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Flightline Friday: “There is a Way” December 5, 2014

Posted by Tantumblogo in Admin, awesomeness, Flightline Friday, fun, Glory, non squitur, silliness, Society, Victory.

When the Vietnam War began in earnest with the kickoff of Rolling Thunder on March 2, 1965 (my mother’s 29th birthday), it is fair to say that the United States Air Force was not entirely prepared for this kind of conventional, counter-insurgent, limited kind of war.  For the previous 20 years, USAF had been designed and trained, more and more as the years went by, to fight a strictly nuclear war in Europe and against the USSR.  There were huge fleets of strategic bombers filling the wings of SAC.  Tactical aircraft were designed to fly fast and low one way missions into Eastern Europe to drop nuclear bombs.  It was thought that missiles had rendered the days of the conventional dogfight over.  Most aircraft were not designed for close-in, air-to-air combat.  Nor did they have sensors (mostly because the technology did not exist, but also as a result of a contrary concept of operations) capable of targeting pinpoint targets.  The conventional capabilities were not much more capable than those used in Korea, only the volume of fire that could be delivered had improved (and in that regard, by an order of magnitude).  The revolution in military affairs driven by the microprocessor was still several years away.  There were no smart bombs.  The vast majority of aircraft thrown into battle either had none, or very inadequate, electronic countermeasures to deal with the known threat: radar-guided surface-to-air missiles and radar directed AAA.

So as the US became more and more bogged down in this seemingly endless conventional conflict, they were hamstrung almost as much by their own inadequate equipment as they were by the hideous, infinitely frustrating and idiotic rules of engagement enforced by the McNamara “whiz kid” civilians running the show in the Johnson Administration Department of Defense.  Limitations in technology combined with ludicrously onerous rules of engagement combined to make Rolling Thunder an utter failure.

As combat ground on, USAF quickly found itself facing a shortage of qualified pilots to fly the primary strike aircraft used throughout the first 4 years of the war, the great Republic F-105 Thunderchief, or “Thud.”  883 Thuds were produced, of which almost half – 385 – were lost in combat in Southeast Asia.  Losses were so high that for a good long period in 1966 and 1967, it was judged statistically impossible for a given pilot to complete his tour, which required 100 “counters,” or missions over North Vietnam (missions elsewhere did not count toward his 100 mission total).  As more and more pilots were lost, and even those who survived were excused another combat tour in the Thud, USAF began to run low on qualified pilots.  We still took air defense seriously at that time, and there were many pilots in SAC and other organizations who could be trained, so USAF began transferring pilots from these other organizations into the F-105 replacement training squadrons and sending them to combat over North Vietnam.

It is understandable if some of these men, perhaps winding down a 20 year career spent more or less safely guarding the skies of North American from the Russian bomber threat, were less than thrilled at the prospect of being sent into a combat mission they statistically could not survive.  Recruitment became more and more of a problem, and volunteer assignments had to be replaced with forced changes to a reluctant pilot’s career.  This stirred up some amount of bad blood, and USAF moved to counter the problem by, how else in mid-20th century America?, producing a movie highlighting men who had successfully completed their 100 mission tours, and showing the extreme camaraderie and even fun that can only be had in a combat fighter squadron.

This movie is shown below.  It is called “There Is A Way,” and was aimed even more at the internal Air Force audience than it was at bucking up morale among an increasingly distressed civilian population at home.  It is a surprisingly revealing and entertaining view into the challenges these men faced, and their unique responses to performing what was essentially an impossible mission.  While USAF as an institution may not have been fully prepared to fight a conventional war – with some of the most onerous political restrictions ever imposed in the history of warfare – in this difficult jungle environment, these men more than rose to the occasion and performed their mission with true professionalism.  It was filmed at Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base with the 388th TFW.

The movie is fairly eclectic.  It shows not only the “glamorous” side of the pilots but also ground crew, staff weenies, flight schedulers, armorers, etc.  I really enjoyed it.

The movie featured some truly notable men, like Ed Rasimus, who eventually settled in Whitesboro, and, I am sorry to say, passed away about a year and a half ago.  He is the one with the very slightly turned up mustache who told the story about being an instructor pilot at Williams flying T-38s while standing in front of a frig early on.  If you knew the story of 1st Lt. Karl Richter who appears @8:05, you might shed a tear, too.  MiG-killer, he is the one who few two 100 mission tours back to back, with no rest period back in the states.  On his 198s mission – two before he was due to go home – Lieutenant Richter was shot down while in combat and fatally injured.  He was a very popular figure in the 388th TFW at Korat.  He flew almost daily combat missions for over a year straight – an unheard length of time to fly combat.  He was only 23 when he died.

Thanks to Zeno’s Warbirds for restoring the color, it looks much better.

Another pretty good movie on the F-105, “The Twenty-Five Hour Day.” It was actually produced by Fairchild-Republic (maker of the F-105) for the Air Force. It’s much more a gung-ho rah-rah type of movie:

This patch was the most coveted item F-105 aircrew could receive, and not too many people earned one, although several earned two and a couple even three.  It was the patch they got after their 100th mission North:


Around the 17 minute mark, there is a pilot being driven along the flightline discussing which aircraft belong to which squadron. He makes a sort of innocent comment about the planes of his squadron – the 421st TFS – being identifiable by a red GCA reflector.  There is a lot of significance in that statement.  GCA means ground control approach, the radar system used to bring aircraft in to land at night or in bad weather, which Southeast Asia has lots of.  The F-105 had a very small radar cross section for its time, mostly because the engine “face” was invisible to radar from most angles.  So, they had to add a large flat plate to provide a good radar reflector for the GCA to pick up the planes at sufficient distance.

Man I love the Thud.  And those Thud drivers loved the tanker pilots.  Many a dangerously injured Thud was saved by a timely tanker rendevouz, and there are tales that a few were even drug home by plugging the tanker into the receptacle and getting pulled to at least over Laos where ejection was a lot less dangerous.


1. Boniface - December 7, 2014

Tantrumblogo, since you are a can of plane design, have you seen the anime film “The Wind Rises” by Miyazaki? It only came out last year. It is about the life of the guy that designed the plane the Japs used in WW2. One of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen. Worth owning.

Boniface - December 7, 2014

Woops…should say “fan” not “can”

Tantumblogo - December 8, 2014

Funny how our minds work. I read it as fan until I saw your correction! Our minds can do that based on the context of what we read.

No, I’m not real familiar with anime. Or, I should say, my experience ended with Star Blazers/Space Battleship Yamato. Great show. It came on at 3:30 when we were kids, and we got out of elementary school at 3:25, so we would all sprint home to watch Star Blazers in 3rd and 4th grade. I ran 3/4 mile in 5 minutes many times!

2. Tantumblogo - December 8, 2014

No love for Karl Richter…….too bad. Great guy.

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