Tag Archives: Republic F-105G Wild Weasel III

21 November 1970

"The Raid, Blue Boy Element" by Michael Nikiporenko. (Son Tay Raiders Association)
“The Raid, Blue Boy Element” by Michael Nikiporenko. In this painting, a USAF/Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant helicopter, 65-12785, from 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, call sign BANANA 01, has intentionally crash-landed inside the prison compound at 0219 to insert the BLUE BOY element of Green Berets. (Son Tay Raiders Association)

21 November 1970: Operation Kingpin was a mission to rescue 61 American prisoners of war at the Sơn Tây Prison Camp, 23 miles (37 kilometers) west of Hanoi, North Vietnam. There were over 12,000 North Vietnamese soldiers stationed within five miles of the prison. The ultra-secret mission was carried out by 56 U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers and 98 airmen aboard 28 aircraft.

Months of intelligence gathering, mission planning and meticulous training preceded the mission. Personnel were selected from more than 500 volunteers. Training was conducted at Duke Field, an auxiliary field at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. A full-size replica of the prison was constructed and live-fire training was conducted. Aircraft formations flew day and night, following the precise courses and distances that would be flown during the actual mission.

Originally planned for October, the mission had to be pushed back to November.

 Reconnaissance photograph showing the Sơn Tây prison and surrounding area. (U.S. Air Force)
Reconnaissance photograph showing the Sơn Tây prison and surrounding area. (U.S. Air Force)

Two Lockheed C-130E(I) Combat Talons (a special operations variant of the four-engine Hercules transport), call signs CHERRY 01 and CHERRY 02, each lead a formation of aircraft for the raid. The assault group, consisting of a Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant, 65-12785, (BANANA 01) and five Sikorsky HH-53B/C Super Jolly Green Giant helicopters (APPLE 01–05) carried the Special Forces team. The second formation was a strike group of five Douglas A-1E Skyraiders (PEACH 01–05) for close air support. The Combat Talons provided navigation and communications for their groups and illumination over the prison.

A C-130 Combat Talon leads the assault group during training at Duke Field, near Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, October–November 1970. (U.S. Air Force)
A C-130E Combat Talon leads the assault group during training at Duke Field, near Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, October–November 1970. (U.S. Air Force)
Soldiers of BLUE BOY element aboard the Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant, BANANA 01, at the start of Operation Kingpin. (Son Tay Raiders Association)
Rescue force enroute to Sơn Tây. (USAF 071120-F-6420S-002)

Because there was insufficient room to land a helicopter within the prison, it was planned to have BANANA 01, flown by Major Herbert D. Kalen and Lieutenant Colonel Herbert R. Zehnder, and carrying a 14-man assault team, BLUEBOY, crash-land inside the perimeter. The Special Forces soldiers were tasked to locate and protect the prisoners and to kill any guards that might interfere. The larger helicopters first fired on the guard towers with their miniguns and then landed their soldiers outside the prison. The A-1 Skyraiders bombed and strafed nearby foot and vehicle bridges to stop reinforcements from making their way to the prison.

Assault Element Blueboy

Once inside the prison, it was quickly discovered that there were no American POWs there. The assault forces then withdrew. The total time from the beginning to the end of the assault was just 26 minutes. One American soldier suffered a gunshot wound to the leg. The crew chief of BANANA 01 broke an ankle when it was hit by a falling fire extinguisher during the crash landing. As expected, BANANA 01 was written off. Between 100–200 North Vietnamese soldiers were killed.

A Sikorsky HH-53B Super Jolly Green Giant, illuminated by the flash of an exploding surface-to-air missile, leaves the Sơn Tây Prison, 21 November 1970. Banana 01, the Sikorsky HH-3E, is visible inside the prison compound. (Air University, United States Air Force)

During the withdrawal from the area, North Vietnam fired more than 36 surface-to-air missiles at the aircraft. None were hit, though one Republic F-105G Wild Weasel, 62-4436, call sign FIREBIRD 05, was damaged by a near miss. This aircraft ran out of fuel just short of its tanker rendezvous and the crew bailed out over Laos. They were rescued by Super Jolly Green Giants APPLE 04 and APPLE 05, after they had been refueled by an HC-130P Combat Shadow, LIME 02.

Although meticulously planned and carried out, the mission failed because the POWs had been moved to another prison camp, closer to Hanoi (“Camp Faith”). Three days after the raid on Sơn Tây, they were again moved, this time to the infamous Hanoi Hilton.

Jolly Green Giant

Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant 67-14709 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)
Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant 67-14709 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. This is the same type helicopter as BANANA 01. (U.S. Air Force)

Super Jolly Green Giant

This USAF/Sikorsky MH-53M Pave Low IV, 68-10357, a special operations combat search and rescue helicopter, was APPLE 01 on the Son Tay Raid, 21 November 1970. Flown by LCOL Warner A. Britton and MAJ Alfred C. Montream, it carried the command element for the raid. Built at Stratford, Connecticut as a HH-53C Super Jolly Green Giant, it was continuously upgraded over its service life, to MH-53E, MH-53J and finally MH-53M. It flew its last mission 28 March 2008 in Iraq. After 38 years of continuous front line service, Three Five Seven was retired to the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
This USAF/Sikorsky MH-53M Pave Low IV, 68-10357, a special operations combat search and rescue helicopter, was APPLE 01 on the Sơn Tây Raid, 21 November 1970. Flown by LCOL Warner A. Britton and MAJ Alfred C. Montream, it carried the command element for the raid. Built at Stratford, Connecticut, as a HH-53C Super Jolly Green Giant, it was continuously upgraded over its service life, to MH-53E, MH-53J and finally MH-53M. It flew its last mission 28 March 2008 in Iraq. After 38 years of continuous front line service, Three Five Seven was retired to the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

Combat Talon, Combat Shadow

This Lockheed MC-130E-LM Combat Talon I, serial number 64-0523, was CHERRY 01, leading the assault helicopters during the raid on the Sơn Tây prison. After 47 years of service and more than 23,500 flight hours, Five-Two-Three made its last flight, 22 June 2012. It is shown in this photograph taking off from its special operations base at Duke Field, near Eglin AFB, Florida, flying to Cannon AFB, New Mexico, where it will be placed on display. (U.S. Air Force)
This Lockheed MC-130E-LM Combat Talon I, serial number 64-0523, was CHERRY 01, leading the assault helicopters during the raid on the Sơn Tây prison. After 47 years of service and more than 23,500 flight hours, Five-Two-Three made its last flight, 22 June 2012. It is shown in this photograph taking off from its special operations base at Duke Field, near Eglin AFB, Florida, on its final flight. It is on static display at Cannon AFB, New Mexico. LIME 02, HC-130P-130-LM Combat Shadow 65-0991, is also displayed at Cannon. (U.S. Air Force)

Skyraider

This Douglas A-1E Skyraider, 52-132649, was transferred from the U.S. Navy to the U.S. Air Force in 1952. In 1966, it was flown by Major Bernard Fisher when he rescued another pilot, an act of heroism for which Major Fisher was awarded the Medal of Honor. This Skyraider was restored by the National Museum of the United States Air Force and is in its permanent collection at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)
This Douglas A-1E Skyraider, 52-132649, was transferred from the U.S. Navy to the U.S. Air Force in 1952. In 1966, it was flown by Major Bernard Fisher when he rescued another pilot, an act of heroism for which Major Fisher was awarded the Medal of Honor. This Skyraider was restored by the National Museum of the United States Air Force and is in its permanent collection at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. It is the same type aircraft as PEACH 01–05. (U.S. Air Force)

Wild Weasel

Republic F-105G Wild Weasel 63-8320 (converted from an F-105-1-RE Thunderchief) at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. This is the same type aircraft as the F-105G lost on the Sơn Tây Raid, 21 November 1970.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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2 March 1978

Republic F-105F-1-RE Thunderchief (converted to F-105G Wild Weasel III) 63-8321, 561st TFS, 35th TFW, at George AFB, Victorville, California. (Image from Michael Klaver Collection at www.thexhunters.com)
Republic F-105F-1-RE Thunderchief (converted to F-105G Wild Weasel III) 63-8321, 561st TFS, 35th TFW, at George AFB, Victorville, California. (Image from Michael Klaver Collection at www.thexhunters.com)

2 March 1978: Major Charles Thomas Fulop and First Lieutenant William A. Stone departed George Air Force Base, Victorville, California, in a Republic F-105G Thunderchief, call sign “Thud 71.” Their mission was a routine instrument training flight, making instrument approaches and departures at NAS Point Mugu on the southern California coast, then return to George AFB. Their airplane, Republic F-105G 63-8321, was built as an F-105F-1-RE, but converted to an F-105G Wild Weasel III, designed to locate and attack anti-aircraft missile sites.

The weather surrounding Point Mugu was poor, with heavy clouds, rain and fog. Thud 71 made an instrument approach to the airfield and then initiated a missed approach, a normal procedure for a training flight. However, while climbing out, the pilot, Major Fulop, radioed Mugu Approach Control that he had a problem and requested an immediate return to George AFB. His request was approved.

Approach Control then lost the fighter bomber’s radar transponder signal. Fulop declared an emergency, and requested an immediate return to Point Mugu for landing. He stated that the altimeter had failed and that he was trying to climb above the clouds.

Moments later, witnesses in Thousand Oaks and Newbury Park saw the F-105 diving out of the overcast. Major Fulop initiated the ejection sequence for the Electronics Warfare Officer, Lieutenant Stone, in the back seat. Stone was ejected and parachuted to safety. he suffered a broken arm.

The witnesses said that the pilot was obviously steering the Thunderchief away from homes surrounding the open space of Wildwood Regional Park. Thud 71 crashed on the side of Hill Canyon. The airplane exploded on impact and Major Fulop was killed.

The crash site is less than two miles (three kilometers) from where I am now sitting.

Major Charles T. Fulop, United States Air Force, with his Republic F-105G Thunderchief at George Air Force Base, california.
Major Charles Thomas Fulop, United States Air Force, 561st Tactical Fighter Squadron, 35th Tactical Fighter Wing, with his Republic F-105G Thunderchief at George Air Force Base, California. (www.thexhunters.com)

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. Its high speed, low radar cross-section and heavy bomb load capacity made it a good candidate for the “Wild Weasel” mission.

The F-105F/G was 67 feet (20.422 meters) long with a wingspan of 34 feet, 11 inches (10.643 meters) and overall height of 20 feet, 2 inches (6.147 meters). It had a maximum weight of 54,580 pounds (24,757 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-105G has a cruising speed of 596 miles per hour (959.2 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 1,386 miles per hour (2,230.6 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling is 52,000 feet (15,849.6 meters) and range, with external fuel tanks, is 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.

65 F-105Fs were converted to the F-105G Wild Weasel III configuration. Republic Aviation Corporation built 833 F-105 Thunderchief fighter bombers at its Farmingdale, New York, factory. 334 of them were lost in combat during the Vietnam War.

Thud 71’s sister ship, Republic F-105G Thunderchief 63-8320, shot down three enemy MiG fighters. It is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

Republic F-105F-1-RE Thunderchief (converted to F-105G Wild Weasel III) 63-8320 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB. (U.S. Air Force)
Republic F-105F-1-RE Thunderchief (converted to F-105G Wild Weasel III) 63-8320 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB. (U.S. Air Force)

Charles Thomas Fulop was born 6 October 1946 at Barberton, Ohio. He was the second son of Louis James Fulop and Elizabeth Theresa Ittes Fulop. He attended Miami University, where he was a member of the Delta Chi fraternity, graduating in 1968. He joined the United States Air Force 14 May 1969.

On 20 December 1969, he married Miss Cheryl P. Lewis at Sacramento, California. They would have two daughters.

Major Fulop was buried in the Veteran’s Court at Saint Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, Sacramento, California.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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