Tag Archives: Vietnam People’s Air Force

26 April 1966

Major Paul J. Gilmore and 1st Lieutenant William T. Smith with their McDonnell F-4C Phantom II, 26 April 1966. (Air Force Historical Foundation)

26 April 1966: Major Paul J. Gilmore, aircraft commander, and First Lieutenant William T. Smith, pilot, flying McDonnell F-4C-23-MC Phantom II 64-0752, shot down the first Vietnam People’s Air Force Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 of the Vietnam War.

Douglas RB-66B-DL Destroyer 53-422. (U.S. Air Force)
Douglas RB-66B-DL Destroyer 53-422. (U.S. Air Force)

“. . . on 26 April, Maj. Paul J. Gilmore, in the front seat of the lead F-4C, and 1st Lt. William T. Smith in the back, downed the first MiG-21 of the war. They were part of a flight of three F-4s flying escort for two RB-66s. Launching from Da Nang, they rendezvoused with the RB-66s and proceeded north to the Red River, where one RB-66 and one F-4 split off for a separate mission. Gilmore, flying the other F-4, and the other RB-66 proceeded north east of Hanoi. Almost at once they spotted two or three MiGs coming high in the 2 o’clock position and closing rapidly. Gilmore and his wingman jettisoned their external tanks, lit their afterburners, and broke into a hard left descending turn while the RB-66 departed the area.

“Gilmore pulled out of his vertical reversal at 12,000 feet [3,657.6 meters], with his wingman flying a tight wing position. They pulled up after the MiGs, which were in afterburner, heading northwest at 30,000 feet [9,144 meters].

A Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 interceptor at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, in the markings of the VPAF. (U.S. Air Force)

“The second MiG was descending very slowly, trailing white vapor toward the east. The F-4 aircrews lost sight of this aircraft as they closed rapidly on the first, which was making gentle clearing turns as he climbed away. Gilmore had several boresight lock-ons but was out of range for a good Sparrow shot. At a range of 3,000 feet [915 meters], Gilmore fired one Sidewinder with a good tone; he then maneuvered to the left to gain more separation and as a result did not see his first missile track.

“Later, Gilmore reported that he had not realized that he had scored a victory with his first missile: ‘My wingman, flying cover for me, told me later the MiG pilot had ejected after I fired the first missile. I didn’t realize I’d hit him the first time. My wingman wondered why I kept after him as I had hit him the first time and the pilot ejected.’ Because of radio difficulties, his wingman could not inform Gilmore of his success.

A U.S. Air Force ordnance technician prepares to load four AIM-9 Sidewinder infrared-homing air-to-air missiles (top row) and four AIM-7 Sparrow radar-guided air-to-air missiles (bottom row) aboard an F-4C. This aircraft, F-4C-23-MC Phantom II 64-0793, is from the same production block as the fighter flown by Major Gilmore and Lieutenant Smith, 26 April 1966. (U.S. Air Force)

“After his maneuver to gain separation, Gilmore pulled up behind the pilotless MiG-21 again and fired another Sidewinder without effect. He again rolled left, pulled up, and fired his third Sidewinder at a range of 3,000 feet. ‘After missing [he thought] twice,’ Gilmore later told a newsman, ‘I was quite disgusted. I started talking to myself. Then I got my gunsights on him and fired a third time. I observed the missile go directly in his tailpipe and explode his tail.’

“The two F-4 aircrews then descended to watch the debris impact. As Gilmore commenced his pull-up he spotted another MiG-21 tracking his wingman and called for a defensive split. He broke to the left and down while his wingman broke to the right and up.

“When Gilmore emerged from the roll, he sighted the MiG ahead, in afterburner and climbing away. He rolled in behind this aircraft and climbed in afterburner until he was directly behind. He fired his fourth Sidewinder, but the range was too short and the missile passed over the MiG’s left wing. Because of low fuel reserves, both F-4s then left the battle area. The 6-minute aerial battle was Gilmore’s first encounter with an enemy plane ‘after twelve years in the tactical fighter business.’ “

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 27–29.

According to Vietnam Peoples’ Air Force records, a fighter was lost 26 April 1966, though it is described as a MiG-17. The pilot, First Lieutenant Tràn Vặn Triém, ejected after being hit by friendly fire.

The Phantom II flown by Gilmore and Smith on that date was written off 6 August 1967.

F-4C 64-0752. Ngày 06/08/67 chiếc F-4C này bị PK bắn rơi ở Quảng Bình.
F-4C 64-0752. Ngày 06/08/67 chiếc F-4C này bị PK bắn rơi ở Quảng Bình. (vnmilitaryhistory.net) [A Vietnamese historical website describes the aircraft in this photograph as Major Gilmore’s F-4C.]
© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 December 1969

Senior Lieutenant Nguyễn Văn Cốc, at right, with two other pilots. A Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 21PF is in the background. (VPAF)

20 December 1969: Senior Lieutenant Nguyễn Văn Cốc, of the 921st Fighter Regiment, Vietnam Peoples’ Air Force, flying a Mikoyan-Gurevich Mig 21PFL supersonic interceptor, shot down his final enemy aircraft of the Vietnam War, a U.S. Air Force Ryan AQM-34 Firebee reconnaissance drone.

A U.S. Air Force Ryan AQM-34L Firebee drone of the 556th Reconnaissance Squadron, based at Bien Hoa Air Base, circa 1969. This drone flew 68 missions before being shot down over Hanoi. (U.S. Air Force)

Nguyễn Văn Cốc entered the Không quân Nhân dân Việt Nam (Vietnamese People’s Air Force) in 1961. He spent four years in the Soviet Union training as a fighter pilot. He was qualified on both the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 17 and MiG 21.

Nguyễn was credited by the VPAF with nine aerial combat victories. Seven of these were also confirmed by the United States. Between 30 April 1967 and 20 December 1969, he shot down a Convair F-102A Delta Dart, a Republic F-105D Thunderchief, two F-105F Thunderchiefs, a McDonnell F-4B Phantom II, two F-4D Phantoms and the Firebee. (Some sources speculate that this drone was actually a North American Aviation OV-10A Bronco.)

All of Nguyễn’s victories were scored while flying the MiG 21PFL, with R-3S infrared-homing air-to-air missiles.

These MiG 21s are assigned to the 921st Fighter Regiment. The closest, “Red 4326,” is one of the interceptors flown by Nguyễn Văn Cốc. The 13 “kill marks” on its nose represent enemy aircraft shot down by Nguyễn and other pilots who flew the airplane. This airplane is on display at the Hanoi Air Defense Museum (Bảo tàng Phòng không-Không quân). (VPAF)

The R-3S (also known as the K-13, and identified as “AA-2A Atoll” by NATO forces) was reverse-engineered by the Turopov Design Bureau, Tushino, Russia, from a Raytheon AIM-9B Sidewinder which had been captured by the People’s Republic of China during the 1958 Taiwan Straits Crisis. Fired by a Republic of China Air Force F-86 Sabre, the missile hit a People’s Liberation Army Air Force MiG 17, but its warhead did not detonate. The PLAAF turned the Sidewinder over to the Soviet Union.

Nguyễn remained in the VPAF until retiring in 2002 with the rank of chief inspector. He is the highest-scoring fighter pilot of the Vietnam War.

Captain Nguyễn Văn Cốc is congratulated by Hồ Chí Minh, President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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9 September 1972

Captain Charles Barbin DeBellevue, U.S. Air Force, with his F-4D Phantom II at Udorn RTAFB, 1972. (U.S. Air Force)

9 September 1972: Captain Charles Barbin DeBellevue, United States Air Force, a Weapons System Officer flying on F-4D and F-4E Phantom II fighters, became the high-scoring American Ace of the Vietnam War when he and his pilot, Captain John A. Madden, Jr., shot down two Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 19¹ fighters of the Không Quân Nhân Dân Việt Nam (Vietnam People’s Air Force), west of Hanoi.

Captain DeBellevue was assigned to the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 432nd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, at Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base. With Captain Richard S. Ritchie, he had previously shot down four MiG 21 fighters using AIM-7 Sparrow radar-guided missiles. Then while flying a combat air patrol in support of Operation Linebacker, he and Captain Madden, aboard F-4D-29-MC Phantom II 66-0267, call sign OLDS 01, used two AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles to destroy the MiG 19s. These were Madden’s first two aerial victories, but for DeBellevue, they were number 5 and 6.

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 19

Madden and DeBellevue had fired two AIM-7 Sparrow radar-guided missiles at a MiG-21 which was on approach to land at the Phúc Yên Yen air base northwest of Hanoi, but both missiles missed. The MiG was then shot down by gunfire from an F-4E flown by Captain Calvin B. Tibbett and 1st Lieutenant William S. Hargrove (after two of their missiles also missed). The flight of Phantoms was then attacked by MiG 19s. DeBellevue reported:

We acquired the MiGs on radar and positioned as we picked them up visually. We used a slicing low-speed yo-yo to position behind the MiG-19s and started turning hard with them. We fired one AIM-9 missile, which detonated 25 feet from one of the MiG-19s. We then switched the attack to the other MiG-19 and one turn later we fired an AIM-9 at him.

I observed the missile impact the tail of the MiG. The MiG continued normally for the next few seconds, then began a slow roll and spiraled downward, impacting the ground with a large fireball. Our altitude was approximately 1,500 feet at the moment of the MiG’s impact.

— 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 III  at Pages 104–105.

Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 17.44.20The first MiG-19, damaged by the Sidewinder’s close detonation, crashed on the runway at Phuc Yen.

After becoming the war’s highest-scoring American ace, Chuck DeBellevue was sent to Williams Air Force Base, Arizona, for pilot training. He became an aircraft commander of F-4E Phantom IIs. He retired from the Air Force as a colonel in 1998, after 30 years of service.

DeBellevue’s F-4D, 66-0267, was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. It was reassembled with parts from other damaged Phantoms and is on display as a “gate guard” at Homestead Air Force Base, Florida.

F-4D-29-MC 66-7463, in which he scored his first and fourth kills with Steve Ritchie, is on display at the United States Air Force Academy. Like DeBellevue, this airplane is also credited with 6 victories. DeBellevue’s F-4E-36-MC, 67-0362, in which he and Ritchie shot down their second and third MiG 21s, was sold to Israel in 1973.

McDonnell F-4D-29-MC Phantom II 66-0267, flown by Madden and DeBellevue, 9 September 1972, on display at the main gate, Homestead AFB, Florida. (© Europix)

¹ Many VPAF MiG 19s were the Chinese-built Shenyang J-6 variant.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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