FOREWORD: One of the missions that I flew in South East Asia was rather significant in that some lives were saved and my crew received an Air Medal for our part in the action. It was a rather tiring mission and in the heat and humidity, I was probably a little more than normally irritated when, while going through the post mission debriefing I was required to write up in narrative form the events of this mission. I did so in perhaps a tongue in cheek fashion. However, the facts contained in the following narrative are accurate. It just probably has a few more adjectives and perhaps verbs or adverbs than are necessary. This is the narrative I wrote back then, with perhaps one or two grammatical corrections. Footnotes have been added to assist the reader in understanding the process and language. These footnotes were not a part of the original document.
One Day in Viet Nam
The Monday morning sun made Captain Wyatt squint as he disembarked from the crew bus and glanced up at KC-135 Strato-Tanker number 097. This was 27 October 1969, somewhere in South East Asia. Captain Wyatt was the crew commander on this day that held in store for them, events that no one would soon forget. This was to be mission number five for Crew S-105. As the copilot, Captain Schrecker, studied the aircraft forms, the crew navigator, Major Welch, assisted Tech Sgt. Rodgers in loading their gear aboard.
The mission was rather uneventful as the aircraft wound its way northward. The route was indelibly printed in the minds of these men who had flown it countless times on this and previous South East Asia tours. But no one was complacent as they bent to the task at hand while mentally reviewing the morning briefing: üTwo Flights1 of Republic F-105 Thunder chiefs (affectionately known as Republic Racers, aka Thuds) to be refueled outbound. One flight of McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantoms, to be refueled coming off their targets en route to home. Ü The F-4;s were added after the briefing, before takeoff. The first deviation of the day. The first of many more to follow that will necessitate a series of rapid fire, critical decisions by Capt. Wyatt and a maximum effort by his crew members. An effort required, not just to ensure their safety, but an effort required to ensure the survival of a fighter aircraft and its pilot.
The crew became tense and any jovial airs rapidly vanished as they approached the refueling area. Capt. Schrecker made a last quick review of his check-list, taking advantage of the last of his free moments to mentally review the mission goals. Capt. Wyatt cast a glance at the solid wall of clouds looming ahead as he slipped, familiarly, into his survival equipment, slightly annoyed at the protruding butt of his .38 caliber service revolver. With his head seemingly glued to his radar scope, Major Welch kept the crew advised on the weather conditions ahead. Sgt. Rodgers let his eyes expertly caress the multitude of circuit breakers and fuses as he donned his parachute, oxygen mask and helmet in preparation for what will soon be one of the most demanding days of his Air Force career.
As if in anticipation of the crew s concern about the approaching weather, the ground radar controller requested a port turn towards the south; üOrange Anchor 25, turn port to two one five, you have a flight of four bearing two two zero at 110 miles. Ü This was to be the first of many ürapid fire Ü instructions from a ground controller who was about to direct his 5000th rendezvous.2
All cockpit chatter ceased as the crew, once more, expertly executed a perfect join-up with the 105's and headed the entire flight northward with üchicks in tow Ü . The rendezvous was as briefed , the refueling was ü by the book Ü 3 in the very capable hands of Sgt. Rodgers, the devoted father of four children. However, midway through this refueling, the ü normal Ü mission started to become hectic.
While in the process of executing the third of the scheduled four offloads, the entire flight plunged into a seemingly solid deck of clouds. There was no turning back, the üchicks Ü tucking in closer to the ü mother hen , fearful of the consequences of losing visual contact in this weather. Major Welch was threading the flight around thunderstorms that could only be seen on radar. The ü Boomer Ü , Sgt. Rodgers, was calmly issuing position instructions to his receiver to help him üstay in there Ü despite the turbulence. The co-pilot s experienced eyes monitored the refueling progress scanning the dizzying display of dials up forward while his computer like mind kept a running calculation of the fuel status of both the tanker and receiver. Capt. Wyatt s knuckles were white on the throttles as his ears strained for any indication of impending trouble that would presage a lightening like übreakaway from the turbulence tossed receivers.
At this moment the ground controller announced that the flight of F-4's would not require post-strike refueling. The crew had hardly made mental note of this when GCI4 again called and inquired of their capability to provide 14,000 lbs of fuel for another flight of F-4 Phantoms, already on target somewhere to the north. At that moment every indication was to the positive, that they could comply, and Capt. Wyatt responded to the affirmative after requesting that this be cleared with üBlue Chip Ü , the forward command system. Steering ever northward to avoid heavy weather, the tanker completed the refueling and released the fighters to strike their targets. With the receivers away there still was no chance to relax. The question uppermost in everyone s mind now was: üWhere are the F-4's, the ones who need urgent refueling? Ü Brigham5 could only say that the requirement was still valid but he had not yet acquired them on ground radar. On Major Welch s call the giant tanker started a three degree per second swing to the southward as Capt. Wyatt prepared to receive the next flight of fighters.
Orange Anchor 25, this is Brigham. You have a flight of two coming up at 54 miles. Ü
Roger Brigham, two five copies two , but we re expecting four. Ü responded Capt. Wyatt.
That checks Orange, we ll make the rendezvous with these two and then start a rendezvous with the next two who are 75 miles behind. Ü
Roger Brigham, two five understands. Ü
Major Welch was now sorting this all out in his mind. Rate of closure was about 8 miles per minute. Turning range was 22 miles with an offset of 9.4 miles. The turn had to be perfect so that the receivers were directly under the tanker at 180 degrees of turn, however the turn will have to be continued for another 180 degrees, refueling in the turn, to intercept the other two aircraft who should be about 50 miles away at roll-out. This should give them about 3 minutes and 30 seconds of wings level to finish refueling before starting the next interception turn, if everything is working normally.No protest, no complaints, this highly trained crew simply set about preparing for a very difficult but apparently not impossible feat...refueling two heavily bomb laden Thunder Chiefs, requiring them to fly a tight formation while the tanker banks and maneuvers left and right, dodging thunderstorms and executing rendezvous with the other two F-105's over hostile territory. This requires the peak of perfection in the performance of the crew working together as one man, with one aim; to give each other the most perfect support possible to complete the mission. The fighter pilots knew also that the next ten minutes were going to be very critical ones indeed and they too quickly put behind them all thoughts not directly associated with the next critical maneuver. No time now to worry about üMom s impending operation...Why hasn t Mary written...Isn t she getting my letters?...$1,200 for braces for Karen s teeth?...Why can t finance straighten out my pay?...Should I purchase those speakers or buy clothes for little Byron? Ü Now the mind could only comprehend; ü EPR - ETA - Off load - Roll out heading - Vertical Velocity - PPM - Bingo Fuel - Destination Reserves - IAS Altitude - Barber Pole - Intercept - Closure Rate - Distance - Thunderstorms - Prohibited Areas. Ü No time to worry; üIs the navigator monitoring the weather - Is the pilot aware of what warning was just transmitted - Does the co-pilot know we only give this guy 4,000 lbs - Is the Boomer watching that guy on the right wing? Right here - right now - every man concerned must have the utmost confidence in his fellow crew members. This SAC6 Combat crew must know that every man not only knows his job to the letter, but is very capable and is performing to the very limits of his ability. Only with this knowledge can the crew perform with any degree of confidence and safety.
As the first two receivers swung neatly into position behind the sleek behemoth a series of maneuvers were expertly performed to avoid a cumulonimbus buildup ahead, and to reintercept the projected flight path of the two errant Thunder Chiefs.
Capt. Wyatt, with the coolness and precision of a circus juggler, monitored the communications between Sgt. Rodgers and his receivers being refueled, Major Welch s heading requests and weather warnings, Capt. Schrecker s conversations with the incoming receivers, and Brigham s heading requests and rendezvous information. Any deviations or conflicts with any one in any area must be recognized immediately by Capt. Wyatt and, on the basis of what has transpired, what lies ahead plus mission requirements versus crew and airplane capabilities, immediate decisions must be made and they must be right. Above all, they must be unquestioned to ensure the success of the mission and the survival of the crew.
Following some extensive maneuvering all five aircraft finally merged on Brigham s radar as one dot. Now tension was even greater for the flight was now deep within hostile territory.
Add 3,700 pounds to Bingo fuel. cautioned the navigator. ÜBingo Ü is the term applied to the end-of-refueling fuel reserves that the airborne gas station would need to recover to his home base. But they were, now, so far north that their planned reserves were insufficient, prompting this request by Major Welch.
Capt. Wyatt, as well as the rest of the crew, immediately grasped the significance of this statement though no outward sign indicated that anyone had even heard the request.
The men began to mentally review their ü Escape and Evasion Ü procedures. But their thoughts were suddenly interrupted by a faint radio crackle and; ü Lancer Flight, check in! Ü Lancer 2", ü3", ü4". üBrigham, Lancer Flight, up, your frequency...where is our tanker, we are at minimum fuel! Ü From Brigham; üLancer your tanker bears one nine two at 32 miles...fly two zero five degrees; break...Orange two five, go port to zero one zero degrees...break...Lancer your tanker is Orange Anchor two five, at flight level two two zero, operating on 281.1 megacycles...be advised he has chicks in tow. Ü This is a warning to the new receivers that the tanker is currently engaged in air to air refueling and that the
rendezvous could be quite hazardous. But then, these men operate under hazardous conditions daily.
Currently engaged in refueling F-105's, the tanker warned them that they would be required to do some maneuvering, then smoothly banked towards the north to penetrate deeper into enemy territory, concerned now with the task of picking up the F-4 Phantoms. Meanwhile, Capt. Wyatt began to realize the telling effect of flying at high speeds with the refueling boom down. He no longer had the fuel reserves that he had planned on.
Lancer, Lancer! Ü called Capt. Wyatt as Sgt. Rodgers üpunched off Ü his last receiver. Lancer, this is Orange two five...we are almost at Bingo...What is the minimum fuel that you require? Ü
Orange, this is Lancer One...I m almost at dry tanks...I need at least 3,500 pounds; Two needs 3,000; Three needs 3,000 and Four needs 2,000. Can you help us? Ü
The Tanker Commander muttered something unintelligible and then responded: üThat s what we re here for, just hold on. Ü Making a quick mental calculation, he recognized that he could not meet the requirement and still make it back to Utapao, Thailand, his home station. But these guys were just coming off their targets and were counting on him.
With üChicks away , his F-105's gone, Capt. Wyatt nimbly swung the huge tanker in front of the thirsty F-4's. While frantically but methodically searching for ways to conserve fuel, he asked the navigator for distance and heading to Takhli, Thailand. Having anticipated the request Major Welch responded immediately with; ü244 miles, 30 minutes, heading two two two. Ü
OK Nav, call Utapao and tell them that we are heading for Takhli and we will call them when we land there. Ü Lancer, can you refuel in a climb? Ü
Roger, Orange two five, go ahead. Ü came the reply. üMeanwhile we must put Lead on the boom immediately or he will be dry tanks. Ü Dry tanks...the phrase strikes terror in the hearts of all airmen.
Come on in! called Capt. Wyatt, üI ll hold her steady until you re on...break...Brigham, Orange Two Five, requesting permission to climb to flight level three two zero to conserve fuel, and be advised we will be recovering at Takhli. Ü
Roger Orange, commence climb. Ü
As Lancer Lead entered refueling position, he explained; üThe others are getting critical too...just give me one thousand pounds to keep my engines lit then I ll back off while you refuel the others after which I can come back in for the rest. Ü By now the tanker crew was clicking like a well oiled machine. While the navigator was working out more precise course and distance and communicating with the home station, the copilot was operating the fuel tanks and pumps, adjusting the tankers center of gravity for optimum performance and computing the big bird s fuel status. It has to be figured out to the cupful.
Sgt Rodgers was talking to the four fuel starved fighters as though he were addressing his four children; ü Lancer, come ahead four feet, up two, steady...down one...contact tanker. Ü Contact receiver. came the relieved reply.
Capt. Wyatt s steady hand was guiding the flight through the weather, towards a higher altitude with the coolness of an everyday training flight, knowing that any unanticipated lurch could cause a sudden disconnect with the receiver and the resulting delay could cost the United States Air Force an aircraft and a pilot. While engaged in this delicate activity he was also calling ahead to Takhli to alert them to the events of which they would soon become a part.
With outstanding professionalism, the crew completed the refuelings as requested and recovered at Takhli RTAFB without further incident. Landing with minimum fuel on board, they refueled the giant tanker and flew back to Utapao RTNAS to complete another day, another mission, unaware that the airplane that they had, that day saved, contained the Squadron Commander of the F-4 squadron, and that the crew would be credited with an Aircraft Save7For their part in this mission, Crew S-105 of the 380th AREFS, Captain J.C. Wyatt commanding, was awarded the United States Air Force Air Medal.Ü.
The report that went on to higher headquarters stated simply:
SCHEDULED: 3 Rendezvous - 12 refuelings. ACCOMPLISHED: 4 Rendezvous - 12 refuelings.
MISSION - COMPLETE.