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.