Utility Hydraulics. Engines were both operating OK. The lack of hydraulics meant no brakes, no flaps, no nose wheel steering. Manual rudder control with attendant high pedal pressures. No gear retraction once they were down pneumatically. The “hook” would work and I would have to make an approach end barrier engagement. A no flap final airspeed with unknown battle damage could be around 200 knots. There would be no leading edge flaps and so no boundary layer control to help reduce the approach speed. I could deploy the “RAT” (ram air turbine) to see if that helped. It was unlikely. The drag chute would work, but wasn’t necessary in an approach end trap.

Good thing we had trained for this emergency. Too bad most of the training had taken place at happy hour.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Milk Run - BAM!

In the business of daylight bombing, there is a distinct advantage over night time bombing under the light of flares. It lies mostly in the fact that you can see outside and generally tell what’s going on. Sometimes, however, you still can’t really know about what’s going on because there’s simply too much going on at the same time! Does that make sense? I’ve tried to let you experience some of what went on in the preparation and roll in to deliver weapons. A lot of stuff.

I forgot to mention that you still have to fly the airplane all the time too. If you forget to fly the airplane, bad things happen. Sometimes when you do the prep, get into the delivery mode and fly the airplane, bad things happen anyway. That was the case for me and my back seater Bill, that early afternoon day in November of ’65.

To digress a bit and set the scene some, there was a lot more going on than just a quick call for some air support or tactical bombing. It seems that intel had received word that a very large shipment of materiel was making its way down the trail to Tchepone (see the entry for September 7th, two blogs back). The area had been under almost constant attack since dawn. This is not good when you are the guys coming for the tenth or twelfth raid on the same target. First, there is no element of surprise left. Second, they are waiting for more folks to come along and bomb them and most importantly, they are really pissed. So there goes Dave and Bill, two first lieutenants, number two in a flight of four, down the slot. We were probably the twentieth group of yankee air pirates to visit that day. They were ready.

The 37mm Anti Aircraft guns and their crews were ready too. The range of that weapon is about 4 kilometers, or about 13,123 feet. In theory, if you stay fifteen thousand feet above the target area, you won’t get hit. Sometimes that doesn’t work, for every now and then, one shell will make it further. The golden BB. The one that got us. (You can click on the pictures to enlarge)

When you get hit by one of these things, an explosive charge goes off and thousands of pieces of lead and steel are propelled in a spherical shaped cloud. The idea behind it is, of course, to rip the airplane apart or in the very least so damage it that it won’t fly. Best of all, for those on the ground, the airplane might disintegrate in a cloud of smoke! Thankfully, the shell that hit us was a partial dud and only the bottom half of the charge went off ("How does he know this?" Sez you, the loyal reader. That's a part of the rest of the story). Even so the noise was very loud (like a cherry bomb at your feet) and the phantom shuddered like nothing I had ever experienced before. We had taken the hit a couple of feet from the leading edge and not far enough back to screw up the left main landing gear. There was a big hole in the left wing. The plane rolled over to the right about 200 degrees and flopped around like it was on the verge of forgetting how to fly. Most of the amber warning lights in the cockpit came on together as if someone had thrown a switch controlling a Christmas decoration you didn’t want to see.

The first thing that came to my mind was to tell Bill, “Don’t Eject!” In a microsecond I also thought, “What if he only hears ‘Eject!’”?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Milk Run - All Shook Up!

The forward air controller talked with flight lead and described the target that he needed us to take care of. To be perfectly honest, I don’t remember what it was. It could have been that almost “invisible” bridge or something else that the FAC could see pretty easily, but we couldn’t, considering our altitude and speed as we circled above. Whatever it might have been, the FAC marked it with a phosphorous smoke rocket and the area of interest became very visible. “Lay the bombs down a hundred yards east of the smoke”, or something like that he’d say. “Your target is under the tree canopy, on a line southeast to northwest beginning east of the smoke and continuing for about a quarter of a mile”.

We followed Willy as he positioned himself on a perch, about fifteen thousand feet up (I really don't remember). It had to be close enough in (that is, off set) and high enough up (distance away, along the off set), to allow the pilot to maneuver into a fairly steep (some thirty to forty degrees) path which paralleled the target’s axis. If you were too far out, the glide path would be too shallow and the bombs would drop short, too close in and the opposite would happen. It took some maneuvering around, but it wasn’t as difficult as it may sound. The “pipper” a depressible, illuminated reticle, (ooops, does everyone know what that is? )

reticle |ˈretikəl|


a series of fine lines or fibers in the eyepiece of an optical device, such as a telescope or microscope, or on the screen of an oscilloscope, used as a measuring scale or an aid in locating objects.

would have been preset to give the correct representation along the path over the ground as to the alignment of the Phantom along the desired run in. So you have these factors to confirm as you fly around positioning yourself on the lead and the other two planes in the flight - altitude to roll in, angle off to get the correct dive angle, pipper setting, arming the appropriate weapon stations, keeping your eye on the target, watching the smoke, airspeed within a few knots of correct release velocity, and listening for lead to be cleared in. Lead rolls in, I follow just enough behind him to give myself good spacing and allow me to recover without worrying too much about where he was going to be.

Ok, everything’s done. Rolling in hot. Good angle off. Acceptable dive angle (can adjust release to compensate). Pull throttles back a bit to maintain speed in the dive (seems like we used about 350-400 knots, but I forget). Watch altimeter. Adjust alignment for a better run in heading. Trim the airplane. Be aware of “G’s”. You want the plane to fly down the chosen path, all trimmed up and smooth as possible. Pipper moving along nicely towards smokey target area (a bunch of tree tops!). Willy’s bombs hit right on the target, my pipper crosses aiming point, I release. There’s only one spot in space that is the correct release point above any particular target. Airspeed, altitude, angle, pipper position all must be correct and perfect. This rarely happens. Most of the time you simply compensate one way or another for what you know to be the anomaly in your “perfect bomb run”.

When all of those bombs leave the plane there is a pretty big mechanical sounding jerky vibration. Over in a half second. You know the bombs are gone (hopefully, all of them).

The fun has just begun. If you’re smart, you’ll begin the 4 G (or whatever you can get) pull up with a hard turn, one way or another. Firewall the power. Follow this with another turn immediately in the other direction. Reverse. Reverse. Reverse again. Go up. Climb. Get the hell out of there! It’s called jinking, basically not setting up a straight line or climb angle for a gunner to get a sight on you. You can look in the rear view mirror to see if you hit anything, but don’t worry about that too much.

We had been briefed that there was no significant anti-aircraft weaponry in the area. They were wrong.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Milk Run - Turning Sour

It's 135 miles from Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base to Tchepone Laos, as the crow flies. You can see from the map at the right, the Ho Chi Minh trail came out of North Viet Nam, into Laos and paralleled the South Viet Nam border all the way down to Cambodia and beyond."It linked North and South Vietnam via the Laotian panhandle, and it was an indispensable source of supplies for communist forces operating below the 17thparallel in the 1960s and early 1970s. Air interdiction and special operations forces slowed but never stopped the flow of matériel. President Lyndon Johnson, primarily for political considerations, would not approve air strikes around Hanoi and Haiphong, which might have been more successful in the overall effort to disrupt enemy activities.
Initially opened to support Viet Cong guerrillas in South Vietnam, the Ho Chi Minh Trail was nothing more than a skein of rustic traces through the wilderness in the late 1950s. Dedicated men, women, boys, and girls trudged down its paths bent bandy-legged beneath heavy loads, all but ignored by senior officials in Washington and Saigon because the invoices were unimpressive: a little rice, pitted handguns captured from the French, homemade weapons pieced together like so many Rube Goldberg inventions. The tempo, however, gradually picked up and the consignments increasingly included items such as radios, pharmaceuticals, plastic explosives, recoilless rifles, and repair parts. Ammunition requirements multiplied exponentially after U.S. combat forces hit North Vietnamese Army (NVA) regulars head on in 1965." (from Autumn/Winter 1997–98 / JFQ)

On 16 November 1965, Willie Wells and his flight of four phantoms took about thirty minutes to get to Tchepone. Flight lead contacted the FAC (Forward Air Controller) and began to get final instructions for the mission we had briefed.

It always seems simple enough. The idea is to cut the highway or destroy the bridge serving the highway. The enemy was clever. The "bridges" were built so that they were about two feet under the surface of the water and the road usually divided into a web of roads leading up to the river, and there was another web on the other side.

You really never knew where the bridge was.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Milk Run, Intelligence and the Art of Leaving Town

OK, so maybe it wasn't REALLY Robert MacNamara who walked into the alert shack that afternoon. But it was an honest to goodness minion of his and he had some news about something or other that needed bombing really soon. "Since you guys aren't doing anything to earn a living just sitting around here playing cribbage, take four Phantoms, eight fighter jocks and about 52,000 pounds of bombs over here to this small town in Laos and blow up the bamboo bridge that leads into town." Well, something like that.

The name of the place was Tchepone Laos, (on most maps now, Sepone) about seventy-five miles west of the South China Sea, fifteen miles from the South Vietnamese border and the same distance from the cease fire line of 1954. Oh, did I mention? It was a major intersection of the Ho Chi Mihn Trail. This seemed easy enough we all thought, after all, it was daylight! We were going to be able to see where we were going by looking outside the airplane! It was a typical SE Asia early winter day - scattered clouds probably working their way up to a thunderstorm or two, no strong winds and unlimited visibility. A Phantom Phlyer's dream mission: flight of four, air to ground bombing, possible targets of opportunity after the initial passes, no reported triple A, only a hundred fifty miles from "home", quick and easy, back for dinner.

After the intelligence guy got through with his briefing, my flight leader "Willy" told us what he expected from us and we walked briskly out to the waiting airplanes. As we strapped in, we ran the cockpit check lists. It was designed so that each man had his own things to check and there was little need initially, for cross-checks. Once things were powered up, you’d put on your helmet and begin a brief crosscheck with the guy in back and then wait for start-up time. Firing up the engines was straight forward and then you’d switch to internal power and you’d be ready to go. It was easy to see the other guys, and the flight leader would say “Raven flight, check in.” We answer simply... “two, three, four.” The leader called the tower “Ubon, taxi Ravens.” The tower responded “taxi runway 27 right, wind two seven zero at eight knots, altimeter setting 29.89.” You’d go out to the ramp area and then to the taxiways and see the other guys and fall in line according to your position. It wasn't far to the end of the runway and there was the arming area. The pins on the bombs and rockets and other neat stuff would be removed and the armament would be further checked by ordinance people and made ready to go. I guess I should have mentioned before that initially the pilot just checks to be sure that the bombs, etc. are the ones called for on the mission and that they are in fact, safe to taxi with. He doesn’t pull pins on the weapons in the ramp area, that is the very last thing that is done before takeoff. The ordinance guys show all of the pins to the pilots double checking everything as being ready to go and then the leader will get a head shake from the guys indicating “ready”. He calls the tower, “Ubon, Raven ready for takeoff”. “Taxi into position and hold”. The four Phantoms taxi onto the runway and take their predetermined position, two by two. “Raven flight, winds two eight zero at ten knots, cleared for takeoff.” Willie points his right index finger up in the air and with a circular motion gives the signal to “wind up” the engines. You run each engine up separately (the engines on the F4’s were so powerful that the brakes wouldn’t hold if they were both powered up simultaneously) and check them out one last time. You nod to the leader and he powers up to about 85 percent on both engines, releases his brakes and I begin to count "one thousand one, one thousand two" and at five seconds or so, I release the brakes, apply 100% power, then into full afterburner. It doesn't take long to get to flying speed, airborne, and clean up the jet. As number two in the flight of four, I look for my leader, now turning North. I join him in the turn.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Milk Run, Finally We Get To Fly In The Daytime!

I was priviledged to have as mentor, drinking instructor and flight C.O. a man who had flown in the Korean war. He taught us how to use a black grease pencil to mark on the inside of the canopy to use as a sight and other neat tricks. I think of him most every day and thank him for teaching me so much and being a friend and great leader (in his own cantankerous way).

I can see the guys sitting around, playing cribbage or something, waiting for someone to come in the room and announce that our skills in close air support were needed. Everybody was more or less similar in appearance, having partially prepared ourselves for the fastest exit and take-off possible.
So, you put your G-suit on first, then your survival vest, which had little pockets all over it containing stuff for use if the worst thing happened. There was a first aid kit and I also chose to have one hundred rounds of 357 ammo and some tracer bullets. A shoulder holster with its contents more or less duct taped in was in the next layer. I had purchased a Smith and Wesson 357 magnum with a six inch barrel (my personal weapon). They issued us a puny little thirty eight snub nosed thing of a revolver, but it seemed to me that I could fight my way out better with the magnum. This of course, was just a pipe dream and simply used to bolster my own confidence! Then there was the harness. It was a bunch of straps which went all around your chest, up through your crotch on either side and was all sewn on to a garment that could be said to resemble a vest, of sorts. We would typically get ready to fly by putting on a harness which connected to the rocket ejection seat in the plane. This was good, because everything remained in the plane and you didn’t have to lug it around like you did with the older fighters. This all hooked up to the ejection seat, as I mentioned. It wasn’t really as complicated or weighty as it may sound. It was comfortable, more or less and once you got everything fitted OK, which took some time initially, it was a good outfit and I felt that everything could be used for survival, if you were unlucky enough to be shot down and escape immediate capture.
The aircraft were assigned (in either flights of four or two) and they were all parked on the ramp that was just outside the squadron ops building. We either would walk or get a lift to the plane. Typically all of the planes would be fairly close together or even next to each other, so you could use hand signals for things if you needed to.

A guy from intelligence came in about two that afternoon.