11 July, 2012

Profile 68: UPDATE - F-4E Phantom as flown by the 334th TFS

Here she is, as she was about 2 nights ago but be warned - THERE ARE TWO MAJOR FLAWS in this rendition!  They will be corrected, but since they're going away, I'll leave it to you to find them.


Every airplane I do comes to the table with its own party of people, experiences, history... I never know what to expect other than that each will be unique.  This F-4 is especially so in that it's not just one man weighing in but many.

It's like this - all the other airplanes here are short stories.  But this one is a collection.

When I wrote the prior post about the 334th's mission of "flying chaff," it touched off a chain of reactions among The Fighting Eagles (as they're called) that was remarkable.  Though all were of good cheer, I got the impression that the Chaff missions were loathed.  And if you keep reading, you'll learn why.

Dean Failor, a Weapon System Officer (WSO) on a 334th F-4, just emailed me a recollection of such a Chaff mission. It's remarkable on many levels, especially considering he was essentially riding in a violent roller coaster in the dark.

Hold on...

Chaff Mission

This is a story of a night, three ship chaff mission laying a corridor for B-52s during Linebacker I in 1972.  Three SA-2s were shot at us and all three should have hit us.  The mission had an eerie feeling about it from the very beginning of the briefing.  Problems included target location, aircraft problems, altitude of mission execution, and differing opinions on tactics. 

The target was in the vicinity of Vinh, North Vietnam.  Vinh was a heavily defended transshipment point on the coast about half way between the DMZ and Hanoi to the north.  The main threat was SA-2 surface to air missiles (SAMS).  SAMs were always a threat, but the enemy had been employing tactics such as dummy radars and multiple sites firing at one aircraft.  I figured the chance of outmaneuvering one missile was 90%, two missiles 50% and three 10%.  That is if we saw them.  If you were maneuvering against missiles from one site, they could launch one at you from another site and you might not see it.  As you maneuvered against one missile, your energy or what we called smash would be bled off.  This would make it very hard to maneuver against other missiles.  The idea was that most missiles were defeated by out turning them.  If you were lucky it would stall out and tumble.  I never saw one do this, but that was the theory.  All of the ones I saw miss, seemed to explode above one’s altitude.  I figured our jammers were doing that.
The aircraft assigned to us was one that had a bad jamming pod the night before.  Maintenance couldn’t duplicate the malfunction so we were to fly it again.  It was loaded on our left side, which would be the left side of the formation where we were to fly.  We requested to be put on the right side of the formation away from the threat, but did not get permission.  In addition, it was decided to make a hard, 45 degree bank turn to the east when past the target area to egress quickly over the water.  Discussions included making several 15 degree bank check turns instead of the 45 degree bank turn, the theory was that the jamming would stay more effective and that we could better check below us for missile launches.  In a hard right turn, it was impossible to see below to the left where the threat would be from.  The decision was made to make the faster, 45 degree bank turn.  Better to get out of the threat area as fast as possible.
 Start up, taxi and take-off was uneventful.  As a crew, neither of us said anything extra except what was needed to get aircraft airborne.  This was a bit unusual.  We were good friends and both of us had over 300 missions by this point in time.  I wasn’t even asking to fly the aircraft like I usually did.  After the pre-strike tanker rendezvous and refueling we proceeded to the east to below the DMZ and then turned north on our heading to Vinh.  Cockpit lighting was adjusted and tape put over bright lights that would detract night vision.  The Radar Warning Receiver (RHAW) was turned on and adjusted to compensate for jamming noise from jammer.  The AC concentrated on keeping the three lights and dim strip lights in sight to maintain the pod formation.  I concentrated on threats and navigation.  The wild ride into bad guy country was about to begin.  I figured they had about 4 minutes to kill us.  They knew where we were heading and that we were on the leading edge of our chaff spewing out the back.
We were now at approximately 30,000 feet at 310 IAS (Indicated Airspeed) and about Mach 1.1.    Our chaff dispenser was turned on spewing the chaff out behind us.  As soon as we turned north our warning receivers started to talk to us.  Strobes and noise were the order of the day.  Early warning radars picked us up and then the closer in radars started their steady and chirping sounds and finally the rattlesnake tones of launches.  There was so much noise in the headset I actually turned the volume down so I could hear radio transmissions from wingmen.  I knew that if a missile was launched I would get the Azimuth Sector (AS) light on bright and steady with a loud, piercing tone.  We called this the Awe Shit light.  If that came on, a missile was being aimed at you, or it could also be from a dummy radar site to make you maneuver against a phantom missile and cause you to not fly the required altitude and flight path.  In addition, in maneuvering one might bleed off enough energy and airspeed to make one vulnerable to actual missiles being sent one’s way. 
At 30,000 feet and 310 IAS, the aircraft was on the edge of a stall.  Any abrupt maneuvers could well put us out of control.  The B-52s were behind us, this altitude was good for them. The AS light had been on several times, but no missiles yet. We started our 45 degree bank turn.  I knew this was the most dangerous part of the mission, this was our most vulnerable time.  If they were going to launch, it was now.  I was in the back seat and had a feeling a missile was to be launched, but my Aircraft Commander (AC) wouldn't roll out of the turn. He was trying to stay in pod formation with lead. I could understand his reasoning.  If we strayed out any further, our aircraft would appear as one on outside of formation.  (Remember the possible bad jamming pod on the left?) 
We had just started our turn to the right.  I knew we had to roll out to check below.  Hair stood out on the back of my neck, and a silent voice was telling me to do something or die.  I told the AC to roll out again, but he wouldn't/couldn’t. I had never done this before and never did again, but I grabbed the stick and rolled out.  The first of three missiles was on the way.  I saw it over the left intake at 10 o'clock, made the SAM call to the rest of the flight to roll out and gave the aircraft back to the AC.  He went to negative Gs and went to full afterburner to pick up enough speed to maneuver.  
The first missile was tracking us.  The reddish orange glow of the boost phase that had lit up the world below the undercast was gone and now the missile was a silver-white death dot coming at us at Mach 2 plus.  The silver color was the tracking phase rocket motor. No matter what we did it stayed on the same spot on the canopy.  If it didn’t track us we would ignore it and let it fly close by through our flight.  The AC pushed the nose over and the missile would follow us, if we pulled up it would follow us up.  That meant it was tracking us. We barrel rolled around it and it just missed us and blew up about 300 feet above us. I don't know how it missed. The second missile from the same site was on us now.  Low on airspeed and altitude, I asked the AC what he was going to do and he said “I don't have a F...ing clue.” Gave me a lot of confidence!!??, but I didn't have any ideas either. We were "out of airspeed and ideas" as they say. He unloaded even more and then tried another roll around missile. Must have worked since I saw the missile up close and it too just missed us. Probably the jamming helped, couldn't read our altitude correctly maybe.  It also blew up over and behind us.  One second earlier and the night would not have ended well.  I swear I saw the rivets on the missile as it passed by.
I put my head down in the radar scope to work the radar tilt and gain to pick up the rest of the flight so we could get back into formation. I found them and told pilot to come right and climb, flight was to right of us 45 degrees and high. By this time we were heading basically east. Just as we were getting back in position a third SAM blew up just behind and above flight. It illuminated all three aircraft. It evidently came from another SA-2 site at our six. We never saw it coming.
Luckily, none of us were hit.  Thanks to superb flying by my AC and what I believed was a helping hand from God, we all made it home safely that night.    Praise the Lord and give me some more airspeed and altitude! 

Thank you, Dean.