Tag Archives: Aerial Combat

Medal of Honor, Major Leo Keith Thorsness, United States Air Force

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 02 ¹ 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.

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

¹ Radio call sign for aircraft 2.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 April 1943

Lockheed P-38G-1-LO Lightning 42-12723 at Wayne County Airport, Detroit, Michigan, September 1942. (Library of Congress)

18 April 1943: Acting on Top Secret decrypted radio traffic, eighteen Lockheed P-38G Lightning twin-engine fighters of the 339th Fighter Squadron, 347th Fighter Group, 13th Air Force, flew the longest interception mission of World War II—over 600 miles (966 kilometers)—from their base at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands to Bougainville.

A Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” twin-engine medium bomber takes off from Rabaul, 1942.
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, IJN

Arriving at the planned intercept point at 0934, they were just in time to see two Japanese Mitsubishi G4M1 “Betty” long range bombers escorted by Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighters.

The Americans engaged the Japanese in a massive aerial dog fight. Both Bettys were shot down. One crashed on the island and another went into the sea.

One of the the two bombers, T1-323, carried Admiral (Kaigun Taishō) Isoroku Yamamoto, Commander-in-Chief, Combined Fleet. The admiral and several of his senior staff were killed in the attack.

Admiral Yamamoto had planned the attack on the United States bases at Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941. His death was a serious blow to the Empire of Japan.

Pilots of the 339th Fighter Squadron with Lockheed P-38G Lightning, Guadalcanal, 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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4 April 1945

Ford B-24M 44-50838 blown in half by an Me 262, 4 April 1945. (U.S. Air Force)
Ford B-24M 44-50838 blown in half by an Me 262, 4 April 1945. (U.S. Air Force)

4 April 1945: 0928 at 51°31′ N., 10°18′ E, east of Hamburg, Germany, a Messerschmitt Me 262 A-1 Schwalbe twin-engine jet fighter shot down this B-24 with an R4M rocket.¹

The four-engine bomber was a Ford B-24M-10-FO Liberator, serial number 44-50838—a very long range heavy bomber assigned to the 714th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 448th Bombardment Group (Heavy), and based at RAF Seething (USAAF Station 146), Norwich, England.

No parachutes were seen.²

Germany surrendered 31 days after this photograph was taken.

Lieutenant Robert L. Mains’ crew during combat training. Standing, left to right: Corporal Charles H. Daman, Nose Gunner; Corporal Charles E. Cupp, Jr., Radio Operator; George S. Alexander, Top Turret Gunner; (unknown); Antonio Munoz, Jr., and (unknown). Kneeling, (Unknown); 1st Lieutenant Robert L. Mains, Aircraft Commander; 1st Lieutenant Allen L. Lake, Navigator; and (Unknown). Daman, Cupp, Alexander, Lake and Mains were aboard 44-50838 when it was shot down. (American Air Museum in Britain)
1st Lieutenant Robert L. Mains, aircraft commander of B-24M 44-50838, was killed in action, 4 April 1945. His remains, identified by DNA and physical evidence, were returned to the United States in October 2017, and interred at Calverton National Cemetery, Calverton, New York. (Department of Defense)
Oberleutnant Rudolf Rademacher (1913–1953)

¹ Ford B-24M-10-FO Liberator 44-50838 was shot down with an R4M rocket fired from a Messerschmitt Me 262 A-1 twin-engine jet fighter, flown by Oberleutnant Rudolf Rademacher of Gruppe II, Jagdgeschwader 7 (11./JG 7), based at Parchim, Germany. Rudi Rademacher was a veteran of more than 500 combat missions, credited with at least 97 victories (and as many as 126), including 16 four-engine heavy bombers.

² TDiA has been informed by his grandaughter that Radio Operator, Technical Sergeant Charles E. Cupp, Jr., did survive. He was able to escape from the doomed bomber through its bomb bay. He was captured and held as a Prisoner of War.

³ MISSING AIR CREW REPORT:

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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Victoria Cross, Lieutenant Alan Jerrard, Royal Flying Corps

Second Lieutenant Alan Jerrard, South Staffordshire Regiment, British Army, 1916. © IWM (Q 68087)

30 March 1918: Near Borgo del Molino, Italy, Lieutenant Alan Jerrard, No. 66 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps,¹ was flying a Sopwith Camel, serial number B5648, while on an intruder mission with two other pilots, Captain Peter Carpenter, M.C., and Lieutenant Harold Ross Eycott-Martin. Jerrard engaged a group of Kaiserliche und Königliche Luftfahrtruppen (Austrian Air Force) Albatros D.III fighters:

Air Ministry,

1st May, 1918

     His Majesty the KING has been graciously pleased to award the Victoria Cross to the undermentioned officers of the Royal Air Force, for services displaying outstanding bravery:—

Lt. Alan Jerrard, Royal Air Force (formerly of the South Staffordshire Regiment)

When on an offensive patrol with two other officers he attacked five enemy aeroplanes and shot down one in flames, following it down within one hundred feet of the ground.

He then attacked an enemy aerodrome from a height of only fifty feet from the ground, and, engaging single-handed some nineteen machines, which were either landing or attempting to take off, succeeded in destroying one of them, which crashed on the aerodrome. A large number of machines attacked him, and whilst thus fully occupied he observed that one of the pilots of his patrol was in difficulties. He went immediately to his assistance, regardless of his own personal safety, and destroyed a third enemy machine.

Fresh enemy aeroplanes continued to rise from the aerodrome, which he attacked one after another, and only retreated, still engaged with five enemy machines, when ordered to do so by his patrol leader. Although apparently wounded, this very gallant officer turned repeatedly, and attacked single-handed the pursuing machines, until he was eventually overwhelmed by numbers and driven to the ground.

Lt. Jerrard had greatly distinguished himself on four previous occasion, within a period of twenty-three days, in destroying enemy machines, displaying bravery and ability of the very highest order.

—Third Supplement to The London Gazette of Tuesday, Number 30663, at Page 5287

The Victoria Cross is the United Kingdom’s highest award for gallantry. It is awarded “for most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy.”

Both Captain Carpenter and Lieutenant Eycott-Ross were awarded the Military Cross for their actions on this date. Lieutenant Jerrard was presented the Victoria Cross by George V at Buckingham Palace, 5 April 1919.

Wreckage of Lieutenant Alan Gjerrard’s Sopwith Camel, B5648, after being shot down in Italy, 30 March 1918. (Photo from “Sopwith Camel” by Jon Gutman, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2012, at Page 48)

Jerrard’s Sopwith Camel had been shot down by Hauptmann Benno Fiala Ritter von Fernbrugg, an Austrian Air Force ace. This was von Fernbrugg’s fourteenth aerial victory.

Second Lieutenant Alan Jerrard, South Staffordshire Regiment, British Army, circa 1916. © IWM (Q 67242)

Alan Jerrard was born 3 December 1897 at Ladywell, Lewisham, southeast London, England. He was the son of Herbert Jerrard, at that time the master of mathematics at St. Dunstan’s College, Catford, London, and Jane Remington Hobbs Jerrard. He attended Bishop Vesey’s Grammar School, Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, where his father was now headmaster. He went on to Oundle School in Northamptonshire, then attended the University of Birmingham.

In 1915, Jerrard joined the British Army. He was appointed a cadet with the Birmingham University Contingent, Senior Division, officers Training Corps. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the South Staffordshire Regiment, 2 January 1916.

On 16 August 1916, Second Lieutenant Jerrard transferred to the Royal Flying Corps to be trained as a fighter pilot. He completed flight training 14 June 1917. He received advanced training at London Colney. Jerrard  was promoted to lieutenant and was assigned to No. 19 Squadron, 24 July 1917.

Lieutenant Jerrard was flying a SPAD S.VII on his second combat patrol, 2 August 1917, near St. Marie Cappel. He attacked an enemy convoy, but then his engine failed. He crashed and was seriously injured. Rescued by Allied soldiers, he was initially hospitalized in France before being returned to England to recover.

Lt. Jerrard with a SPAD S.VII, 18 December 1917. (Daily Mail)

Lieutenant Jerrard was able to return to duty after six months. He joined No. 66 Squadron in Italy, 22 February 1918.

After being shot down on 30 March, Lieutenant Jerrard was held by Austria as a Prisoner of War at Salzburg. He was later able to escape and return to Allied lines.

Lieutenant Alan Jerrard, Royal Air Force, as a Prisoner of War, 1918. (Daily Mail)

Lieutenant Jerrard was officially credited with destroying three Albatros D.IIIs on 30 March 1918. In the previous weeks, he had also shot down two Aviatik Berg D.Is, an observation balloon, and another Albatross D.III.

In addition to the Victoria Cross, Lieutenant Jerrard was awarded the Medaglia di bronzo al Valore Militare (Bronze Medal for Military Valor) by the Kingdom of Italy. Imperial Russia awarded him the Imperatorskiy orden Sv. Anny (The Imperial Order of St. Anne, Third Degree, with Swords).

Lieutenant Jerrard remained in the Royal Air Force following the Armistice. He was granted a Permanent Commission as a Flying Officer, effective 1 August 1919. He served with a detachment at Murmansk, Russia, in 1919.

On 1 January 1926, Flying Officer Jerrard was promoted to the rank of Flight Lieutenant.

In June 1926, Flight Lieutenant Jerrard married Mrs. Eliza M.K. Low (née Eliza Maria Kathleen Woods), in St. Giles, Westminster, London.

Flight Lieutenant Jerrard retired from the Royal Air Force after eighteen years of military service. He was placed on the retired list on account of ill health, 24 August 1933.

Flight Lieutenant Alan Jerrard, V.C., died at Lyme Regis, Devon, 14 May 1968. His ashes were interred at the Uxbridge and Hillingdon Cemetery, Middlesex, along with those of his wife Eliza Maria Kathleen, who had died in 1961.

Lieutenant Alan Jerard, V.C., Royal Air Force, with his mother, 5 April 1919. (Daily Mail)
Medals of Flight Lieutenant Alan Jerrard, V.C., Royal Air Force, in The Lord Ashcroft Gallery of the Imperial War Museum. (Left to right) Victoria Cross; British War Medal 1914–1920; Victory Medal 1914–1919; King George Coronation Medal 1937; Queen Elizabeth Coronation Medal 1953; Knight, Order of St. Anne with Swords (Imperial Russia); and Medal of Military Valour (Kingdom of Italy).

¹ The Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service were combined to create the Royal Air Force, 1 April 1918.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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12 March 1967

McDonnell F-4D Phantom II 66-7554. (Boeing)
McDonnell F-4D-30-MC Phantom II 66-7533, the 2,000th Phantom. (Boeing)

12 March 1967: McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, St. Louis, Missouri, delivered the 2,000th F-4 Phantom II to the United States Air Force. F-4D-30-MC 66-7533, c/n 2062, was assigned to the 40th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 33rd Tactical Fighter Wing, at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.

On 26 May 1967, the personnel and equipment of the 40th TFS were transferred to the 8th Fighter Wing based in Thailand. The aircraft were deployed across the Pacific Ocean, 26–28 May, with flights to Hickam Air Force Base, Honolulu, Hawaii; Anderson Air Force Base, Guam; and Ubon-Rachitani Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand. On 25 July 1967, an additional twenty F-4Ds arrived at Ubon RTAFB, having been transferred from the 4th TFS. 66-7533 was included in this later group of Phantoms.¹

On 19 September 1967, the 2,000th Phantom II was being flown by Major Lloyd Warren Boothby and 1st Lieutenant George H. McKinney, Jr., of the 435th Tactical Fighter Squadron. Following a Rolling Thunder attack on railroad sidings at Trung Quang, about 10 miles (16.1 kilometers) north of Phúc Yên, 66-7533 was hit in the right wing by a 57 mm anti-aircraft cannon shell. The airplane was badly damaged but “Boots” Boothby fought to keep it under control for as long as possible. Finally, he and McKinney were forced to eject, having come within about 35 miles (56.3 kilometers) of their base.

At the time of its loss, 66-7533 had accumulated 155 flight hours on its airframe (TTAF).

Distinguished Flying Cross

For their airmanship in trying to save their airplane, Major Boothby and Lieutenant McKinney were each awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, which was presented to them by President Lyndon B. Johnson, 23 December 1967, in a pre-dawn ceremony at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base.

Lieutenant McKinney is quoted in USAF F-4 Phantom II MiG Killer 1965–1968:

“In the hail of AAA over the target seven miles north of Hanoi on that day was a ‘Golden BB’ which opened a three-foot hole in the Phantom II’s right wing, froze the right spoiler full up, immediately drained two of the three hydraulic systems and generally turned the day to crap! I mumbled an egress heading (and a few dozen prayers) while ‘Boots’ used every increment of incredible aviation instincts, honed by countless hours at the edge of the envelope, to keep the F-4 airborne and headed away from the ‘Hanoi Hilton.’ Doing so required full manual depression of the left rudder pedal, and holding the stick within one inch of the left limit of travel.

“Despite the physical exertion, coupled with the precise touch necessary to remain airborne as the Black River receded behind the crippled Phantom II and rescue became at least a possibility, ‘Boots” managed to announce to the world on ‘Guard’ channel that they had so many warning lights lit up that it ‘looks like we’ve won a free game at the arcade.’ “

USAF F-4 Phantom II MiG Killer 1965–1968, by Peter E. Davies, Osprey Publishing, 2004, at Page 75.

[A number of sources state that Lt. McKinney did not survive the ejection, but this is incorrect. Both pilots were rescued by helicopter. McKinney went on to earn credit for 2.5 kills as a Weapons System Officer, and returned for another combat tour as an F-4 aircraft commander.]

Boothby
Lieutenant Colonel Lloyd Warren Boothby, United States Air Force

WASHINGTON (AFPN) — I’d hate to see an epitaph on a fighter pilot’s tombstone that says, “I told you I needed training”. . . How do you train for the most dangerous game in the world by being as safe as possible? When you don’t let a guy train because it’s dangerous, you’re saying, “Go fight those lions with your bare hands in that arena, because we can’t teach you to learn how to use a spear. If we do, you might cut your finger while you’re learning.” And that’s just about the same as murder. —Lt. Col. Lloyd “Boots” Boothby, April 17, 1931, to Nov. 26, 2006

That quote may seem a little extreme, but Colonel Boothby was referring to the Air Force’s urgent need to improve fighter tactics training, balanced against safety, but not at the expense of effectiveness.

Colonel Boothby, who passed away Nov. 26, was an experienced combat pilot and an academic instructor in the 57th Fighter Weapons Wing in the early 1970s. He looked at the Air Force’s declining kill ratio from Korea to Vietnam which was 2.4 to 1 in Vietnam compared to 8 to 1 in the Korean War. He led the effort to fix it. This involved several key steps, starting with a thorough analysis of the engagements over Vietnam.

Colonel Boothby led a series of studies at the Tactical Fighter Weapons Center, which were part of Project Red Baron, examining each of the war’s air-to-air battles. While the subsequent reports noted many accomplishments and even more lessons learned, they highlighted several significant trends. The colonel’s team discovered that pilots of multi-role fighters tended to have such a diverse range of missions that they seldom had a chance to master air combat tactics. They also noted pilots who were shot down rarely saw the enemy aircraft or even knew they were being engaged.

Additionally, few U.S. pilots, before flying into combat, had any experience against the equipment, tactics or capabilities of the enemy’s smaller, highly maneuverable fighters.

In short, the Red Baron Reports called for “realistic training (that) can only be gained through study of, and actual engagements with, possessed enemy aircraft or realistic substitutes.”

Based on this report and Colonel Boothby’s persuasiveness to get himself and Capt. Roger Wells access to an intelligence organization’s restricted collection of Soviet equipment, training manuals and technical data, they developed the dissimilar air combat training, or DACT, program to meet the Tactical Air Command’s initiative of “Readiness through Realism.”

Under the DACT program, Air Force officials had some T-38s painted with Soviet-style paint schemes and flew them based on adopted Soviet tactics.

Northrop F-5E Tiger II 74-01561 of the 64th Fighter Weapons Squadron, 57th Fighter Weapons Wing, in October 1976. (U.S. Air Force)

Because of his combat experience, academic instructor background, and involvement in Project Red Baron and in developing the DACT program, Colonel Boothby served as the first aggressor squadron’s commander when the 64th Fighter Weapons Squadron activated Oct. 15, 1972.

As an instructor, Colonel Boothby proved himself an effective teacher who relished the attention of his captive audience. Ever-animated and quick with a joke or “fighter” story to make a point, he told the pilots he was instructing what they needed to know to succeed. These qualities ensured his students’ attention remained spellbound and eager.

One former student recalled one of the colonel’s more popular attention steps. In typical fighter pilot stance, using his hands to represent a dogfight, he would spray lighter fluid from his mouth across his right hand (palming a lighter at the time) and literally flame the left hand and wristwatch bogie. He generally walked away with a few singed hairs on his hand, but his students received a magnificent visual demonstration of the seriousness of air combat.

Such object lessons ensured this charismatic instructor’s students learned and retained the knowledge they might need to save their lives one day.

Upon learning of Colonel Boothby’s death recently, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley noted:

“He. . . had an impact on how we do business and how we think about this air combat work. Folks out there like [Colonel Richard] Moody Suter and Boots Boothby have left a true legacy. I know one Texas public school-educated, land grant college graduate, F-15 weapons officer, Fighter Weapons Instructor Course instructor and ex-57th Wing commander who has certainly benefited from folks like this.”

—Ellery Wallwork, Air Force History Office, 5 December 2006

Fred Straile (at far right) with the 2,000th Phantom, F-4D 66-7533. (Fred C. Straile collection)

¹ Mr. F.C. Straile informed me that he crewed McDonnell F-4D Phantom II 66-7533 with the 4th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, and transferred along with it to the 435th TFS at Ubon RTAFB. Thanks, Mr. Straile!

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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