Tag Archives: Silver Star

19 June 1968

Lieutenant Clyde Everett Lassen, United States Navy
Lieutenant Clyde Everett Lassen, United States Navy

The MEDAL OF HONOR to

Lieutenant Clyde E. Lassen, United States Navy

For service as set forth in the following

CITATION

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty on 19 June 1968 as pilot and aircraft commander of a search and rescue helicopter, attached to Helicopter Support Squadron Seven, Detachment One Hundred Four, embarked in USS Preble (DLG 15), during operations against enemy forces in North Vietnam.

Launched shortly after midnight to attempt the rescue of two downed aviators, Lieutenant (then Lieutenant, Junior Grade) Lassen skillfully piloted his aircraft over unknown and hostile terrain to a steep, tree-covered hill on which the survivors had been located.

Although enemy fire was being directed at the helicopter, he initially landed in a clear area near the base of the hill, but, due to the dense undergrowth, the survivors could not reach the helicopter. With the aid of flare illumination, Lieutenant Lassen successfully accomplished a hover between two trees at the survivor’s position. Illumination was abruptly lost as the last of the flares were expended, and the helicopter collided with a tree, commencing a sharp descent.

Expertly righting his aircraft and maneuvering clear, Lieutenant Lassen remained in the area, determined to make another rescue attempt, and encouraged the downed aviators while awaiting resumption of flare illumination. After another unsuccessful, illuminated, rescue attempt, and with his fuel dangerously low and his aircraft significantly damaged, he launched again and commenced another approach in the face of the continuing enemy opposition.

When flare illumination was again lost, Lieutenant Lassen, fully aware of the dangers in clearly revealing his position to the enemy, turned on his landing lights and completed the landing. On this attempt, the survivors were able to make their way to the helicopter. Enroute to the coast, Lieutenant Lassen encountered and successfully evaded additional hostile antiaircraft fire and, with fuel for only five minutes of flight remaining, landed safely aboard USS Jouett (DLG 29).

His courageous and daring actions, determination, and extraordinary airmanship in the face of great risk sustain and enhance the finest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

 

Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Clyde Everett Lassen was the Officer in Charge of Detachment 104 of Helicopter Support Squadron SEVEN (HC-7), the “Sea Devils,” aboard USS Preble (DLG-15). The assignment was Combat Search and Rescue.

McDonnell F-4J-31-MC Phantom II, Bu. No. 153856, of Fighter Squadron Thirty-Three (VF-33) lands aboard USS America (CVA-66) circa 1968. This Phantom is a squadron mate of Root Beer 210. (U.S.Navy)
McDonnell F-4J-31-MC Phantom II, Bu. No. 153856, of Fighter Squadron Thirty-Three (VF-33) “Tarsiers,” lands aboard USS America (CVA-66) circa 1968. This Phantom is a squadron mate of Root Beer 210. (U.S.Navy)

On the night of 18/19 June 1968, a flight of three aircraft from the aircraft carrier USS America (CV-66) were on a bombing mission over North Vietnam. “Root Beer 210” was a McDonnell Douglas F-4J-33-MC Phantom II, Bu. No. 155546, flown by Lieutenant Commander John “Claw” Holtzclaw and Lieutenant Commander John A. “Zeke” Burns. Shortly after midnight, two SA-2 surface to air missiles were fired at the Phantom. Holtzclaw and Burns evaded them, but a third missile detonated very close to the fighter bomber, destroying the outer one-third of the right wing. With their airplane critically damaged and on fire, the two naval aviators were forced to eject over enemy territory. They parachuted into a rice paddy and could hear enemy soldiers talking nearby. Burns had suffered a broken leg as well as other injuries.

USS Preble (DLG-15)
USS Preble (DLG-15), a Farragut-class guided missile frigate. (U.S. Navy)

Aboard the guided missile frigate USS Preble (DLG-15), Lieutenant (junior grade) Clyde Lassen and his flight crew were awakened and assigned to rescue the crew of Rootbeer 210, 70 miles (113 kilometers) away in total darkness. Lassen and his co-pilot, Lieutenant (j.g.) LeRoy Cook and gunners Aviation Electrician’s Mate 2nd Class (AE2) Bruce Dallas and Aviation Machinist’s Mate 3rd Class (ADJ3) Don West, took off from Preble at 0022 hours aboard their Kaman SH-2A Seasprite helicopter, call sign “Clementine Two,” and were vectored by radar to the location of the downed aircrew. The glow of the burning Phantom could be seen from 30 miles (48 kilometers) away. They arrived on scene at 0141 hours. Holtzclaw and Burns were in immediate need of rescue as the enemy was closing in.

The crew of Clementine 2, left to right, Lt. (j.g.) Clyde E. Lassen, AE2 Bruce Dallas, ADJ3 Don West, Lt. (j.g.) LeRoy Cook. (U.S. Navy)
The crew of Clementine Two, left to right, Lt. (j.g.) Clyde E. Lassen, AE2 Bruce Dallas, ADJ3 Don West, Lt. (j.g.) C. LeRoy Cook. (U.S. Navy)

Holtzclaw and Burns were on a hillside covered with very tall trees, making it impossible for the Seasprite to land. Parachute flares dropped by supporting aircraft illuminated the area. The pickup would have to be made using a “jungle penetrator” attached to the helicopter’s rescue hoist. But the single-engine helicopter was already fully loaded with its four-man crew and their weapons and ammunition. It could not pick up both fliers while hovering out of ground effect above the trees. Lassen ordered his co-pilot to dump fuel to reduce the weight.

As Lassen hovered into position to make the hoist pickup, the overhead flares went out leaving the jungle totally dark. Unable to see, Lassen collided with a tree causing damage to the horizontal stabilizer and the right side cabin door. He narrowly avoided a crash.

Clementine Two moved away while they awaited the arrival of another flare aircraft. They were soon engaged by enemy ground fire and the helicopter gunners returned fire with their M-60 machine guns.

On several occasions, Lassen landed the SH-2A in a rice paddy to pickup Holtzclaw and Burns, but enemy gunfire prevent them from reaching the helicopter, which repeatedly had to pull back.

Finally, the crew of Root Beer 210 found their way to the bottom of the slope and Clementine Two landed in a rice paddy about 60 yards (55 meters) away. A fierce firefight between the North Vietnamese soldiers and the gunners of the Navy helicopter took place. Lassen held the Seasprite in a hover to prevent it from sinking into the mud. The gunners jumped down to assist Holtzclaw and Burns aboard. As soon as they were loaded, Lassen immediately took off and left the area, climbing to 4,000 feet (1,220 meters) and headed toward the South China Sea, twenty miles (32 kilometers) away. They had only thirty minutes of fuel remaining. During the flight the right cabin door, which had been damaged when the helicopter hit the tree, came off, falling away into the darkness.

USS Jouett (DLG-29)
USS Jouett (DLG-29), a Belknap-class guided missile frigate. (U.S. Navy)

Clementine Two was too far away to make it back to Preble, so they turned toward USS Jouett (DLG-29). Commander Destroyer Squadron One, Captain Robert Hayes, commanding Jouett, turned his ship toward the shore and proceeded at full speed, turning on all the ship’s lights so that Lassen would be able to find it. Jouett came within 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) of the beach. With almost no fuel remaining Lassen made a straight-in approach and landing.

For his actions on 19 June 1968, Lieutenant Clyde Everett Lassen was awarded the Medal of Honor. Lieutenant (j.g.) LeRoy Cook received the Navy Cross. AE2 Bruce Dallas and AE3 Don West each received the Silver Star.

Kaman UH-2A Seasprite Bu. No. 149764, photographed November 1967. Lieutenant (j.g.) Clyde Everett Lassen flew this helicopter during the rescue of 19 January 1968. (U.S. Navy)
Kaman UH-2A Seasprite Bu. No. 149764, photographed November 1967. Lieutenant (j.g.) Clyde Everett Lassen flew this helicopter during the rescue of 19 January 1968. (U.S. Navy)

“Clementine Two” was a Kaman UH-2A Seasprite, Bu. No. 149764 (c/n 66). The UH-2A is 52 feet, 2 inches (15.90 meters) long, with an overall height of 13 feet, 6 inches (4.11 meters). The four-bladed main rotor has a diameter of 44 feet (13.41 meters). The helicopter’s empty weight is 6,100 pounds (2,127 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight is 10,200 pounds (4,627 kilograms). It is powered by a single General Electric T68-GE-8B turboshaft engine producing 1,525 shaft horsepower.

The Seasprite has a cruise speed of  120 knots (222 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 140 knots (259 kilometers per hour). The maximum range is 582 nautical miles (1,078 kilometers). Its service ceiling 17,400 feet (5,305 meters).

Clementine 2 was armed with two M60 7.62 mm machine guns.

88 UH-2As were built 1959-1960, before production shifted to a twin-engine variant.

Seasprite 149764 was lost in the South China Sea, 7 January 1969.

Commander Clyde E. Lassen, U.S. Navy, died in 1994. The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Lassen (DDG-82) is named in his honor.

USS Lassen (DDG-82)
USS Lassen (DDG-82). (U.S. Navy)

Highly recommended: “Clementine Two: U.S. Navy night rescue over North Viet Nam,” by C. LeRoy Cook, at http://www.vhpa.org/stories/clem2.pdf

© 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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8 January 1973

McDonnell F-4D-29-MC Phantom II 65-0796 at Yokota AB, Japan, 1972. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell F-4D-29-MC Phantom II 65-0796 at Yokota AB, Japan, 1972. (U.S. Air Force)

8 January 1973: Captain Paul D. Howman and First Lieutenant Lawrence W. Kullman, 4th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 432d Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, flying McDonnell F-4D-29-MC Phantom II 65-0796, were leading a flight of two fighters on combat air patrol in Route Pack III. Their call sign was CRAFTY ONE. A U.S. Navy cruiser, call sign RED CROWN, was steaming in the Gulf of Tonkin off the coast of North Vietnam, providing radar coverage for the fighters.

The following is a recount of the last USAF MiG kill in Southeast Asia; it occurred on 8 January 1973.

Crafty, a flight of two F-4s from the 4th Tactical Fighter Squadron, was assigned a night MiGCAP mission in support of B-52 strikes. They ingressed North Vietnam through the “Gorilla’s Head” and established their CAP about 70 miles southwest of Hanoi. The pilot of Crafty One was Captain Paul D. Howman. His backseater was First Lieutenant Lawrence W. Kullman. The following is Captain Howman’s description of the kill.

Because of its advanced air search radars and digital computers, the nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser USS Long Beach (CGN-9) frequently served as RED CROWN. (U.S. Navy)

“About five minutes after arriving on station, we were advised by Red Crown that a MiG was airborne out of Phuc Yen and was heading southwest toward the inbound strike force. They vectored us northwest and told us he had leveled at 13,000 feet. Passing through [a heading of] north, we picked him up on radar at about 60 miles. We were able to follow him most of the way in as the range decreased. At about 30 miles, I called 02 and we jettisoned our centerline tanks.”

Crafty One and Two descended to 12,000 feet at 400 knots, still taking vectors. Red Crown turned them to a northeasterly heading. At 16 miles, Red Crown cleared Crafty to fire. Captain Howman’s account continues.

“At 10 miles I got a visual on an afterburner plume 20 degrees right and slightly high. I called him out to the backseater and put the pipper on him. At 6 miles Lt. Kullman got a good full-system radar lock-on. Range was about 4 miles and overtake 900+ knots when I squeezed the trigger. The missile came off, did a little roll to the left, and tracked toward the “burner plume.” It detonated 50 feet short of his tail.

“I squeezed another one off at 2 miles range. This one just pulled some lead, then went straight for the MiG. It hit him in the fuselage and the airplane exploded and broke into three big flaming pieces.”

"Craft 01", McDonnell F-4D-29-MC Phantom II 65-0796 on static display at William E. Dyess Elementary School, Abilene, Texas. (Abilene School District photo)
“Crafty 01”, McDonnell F-4D-29-MC Phantom II 65-0796 on static display at William E. Dyess Elementary School, Abilene, Texas. (Abilene School District photo)

After determining there were no more MiGs in the area, Crafty returned to orbit for their remaining CAP period. They returned to base without further incident.

 The Tale of Two Bridges ; and The Battle for the Skies Over North Vietnam, by Major A. J. C. Lavalle, USAF, editor, Office of Air Force History, Washington, D.C., 1985, Chapter VI at Page 187–188.

The MiG 21 that Howman and Kullman shot down was the last air-to-air victory by the United States Air Force during the Vietnam War. Both men were awarded the Silver Star.

Their airplane, 65-0796, served another seventeen years before being retired. Today, it is on display at William E. Dyess Elementary School, Abilene, Texas.

A Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-21 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
An Aero Vodochody-built MiG 21F-13 with the markings of the Vietnam Peoples’ Air Force at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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12 October 1944

Second Lieutenant Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager, U.S. Army Air Forces, standing on the wing of his North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA Mustang, 44-13897, Glamorous Glenn II, at Air Station 373, 12 October 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
Second Lieutenant Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager, U.S. Army Air Corps, standing on the wing of his North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA Mustang, 44-13897, Glamorous Glenn II, at Air Station 373, 12 October 1944. (U.S. Air Force)

12 October 1944: During World War II, Second Lieutenant Charles Elwood Yeager, U.S. Army Air Corps, was a P-51 Mustang fighter pilot assigned to the 363d Fighter Squadron, 357th Fighter Group, stationed at RAF Leiston (USAAF Station 373), near the village of Theberton, Suffolk, England.

Recently promoted from the warrant rank of Flight Officer, Lieutenant Yeager—as one of the most experienced pilots in the group— was leading the 357th on a bomber escort mission against Bremen, Germany. While the Group’s 362nd and 364th Fighter Squadrons remained with the B-24 bombers, Yeager and the 363d patrolled 50 to 100 miles (80 to 160 kilometers) ahead.

At 25,000 feet (7,620 meters) over Steinhuder Meer, northwest of Hanover, Yeager sighted a group of Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters (also called the Me 109). He was soon able to count 22. Yeager and his squadron of 16 Mustangs circled and attacked out of the sun.

A flight of three Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Me 109 fighters, 20 July 1944. (Bundsarchive Bild 101l-676-7975-36)
A flight of three Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Me 109 fighters, 20 July 1944. (Bundsarchive Bild 101l-676-7975-36)

As Chuck Yeager maneuvered his P-51D Mustang, named Glamorous Glenn II, to fire at a trailing Bf 109, the German fighter suddenly turned left and collided with his wingman. Both pilots bailed out of their fighters and the two Bf 109s went down.

It was almost comic, scoring two quick victories without firing a shot. . . By now, all the airplanes in the sky had dropped their wing tanks and were spinning and diving in a wild, wide-open dogfight. I blew up a 109 from six hundred yards—my third victory—when I turned to see another angling in behind me. Man I pulled back the throttle so damned hard I nearly stalled, rolled up and over, came in behind and under him, kicking right rudder and simultaneously firing. I was directly underneath the guy, less than fifty feet, and I opened up that 109 as if it were a can of Spam. That made four. A moment later, I waxed a guy’s fanny in a steep dive; I pulled up at about 1,000 feet; he went straight into the ground.

Yeager, An Autobiography, by Chuck Yeager and Leo Janos, Bantam Books, New York, 1985, at Page 57.

Lieutenant Yeager’s official report of the air battle reads (in part):

“H. Five Me. 109s destroyed

“I. I was leading the Group with Cement Squadron and was roving out to the right of the first box of bombers. I was over STEINHUDER LAKE when 22 Me. 109s crossed in front of my Squadron from 11:00 O’Clock to 1:00 O’Clock. I was coming out of the sun and they were about 1½ miles away at the same level of 25,000 feet. I fell in behind the enemy formation and followed them for about 3 minutes, climbing to 30,000 feet. I still had my wing tanks and had close up to around 1,000 yards, coming within firing range and positioning the Squadron behind the entire enemy formation. Two of the Me. 109s were dodging over to the right. One slowed up and before I could start firing, rolled over and bailed out. The other Me. 109, flying his wing, bailed out immediately after as I was ready to line him in my sights. I was the closest to the tail-end of the enemy formation and no one, but myself was in shooting range and no one was firing. I dropped my tanks and then closed up to the last Jerry and opened fire from 600 yards, using the K-14 sight. I observed strikes all over the ship, particularly heavy in the cockpit. He skidded off to the left. I was closing up on another Me. 109 so I did not follow him down. Lt. STERN, flying in Blue Flight reports this E/A on fire as it passed him and went into a spin. I closed up on the next Me. 109 to 100 yards, skidded to the right and took a deflection shot of about 10°. I gave about a 2 second burst and the whole fuselage split open and blew up after we passed. Another Me. 109 to the right had cut his throttle and was trying to get behind. I broke to the right and quickly rolled to the left on his tail. He started pulling it in and I was pulling 6″G”. I got a lead from around 300 yards and gave him a short burst. There were hits on wings and tail section He snapped to the right 3 times and bailed out when he quit snapping at around 18,000 feet. I did not blackout during this engagement due to the efficiency of the “G” suit. Even though I was skidding I hit the second Me. 109 by keeping the bead and range on the E/A. To my estimation the K-14 sight is the biggest improvement to combat equipment for Fighters up to this date. The Me. 109s appeared to have a type of bubble canopy and had purple noses and were a mousey brown all over. I claim five Me 109s destroyed.

“J. Ammunition Expended: 587 rounds .50 cal MG.

“Charles E. Yeager, 1st Lt, AC.”

Lieutenant Yeager had destroyed five enemy fighters during a single battle. He became “an Ace in one day” and was awarded the Silver Star. Of the twenty-two Me 109s, the 363rd had destroyed eight without losing a single Mustang.

Yeager’s Glamorous Glenn II, flown by another pilot, was destroyed six days later when it crashed in bad weather.

North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA 44-13366 on a test flight near the North American plant at Inglewood, California. This is from the same production block as Yeager's Glamorous Glenn II.
North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA 44-13366 on a test flight near the North American plant at Inglewood, California. This is from the same production block as Yeager’s Glamorous Glenn II.

The P-51D was the predominant version of the North American Aviation World War II fighter. It was a single-seat, single-engine fighter, initially designed for the Royal Air Force. The P-51D was 32 feet, 3.5 inches (9.843 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet (11.278 meters). It was 13 feet, 4.5 inches (4.077 meters) high. The fighter had an empty weight of 7,635 pounds (3,463 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 12,100 pounds (5,489 kilograms).

The P-51D was powered by a right-hand tractor, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter) Packard V-1650-3 or -7 Merlin single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine with Military Power ratings of 1,380 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m with 60 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-3), or 1,490 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m. with 61 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-7). These engines were versions of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 63 and 66, built under license by the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan. The engine drove a four-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 2 inches (3.404 meters) through a 0.479:1 gear reduction.

A Packard Motor Car Company V-1650-7 Merlin V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. This engine weighs 1,715 pounds (778 kilograms) and produces 1,490 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. Packard built 55,873 of the V-1650 series engines. Continental built another 897. The cost per engine ranged from $12,548 to $17,185. (NASM)
A Packard Motor Car Company V-1650-7 Merlin V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. This engine weighs 1,715 pounds (778 kilograms) and produces 1,490 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. Packard built 55,873 of the V-1650 series engines. Continental built another 897. The cost per engine ranged from $12,548 to $17,185. (NASM)

The P-51D with a V-1650-7 Merlin had maximum speed at Sea Level of 323 miles per hour (520 kilometers per hour) at the Normal Power setting of 2,700 r.p.m. and 46 inches of manifold pressure, and 375 miles per hour (604 kilometers per hour) at War Emergency Power, 3,000 r.p.m with 67 inches of manifold pressure (5 minute limit). At altitude, using the Military Power setting of 3,000 r.p.m. and 61 inches of manifold pressure (15 minute limit), it had a maximum speed of 439 miles per hour (707 kilometers per hour) at 28,000 feet (8,534 meters). With War Emergency Power the P-51D could reach 442 miles per hour (711 kilometers per hour) at 26,000 feet (7,925 meters).

The P-51D could climb to 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) in 6.4 minutes, and to its service ceiling, 41,600 feet (12,680 meters), in 28 minutes. The airplane’s absolute ceiling was 42,400 feet (12,924 meters).

With 180 gallons (681 liters) internal fuel, the maximum range of the P-51D was 1,108 miles (1,783 kilometers).

Armorers carry AN/M2 Browning .50-caliber machine guns and belts of linked ammunition to a P-51 Mustang. (U.S. Air Force)
Armorers carry AN/M2 Browning .50-caliber machine guns and belts of linked .50-caliber ammunition to a P-51 Mustang. (U.S. Air Force)

The P-51D was armed with six electrically-heated AN/M2 .50-caliber Browning machine guns, with three mounted in each wing. 400 rounds of ammunition were provided for the inner pair of guns, and 270 rounds for each of the other four guns, for a total of 1,880 rounds of ammunition. This was armor piercing, incendiary and tracer ammunition. The fighter could also carry a 1,000 pound (453.6 kilogram) bomb under each wing in place of drop tanks, or up to ten rockets.

A total of 8,156 P-51Ds were produced by North American at Inglewood, California, and Dallas, Texas, and another 200 by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, Melbourne, Australia.

The North American Aviation P-51D Mustang remained in service with the United States Air Force until 27 January 1957, when the last aircraft were retired from the 167th Fighter Squadron, West Virginia National Guard.

North American Aviation P-51D Mustang. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation P-51D Mustang. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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30 August 1952

The left wing attachment points of this Northrop F-89C-30-NO Scorpion, 51-5781, failded during a fly-by at the Inaternational Aviation Exposition, Detroit, Michigan, 30 August 1952. (U.S. Air Force)
The left wing of this Northrop F-89C-30-NO Scorpion, 51-5781, failed during a fly-by at the International Aviation Exposition, Detroit, Michigan, 30 August 1952. (U.S. Air Force)

30 August 1952: A tragic accident occurred during a fly-by of two new United States Air Force Northrop F-89C Scorpion all weather interceptors at the International Aviation Exposition at Detroit, Michigan.

Two F-89Cs of the 27th Fighter Interceptor Squadron based at Griffis Air Force Base, Rome, New York, made a low-altitude, high speed pass in full view of 51,000 spectators. Suddenly, the left wing of the lead interceptor separated. The tail also broke away and the fighter crashed and exploded.

Major Donald E. Adams, United States Air Force.
Major Donald E. Adams, United States Air Force

Major Donald E. Adams, a fighter ace who had won the Silver Star in Korea just months earlier, was killed, along with Captain Ed F. Kelly, the radar intercept officer. Five people on the ground were injured by falling wreckage.

This was not the first wing failure in an F-89C, nor the last. The Air Force grounded the Scorpions and ordered Northrop to return the airplanes to the factory or to modification centers using the company’s pilots. Northrop engineers began an intensive investigation to discover the cause of these catastrophic failures.

When designing the airplane engineers tried to use materials that provided the greatest strength at the lightest weight. A new aluminum alloy had been used for the wing attachment fittings. This material had properties that weren’t understood at the time, but when subjected to certain types of dynamic loads, it could fatigue and become brittle rapidly. It was also very sensitive to surface imperfections, such as scratches or machining marks, that could rapidly propagate fatigue fractures.

A second problem was that, under certain conditions, the Scorpion’s wings could enter a sequence of rapidly increasing oscillations, actually twisting the wing. This occurred so quickly that a pilot was not likely to see it happening. The twisting motion focused on the wing attachment points, and resulted in a catastrophic failure.

Northrop redesigned the wing to reduce the oscillation, and replaced the aluminum attachment fittings with new ones made of forged steel.

The F-89 was returned to service and became a very reliable airplane.

Northrop F-89C-15-NO Scorpion 50-781, similar to Major Adams' F-89C-30-NO 51-5781. (U.S. Air Force)
Northrop F-89C-15-NO Scorpion 50-781, similar to Major Adams’ F-89C-30-NO 51-5781. (U.S. Air Force)

Major Adams’ Scorpion, Northrop F-89C-30-NO 51-5781, was a two-place, twin-engine all weather interceptor, designed as a replacement for the World War II-era Northrop P-61 Black Widow night fighter. It was 53 feet, 5 inches (16.281 meters) long with a wingspan of 56 feet (17.069 meters) and overall height of 17 feet, 6 inches (5.334 meters). Its empty weight was 24,570 pounds (11,145 kilograms) and maximum gross weight was 37,348 pounds (16,941 kilograms).

The F-89C was powered by two Allison J35-A-33 afterburning turbojet engines which produced 5,400 pounds of thrust “dry” and 7,400 pounds with afterburner. It had a maximum speed of 650 miles per hour (1,046 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 562 miles per hour (905 kilometers per hour) at 40,000 feet (12,192 meters). The service ceiling was 50,500 feet (15,392.4 meters) and maximum range was 905 miles (1,456.5 kilometers).

The interceptor was armed with six 20 mm M24 cannon in the nose, and could carry sixteen 5-inch rockets or 3,200 pounds (1,451.5 kilograms) of bombs on hardpoints under its wings.

Northrop Corporation built 1,050 F-89 Scorpions. 164 were F-89Cs. Variants produced after this deleted the six cannon in the nose and used aerial rockets instead. Scorpions served the Air Force and Air National Guard in the air defense role until 1969.

Pilot and radar intercept officer of a Northrop F-89C Scorpion. (Jet Pilot Overseas)
Pilot and Radar Intercept Officer of a Northrop F-89C Scorpion. (Jet Pilot Overseas)
Silver Star
Silver Star

Donald E. Adams graduated from college in 1942 and entered the U.S. Army Air Force Aviation Cadet Program, graduating in 1943 and commissioned as a second lieutenant. He was assigned as a flight instructor and then was sent to Europe as a P-51 Mustang pilot. After the War, he remained in the Air Force, flying Lockheed F-80 Shooting Stars and North American F-86 Sabres.

On 3 May 1952, Adams was leading a flight of six Sabres of the 16th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 51st Fighter Interceptor Group, against an armed enemy of the United Nations. He and his flight attacked a group of twenty Chinese MiG 15s. During the battle, he shot down the enemy flight leader and then the deputy flight leader and damaged three more enemy fighters, completely breaking up the enemy flight. He was awarded the Silver Star.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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