17 April, 2015

Profile 102: FINISHED—the F-4D as flown by the 523rd TFS

And here it is - "Hunting for MiGs," the F-4 Phantom as flown by the 523rd TFS circa 1972.

Very soon, this blood-thick band of brothers will be swapping pictures of grandkids, amusing vacation stories and plans for upcoming hobby projects; it's time for their annual Reunion.  Part of the agenda will be the doling out of prints of this F-4.  The process will begin with hoots, hollers, wish-they-would-have-forgotten-that memories...but will inevitably end up with the realization that this represents their moment...

...and the room will get quiet.  For just a moment and then someone will yell, "D---d B--!" and all hell will break loose.

Fast forward to the year 2065 where some kid is looking at this picture hanging on the wall—and some how, some way, another old man lives forever.

There are aspects to 'this job' that stop me cold and this is one of them.  But don't get me wrong—it's beautiful stuff.

(deep breath)

*break break*

Onto those pictures that I promised in a prior post.  Pilot and author Darrel Couch* is quite a writer! But man, that guy knew when to take a picture!

Have a look below.  Darrel has graciously allowed my sharing them with you here.

Above:  A formation of F-4s approach another formation.  Smoky things, aren't they?  But the coolest part of this picture is where they're going; it's a 12-ship of F-4s (plus the formation ahead) going to escort Bob Hope to Clark AFB, (Philippines) circa December 1967.

Above:  Same time-frame as the shot above, only a few minutes later.  Can you ID the jets ahead?  If you can, you're pretty sharp.  Hint:  they aren't MiGs.

Above:  Same time as the top two; Darrel shows us what formation-flying is all about.  He's tucked in nicely on the Element Leader's right wing.

Above:  Darrel stands on the spine of a 523rd Phantom.  This is an interesting shot in that it helps the casual observer appreciate the size and proportions of this beast.  Can you spot the three (maybe four?)  different airplanes in the photo?

Also, a few readers have asked me about the red line that many jet aircraft have painted around the fuselage (like the one about 3' in front of Darrel).  According to the Air Force Tech Order, it's called "Plane of Rotation - Engine Turbine."  Or, as some have called, "The Turbine Line."  In other words, if the jet engine turbine decides to self destruct, shards of metal are going to come slicing out of that area faster than a ginsu knife cutting through tomatoes.  So, step aside.

Above:  613th TFS "Huns" (F-100 Super Sabres to the rest of us) circa December 1965.  I show this photo because of the sore-thumb Hun in the "SEA" (South East Asia) camouflage.

Update:  The 613th was the first Hun unit to be in Vietnam and the camo'd plane was among the first to be done (within the unit).

Above:  Darrel took this shot while flying Forward Air Control (FAC) flying the tiny, single-engined Cessna O-1.   Clearly, the man can walk and chew gum at the same time as he's in a bank, looking down, aiming a camera and timing the shot JUST as a B-57 lays a line of napalm on a target.

This kind of shot makes me swallow hard. *Stuff* just got serious...

Above:  An unidentified armorer poses with the two tools of the trade:  the AIM-4 Falcon and AIM-7 Sparrow missile.  The Sparrow is only partially visible; it's tucked up into the recessed divot on the bottom of the fuselage (right next to the crewman's head).  The Falcons are the smaller missiles hanging from the pylon.  From what they tell me, the Falcons were virtually useless.  This is probably one of the brand-spanking-new F-4Es delivered to Vietnam in 1968 (can't see any gun-pod, so that means it's likely a nose-gunned E model).

Above:  There's a bit going on in this photo—the white 'line' is actually a sequence of cluster bombs going off.  Basically, a cluster bomb (here, a CBU-2) is a bunch of little bombs held in a case that splits open after being dropped.  The first to hit (left) are dissipating while the furthest right are actually popping open in flame.  The F-100 that dropped them is just off frame.

Update:  I got my CBU info wrong; the CBU-2 was not a self-contained bomb but a dispenser-unit.

Darrel corrected me on this and added (thank you!):
CBU 2 & 12 were delivered in level flight. CBU 12, had a max delivery altitude of 75'. It ignited as soon as it cleared the dispenser tube and, if higher, would burn out before hitting the ground. CBU-24 was dive bomb delivered. The AGL release altitude was critical. Too low and area coverage was significantly reduced. Too high and the bomblet spread would create a doughnut. Center targets would remain untouched. After a few months of use, the timed case opening fuse was replaced with a radar fuse. This allowed a wide range of delivery options. When the container reached the proper altitude, the fuse would activate the explosive chain to open the clam shell and release the bomblet load. The bomblets were basically round with spin up molded in vanes. Spin would cause the bomblets to spread.
However, ever hear of Agent Orange?  If you look at the left third of the photo, you can see what looks like tan/dirt colored areas; that's where the AO hit.  Darrel told me that it must have been a recent strike as it didn't take long for AO to do a total-job of defoliating; that we can see green at all means it must have been 'fresh.'

Above:  This is Quan Loi Airfield, circa July 1967.   The top of the photo is nearly straight North and the red-dirt runway is running from NW to SE.  It's near the town of Ahn Loc.  Do your own research on the topic, but suffice it to say, it saw its share of action.

Anyway, a couple things to note;  See the dark trees that frame the runway in triangle patterns?  Those are rubber trees.  You should be able to see a C-130 airplane at the SE end of the runway; chances are good it's taking off.  But, if you look at the middle-middle-right of the photo and see a jagged edge to what looks like a growth of trees, that's where the Viet Cong would gather to lob mortar rounds into the area.

*break break*

If you're like me, these photos are a rare glimpse into the times; many thanks to Darrel for sharing his story.  He's helped me understand the cost of war, the purpose of duty and the value of friendship.

If any of the above photos were interesting to you, click here (there's more, there).

But to the 523rd, on the appropriate day, I'll be toasting you in-spirit, to the strength of your legacy.  It's been an honor to be a part of yours.