By: Friedrich Seiltgen
Copyright © 2022
On March 10th, 1967, F-105 Thunderchiefs and F-4 Phantoms of the USAF 433rd Tactical Fighter Wing launched from their base at Ubon Royal Thai Air Base on a mission to take out a North Vietnamese Steel mill located in Thai Nguyen, just north of Hanoi.
The plan was for the F-105s to drop ordinance on the mill while the Phantoms provided cover against any MIG interceptors. If no MIGs were encountered, the Phantoms could join in on the attack.
One of the Phantoms was piloted by Captain Bob Pardo with Lt. Steve Wayne in the backseat Wizzo (Weapons System Operator) position. The second Phantom was piloted by Captain Earl Aman with Lt. Robert Houghton in the back.
As they made their approach, Captain Aman’s Phantom took a hit from a flak battery, but Aman and Houghton continued on. As Pardo and his wingman Aman finished their bombing run, both aircraft were struck by anti-aircraft fire. Aman’s Phantom took the brunt of the fire and was losing fuel quickly.
Aman radioed out to Pardo, “we’re losing fuel fast.” Pardo told him, “Ok, we’ll head to the tanker.” Aman and Houghton then determined that they did not have enough fuel to make it to the KC-135 tanker aircraft orbiting over Laos. Aman then said, “we have to eject.”
Pardo told him to stand by. The aircraft were still over North Vietnam and an ejection meant years of torture at the hands of enemy interrogators.
Pardo advised Aman to start climbing. Pardo followed, although his Phantom was also leaking fuel and had lost electrical power. After reaching 30,000 feet, Aman was about to eject when Pardo told him he was going to try something. Pardo told Aman to jettison his drag chute. Aman did.
Pardo then attempted to push Aman’s phantom by placing the nose of his aircraft into the empty drag chute receptacle. Unfortunately, the jet engine wash made it impossible. Then Pardo wanted to place his Phantom under Aman’s Phantom attempting a piggyback, no go. Finally, Pardo told Aman to drop his tail hook.
Aman dropped the hook and Pardo maneuvered his phantom until his windshield was pressed against the hook. The tactic was quite dangerous. There was a possibility the hook would punch through Pardo’s windshield and kill him; there were already cracks in Pardo’s windscreen The tactic was successful, and Pardo was able to push Aman’s Phantom while reducing the rate of descent from 3,000 feet per minute to 1,500.
As they flew to the tanker, Aman’s phantom ran out of fuel and both engines shut down. Now it was up to Pardo to get them as close to Laos as possible. Just then, Pardo’s port engine indicated fire and had to be shut down! Now with one engine, the rate of descent started climbing.
Pardo had his hands full. He had to reposition his broken windscreen onto the hook about every 30 seconds, restart, and shut down the port engine to get some more lift, all while the aircraft was falling apart on him.
In total, Pardo pushed Aman’s Phantom about 88 miles, with the last 10 miles on one engine.
Pardo contacted the USAF Pararescue units that they were going to eject and gave the coordinates. The cavalry was on the way via a number of A-1 Skyraiders, aka “Sandy,” and two HH-43 Jolly Green Giant helicopters.
Their altitude was about 10,000 feet as they approached Laos. At approximately 6,000 feet, Aman and Houghton ejected. Aman landed beneath a cliff and was safe, but Houghton was spotted by a band of guerillas who took shots at him while still in his chute. After landing, Houghton called the rescue units with location information.
Pardo had Wayne eject first; then he went. Wayne landed near Aman and Houghton’s position. When Pardo ejected, he was knocked unconscious. When he came to, he heard the guerrillas and immediately radioed Sandy to strike an area near his position.
When the Helicopters arrived, they picked up Aman & Houghton, then Wayne, and last but not least, Pardo.
Despite the bravery shown, Pardo would be reprimanded by USAF brass for losing the aircraft. Apparently, he should have returned to base and allowed his wingman to spend time in the Hanoi Hilton.
It took a few years, but in 1989 the case was reexamined. All 4 men received the Silver Star in recognition of gallantry in action.
That’s all for now folks! Please keep sending in your questions, tips, and article Ideas. And as always – “Let’s Be Careful Out There.”
Friedrich Seiltgen is a retired Master Police Officer with 20 years of service with the Orlando Police Department. He conducts training in Lone Wolf Terrorism Counterstrategies, Firearms, and Active Shooter Response. His writing has appeared in RECOIL, Floridajolt.com, The Counter Terrorist Magazine, American Thinker, Homeland Security Today, and The Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security International. Contact him at [email protected].