Tag Archives: 355th Tactical Fighter Wing

11 August 1967

Colonel Robert M. White, United States Air Force, Deputy Commander for Operations, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, Takhli RTAFB, 1967, with other Republic F-105 Thunderchief pilots. Colonel White is the third from the left. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Robert M. White, United States Air Force, Deputy Commander for Operations, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, Takhli RTAFB, 1967, with other Republic F-105 Thunderchief pilots. Colonel White is the third from the left. (U.S. Air Force)
Air Force Cross
Air Force Cross

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pleasure in presenting the Air Force Cross to Colonel Robert M. White (AFSN: 0-24589A), United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force as an F-105 Mission Commander and Pilot of the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, Takhli Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, in action near Hanoi, North Vietnam, on 11 August 1967. On that date, Colonel White led the entire combat force against a key railroad and highway bridge in the vicinity of Hanoi. In spite of 14 surface-to-air missile launches, MiG interceptor attacks, and intense anti-aircraft artillery fire, he gallantly led the attack. By being the first aircraft to dive through the dark clouds of bursting flak, Colonel White set an example that inspired the remaining attacking force to destroy the bridge without a single aircraft being lost to the hostile gunners. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of hostile forces, Colonel White reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.
Action Date: 11-Aug-67

Service: Air Force

Rank: Colonel

Company: Deputy Commander for Operations

Regiment: 355th Tactical Fighter Wing

Division: Takhli Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand

Republic F-105F-10-RE Thunderchief 60-0464, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, Takhli RTAFB. (U.S. Air Force)
Republic F-105D-10-RE Thunderchief 60-0464, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, Takhli RTAFB. (U.S. Air Force)
Recoonaissance photograph of Paul Doumer Bridge, Hanoi, 12 August 1967. (U.S. Air Force)
Reconnaissance photograph of Paul Doumer Bridge, Hanoi, 12 August 1967. (U.S. Air Force)
Doumer Bridge, by keith ferris, oil on panel, depicts Col. Robert M. White leading the strike against the Paul Doumer Bridge, 11 August 1967. This painting is on display at teh george H.W. Bush presidential Library, on loan from the United States Air Force art collection.
Doumer Bridge, by Keith Ferris, oil on panel, depicts Col. Robert M. White leading the strike against the Paul Doumer Bridge, 11 August 1967. This painting is in the United States Air Force Art Collection. (George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 July 1962

With the X-15 under its right wing, the Boeing NB-52A, 52-003, takes of from Edwards Air Force Base, 17 July 1962. The rocketplane's belly is covered with frost from the cryogenic propellants. (U.S. Air Force)
With Major Robert M. White and the X-15 under its right wing, the Boeing NB-52A Stratofortress, 52-003, takes of from Edwards Air Force Base, 17 July 1962. The rocketplane’s belly is covered with frost from the cryogenic propellants. (U.S. Air Force)

17 July 1962: At 9:31:10.0 a.m., the Number 3 North American Aviation X-15, 56-6672, was airdropped from a Boeing NB-52A Stratofortress, 52-003, over Delamar Dry Lake, Nevada. Air Force project test pilot Major Robert M. (“Bob”) White was in the cockpit. This was the 62nd flight of the X-15 Program, and Bob White was making his 15th flight in an X-15 hypersonic research rocketplane. The purpose of this flight was to verify the performance of the Honeywell MH-96 flight control system which had been installed in the Number 3 ship. Just one minute before drop, the MH-96 failed, but White reset his circuit breakers and it came back on line.

North American Aviation X-15 56-6672 immediately after being dropped by the Boeing NB-52 Stratofortress. (NASA)
North American Aviation X-15 56-6672 immediately after being dropped by the Boeing NB-52 Stratofortress. (NASA)

After dropping from the B-52’s wing, White fired the X-15’s Reaction Motors XLR-99 rocket engine and began to accelerate and climb. The planned burn time for the 57,000-pound-thrust engine was 80.0 seconds. It shut down 2 seconds late, driving the X-15 well beyond the planned peak altitude for this flight. Instead of reaching 280,000 feet (85,344 meters), Robert White reached 314,750 feet (95,936 meters). This was an altitude gain of 82,190 meters (269,652 feet), which was a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world record.¹ The rocketplane reached Mach 5.45, 3,832 miles per hour (6,167 kilometers per hour).

Because of the increased speed and altitude, White was in danger of overshooting his landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California. He crossed the north end of Rogers Dry Lake and crossed the “high key”—the point where the X-15 landing maneuver begins—too high and too fast at Mach 3.5 at 80,000 feet (24,384 meters). Without power, White made a wide 360° turn over Rosamond Dry Lake then came back over the high key at a more normal 28,000 feet (8,534.4 meters) and subsonic speed. He glided to a perfect touch down, 10 minutes, 20.7 seconds after being dropped from the B-52.
A North American Aviation X-15 rocketplane just before touchdown on Rogers dry Lake. A Lockheed F-104 Starfighter chase plane escorts it. The green smoke helps the pilots judge wind direction and speed. (NASA)
North American Aviation X-15 56-6672 just before touchdown on Rogers Dry Lake. A Lockheed F-104 Starfighter chase plane escorts it. The green smoke helps the pilots judge wind direction and speed. (NASA)

This was the first time that a manned aircraft had gone higher than 300,000 feet (91,440 meters). It was also the first flight above 50 miles. For that achievement, Bob White became the first X-15 pilot to be awarded U.S. Air Force astronaut wings. His 314,750-foot altitude (95,936 meters) also established a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world altitude record, which will probably never be broken. To qualify, a new record would have to exceed White’s altitude by at least 3%, or more than 324,419 feet (98,882.9 meters). As the FAI-recognized boundary of Space is 328,083.99 feet (100,000 meters), any prospective challenger would have to hit a very narrow band of the atmosphere.

Command Pilot Astronaut insignia, United States Air Force
Command Pilot Astronaut insignia, United States Air Force

Major White had been the first pilot to fly faster than Mach 4, Mach 5 and Mach 6. He was the first to fly over 200,000 feet, then over 300,000 feet. He was a graduate of the Air Force Experimental Test Pilot School and flew tests of many aircraft at Edwards before entering the X-15 program. He made at total of sixteen X-15 flights.

A P-51 Mustang fighter pilot with the 355th Fighter Group in World War II, he was shot down by ground fire on his fifty-third combat mission, 23 February 1945, and captured. He was held as a prisoner of war until the war in Europe came to an end in April 1945.

After the war, White accepted a reserve commission while he attended college to earn a degree in engineering. He was recalled to active duty during the Korean War, and assigned to a P-51 fighter squadron in South Korea. Later, he commanded the 22nd Tactical Fighter Squadron (flying the Republic F-105 Thunderchief supersonic fighter bomber) based in Germany, and later, the 53rd TFS. During the Vietnam War, Lieutenant Colonel White, as the deputy commander for operations of the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, flew seventy combat missions over North Vietnam in the F-105D, including leading the attack against the Paul Doumer Bridge at Hanoi, 11 August 1967, for which he was awarded the Air Force Cross.

He next went to Wright-Patterson AFB where he was director of the F-15 Eagle fighter program. In 1970 he returned to Edwards AFB as commander of the Air Force Flight Test Center. White was promoted to Major General in 1975.

General White retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1981. He died 10 March 2010.

Major Robert M. White, U.S. Air Force, with a North American Aviation X-15 on Rogers Dry Lake, 1961. (NASA)
Major Robert M. White, U.S. Air Force, with a North American Aviation X-15 on Rogers Dry Lake, 1961. (NASA)

¹ FAI Record File Number 9604

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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19 April 1967

Lieutenant Colonel Leo Keith Thorsness, United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

MEDAL OF HONOR

LIEUTENANT COLONEL LEO K. THORSNESS
UNITED STATES AIR FORCE

Rank and organization: Lieutenant Colonel (then Major), U.S. Air Force, 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron

Place and date: Over North Vietnam, 19 April 1967.

Entered service at: Walnut Grove, Minn.

Born: 14 February 1932, Walnut Grove, Minn.

Medal of HonorCitation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. As pilot of an F- 105 aircraft, Lt. Col. Thorsness was on a surface-to-air missile suppression mission over North Vietnam. Lt. Col. Thorsness and his wingman attacked and silenced a surface-to-air missile site with air-to-ground missiles, and then destroyed a second surface-to-air missile site with bombs. In the attack on the second missile site, Lt. Col. Thorsness’ wingman was shot down by intensive antiaircraft fire, and the 2 crewmembers abandoned their aircraft. Lt. Col. Thorsness circled the descending parachutes to keep the crewmembers in sight and relay their position to the Search and Rescue Center. During this maneuver, a MIG-17 was sighted in the area. Lt. Col. Thorsness immediately initiated an attack and destroyed the MIG. Because his aircraft was low on fuel, he was forced to depart the area in search of a tanker. Upon being advised that 2 helicopters were orbiting over the downed crew’s position and that there were hostile MiGs in the area posing a serious threat to the helicopters, Lt. Col. Thorsness, despite his low fuel condition, decided to return alone through a hostile environment of surface-to-air missile and antiaircraft defenses to the downed crew’s position. As he approached the area, he spotted 4 MIG-17 aircraft and immediately initiated an attack on the MlGs, damaging 1 and driving the others away from the rescue scene. When it became apparent that an aircraft in the area was critically low on fuel and the crew would have to abandon the aircraft unless they could reach a tanker, Lt. Col. Thorsness, although critically short on fuel himself, helped to avert further possible loss of life and a friendly aircraft by recovering at a forward operating base, thus allowing the aircraft in emergency fuel condition to refuel safely. Lt. Col. Thorsness’ extraordinary heroism, self-sacrifice, and personal bravery involving conspicuous risk of life were in the highest traditions of the military service, and have reflected great credit upon himself and the U.S. Air Force.

Major Leo K. Thorsness and Captain Harold E. Johnson with their Republic F-105F Thunderchief, Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, 1967. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Leo K. Thorsness and Captain Harold E. Johnson with their Republic F-105F Thunderchief, Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, 1967. (U.S. Air Force)

AIR FORCE CROSS

CAPTAIN HAROLD EUGENE JOHNSON

Air Force Cross
Air Force Cross

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pleasure in presenting the Air Force Cross

to Captain Harold Eugene Johnson (AFSN: 0-3116556/42372A), United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism as Electronics Warfare Officer of an F-105 aircraft of the 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, Tuy Hoa Air Base, Vietnam, engaged in a pre-strike, missile suppression mission over North Vietnam on 19 April 1967. On that date, Captain Johnson guided his pilot in attacking and destroying a surface-to-air missile installation with an air-to-ground missile. Through his technical skill, he immediately detected a second missile complex and guided the pilot into visual contact. Diving into a deadly barrage of anti-aircraft fire, his aircraft bombed and successfully destroyed this site. In the attack on this second missile site, a wingman was shot down by the intense anti-aircraft fire, and the crew members were forced to abandon their aircraft. Flying through hostile missile threats, Captain Johnson’s aircraft engaged and destroyed a MiG-17 while attacking a superior MiG force. He aided in the rescue efforts for the downed crew, engaged additional MiGs, and damaged one in the encounter. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness, Captain Johnson has reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

General Orders: Department of the Air Force, Special Order GB-363 (April 19, 1967)

Action Date: 19-Apr-67

Service: Air Force

Rank: Captain

Company: 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron

Regiment: 355th Tactical Fighter Wing

Division: Tuy Hoa Air Base, Vietnam

Major Thorsness and Captain Johnson flew this Republic F-105F-1-RE Thunderchief, 63-8301, on 19 April 1967. It was one of 61 F-105Fs that were upgraded to the F-105G Wild Weasel III configuration beginning in late 1967. It survived the Vietnam War, but was destroyed 20 December 1974 when, assigned to the 35th TFW at George AFB, California, it crashed at the Cuddeback Lake Gunnery Range after an engine failure. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Thorsness and Captain Johnson flew this Republic F-105F-1-RE Thunderchief, 63-8301, on 19 April 1967. It was one of 61 F-105Fs that were upgraded to the F-105G Wild Weasel III configuration beginning in late 1967. It survived the Vietnam War, but was destroyed 20 December 1974 when, assigned to the 35th TFW at George AFB, California, it crashed at the Cuddeback Lake Gunnery Range after an engine failure. (U.S. Air Force)

A description of the air battle follows:

The first MiG kill of the day was recorded by Maj. Leo K. Thorsness, pilot, and Capt. Harold E. Johnson, Electronic Warfare officer (EWO), flying an F-105F. Thorsness’ flight consisted of four F-105F Wild Weasel aircraft, each plane being manned by a pilot and EWO and being specially equipped to locate and attack SAM sites. The flight was ahead of the main strike force and was committed to suppress SAM activity in the target area. About 8 to 10 MiG-17s attacked as the flight prepared to strike a SAM radar site with Shrike air-to-ground missiles. The Thorsness flight split up into three parts: the third and fourth aircraft entered into separate MiG engagements while Thorsness and his wingman continued the attack against the radar. The time was then about 4:55 p.m. Johnson provides an account of the encounter:

“We found and delivered our ordnance on an occupied SAM site. As we pulled off the site heading west, Kingfish 02¹ called that he had an overheat light. He also headed west, and the crew, Majors Thomas M. Madison, pilot, and Thomas J. Sterling, EWO, had to eject from their aircraft. We headed toward them by following the UHF-DF steer we received from their electronic beepers and saw them in the chutes. . .

“As we circled the descending crew, we were on a southerly heading when I spotted a MiG-17 heading east, low at out 9 o’clock position. I called him to the attention of Major Thorsness. . . .”

Thorsness continued the story:

“The MiG was heading east and was approximately 2,500 feet mean sea level. We were heading southeast and at 8,000 feet MSL. I began “S” turning to get behind the MiG. After one and a half “S” turns the MiG had progressed from the foothills over the delta southwest of Hanoi. The MiG turned to a northerly heading, maintaining approximately the same altitude and airspeed. Captain Johnson continued to give me SAM bearings, SAM-PRF [pulse recurrence frequency] status and launch indications as I continued to maneuver to attain a 6 o’clock position on the MiG.

“The first burst of approximately 300 rounds of 20 mm was fired from an estimated 2,000–1,500 feet in a right hand shallow pursuit curve, firing with a cased sight reticle. No impacts were observed on the MiG. Within a few seconds we were in the 6 o’clock position with approximately 75 to 100 knots overtake speed. I fired another burst of approximately 300 rounds of 20 mm. I pulled up to avoid both the debris and the MiG. While pulling up I rolled slightly to the right, then left. The MiG was approximately 100 feet low and to our left, rolling to the right. The two red stars were clearly discernible, one on top of each wing, and several rips were noted on the battered left wing. We continued to turn to the left and after turning approximately 130° again sighted the MiG, still in a right descending spiral. Just prior to the MiG’s impacting the ground, Captain Johnson sighted a MiG-17 at our 6:30 position approximately 2,000 feet back. I pulled into a tighter left turn, selected afterburner, and lowered the nose. I again looked at the crippled MiG, saw it impact the ground in what appeared to be a rice field. After confirming the MiG had in fact impacted the ground I made a hard reversal and descended very near the ground, heading generally westerly into the foothills.”

Thorsness then left the battle area, but returned after refueling to provide rescue combat air patrol during the search for his wingman’s aircrew. Thorsness and Johnson attacked another MiG and scored some damaging hits before they were themselves attacked by other MiG-17s. Although it is highly probable that Thorsness and Johnson destroyed a second MiG, this kill was not confirmed.

— Aces and Aerial Victories: The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia 1965–1973, by R. Frank Futrell, William H. Greenhalgh, Carl Grubb, Gerard E. Hasselwander, Robert F. Jakob and Charles A. Ravenstein, Office of Air Force History, Headquarters USAF, 1976, Chapter II at Pages 46 and 47.

Eleven days later, 30 April 1967, Major Thorsness and Captain Johnson were shot down by an AA-2A Atoll heat-seeking missile fired by a MiG-21 fighter piloted by Vũ Ngọc Đỉnh, 921st Fighter Regiment, Vietnam People’s Air Force. They ejected but were captured. Both men were held as Prisoners of War until 4 March 1973.

¹ Radio call sign for aircraft 2.

UPDATE: Colonel Leo Keith Thorsness, United States Air Force (Retired) died Tuesday, 2 May 2017, at St. Augustine, Florida. He was 85 years of age.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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10 March 1967

Republic F-105D-31-RE Thunderchief 62-4284 was a triple MiG killer. Captain Max C. Brestel shot down two MiG-17 fighters with this airplane, 10 March 1967. Captain Gene I. Basel also shot down a MiG-17 while flying this fighter bomber, 27 October 1967.
Republic F-105D-31-RE Thunderchief 62-4284 was a triple MiG killer. Captain Max C. Brestel shot down two MiG-17 fighters with this airplane, 10 March 1967. Captain Gene I. Basel also shot down a MiG-17 while flying this fighter bomber, 27 October 1967.

10 March 1967: Captain Max C. Brestel, United States Air Force, a pilot assigned to the 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing at Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base, was flying a Republic F-105D-31-RE Thunderchief fighter-bomber, serial number 62-4284. His call sign was “Kangaroo 03.” During an attack on the Thai Nguyen Steel Mill, the single most heavily-defended target in North Vietnam, Captain Brestel engaged and shot down two enemy MiG-17 fighters.

This was the first time during the Vietnam War that an American pilot shot down two enemy airplanes during the same mission. The following description is from an official U.S. Air Force history:

Brestel’s aerial victories became the first USAF double kill of the conflict. At the time, he was flying the third Thunderchief in a flight of four and was tasked with suppressing flak in and around the Thai Nguyen steel mill and supporting other F-105 strike forces. Brestel relates how his two victories came about:

“We proceeded to the target via the Red River to a point north of the target, where we turned south. Numerous SAM and MiG warnings had been transmitted. Also, the 388th Wing, which had preceded us on the target, had encountered MiGs.

“As the flight pulled up to gain altitude for delivering our ordnance, I sighted two MiG-21s making a pass at Col. Gast [Lt. Col. Philip C. Gast, the flight leader] from his 4 o’clock position. I was in lead’s 8:30 o’clock position. I broke toward the MiGs and passed across his tail. They broke off the attack and I continued on my dive delivery. Flak was normal for the area. We delivered our ordnance as planned.”

As the flight pulled out at an altitude of approximately 3,000 to 4,000 feet, Gast called MiGs at 2 o’clock low. ‘Let’s go get them,’ he urged. ‘I’m with you,’ Brestel acknowledged as he spotted the flight of four MiG-17s in staggered trail heading north at approximately 1,500 feet. Behind them was another flight of four. Brestel’s narrative continues:

“I observed all MiGs light their afterburners. Colonel Gast began firing at one of the first two MiGs. I observed the second two begin to fire at Colonel Gast. I called a break and closed within 300–500 feet of the number four MiG. I fired an approximate 2½ second burst at him as he was in a right turn. I observed hits in the wing and fuselage. The MiG reversed into a left turn. I fired another 2½ second burst into him, observing hits in the left wing, fuselage and canopy, and a fire in the left wing root. The aircraft rolled over and hit the ground under my left wing. I then closed 300 feet on the number three MiG, which was firing at Colonel Gast. He was in a right turn and again I fired a 2½ second burst, observing hits in wing, fuselage, etc. He also reversed to the left and I fired another 2½ second burst, observing more hits and pieces flying off the aircraft. The aircraft appeared to flip back up over my canopy and disappeared behind me. we broke off the engagement at this time after approximately 1½ to 2 minutes of combat. A SAM was fired at us and more flak as we exited the area.

“I know I destroyed the first MiG, as I saw him crash. I did not see the pilot bail out and doubt if he was alive, since hits were observed in the cockpit and the canopy broke up. My wingman, Lt. Weskamp [1st Lt. Robert L. Weskamp] also observed the MiG hit the ground.

“I feel I also destroyed the second MiG, as the range was the same and hits were observed in the same areas, i.e., fuselage, wings, etc. Also, his last maneuver could not be considered normal. The aircraft appeared to be in a violent pitch-up or tumble and out of control… However, because he pitched up over and behind me, I did not see him strike the ground.”

“Brestel was given credit for destroying both MiGs.”

— Aces and Aerial Victories: The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia 1965–1973, by R. Frank Futrell, William H. Greenhalgh, Carl Grubb, Gerard E. Hasselwander, Robert F. Jakob and Charles A. Ravenstein, Office of Air Force History, Headquarters USAF, 1976, Chapter II at Pages 44 and 45.

This former Egyptian Air Force Mikoyan-Gurevivch MiG-17F in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force is painted in the colors of the Vietnam Peoples' Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
This former Egyptian Air Force Mikoyan-Gurevivch MiG-17F in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force is painted in the colors of the Vietnam Peoples’ Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

Vietnamese sources identified one of the downed MiG-17 fighters as being of Z Group, Korean People’s Air Force, flown by Kim Quang Wook, who was killed.

Republic Aviation Corporation built 833 F-105 Thunderchief fighter bombers at its Farmingdale, New York factory. 610 of those were single-seat F-105Ds. The F-105D Thunderchief is 64 feet, 3 inches (19.583 meters) long with a wingspan of 34 feet, 11 inches (10.643 meters) and overall height of 19 feet, 8 inches (5.994 meters). It has an empty weight of 27,500 pounds (12,473.79 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 52,546 pounds (23,834.47 kilograms).

The Thunderchief  was powered by one Pratt & Whitney J75-P-19W engine. The J75 is a two-spool axial-flow afterburning turbojet with water injection. It has a 15-stage compressor section (8 low- and and 7 high-pressure stages) and 3-stage turbine section (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages.) The J75-P-19W is rated at 17,200 pounds of thrust (76.51 kilonewtons), and 26,500 pounds (117.88 kilonewtons) with afterburner. It is 20 feet (6.1 meters) long, 3 feet, 7.0 inches (1.092 meters) in diameter, and weighs 5,960 pounds (2,703 kilograms).

The maximum speed of the F-105D is 836 miles per hour (1,345 kilometers per hour) at Sea level and 1,420 miles per hour (2,285 kilometers per hour) at 38,000 feet (11,582 meters). The combat ceiling is 48,500 feet (14,783 meters) and combat range is 778 miles (1,252 kilometers).

The F-105D is armed with one 20 mm M61A1 Vulcan rotary cannon and 1,028 rounds of ammunition. It has an internal bomb bay and can carry bombs, missiles or fuel tanks on under wing and centerline hardpoints. The maximum bomb load consisted of 16 750-pound (340 kilogram) bombs.

The F-105 Thunderchief was a supersonic tactical fighter bomber rather than an air superiority fighter. Still, during the Vietnam War, F-105s shot down 27 enemy MiG fighters. 24 of those were shot down with the Thunderchief’s Vulcan cannon.

Two Air Force sergeants load belts of linked 20-millimeter cannon shells for the F-105's M61 six-barreled Gatling gun. (U.S. Air Force)
Two Air Force sergeants load belts of linked 20-millimeter cannon shells for the F-105’s M61 six-barreled Gatling gun. (U.S. Air Force)

Of the 833 F-105s, 395 were lost during the Vietnam War. 334 were shot down, mostly by antiaircraft guns or missiles, and 17 by enemy fighters. Another 61 were lost due to accidents. The 40% combat loss is indicative of the extreme danger of the missions these airplanes were engaged in.

62-4284 is the only F-105 Thunderchief officially credited with shooting down three enemy fighters during the Vietnam War. Flown by Captain Gene I. Basel, also of the 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 62-4284 was “Bison 02” on an attack against the Canal de Rapides Bridge, 27 October 1967. Captain Basel shot down a MiG-17 with the Thunderchief’s 20 mm cannon. The VPAF pilot ejected.

Having survived the Vietnam War, 62-4284 crashed during a peacetime training mission, 4 miles south west of Clayton, Oklahoma, 12 March 1976. The pilot, Captain Larry L. Kline, 465th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Hill Air Force Base, Utah, was killed.

Republic F-105D-31-RE Thunderchief 62-4284. Captain Max C. Brestel shot down two VPAF MiG-17 fighters with this airplane, 10 March 1967.
Republic F-105D-10-RE Thunderchief 60-5384 is similar in appearance to the F-105D flown by Captain Max C. Brestel  when he shot down two VPAF MiG-17 fighters, 10 March 1967. This airplane was shot down by an AA-2 Atoll missile fired from a MiG-21 over North Vietnam, 4 February 1968. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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10 March 1967

Major Merlyn H. Dethlefsen and Captain Kevin A. Gilroy
Major Merlyn H. Dethlefsen and Captain Kevin A. Gilroy

MEDAL OF HONOR

MAJOR MERLYN H. DETHLEFSEN, UNITED STATES AIR FORCE

Major Merlyn H. Detlefsen, U.S. Air Force, after his100th mission. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Merlyn H. Dethlefsen, U.S. Air Force, after his 100th mission. (U.S. Air Force)

The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Major Merlyn Hans Dethlefsen, United States Air Force, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, near Thai Nguyen, North Vietnam, on 10 March 1967. Major Dethlefsen was one of a flight of F-105 aircraft engaged in a fire suppression mission designed to destroy a key anti-aircraft defensive complex containing surface-to-air missiles (SAM), an exceptionally heavy concentration of anti-aircraft artillery, and other automatic weapons. The defensive network was situated to dominate the approach and provide protection to an important North Vietnam industrial center that was scheduled to be attacked by fighter bombers immediately after the strike by Major Dethlefsen’s flight. In the initial attack on the defensive complex the lead aircraft was crippled, and Major Dethlefsen’s aircraft was extensively damaged by the intense enemy fire. Realizing that the success of the impending fighter bomber attack on the center now depended on his ability to effectively suppress the defensive fire, Major Dethlefsen ignored the enemy’s overwhelming firepower and the damage to his aircraft and pressed his attack. Despite a continuing hail of anti-aircraft fire, deadly surface-to-air missiles, and counterattacks by MIG interceptors, Major Dethlefsen flew repeated close range strikes to silence the enemy defensive positions with bombs and cannon fire. His action in rendering ineffective the defensive SAM and anti-aircraft artillery sites enabled the ensuing fighter bombers to strike successfully the important industrial target without loss or damage to their aircraft, thereby appreciably reducing the enemy’s ability to provide essential war material. Major Dethlefsen’s consummate skill and selfless dedication to this significant mission were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.

General Orders: GB-51, February 8, 1968

Action Date: 10-Mar-67

Service: Air Force

Rank: Major

Company: 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron

Regiment: 355th Tactical Fighter Wing

Division: Takhli Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand

AIR FORCE CROSS

CAPTAIN KEVIN A. GILROY, UNITED STATES AIR FORCE

Captain Kevin A. Gilroy, U.S. Air Force, after his 100th mission. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Kevin A. Gilroy, U.S. Air Force, after his 100th mission. (U.S. Air Force)

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pleasure in presenting the Air Force Cross to Captain Kevin A. Gilroy (AFSN: 0-3109656), United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism while serving as Electronics Warfare Officer of an F-105 aircraft of the with the 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, Takhli Royal Thai Air Base, engaged in a pre-strike, missile suppression mission against the Thai Nguyen Steel Works in North Vietnam on 10 March 1967. On that date, Captain Gilroy guided his pilot in attacking and destroying a surface-to-air missile installation protecting one of the most important industrial complexes in North Vietnam. He accomplished this feat even after formidable hostile defenses had destroyed the lead aircraft and had crippled a second. Though his own aircraft suffered extensive battle damage and was under constant attack by MiG interceptors, anti-aircraft artillery, automatic weapons, and small arms fire, Captain Gilroy aligned several ingenious close range attacks on the hostile defenses at great risk to his own life. Due to his technical skill, the attacks were successful and the strike force was able to bomb the target without loss. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship and aggressiveness, Captain Gilroy has reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

General Orders: Department of the Air Force, Special Order GB-297 (August 15, 1967)

Action Date: 10-Mar-67

Service: Air Force

Rank: Captain

Company: 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron

Regiment: 355th Tactical Fighter Wing

Division: Takhli Royal Thai Air Base

SILVER STAR

MAJOR KENNETH HOLMES BELL, UNITED STATES AIR FORCE

Brigadier General Kenneth H. Bell, U.S. Air Force, then a major, was Captain Dethlefsen's wingman at Thuy Nyugen, 10 March 1967.
Brigadier General Kenneth H. Bell, U.S. Air Force, then a major, was Captain Dethlefsen’s wingman at Thai Nyugen, 10 March 1967. (U.S. Air Force)

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 8, 1918 (amended by act of July 25, 1963), takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to Major Kenneth Holmes Bell (AFSN: FR-25966), United States Air Force, for gallantry in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force while serving as Pilot of an F-105 Thunderchief of the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, Takhli Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, PACIFIC Air Forces, in Southeast Asia on 10 March 1967. On that date, Major Bell was a member of a surface-to-air missile suppression flight in support of a strike against a large industrial complex. Major Bell and his flight, with great courage, flew through anti-aircraft defenses which were so dense that the flight leader was downed, and all three of the remaining flight members’ aircraft were damaged. Major Bell’s aircraft was damaged to the extent that aircraft control was marginal. However, he elected to remain in the target area flying through the hail of flak three more times until he had the key missile installation shattered and burning from a series of vicious attacks. Throughout the entire flight, Major Bell exhibited complete disregard for his personal welfare in the face of overwhelming odds. By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Major Bell has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

General Orders: Headquarters, Pacific Air Force, Special Orders No. G-1014 (July 15, 1967)

Action Date: 10-Mar-67

Service: Air Force

Rank: Major

Company: 355th Tactical Fighter Wing

Division: Takhli Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand

A Republic F-105F Thunderchief Wild Weasel III, flown by Captain Merlyn F. Dethlefsen and Captain Kevin A. Gilroy. (U.S. Air Force)
A Republic F-105F Thunderchief Wild Weasel III, flown by Captain Merlyn F. Dethlefsen and Captain Kevin A. Gilroy. (U.S. Air Force)

The Republic F-105 Thunderchief was a Mach 2+ tactical fighter bomber. The F-105F is a two-place variant, flown by a pilot and a weapons system operator. It’s high speed, low radar cross-section and heavy bomb load capacity made it a good candidate for the “Wild Weasel” mission.

The F-105F was 69 feet, 7-1/3 inches  (21.218 meters) long with a wingspan of 34 feet, 11¼ inches (10.649 meters) and overall height of 20 feet, 2 inches (6.147 meters). It had a maximum weight of 54,027 pounds ( kilograms).

The Thunderchief  was powered by one Pratt & Whitney J75-P-19W engine. The J75 is a two-spool axial-flow afterburning turbojet with water injection. It has a 15-stage compressor section (8 low- and and 7 high-pressure stages) and 3-stage turbine section (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages.) The J75-P-19W is rated at 17,200 pounds of thrust (76.51 kilonewtons), and 26,500 pounds (117.88 kilonewtons) with afterburner. It is 20 feet (6.1 meters) long, 3 feet, 7.0 inches (1.092 meters) in diameter, and weighs 5,960 pounds (2,703 kilograms).

The F-105F had a cruising speed of 596 miles per hour (959.2 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 876 miles per hour (1,410 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 1,386 miles per hour (2,231 kilometers per hour) at 38,000 feet (11,582 meters). Its service ceiling was 52,000 feet (15,850 meters) and range, with external fuel tanks, was 2,070 miles (3,331 kilometers).

The Thunderchief is armed with one M61A1 Vulcan 20 mm six-barrel rotary cannon with 1,028 rounds of ammunition, and it can carry up to 14,000 pounds (6,350 kilograms) of ordnance.

Of the 833 F-105s built by Republic Aviation Corporation at its Farmindale, New York, factory, 395 were lost during the Vietnam War. 334 were shot down, mostly by antiaircraft guns or missiles, and 17 by enemy fighters. Another 61 were lost due to accidents. The 40% combat loss is indicative of the extreme danger of the missions these airplanes were engaged in.

Captains Merlyn Dethlefsen and Kevin Gilroy flew this Republic F-105F-1-RE Thunderchief on 10 March 1967. It is seen here at Nellis AFB, Nevada, 29 August 1966. 63-8352 was destroyed by fire after running off the runway at Udorn RTAFB, 8 December 1969. The pilot, Major Carl R. Rice, was killed.
Captains Merlyn Dethlefsen and Kevin Gilroy flew this Republic F-105F-1-RE Thunderchief on 10 March 1967. It is seen here at Nellis AFB, Nevada, 29 August 1966. 63-8352 was destroyed by fire after running off the runway at Udorn RTAFB, 8 December 1969. The pilot, Major Carl R. Rice, was killed.
Republic F-105F-1-RE Thunderchief photographed in Southeast Asia, circa 1966. (U.S. Air Force)
Major James L. Davis and Captain Phillip Walker with Republic F-105F-1-RE Thunderchief 63-8352, photographed at Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, 12 February 1968, after they completed their 100th combat mission. The F-105 is now carrying the tail code RM, indicating the 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron. (From the collection of Colonel James L. Davis, United States Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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