Tag Archives: Vietnam War

19 April 1967

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

MEDAL OF HONOR

LIEUTENANT COLONEL LEO K. THORSNESS
UNITED STATES AIR FORCE

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

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

Entered service at: Walnut Grove, Minn.

Born: 14 February 1932, Walnut Grove, Minn.

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

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

AIR FORCE CROSS

CAPTAIN HAROLD EUGENE JOHNSON

Air Force Cross
Air Force Cross

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

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

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

Action Date: 19-Apr-67

Service: Air Force

Rank: Captain

Company: 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron

Regiment: 355th Tactical Fighter Wing

Division: Tuy Hoa Air Base, Vietnam

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

A description of the air battle follows:

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

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

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

Thorsness continued the story:

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

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

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

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

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

¹ Radio call sign for aircraft 2.

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

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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15 April 1970

A Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant (66-13290) ot the 37th ARRS, hovering in ground effect at Da Nang, 1968. (U.S. Air Force)

15 April 1970:

AIR FORCE CROSS

CAPTAIN TRAVIS HENRY SCOTT, JR.

Captain Travis H. Scott, Jr., United States Air Force

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Section 8742, Title 10, United States Code, awards the Air Force Cross to Captain Travis H. Scott, Jr., for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force as Aircraft Commander of an HH-3E helicopter near Dak Nay Puey, Republic of Vietnam, on 15 April 1970. On that date, Captain Scott was engaged in the rescue of a crew of a United States Army helicopter which was shot down by enemy ground fire. With display of great skill and professional airmanship, Captain Scott made two earlier attempts to position his helicopter, but each time he was driven off by heavy ground fire, which inflicted damage to his helicopter. After assessing the damage to his helicopter, and assuring that his crew was able to continue with the mission, Captain Scott requested and received permission to make a third rescue attempt. In this attempts, the helicopter was severely damaged by an intense burst of heavy automatic weapons fire. Captain Scott heroically struggled to keep his crippled helicopter airborne and, with sheer determination and a deep concern for his fellowmen, he crash landed his helicopter in order to save the lives of his crew and passengers. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship and aggressiveness in the face of an opposing armed force, and in the dedication of his service to his country, Captain Scott reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

Captain Travis Henry Scott, Jr., was also posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Air Medal (his fifth award) for this action. He had previously been awarded the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters (three awards).

AIR FORCE CROSS

MAJOR TRAVIS WOFFORD

Lieutenant Colonel Travis Wofford, United States Air Force.
Lieutenant Colonel Travis Wofford, United States 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 Major Travis Wofford (AFSN: 0-61477), United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force as Co-Pilot of an HH-53 ¹ Rescue Helicopter Pilot of the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, 3d Air Rescue and Recovery Group, DaNang Air Base, Vietnam, in action near Dak Nay Puey, Republic of Vietnam, on 15 April 1970. On that date, Major Wofford was engaged in the rescue of a crew of a United States Army helicopter which was shot down by enemy ground fire. Although Major Wofford was wounded by enemy ground fire during two earlier rescue attempts, he chose to continue with the rescue operations. On the third attempt, the helicopter was severely damaged by an intense burst of heavy automatic weapons fire. When the helicopter lost power and crashed, Major Wofford, with complete disregard for his personal safety and despite his painful injuries, freed himself from the wreckage and then attempted to free the pilot, who was instantly killed on impact. He then observed the other members of the crew engulfed in flames and, with sheer determination and a deep concern for his fellow men, he rushed to their aid, extinguished the flames and then dragged the aircrew members to a place of safety from which they were rescued. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of hostile forces, Major Wofford reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

Major Wofford was also awarded the Purple Heart. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for a rescue carried out the previous day. He also received the Cheney Award for 1970. His other medals include the Silver Star, Meritorious Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters (three awards), the Air Medal with one silver and one bronze oak leaf clusters (six awards), the Air Force Commendation Medal, Presidential Unit Citation with oak leaf cluster (two awards), and the Gallant Unit Citation with two oak leaf clusters (three awards).

Air Force Cross
Air Force Cross
Cheney Award (U.S. Air Force)
Cheney Award (U.S. Air Force)

¹ The above citation incorrectly references Major Wofford’s aircraft as an HH-53. It was a Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant, call sign “Jolly Green 27.” This helicopter, 66-13280, was one of two HH-3Es to fly non-stop from New York to Paris, 31 May 1967.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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11 April 1966

Airman 1st Class William Hart Pitsenbarger, United States Air Force

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3, 1863 has awarded in the name of the Congress the Medal of Honor posthumously to:

A1C WILLIAM H. PITSENBARGER
UNITED STATES AIR FORCE
for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty Near Cam My, 11 April 1966:

Rank and organization: Airman First Class, U.S. Air Force, Detachment 6, 38th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, Bien Hoa Air Base, Republic of Vietnam.

Place and date: Near Cam My, 11 April 1966

Entered service at: Piqua, Ohio

Born: 8 July 1944, Piqua, Ohio

Citation: Airman First Class Pitsenbarger distinguished himself by extreme valor on 11 April 1966 near Cam My, Republic of Vietnam, while assigned as a Pararescue Crew Member, Detachment 6, 38th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron. On that date, Airman Pitsenbarger was aboard a rescue helicopter responding to a call for evacuation of casualties incurred in an on-going firefight between elements of the United States Army’s 1st Infantry Division and a sizable enemy force approximately 35 miles east of Saigon. With complete disregard for personal safety, Airman Pitsenbarger volunteered to ride a hoist more than one hundred feet through the jungle, to the ground. On the ground, he organized and coordinated rescue efforts, cared for the wounded, prepared casualties for evacuation, and insured that the recovery operation continued in a smooth and orderly fashion. Through his personal efforts, the evacuation of the wounded was greatly expedited. As each of the nine casualties evacuated that day were recovered, Pitsenbarger refused evacuation in order to get one more wounded soldier to safety. After several pick-ups, one of the two rescue helicopters involved in the evacuation was struck by heavy enemy ground fire and was forced to leave the scene for an emergency landing. Airman Pitsenbarger stayed behind, on the ground, to perform medical duties. Shortly thereafter, the area came under sniper and mortar fire. During a subsequent attempt to evacuate the site, American forces came under heavy assault by a large Viet Cong force. When the enemy launched the assault, the evacuation was called off and Airman Pitsenbarger took up arms with the besieged infantrymen. He courageously resisted the enemy, braving intense gunfire to gather and distribute vital ammunition to American defenders. As the battle raged on, he repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire to care for the wounded, pull them out of the line of fire, and return fire whenever he could, during which time, he was wounded three times. Despite his wounds, he valiantly fought on, simultaneously treating as many wounded as possible. In the vicious fighting which followed, the American forces suffered 80 percent casualties as their perimeter was breached, and airman Pitsenbarger was finally fatally wounded. Airman Pitsenbarger exposed himself to almost certain death by staying on the ground, and perished while saving the lives of wounded infantrymen. His bravery and determination exemplify the highest professional standards and traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Air Force.

Airman 1st Class William Hart Pitsenbarger, United States Air Force, with his Colt M-16 rifle and Kaman HH-43 Huskie rescue helicopter. (U.S. Air force)
Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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4 April 1975

Lockheed C-5A Galaxy 68-0218 lifts off from Tan Son Nhut Air Base, South Vietnam, 4 April 1975. (CORBIS)
Lockheed C-5A Galaxy 68-0218 lifts off from Tan Son Nhut Air Base, South Vietnam, 4:00 p.m., Friday, 4 April 1975. (CORBIS)

4 April 1975: Operation Babylift. As the end of the Vietnam War approached, it was decided to evacuate 2,000 orphans, most in the care of an American hospital in Saigon, Republic of South Vietnam, and to take them to safety within the United States. The first flight was aboard a U.S. Air Force Lockheed C-5A Galaxy heavy lift transport, serial number 68-0218, piloted by Captains Dennis W. Traynor III and Tilford Harp.

A medical team from Clark Air Base, The Philippines, commanded by First Lieutenant Regina C. Aune, Nurse Corps, United States Air Force, was aboard when the huge transport plane landed at Tan Son Nhut Air Base in Saigon. When it was discovered that there would be about 250 orphans aboard, many of them sick or injured, another medical team from a C-141 Starlifter volunteered to accompany Lieutenant Aune’s team for the outbound flight.

When the Galaxy took off from Saigon at 4:00 p.m., there were 328 people aboard, including flight crew, medical teams, orphans and their escorts, as well as other U.S. personnel.

The C-5A quickly climbed to 23,000 feet (7,010 meters). Just a few minutes after takeoff, the locks of the rear loading ramp failed. Explosive decompression hurled people and equipment throughout the airplane which instantly filled with fog. Lieutenant Aune was thrown the entire length of the upper deck. The airplane was severely damaged with two hydraulic systems inoperative and many flight control cables severed.

The pilots could only control the airplane with engine thrust. They began an emergency descent and turned back to Tan Son Nhut.

Unable to maintain flight, at about 4:45 p.m., the Galaxy touched down in a rice paddy two miles short of the runway at 270 knots (500 kilometers per hour). It slid for a quarter mile, became airborne for another half mile, then touched down and slid until it hit a raised dike and broke into four sections. 138 people were killed in the crash.

Colonel Regina C. Aune, USAF NC (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Regina C. Aune, NC USAF (U.S. Air Force)

Although herself seriously injured, Lieutenant Aune began evacuating the children. When rescue helicopters arrived, they were unable to land close to the wrecked transport, so the children had to be carried.

After she had helped to carry about eighty babies, Regina Aune was unable to continue. She asked the first officer she saw to be relieved of her duties and then passed out. At a hospital it was found that she had a broken foot, broken leg and broken vertebra in her back, as well as numerous other injuries.

Regina Aune became the first woman to be awarded the Cheney Award by the Air Force, which was established in 1927 and is awarded “to an airman for an act of valor, extreme fortitude or self-sacrifice in a humanitarian interest, performed in connection with aircraft, but not necessarily of a military nature.

Captain Mary T. Klinker, NC USAF. (St. Elizabeth's School of Nursing)
Miss Mary Therese Klinker. (St. Elizabeth’s School of Nursing)

11 members of the crew of the Galaxy were among the dead, including Captain Mary Therese Klinker, Nurse Corps, United States Air Force.

Mary Therese Klinker was born at Lafayette, Indiana, 3 October 1947. She was the daughter of Paul Edward Klinker and Thelma Mary Deane Klinker. She attended Central Catholic High School in Lafayette, graduating in 1965. She then enrolled at St. Elizabeth’s School of Nursing, also in Lafayette. She graduated as a Registered Nurse, May 1968. On graduation, Miss Klinker worked for St. Elizabeth’s.

Miss Klinker joined the United States Air Force, 9 January 1970, and was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Nurse Corps. She qualified as a flight nurse and was promoted to the rank of captain. In 1974, Captain Klinker was assigned to the 10th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, Travis Air Force Base, Fairfield, California.

Captain Mary Therese Klinker, Nurse Corps, United States Air Force, 10th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, was the last United States service woman to die in the Vietnam War. Captain Klinker was posthumously awarded the Airman’s Medal and the Meritorious Service Medal. She is buried at St. Boniface Cemetery in her home town of Lafayette, Indiana.

Captain Mary T. Clinker, Nurse Corps, United States Air Force.

The pilots, Captain Dennis W. Traynor III and Captain Tilford W. Harp, were both awarded the Air Force Cross for what General Paul Carlton, Commander, Military Airlift Command, called “one of the greatest displays of airmanship I have ever heard related.”

Capt. Bud Traynor was piloting the C-5A Galaxy that crashed in 1975 in Saigon as part of Operation Babylif
Captain Dennis W. Traynor III, United States Air Force

AIR FORCE CROSS

CAPTAIN DENNIS W. TRAYNOR III

Action Date: 3-Apr-75

Service: Air Force

Rank: Captain

Company: 22d Airlift Squadron

Division: Clark Air Base, Philippine Islands

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 Dennis W. Traynor, III, United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism and airmanship while engaged in a humanitarian mission as Aircraft Commander of an Air Force C-5A aircraft of the 22d Airlift Squadron, Clark Air Base, Philippine Islands, in action at Saigon, Vietnam on 3 April 1975. On that date, the aircraft, carrying 330 passengers and crew, experienced a serious in-flight emergency which could have resulted in the loss of life for all aboard. With no aircraft controls except one aileron and the engines, Captain Traynor guided the crippled aircraft to a crash landing in a rice paddy, thereby saving the lives of 176 of the people on board. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness, Captain Traynor reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

AIR FORCE CROSS

CAPTAIN TILFORD W. HARP

Action Date: 3-Apr-75

Service: Air Force

Rank: Captain

Company: 22d Airlift Squadron

Division: Clark Air Base, Philippine Islands

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 Tilford W. Harp, United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism and airmanship while engaged in a humanitarian mission as Co-Pilot of an Air Force C-5A aircraft of the 22d Airlift Squadron, Clark Air Base, Philippine Islands, in action at Saigon, Vietnam, on 3 April 1975. On that date, his aircraft, carrying 330 passengers and crew, experienced a serious in-flight emergency which could have resulted in the loss of life for all aboard. With no aircraft controls except one aileron and the engines, Captain Harp provided exceptionally vital assistance to the Aircraft Commander in guiding the crippled aircraft to a crash landing in a rice paddy, thereby saving the lives of 176 of the people on board. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness, Captain Harp reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

Crash site of Operation Babylift's Lockheed C-5A Galaxy, 68-0218, near Tan Son Nhut Air Base, South Vietnam, 4 April 1975. (U.S. Air Force)
Crash site of Operation Babylift’s Lockheed C-5A Galaxy, 68-0218, near Tan Son Nhut Air Base, South Vietnam, 4 April 1975. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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26 March 1967

Republic F-105D-6-RE Thunderchief 59-1772, parked in a revetment. Colonel Scott flew this airplane 26 March 1967 when he shot down a MiG-17. (U.S. Air Force)
Republic F-105D-6-RE Thunderchief 59-1772, parked in a revetment. Colonel Scott flew this airplane 26 March 1967 when he shot down a MiG 17. (U.S. Air Force)

26 March 1967: Colonel Robert Ray Scott, United States Air Force, commanding the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, was leading 20 Republic F-105 Thunderchief fighter bombers from Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, on an attack against an enemy military barracks near Hanoi, North Vietnam. Colonel Scott’s airplane was Republic F-105D-6-RE, serial number 59-1772, and his call sign was “Leech 01.” As he came off the target, he shot down an enemy Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 17 fighter with the 20 mm M61A1 Vulcan cannon of his fighter bomber.

Colonel Robert R. Scott, U.S. Air Force
Colonel Robert R. Scott, U.S. Air Force

The third MiG-17 destroyed during the month was credited to the 355th TFW, Colonel Scott, who was leading an F-105 flight on a strike mission not far from Hoa Lac airfield on 26 March. His account follows:

“I had acquired the target and executed a dive-bomb run, while heading approximately 250°, altitude approximately 4,000 feet, I observed a MiG taking off from Hoa Loc airfield. I began a left turn to approximately 150° to follow the MiG for possible engagement. At this time I observed three more MiG-17s orbiting the airfield at approximately 3,000 feet, in single ship trail with 3,000 to 5,000 feet spacing. MiGs were silver with red star. I then concentrated my attention on the nearest MiG-17 and pressed the attack. As I closed in on the MiG it began turning to the right. I followed the MiG, turning inside, and began firing. I observed ordnance impacting on the left wing and pieces of material tearing off. At this time the MiG began a hard left-descending turn. I began to overshoot and pulled off high and to the right. The last time I saw the MiG it was extremely low, approximately 500 feet, and rolling nose down.”

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 Page 45.

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

The pilot of the MiG 17, Second Lieutenant Vũ Huy Lượng, 923rd Fighter Regiment, Vietnam Peoples’ Air Force, was killed.

As a Northrop P-61 Black Widow pilot with the 426th Night Fighter Squadron during World War II, Colonel Scott had shot down two enemy airplanes. By destroying the MiG-17, he became only the second U.S. Air Force pilot, after Colonel Robin Olds, to achieve aerial victories during World War II and the Vietnam War.

Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-17F in Vietnam Peoples' Air Force markings at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force).
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 17F in Vietnam Peoples’ Air Force markings at NMUSAF, Wright-Patterson AFB. (U.S. Air Force).

Robert Ray Scott was born at Des Moines, Iowa, 1 November 1920. He was the first of two children of Ray Scott, a railroad worker, and Elva M. Scott. He graduated from North High School in Des Moines, January 1939. He studied aeronautical engineering at the University of Iowa for two years before he enlisted as an Aviation Cadet in the U.S. Army Air Corps, 15 August 1941. Scott was 5 feet, 7 inches (1.70 meters) tall and weighed 144 pounds (65.3 kilograms). He was trained as a pilot and and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, 16 March 1942. He was assigned as an instructor pilot in California, and was promoted to 1st Lieutenant 15 December 1942.

Scott was transferred to the 426th Night Fighter Squadron, 14th Air Force, flying the Northrop P-61 Black Widow in India and China. He was promoted to captain, 3 May 1944, and to major, 16 August 1945. Major Scott was credited with shooting down two enemy aircraft. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal.

Captain Robert Ray Scott (back row, second from left) with the 426th Night Fighter Squadron, 1944. The airplane is a Northrop P-61 Black Widow. (U.S. Air Force)

Following World War II, Major Scott returned to the University of Iowa to complete his bachelor’s degree. He also earned two master’s degrees.

In 1952 he graduated from the Air Force test pilot school at Edwards Air Force Base, then served as a project pilot on the North American F-86D all-weather interceptor. Later he was a project officer at Edwards AFB on the Republic F-105 Thunderchief Mach 2 fighter-bomber.

Scott flew the North American Aviation F-86F Sabre during the Korean War. From January to July 1953, he flew 117 combat missions. From 1953 to 1956, Lieutenant Colonel Scott commanded the 405th Fighter Bomber Wing, Tactical Air Command, at Langley Air Force base, Virginia.

Lieutenant Richard Hill and Lieutenant Colonel Robert R. Scott (in cockpit) after their record-breaking transcontinental flight. (Unattributed)

On 9 October 1955, Scott set a transcontinental speed record by flying a Republic F-84F Thunderstreak fighter bomber from Los Angeles International Airport, California, to Floyd Bennett Field, New York, in 3 hours, 46 minutes, 33.6 seconds. Later he was a project officer at Edwards AFB on the Republic F-105 Thunderchief Mach 2 fighter-bomber.

Scott was promoted the rank of Colonel in 1960.

During the Vietnam War, Colonel Scott commanded the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, flying 134 combat missions in the Republic F-105 Thunderchief.

Colonel Scott’s final commanding was the 832nd Air Division, 12th Air Force, at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico. He retired 1 September 1970 after 29 years of military service.

Colonel Robert Ray Scott flew 305 combat missions in three wars. During his Air Force career, Colonel Scott was awarded four Silver Star medals, three Legion of Merit medals, six Distinguished Flying Crosses and 16 Air Medals. He died at Tehachapi, California, 3 October 2006 at the age of 86 years. He is buried at the Arlington National Cemetery.

Republic F-105D 59-1772 is credited with another air-to-air victory. Just over a month after Colonel Scott’s Mig-17 shoot-down, on 28 April 1967 Major Harry E. Higgins, 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron, shot down another MiG-17 with the fighter bomber’s cannon, for which Major Higgins was awarded the Silver Star.

The Thunderchief, though, met its own end when it was shot down by 37 mm anti-aircraft gunfire 10 miles (16 kilometers) west of Ko Hinh, Laos, 27 January 1970. The pilot was rescued.

Colonel Robert R. Scott, commander, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, checks the bombs loaded on a multiple ejector rack while preflighting his Republic F-105 Thunderchief. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Robert R. Scott, commander, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, checks the bombs loaded on a multiple ejector rack while preflighting his Republic F-105 Thunderchief. (U.S. Air Force)

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Republic F-105D-10-RE Thunderchief, 60-0504, served with the 355th TFW at Takhli AB, Thailand. It shot down two enemy fighters. Similar the the F-105D flown by Colonel Scott, 26 March 1967, it is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)
This Republic F-105D-10-RE Thunderchief, 60-0504, served with the 355th TFW at Takhli AB, Thailand. It shot down two enemy fighters. Similar the the F-105D flown by Colonel Scott, 26 March 1967, it is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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