Copyright © 2015 Tom Wilson
This work is dedicated to Tom (USAF), Mike (USN), Gavin (USAF), Chris (USMC) and Diane
(USAF)—five strong, patriotic and yet very different individuals—and to all the sons and daughters
who would dare to fight to keep the American dream alive.
As Lucky's Bridge was conceived, and then as the writing progressed, I received constant support, and
valuable criticisms and ideas from Andrea. After the work, originally entitled Bridges, was submitted,
Mr. Joseph Pittman suggested the new title as well as several beneficial changes. Mr. Greg Tobin, and
then Mr. Tom Dupree, worked to smooth the way at Bantam.
Several close friends reviewed the manuscript for authenticity. Lieutenant Colonel Billy Sparks,
USAF (Ret.), put his uncannily prodigious memory to work on historical background. Colonel Jerry
Hoblit, USAF (Ret.), was also, once again, a lifesaver. Although the first time, when we flew a
combat tour over North Vietnam, was more dramatic, this one was also appreciated. Both of those
former combat fighter pilots, to whom their country owes so much, provided technical details about
tactics, military aircraft, weaponry and support equipment which I had either not known or had
long forgotten. Lieutenant Colonel Ed Gamble, USAF (Ret.), contributed information about Special
Operations aircraft and procedures, and covert insertion and withdrawal of Special Forces long range
reconnaissance patrols. Colonel Chuck Sloan, USAF (Ret.), supplied details about RF-4C combat recce
efforts. My buddy, Colonel Mike Gilroy, USAF (Ret.), once again reviewed and corrected descriptions
of sophisticated enemy weapons. Any errors should not be blamed on them, but on my indiscretion,
hard-headedness, and desire to weave a somewhat simplified tale.
I would also like to acknowledge the present and former maintenance, weapons, logistics and
support men, pilots, Wild Weasel bears, aircrew members, POWs, intelligence officers, Special Forces
members, grunts, wives, and many others, whose war stories and vignettes were borrowed, reshaped,
disguised and included herein.
Thank you all.
BOOK I: Fluid Four Formation
BOOK II: 45° Dive Bomb Maneuver
BOOK III: SAM Evasion Maneuver
TRUTH & FICTION: Missing Man Formation
TRUTH & FICTION
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Fluid Four Formation
Headquarters Seventh Air Force, Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Saigon, Republic of Vietnam
Peacemaker toiled diligently through the day, maintaining the war plans with the finickiness of an
old-maid librarian, ensuring that each change and deletion was properly logged and inserted into its
When he finished with his labors at an hour well into the evening, for the volume of his work was
endless, he again examined the latest entries on the primary-targets list, paying special attention to the
ones just approved for transmittal to the units. His final official act of the long workday was to survey
his desktop carefully and then those of his co-workers, to ensure that no one had left out a classified
document. He went around the large office and twirled the knobs of the seven safes and penned his
initials on their cards to show he'd checked that they were locked. Only then did he sign off the room as
He trotted down the stairs and hurried down the hall to the security desk, where he showed his
badge to the security policemen. They joked about him working late to brownnose his boss, and he told
them not to get too much sleep on the job.
Peacemaker emerged from the building thinking he was surrounded by Stone Age military
mentalities. As he walked toward a nearby base bus stop, he ran the target coordinates over and over
in his mind.
Ten minutes later the blue Air Force bus dropped him off at his barracks. His buddy Gino was
there, champing to go downtown and griping because he was half an hour late. He changed into civvies.
Gino didn't quit bitching until they were outside and quick-walking toward the gate.
They took a taxi to the Blue Pheasant and sat in their customary dark corner near the loud and
awful live band. He quietly drank Pepsi while Gino guzzled beer and whooped at the strippers, whom
they knew by their Americanized first names. Suzee, Doreece, and then Katee smiled plastic expressions
and moved woodenly as they took it all off.
By the end of a second tune Katee was nude, and she'd begun to caress herself with handfuls
of mineral oil. She glistened and dripped as she moved her hands over herself, and Gino sucked on
appreciative breath. She cupped her small breasts and aimed pelvic grinds toward the audience, and
that caused Gino to glaze over. He stood and tottered toward the side entrance. He'd go around to the
back, where they'd open up for him so he could claim her. Gino boasted he was so well liked by the girls
that he could take his choice, and that furthermore he got it free. The simple shit didn't realize he was
being subsidized by the American press.
Someday when it was all over, maybe he'd tell Gino how he'd unwittingly helped to bring truth to
Americans back home.
Peacemaker drained his glass of Pepsi and casually turned to look at the man sitting at the bar.
The skinny reporter from API glanced at him, then back to Katee as she squirmed and dripped her oil
onto the filthy stage floor. Finally the tune ended, and Katee abruptly stood and scampered backstage
to Gino. Another stripper took her place, wearing an abbreviated cowgirl outfit and grinding to the
tune of "Rawhide."
Now began the dangerous part of the game.
If Americans were truly free, Peacemaker would simply go over and chat with the reporter. But
Americans were not free. They'd been maneuvered into an evil war by the lies of the political/industrial/
military establishment, and the fascists were jealous of their secrets. The cretins at his workplace,
starting with the stupid colonel who ran his department, were paranoid about information leaks, and if
they knew what he was doing . . .
But it was his right—no, his duty—to help bring truth to the people. The reporter was an
American, for Christ's sake, and the American public should know what their own military was doing.
It wasn't as if he were passing information to the North Vietnamese, although he'd wondered if even
that would really be so wrong. Perhaps if they knew, the civilians could be moved from the target areas
and innocent lives saved.
He gave Gino a couple more minutes to connect with Katee, then carefully flattened a bar napkin
onto the tabletop and pulled out his U.S. government–issue pen. He carefully wrote:
20/210753–1055108, 205054–1064323—NEW TGTS BEING PLANNED: KEY BRIDGES IN RP
On the twentieth, three days hence, American pilots would bomb the thermal-power plants at the
coordinates in Hanoi and Haiphong. He felt bad that he couldn't provide Time Over Target information
as the reporter also wanted. He didn't know if the tidbit about the plan the colonel was working on,
to destroy critical bridges in North Vietnam, would be useful, but the reporter said he could use such
nuggets. Good background, he'd called them.
He double-checked his figures, looking closely in the dim light to make sure they were legible. He
liked his handwriting to be as orderly and precise as his mind.
He wadded up the napkin and placed it into the empty ashtray, then motioned carelessly toward
the bar. A grinning waitress hurried over. She cleaned the table thoroughly before taking his order for
another Pepsi. When she left, the apprehension left him, replaced by a serene knowledge that he'd done
the right thing.
A few minutes later Peacemaker watched the reporter stroll out without a backward glance. He
would take the crumpled bar napkin to this fancy apartment across town and begin to write his press
release. After the airplanes had flown their bombing missions, the reporter would file an in-depth report
that the Americans had bombed the power plants and killed innocent humans there. He might even say
that he'd gained his information through an anonymous high government official.
Peacemaker felt a tingle of conscience about what he'd done, but he quickly tempered it. They
were printing all sorts of military secrets in the newspapers back home, and those had to he coming
from others such as he. A surge of righteousness coursed through him, smothering the doubts.
The Pepsi arrived, and he sipped and watched with a bored expression as a new dancer took the
stage. He hoped Gino would hurry with Katee so they could find a restaurant, eat, and get on back to
the base. He had a busy day facing him tomorrow, and Peacemaker was never late.
Thursday, April 20th, 1220 Local—1967, Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand
The noonday sun permeated every substance and shadow, creating raw heat, which rose in shimmering
waves from the tarmac spiderweb of parking areas, taxiways, and the long runway. It was the dry
season, and with each puny stirring of wind, red dust boiled up to cover everything with ancient
Like other peoples native to tropical areas, the Thais knew to live and move slowly and to conserve
their energies when the sun was high overhead. The loud, profane men who had come from halfway
around the world toiled doggedly in spite of the heat, as if challenging the sun's authority over the world
From birth the men had been taught that anything was possible if they wanted it bad enough and
worked hard enough to get it.
Staff Sergeant Larry Hughes
"She's loaded and ready, Sarge," said the brawny and sun-bronzed load-team leader.
Staff Sergeant Lawrence (NMI) Hughes looked over the Aircraft/Ordnance Load form. "Any
"Nope. Had a little trouble crankin' in the ammo, but the problem's with the autoloader, not your
Larry Hughes nodded. The M-61 Gatling cannon had better be okay. A week earlier a pilot had
reported that his rounds had gone wild when he'd taken a high-angle snapshot at a MiG. The gun shop
said they couldn't find a problem. At his insistence and under his watchful eye they'd boresited the gun
again. Then he'd personally tweaked and fine-tuned until he was convinced the six spinning barrels
were precisely aligned. Hughes was satisfied only when everything on his airplane worked, and worked
He watched as the motorized MJ-1 loader roared off for another cradleful of general-purpose
bombs and the load crew trudged to the next bird in the line, joking and laughing with the crew chief
there. One more and they'd be finished reloading all the squadron aircraft. Seventeen of the 354th's
twenty-five assigned airplanes had flown this morning. Sixteen would fly combat sorties to various
North Vietnamese targets in the afternoon. Eight of the sixteen would, like Larry Hughes's bird, join
aircraft provided by the other two squadrons to make up the alpha strike, which meant they'd be sent
to bomb the most dangerous targets. He'd been told this one was a particularly difficult mission. It was
unlikely all the aircraft would return.
Like the load crew, Larry Hughes was stripped to the waist. His coal-black skin glistened. Sweat
tickled as it ran down his chest and his back, soaking his fatigue pants, gathering in rivulets to flow
down the insides of his legs. Ropes of muscles bunched and played across his back and shoulders as
he moved. He was rock-hard and lean, surely in the finest physical condition of his life. Eighteen and
twenty-hour workdays had done that for him. Once-pleasant features now looked habitually weary, and
the mouth, once graced with an easy smile, was entirely too serious. He was twenty-three years old, but
worry lines had formed and were beginning to mar his handsome face.
Hughes had been at Takhli for three months, and this was his third assigned aircraft. Two months
earlier he'd waited for his first one to land after the early-morning combat mission, watched as other
aircraft taxied in and were parked, and heard the voice inside him say it would be okay, that the pilot
had likely just been delayed or maybe taken a hit and been forced to land at one of the forward bases.
Then reality had arrived as the line chief drove up in his battered pickup to give him the bad news. His
bird wasn't coming back. When Hughes asked one of the pilots, he learned the airplane had been hit by
a surface-to-air missile. When he asked if the lieutenant had been rescued, he'd been given a terse shake
of the head.
Hughes had turned in the aircraft forms. Then, feeling as if he'd been punched in the stomach,
he'd wandered aimlessly to the NCO Club bar. After his fifth Budweiser he'd realized the beer was just
screwing with his mentals, making him sadder and the pictures of the lieutenant sharper. He'd left the
club and begun to walk and think.
Had it been something he'd forgotten or done or not done? He'd walked all the way to the main
gate, then several miles around the inside perimeter road, walked until his legs felt like lead, until a
security police patrol stopped to tell him to get the hell off the perimeter road before he surprised one
of the sleepy Thai guards and caught a load of double-aught buckshot. They'd given him a ride back,
and he'd returned to a lonely corner of the all-night NCO Club bar to drink a few more beers.
The next morning the gruff line chief had assigned him a new bird, just flown in from the overhaul
depot in the states, and Larry Hughes had begun the acceptance inspections with a king-sized hangover.
He'd not stopped checking and tightening and tuning and fussing over the aircraft until 0200 the
following morning. Only then did he declare the immaculate airplane ready for its maiden combat
That afternoon a swarthy captain had crawled out of the crew van wearing his parachute, survival
vest, and g-suit and hauling his map bag. He'd acted especially nervous, so Larry had guessed they were
going to another tough target.
He thought often of that afternoon, how he'd apologetically mentioned the aircraft's few remaining
minor problems, how the pilot had listened with less than full attention. Remembered the captain
crawling up the ladder and into the cockpit wearing a distant, wistful look. Recalled the whine of the
start cart, the engine start-up, and running smoothly through the ground-check procedures while he
spoke on intercom to the pilot. Finally the big fighter was taxied out of its parking place, and he'd
saluted, the sharpest he could muster. The swarthy captain had acknowledged with a grim-faced nod.
Major Lucky Anderson, who'd been leading the flight just behind the captain's, had searched
Hughes out after that mission to make sure his questions were answered. The big bird had come apart in
the air in a violent explosion just as it settled into its dive-bomb attack on the target. That's when we're
most vulnerable, the major had told him, because we're predictable and make an easy target. Probably
a direct hit from an antiaircraft artillery round in some vital area. It was nothing Hughes could have
prevented, he'd told him.
But Larry Hughes would never know for sure. The Thunderchiefs were rugged and built for
combat, and seldom just blew up like that.
After that second one, the gruff line chief, a canny senior master sergeant fighting his third war,
had sent Larry off to Bangkok on a three-day R and R he'd neither wanted nor enjoyed. When he'd
returned, he'd found himself assigned to aircraft 59-1820, an aging hangar queen with too many flying
hours and a reputation for developing unexplainable gremlins at precisely the wrong moments. After
forty-two hours of constant labor, the squadron maintenance officer, a major, had ordered him to return
to his quarters and get some sleep. Eight hours later he'd been back at work because, just maybe, if he
toiled hard enough, his airplane would bring back the pilots who flew it.
The former hangar queen had now been flown on forty-three consecutive combat sorties and
had neither been hit nor received a serious write-up from a pilot. Every time one of them mentioned
anything, any slightest complaint, Larry Hughes tackled the problem as if it were real and serious.
The pilot who'd flown aircraft 820 that morning had congratulated him on having the best bird in the
squadron, maybe in the entire wing.
Now she was reloaded with bombs and ammo and again prepared for combat. Was she really
ready? Had he done everything possible?
He examined the first lieutenant who crawled out of the crowded squadron crew van. Tall and
rugged looking, with a hawk's beak, eyes that were dark and flat, and a copper hue to his skin, he walked
with the graceful, sure strides of an athlete. Expressionless at first, he finally swung the bulky parachute
from his back and cast a smile toward Hughes.
First Lieutenant Billy Bowes
First Lieutenant William Walter Bowes propped his parachute at the base of the ladder leading up to
the cockpit and nodded to the black staff sergeant waiting nearby with the Form One, the loose-leaf
document that gave the history of the aircraft and its various past illnesses.
He looked up at the fighter. He'd been flying F-105's for four months, had started his checkout
in Thuds shortly after Christmas, but he was still impressed. It stood so tall you could walk upright
under its nose and wings, and you had to climb up twelve feet before you could crawl over the canopy
sill into the cockpit. It weighed fifteen tons when it was clean and dry, and you could add several tons
of fuel and weapons before it began to strain under the load. Sixty-seven feet from Pitot boom to tail.
Only thirty-five feet between the tips of the sharply swept wings, but they were sturdy and carried no
fuel cells, and if you took a flak hit in a wing, you didn't care nearly as much as you would in a wetwing fighter like an F-4 Phantom. It was big, yet a radar reflector came down when you extended the
nosegear, because the Thud was so sleek the radar-approach controllers had trouble picking it up on
their precision radars. So fast and stable, you could fly it at Mach one right down on the deck and feel
easy doing it, making tiny corrections that would be impossible with other fighters.
The F-105's cockpit was armored to protect the pilot from small-arms fire, and the instrumentation
was superb. The avionics, indicators, and controls were made for flying fast and sure with only an
occasional look inside the cockpit. Controls knobs were sturdy and easily memorized. The primary
instruments used vertical tape readouts rather than round dials and could be interpreted at a glance.
The radio electronically tuned to frequencies preset before takeoff, so you didn't have to dial in
numbers laboriously while you were flying. Air-to-air and air-to-ground radar modes were controlled
by finger switches beneath the throttle. Other avionics included a radar altimeter, Doppler navigator,
a sophisticated weapons-release system, and a good stability-augmentation system. All were easily
monitored and simple to operate. The Thud was forgiving, which meant you could ham-fist it around
the sky and make a screwup or two and it wouldn't go bananas on you. The pilots said it was the most
honest airplane in the sky, because it wouldn't spook you with adverse yaw and control reversal as some
fighters did, and it always warned you before you got into deep trouble.
"She ready to fly?" Bowes asked in his Oklahoma accent. His speech included that curious
midwestern mixture of southern y'awl and western yep.
"Yes, sir," answered the crew chief.
Billy took in the flight line's pungent kerosene and hydraulic fluid odors, and the raucous human
and mechanical noises. They were the same as he'd smelled and heard at other airfields throughout
the four years of his Air Force flying career. He pulled on calfskin driving gloves, which gave him a
better feel of the airplane's controls than did the cloth and leather ones they were issued. Billy liked to
sense every nuance the bird could pass to him. He was a good pilot and had known it two weeks after
reporting for pilot training at Laredo, Texas, as a second lieutenant fresh out of ROTC.
Don't give yourself time to get nervous, he reminded himself. Which was why he was keeping his
mind busy with trivial bullshit.
He started his walk-around inspection, the black crew chief following closely behind. They started
at the shiny Pitot boom extending from the pointed radome and moved back past the Gatling cannon
gunport, walking slower as they looked over the six M-117 750-pound bombs on the multiple-ejector
rack hanging beneath the belly. Then all the way back past the aft-air inlets that purged the electronics
bays of dangerous gases, and the fuel vent pipe to the shiny petals of the speed-brakes. When closed,
the petals covered the eyelet exhaust of the huge J-75 turbojet engine. When you opened them in the air,
they blossomed and the aircraft instantly began to slow. Out to the right wing's outboard station, where
he examined the ECM jamming pod, then to the inboard station with its 450-gallon fuel tank. Around
to the port-side wing, then to the other 450-gallon tank and the lone AIM-9 Sidewinder.
At Takhli they called the load, the centerline 750-pound bombs and inboard fuel tanks, the
standard combat configuration. Clean, the F-105 Thunderchief could be flown at more than a thousand
knots of airspeed, but the M-series bombs, built for internal carriage by World War II bombers, slowed
you down with their high drag and presented bright returns on enemy radar scopes. More aerodynamic
bombs, the Mk-series, had been developed for jet fighters. Sleek 500-, 1,000- and 2,000-pounders. But
someone up there said they had to carry the old M-series bombs to save taxpayer money since so many
had been stockpiled after World War II and Korea, and that they would continue using them until they
ran out of the damned things.
He kept his mind preoccupied with thoughts like that, and with double-checking bomb fuze
settings and fuze wires, and inspecting for hydraulic and fuel leaks. The Thud looked good. The crew
chief had his shit together.
Satisfied with his preflight inspection, Billy returned to the yellow boarding ladder and prepared
to mount up. He removed his blue service cap. It was well-worn, as a fighter jock's should be, the cloth
stained, the officer's piping frayed, and the silver first lieutenant's bar scratched and dull. He folded it
in half, then tucked it into the pocket on the leg of his g-suit and zippered it inside. It's time, he told
himself. He hefted the parachute and began to strap it on, more nervous than he'd anticipated.
"How you doin', Bowes?" an unexpected voice sounded from behind him.
Major Lucky Anderson was standing a few feet away peering at Billy, likely checking to see how
rattled he was, since this was his first combat mission.
Billy was careful to keep his voice even. "My airplane looks good, Major. Yours?"
Anderson grimaced, but it was difficult to tell if he meant the expression. His features were ill
defined, a sheath of thin, transplanted skin stretched over bone and muscle. The nostrils were small,
unprotected holes, the lips scarred and misshapen. Beneath his strong chin, the skin of his neck was
crinkled, as an old man's might be. Until you were used to it, the sight of Lucky Anderson's face was
That's what a fire could do to you in a fighter . . . if you were fortunate enough to survive being
burned by the syrupy, clinging jet petroleum. Billy had met other pilots around the Air Force who'd
suffered bad burns like Lucky Anderson's, but very few who'd been able to stay in fighters. Most had
been permanently grounded, or at least restricted to flying less demanding birds.
The damage to Lucky Andersons face had been limited to the area unprotected by his helmet and
visor, for his short brown hair, brows, and eyelashes were healthy and normal. His mood was best
determined by examining the pale-blue eyes, with their innate intelligence and piercing stare.
Except for the face, Lucky Anderson appeared normal. He was tall, with a strong neck, broad
shoulders and a narrow waist, and ample muscles of upper arms and thighs bulged under his flying suit.
It was obvious he worked to stay in shape.
"Too bad, you having to go to pack six on your first mission," said Anderson in his pleasant voice.
"It'd be better if we could get you a few missions down in the lower packs before throwing you into the
North Vietnam had been separated into six route packages by the headquarters planners. Route
pack one was just north of the demilitarized zone with South Vietnam and was considered a low-threat
area because most of the big guns were massed up north. The defenses were said to get tougher as you
progressed northward through packs two and then three. Next there was pack four, just south of the
badland, and pack five, just west of it. The old-timers said flying in packs four and five could get as
hairy and dangerous as you wanted. But it was pack six, the Hanoi-Haiphong area, that had become
legendary among Air Force and Navy pilots. It was the most lethal flying area in the world. There, in
the broad Red River Valley, were found more hostile surface-to-air missiles, antiaircraft artillery, and
interceptors per square mile than anywhere else in the world.
"I'm a quick study," Billy said cockily.
"You just hang on my wing," said Anderson. "We start maneuvering too hard, drop back in trail.
Try not to fly directly behind me, or they'll shoot at me and hit you."
Billy kept his face impassive.
Continuing to measure Billy carefully, Anderson stripped the cellophane sheath from a cigar, a
fat one shaped like a torpedo, and then mouthed it, not lighting it but savoring the taste. By regulation
you couldn't smoke within fifty feet of an aircraft. Lucky Anderson was C-Flight commander, Billy's
superior officer and reporting official. He likely followed the rules down to the dotted i's, thought Billy
Anderson was about to lead Ford flight, four F-105 fighter-bombers, into aerial combat, and Billy
would fly as his wingman. Bowes didn't know Anderson, but he knew his own capability. "I'll be there
on your wing, Major," he said confidently, careful to keep his voice free of the irritation he felt, "and
you don't have to worry about your six o'clock."
A wingman's primary responsibility was to continuously check the airspace around his leader and
make sure no one crept up on them unannounced. His job going to and from the target area would be to
stay in position, keep a good lookout, and gain experience.
Anderson pursed his scar-twisted lips thoughtfully, his gaze still squarely on Billy Bowes, then
nodded abruptly and growled, "Engine start in ten minutes." He strode off toward his own aircraft,
slowed, and called back over his shoulder, "And get rid of those fucking unauthorized gloves."
Billy burned, first with anger, then with embarrassment as he realized the crew chief had
"You could do worse than to listen to Major Lucky," said the black sergeant with a measure of
respect. "He's got a reputation for knowing what he's talking about."
"Well, you heard the man," Billy barked in a piqued tone. "Let's get the show started." He would
make his own judgments about Anderson.
He paused for another judicious moment, then resolutely crawled up the tall ladder, still wearing
the driving gloves. He wanted every possible advantage when he flew to pack six, and the gloves just
might provide a tiny edge.
1310 Local—Green Anchor Air Refueling Route
Major Lucky Anderson
After takeoff from Takhli, the four-ship strike flight called Ford flew north-northeast on a heading of ten
degrees and contacted Brigham. The ground radar gave them vectors toward their assigned KC-135 air
refueling tanker, where it orbited in a long racetrack pattern along a route called "green anchor." When
they'd approached within a couple miles of the tanker, Lucky throttled back, depressurized his cockpit,
ensured that everyone had their weapons' master-arm switches in the SAFE positions, and called "Noses
Cold" to the tanker. Then he sucked in 100 percent oxygen as he jockeyed his fighter behind the tanker.
The enlisted operator, lying on his belly and clearly visible in his glass cage at the aft of the big tanker,
deftly jabbed the nozzle of the telescoping fuel boom into the opened receptacle beside Anderson's
cockpit. When the boom's nozzle was latched into place, the operator activated a pump and began to
Unlike many pilots, Lucky enjoyed aerial refueling. Maneuvering smoothly at the slower limits
of flight was a challenge, and there was little about flying he did not savor. After several minutes he
finished topping off with the kerosene mixture called JP-4, and the operator disconnected and swung
the boom up and away. Lucky moved to his left and watched with a critical eye as Bowes, his newly
arrived wingman, maneuvered into position behind the big tanker.
Satisfied the kid was doing okay, he looked upon the larger scene, at the sleek fighters and the
silver tanker against the background of white clouds and blue sky. If you flew fighters, you knew there
was a God, because your view of the world was so delicately detailed, so spectacularly beautiful, that it
could not possibly exist due to the random mistakes attributed by science.
As some men treasured other aspects of life, Paul Anderson loved flying fighters. Each time he
retracted the gear and pointed the radome skyward, he experienced a rush and thrill that lingered until
long after he'd landed. He enjoyed flying in clear or stormy weather, day or night, over deserts or
snowcapped mountains. To him there was nothing to equal the spectacular views of blue skies and
cloud-swathed earth, the alternating moments of serenity and exhilaration, of taxing his mental and
physical resources to the utmost. To be able to do so in the F-105 was especially pleasing, for he
believed the Thud was the ultimate fighter-bomber. To be able to fly the big war steed into combat to
do battle with a canny and capable enemy who he felt were bestial assholes especially pleased him.
Other than flying, few pleasures were left to him. There was his physical training, but it was done
to condition his body and reflexes, and therefore to enhance his flying skills. There had once been
other personal pleasures, but that seemed long ago and in another life. He neither dwelled on the past
nor disliked his present life. Flying jets and fighting communists—these were enough for a man who
thought of himself as a professional warrior.
In the pursuit of his calling, especially given the ferocity of the present combat, the odds were
not good that he would die of old age. Even that factor, of death residing in such proximity, somehow
pleased him. He regarded death as not especially chilling, only infinitely final. He was appropriately
prudent in his flying—only a fool would do otherwise in a high performance jet—yet there were worse
ways to go than in a sudden, fiery crash.
Lucky considered himself to be a good military officer, but the other duties of a major in the Air
Force paled when compared to the flying. The fact that he was a field-grade officer did not impress him,
for he despised the accompanying bureaucratic paperwork and silly protocol. He believed heartily in
what Manfred von Richthofen had once said, that the fighter pilot's job was to fly and to fight, and all
else was rubbish. Except to improve their flying skills, he did not enjoy leading the men assigned under
him. If someone ruled that only sergeants were to fly fighters, he would give up his major's leaves in an
instant. But since he'd been appointed as a leader of men, he would lead them to the best of his ability.
Lucky enjoyed the camaraderie of his fellow pilots at the O' Club bar, but voluntary socializing
ended there. In peacetime he'd tried to avoid all social functions . . . dinings in, hail-and-farewell
dinners, change-of-command ceremonies, squadron parties, and such. Those demanded by military
protocol he'd attended, but he d left as early as possible without unduly offending his hosts or the
attending brass. Some military men and most civilians felt uneasy around Lucky Anderson because
of his disfigured face, which was just as well, for it made it that much easier to maintain his privacy.
At Takhli their pitifully few social functions featured discussions of flying and fighting, subjects that
pervaded the minds of combat pilots, and these he attended. There were no American females assigned
at Takhli, for there was a shortage of adequate quarters and sanitary facilities, and Lucky was pleased
with that. For the past eight years women had been repelled by his burned face.
Ford two was doing well with his refueling. Lieutenant Bowes maintained a steady position in the
center of the boom's reach, easily matching the wallowing motion of the tanker. The boom operator
signaled that the refueling was completed, disconnected with a spray of fuel from the boom, and Billy
Bowes smoothly slid back and crossed over to Anderson's wing. He'd made a good first impression.
Lucky hoped he would prove as steady when they got to pack six and the test of combat.
It was Ford three's turn, and Lucky had no worries there. Turk Tatro was a capable and likable
captain in Lucky's C-Flight, a southerner with a quick wit and slow speech. He easily moved his fighter
into position and began to take on fuel.
High on the tail of each bird of the four-ship flight were the large white block letters RM, topped
by a wide band of bright blue paint, showing they came from the 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron.
They called themselves the Fighting Bulldogs, and their squadron emblem showed a tough English bull
defending the Statue of Liberty. The pilots were dedicated to flying, and the crew chiefs of the 354th
were a hardworking group who maintained their birds with pride. It was a good squadron, thought
Lucky. They'd taken too many losses during the past few months, lost too many good pilots, but that
was because they'd given the North Vietnamese hell.
The previous month they had methodically leveled the big steel mill at Thai Nguyen, thirty-five
miles north of Hanoi, while the North Vietnamese had furiously protected it with every resource they
could muster. The 354th, along with the other two fighter squadrons in the wing and the pilots at their
sister wing at Korat Air Base, had kept bombing relentlessly, day after day, until the steel mill, as well
as the enemy defenses there, had been beaten to pieces. It was still tough, flying to pack six, but they'd
instilled a measure of respect and caution in the gomers and were confident that they could destroy any
target, regardless of the sophistication of the enemy's defenses. With the showdown at Thai Nguyen
behind them, they now knuckled down to the tasks of slowing the flow of supplies and generally
making life miserable for the North Vietnamese. Most of the pilots felt they'd entered a tedious home
stretch of the air war.
Today's mission was against the Hanoi thermal-power plant, just north of the capital city. Not a
great, war-stopping target, but its destruction would make the Hanoi leaders' lives less tolerable, and
that was part of their objective. It was certainly better than some of the targets, like bombing a canopy
of treetops under which intell thought might be located a truck park.
The big efforts like this were called alpha strikes and featured a composite force. First to arrive
at the target would be a flight of fighters led by SAM-hunters, two-man crews flying dual-seat Thuds
called Wild Weasels, who threatened and thus preoccupied the gomer SAM sites during the strike.
Overhead, flying much higher than the Thuds, was a flight of F-4 Phantoms from Ubon Air Base,
to engage any MiGs they found there. Next would come the flak-suppression flight, carrying cluster
bombs to drop on antiaircraft guns, which the enemy massed about every potential target in pack six.
Then the main players, six four-ship flights of Thuds, would dive-bomb the target. Lucky Anderson's
Ford flight would be the first strike flight on the target.
The strike force would fight their way through the MiGs, SAMs, and flak to bomb the power
plant. Considering the proximity of today's target to the thick defenses surrounding Hanoi, there was a
probability they would lose an aircraft or two. Lucky hoped the losses would not be from his flight.
Ford four, a new lieutenant named Francis, was finishing with his refueling. Twice during the
fuel transfer he'd gone into an up-and-down roller coaster, and the boom operator had been forced to
disconnect quickly and stop refueling until he settled down. Anderson penciled a note on his flight plan
card to work with Francis on his refueling technique.
When Ford four was clear, Lucky again moved behind the tanker. He and Lieutenant Bowes would
top off their fuel tanks, then Ford flight would break away from the tanker to fly the final 200 miles to
the western border of North Vietnam. He began to tingle with anticipation.
1352 Local—Channel 97 TACAN, Laos
First Lieutenant Billy Bowes
"Ford is at the checkpoint," Billy heard Major Anderson call on the radio.
They'd been flying at 480 knots calibrated airspeed in a loose fingertip formation. Billy was
on Anderson's right wing, keeping his mind occupied with flying the aircraft and going over the
weapons-release procedures during the half-hour lull between drop-off from the tanker and arrival at
the navigation checkpoint.
Bowes had been told that the TACAN ground station, sited on a flat, barren hilltop deep in the
hostile territory two miles below Ford flight, was manned and protected by friendly tribesmen under
contract to the CIA. They said its presence was known to the enemy, that periodically it had come
under attack by Pathet Lao troops, and that once it had almost been overrun and was saved only after a
massive display of air-power support.
The world below was colored by tawny elephant grass when they'd dropped off the tanker in
northern Thailand and proceeded northeast into Laos. Next they'd overflown the purplish-brown hues
of the vast Plains des Jars. Now, as they approached the tall, western mountains of North Vietnam, the
earth was changing to dark green, the color of the tall teak trees and jungle thickets.
Just as Billy felt they were crossing into North Vietnam, Anderson made another radio call. "Ford
flight, push 'em up. Let's go to button three."
Anderson sharply increased his airspeed, and Billy kept abreast by adjusting his own throttle
forward. With the same hand, Billy switched until the indicator before him showed the number 3, and
heard a buzzing as the radio tuned. It was a little touch, having the radio so easy to operate, but one the
"Fords, radio check," called Anderson on the combat frequency.
Billy was quick with his response, "Two!" then the other two flight members chimed in. "Ford
A glance at the instrument tape showed they had settled at 550 knots airspeed, yet the huge J-75
engine was not yet straining.
"Let's green 'em up," called Anderson.
Billy's heart thumped. He set up for EXTERNAL BOMBS and switched on the master-armament
switch. A green light told him he was ready to fight.
After another long moment Anderson called, "Fords, turn on your music."
Billy was confused, then he remembered. He located the ECM control panel and rotated the wafer
knob from STANDBY to TRANSMIT. A green light illuminated, indicating the ECM pod was operating
properly. The pod, loaded out on the right wing and powered by a small ram air turbine propeller,
generated electronic noise to help confuse enemy radar.
Billy heard a crackling sound from the radar homing and warning equipment, called RHAW. Its
purpose was to alert you when an enemy radar scanned your airplane with its beam. A telelite panel
would indicate the type of radar, whether from AAA, SAM, or a MiG, and a strobe on a small CRT
would point in the clock-direction of the radar. This was Billy Bowes's first experience with the thing,
but he felt that something must be amiss to make it act up like this.
The crackling sound continued. Bright green strobes sputtered at the center of the CRT scope, and
periodically the AAA and SAM lights flickered on.
Billy had been briefed that all threats should be called over the radio. Why wasn't Anderson calling
them out? He paused, unsure of what to do, not wanting to do anything dumb but determined to give
warning if there was impending danger. They were over enemy territory, and the RHAW was picking
More crackling sounds and flashing lights. To hell with it, he told himself.
"Ford two has a RHAW indication," he broadcast over the radio, since he was unsure whether it
was an artillery or SAM radar.
He was answered by silence.
The CRT continued to flicker. "Ford lead, two has a RHAW indication," he repeated.
"Ford two, maintain radio silence unless you see something," replied Anderson.
"Ford two's got intermittent SAM and AAA lights," Billy called stubbornly, unable to keep his
voice from rising. Anderson was ignoring him.
"Ford four has the same," came an even shriller radio call from the other lieutenant in the flight.
Like Bowes, it was also Fred Francis's first time in pack six. They'd known one another at McConnell,
where they'd checked out in Thuds. Billy felt vindicated now that Francis had seconded his observation.
The good feeling didn't last.
"Ford two and four, unless you've got at least a two-ring strobe and a solid light, ignore it,"
Anderson called impatiently. "Your receivers are picking up the jamming from your own pods."
Billy's face flushed hot with embarrassment.
"THIS IS BIG EYE. BISON IN QUEBEC GOLF THREE. I REPEAT. THIS IS BIG EYE. BISON IN
QUEBEC GOLF THREE," came a blasting radio transmission over the emergency frequency. Big Eye
was an airborne radar aircraft, and—Billy looked at the card on his kneeboard—"Bison" was the code
name for MiGs. He fumbled and opened his map to find out where the hell the Q-G-3 coordinates were.
"Fords, keep a good lookout for MiGs," radioed Anderson.
According to Billy Bowes's map the Q-G-3 sector was not far ahead.
"Cadillac lead has two MiG-21's at our three o'clock. Prepare to engage, Cadillacs."
He looked again at his kneeboard. "Cadillac" was the Wild Weasel flight, flying a dozen miles out
in front of them. Excitement welled within his chest and he felt his heart quicken.
He moved his gaze about the sky, staring hard, shifting, staring hard again. Concentrating on his
area of responsibility, the airspace from dead ahead, around to the left, to their rear. He nudged left
rudder and craned about. Nothing behind them. He swept his gaze slowly back toward the forward
"Move it around, Ford two," Anderson barked at him. "Keep jinking."
Damn. He'd forgotten to keep his aircraft in motion. He banked, first one way and then another,
as Lucky Anderson was doing. An old-hand combat pilot had told him to avoid abrupt movements, to
make smooth, yet unpredictable adjustments to create tracking problems for enemy gunners.
Ford flight continued toward the target area. Billy's mind computed. Four minutes since they'd
crossed into North Vietnam. Flying at nine nautical miles a minute. He estimated they were ten minutes
from the ridge of mountains north of Hanoi.
He peered at the terrain. Ahead was a wide flatland checkered with multihued rice paddies. A
wide, muddy river writhed snakelike through the valley. The Red.
It was pack six, and just as he'd been briefed, it looked very different from the green mountainous
jungles covering pack five. It was the pulsing, vibrant heart of North Vietnam. Fifteen million people,
three fourths of the country's population, lived on the tiny farms and in the crowded population centers
of that single great valley. All of the country's industry was located there, as were their two primary
cities, Hanoi and Haiphong. Except for the single ridge of mountains that ran north of Hanoi, it was
mostly flat. So flat that the elevation, from the coast to the western mountains more than one hundred
miles inland, was less than fifty feet above sea level.
"THIS IS BIG EYE. BISON IN ALPHA GOLF FOUR. I REPEAT. THIS IS BIG EYE. BISON IN
ALPHA GOLF FOUR." The radar aircraft, again announcing MiGs, broadcasting with their directional
antennae, which made the words so loud they hurt your eardrums.
He lifted his head, saw motion in the distance, and focused on three delta-wing forms. MiG-21's!
Billy hit the mike button and stuttered, "B'Bogeys at ten o'clock."
Anderson asked quietly, "Who's got bogeys at ten o'clock?"
"Ford two has three MiGs in sight at ten o'clock," he announced in an unnaturally high voice. It
was hard to restrain himself from pulling up and into the MiGs.
"High or low, Ford two?" asked Anderson in the maddeningly calm tone.
"High," he shouted.
"Take a closer look, two."
"Lead, I see four of them now. Request permission to . . ." Billy stared harder, saw the bogeys
continue serenely, weaving and jinking on a high flight path that paralleled their own. There was
something about them. . . .
"See the smoke trails, Ford two?"
Billy saw the wisp of black smoke and wanted to hide in a hole. "Roger, sir." His voice was much
"MiGs don't smoke like that, Ford two. I've been watching the F-4's for a couple of minutes now.
You just see 'em?"
He paused to swallow. "Yes, sir."
"Keep up your lookout for MiGs, Fords," said Anderson with a hint of sarcasm.
"Ford three's got two bogeys at two o'clock, ten degrees high, bout six miles, lead," came Captain
Tatro's lazy voice.
Billy snapped his vision around, searching the sky, saw two specks in the distance. He swung his
head back toward lead and . . . Anderson had turned directly toward him! He immediately banked hard
left, reefing on the stick to avoid being hit. Then, adjusting his composure and ungritting his clenched
teeth, he closed to fly a hundred yards off lead's wing.
"Keep your airspeed up, Fords," Anderson calmly called, "and prepare to engage. Select left
outboard station for a missile shot."
Billy excitedly reset his weapons-panel switch, wondering if they shouldn't drop their bombs and
fuel tanks to prepare for hard maneuvering.
"Ford lead, this is three," sounded Captain Tatro's southern draw. "The MiGs are turnin' south."
Tatro's "south" came out sounding like "sowf." His Mississippi accent was sometimes difficult to
"I've got 'em in sight, Ford three," said Anderson, and led Ford flight into a slow turn back to
Billy glanced back at the MiGs and studied them for future reference. He had exceptional eyesight
and would not mistake them again.
He overheard the flak-suppression flight talking about SAMs up ahead, saying something about
preparing to "take it down," which he knew was a maneuver to evade surface-to-air missiles. He felt ill
prepared and now wished he'd been given the practice missions Lucky Anderson had spoken of.
Ford lead altered course and Billy easily corrected, vowing not to be thrown out of position again.
As they crossed the wide, muddy river, groups of white puffs sputtered over a riverbank village a
few miles to their right. They did not appear menacing, for the explosions were not close, yet his heart
betrayed him and thumped harder. Billy Bowes had seen his first flak.
"Fords two and four, that's Yen Bai at our four o'clock," explained Lucky Anderson to the two new
men. "They shoot like that when we go by. Don't hit much, but they shoot a lot."
"Ho Chi Minh's got a cathouse set up there," drawled Captain Tatro, the word pronounced "kayuthayous."
How the hell could they be cracking jokes? Billy's stomach felt as if something was clawing to get
A squealing, chattering sound broke the solitude. The CRT on his RHAW showed a dancing
electronic strobe which extended to the third concentric ring. There was no problem discerning between
the real thing and the random noise he'd seen before.
"SAM activity at one o'clock, Fords," radioed Anderson, still using the calm, conversational tone.
"Ford three's got a SAM launch indication," called Tatro in a distinctively higher pitch.
"Prepare to maneuver, Fords," called Major Anderson, and Billy Bowes's heart flooded with
1411 Local—Route Pack Six, North Vietnam
Major Lucky Anderson
Lucky watched distant flurries of dust and smoke as the SAMs blasted off their launch pads, then
carefully kept his eyes glued on them as he lowered the nose of his Thud a few degrees and nudged
the throttle forward to the stop. They'd fired a group of three missiles, with six seconds between
each launch. He estimated the SAMs to be ten to twelve miles distant. He couldn't see the missiles
themselves yet, only the fiery plumes of their boosters.
His Thud was building speed. He didn't know how much, because he didn't dare take his eyes off
the SAM plumes to look inside the cockpit. Speed meant maneuvering energy, and more was better
than less, so he kept the throttle pressed to the limit.
The secret now would be to keep their cool, to continue building up their energy until the last split
second, when the missiles were too close to react, and then to maneuver hard.
The missiles were shooting toward them at incredible speeds, the combined closure rates now
more than four times the speed of sound. He slowly sucked in a breath of air and waited—waited until
he could see the missile clearly—waited until—NOW! He pulled the control stick sharply back, and
the Thud skidded and slewed upward. A fuzzy cloud of white formed at the canopy bow, condensation
from the muggy air. He maintained the sharp climb, then banked first left, then hard right before rolling
the Thud over on its back.
"Ford lead, I saw all
Turk Tatro, his voice calm again.
"Roger, Ford three," Lucky replied, rolling out wings level. He glanced out to his right and was
amazed to see Lieutenant Bowes moving back into position. If Bowes could stay in place through that
sort of wild-assed maneuvering, Lucky thought, he was one hell of a pilot.
He adjusted course toward Thud Ridge, the line of mountains north of Hanoi, and the prominent
knoll that was to be their turn point, pushing the throttle forward to the stop, then easing off a single
notch. They were flying at 630 knots, almost Mach one, and were only a couple miles south of their
Cadillac, the Wild Weasel flight, called from the opposite side of Thud Ridge that the target
weather was CAVU, clear and visibility unlimited. That was partly good, for they'd have no trouble
seeing the target, partly bad because the gunners would be able to see them as well.
A flight behind them announced they'd spotted MiGs. Lucky looked about and again caught his
wingman flying straight and level, as if he were flying an airway in the States. "Ford two, keep it moving
around," he chastised.
Bowes immediately resumed his random maneuvering. He'll be a good combat jock, thought
Lucky. He had reservations about Lieutenant Francis, who was only now joining up with Captain Tatro
after the defensive maneuvering.
They approached Thud Ridge at equal altitude with the knoll, skimming over the trees on its left
side. Lucky turned hard right and descended. He flew southward toward the target, dropping and rising,
using the contours of the ridge as a shield from defenses, the remainder of the flight trailing out behind
him. The tactic was called terrain masking, for while they were flying this close to the mountains, they
would remain hidden in the ground clutter on the gomer radar scopes.
The flak-suppression flight, thirty seconds in front of them, announced they were popping up for
Lucky looked ahead and saw the sprawling city of Hanoi. Dark 57, 85, and 100mm flak bursts
formed in dense groups of fours and sixes over the Red River, wide and pocked with islets here, where
it meandered through the northernmost part of the city. As Ford flight passed the last green hillock of
the ridge, Lucky Anderson pushed the throttle outboard into the afterburner detent and pulled back on
the control stick, then felt the kick in the ass as the burner lit.
"Ford lead is in the pop-up," he announced, then added for the benefit of the two new lieutenants:
"I'll offset to the west of the target, over the river. Two, follow me in, but not down the same chute. We'll
recover on the east side of the ridge."
He was climbing fast, jinking sharply to his left, then to his right, as he passed through 10,000 feet
and approached the perch. He saw the dancing sparkles of cluster-bomblet units going off at his eleven
o'clock, where the flak-suppression flight had dropped on the guns.
He rolled the Thud over on its back and hung in the straps, carefully searching the earth below,
letting his eyes drift up the north side of the riverbank, then settle on white smoke issuing from two
stacks. The thermal-power plant? He studied the shape and convinced himself it was the same structure
he'd studied in photos before takeoff.
Smoke from the power plant's stacks was blowing gently to the east, toward him. Ten knots of
"Ford lead's in the dive," he announced, again for the benefit of the green lieutenants. When they
were more experienced, it would all be done silently.
He heard the rattling sounds of a SAM tracking radar over his RHAW system.
"Ford two has a SAM light," called Lieutenant Bowes. A good call, for this time the kid was right.
"Ignore it, Ford two. The missiles won't be able to keep up with our maneuver."
Lucky tucked the stick back into his lap and nudged it against his leg. He rolled out wings level,
in a steep forty-five-degree dive in the direction of the target area, pulling his throttle halfway back,
settling the pipper short of the target, adjusting slightly for the wind. As he continued diving, the pipper
crept upward toward the target. He was flying straight and predictably, now in the most hazardous
period of a dive-bomb combat mission. If he jinked now, the bombs would be thrown off target. Time
to grit his teeth and press on.
Black and ominous flak bursts walked about the sky, searching for him. The RHAW squealed and
chattered. He ignored it all, maintaining the steady sight-picture, waiting as the pipper slowly crawled
Author Tom Wilson Isbn 9780553293111 File size 7.05MB Year 1993 Pages 10 Language English File format PDF Category History Book Description: FacebookTwitterGoogle+TumblrDiggMySpaceShare Ordered to fly into the heart of enemy territory to bomb the vital Doumer Bridge linking Hanoi with Haiphong and China, the pilots of the 345th Tactical Fighter Squadron muster every ounce of courage they have to complete their mission. Download (7.05MB) Termite Hill (Vietnam Air War Book 1) Vietnam At War: The History, 1946-1975 The Luftwaffe Fighter Force High Honor: Recollections by Men and Women of World War II Aviation Tradition, Revolution, And Market Economy In A North Vietnamese Village, 1925-2006 Load more posts