05 February 2012

Air Defense

A large fraction of EB-66 mission activities in the 1971-72 time frame involved ECM support for B-52 strikes in Laos and the key passes from North Vietnam into Laos.  When the strikes were close enough to Vinh and Than Hoa a fighter escort was tasked, in addition to the usual support package of two EB-66s and two F-105G Wild Weasels.  Most of the time the fighter escort came from the 432nd Tactical Fighter Wing at Udorn, since they were air-to-air specialists.  However, some of their F-4 crews apparently weren’t that good at aircraft identification. 

IL-28 "Beagle"
On at least two occasions the fighter escorts could be heard talking among themselves wondering what those two twin-engine jets were out there following along with the formation.  Some even suggested that they might be IL-28 Beagles, since the North Vietnamese were known to have some of those.  Somehow, it didn’t seem occur to the escorts that the twin-engine jets were supposed to be out there.  Someone with a sense of humor even painted an orange pipper around the picture of an EB-66 that was hanging in the Korat Officers Club bar.  After landing from one such sortie, a message was sent to the 432nd explaining the differences between the IL-28 and the EB-66. 

It must have worked because no one heard that kind of talk again from the fighter escorts.  In fact, on at least one mission where the EB-66s were providing ECM support in the “Gorilla’s Head” region of Laos, one EB-66 crew saw what appeared to be their F-4 MIGCAP shooting at them.  Post-mission reports clarified what really happened:  the F-4s were shooting at a MiG that was closing in at the EB-66’s six o’clock. 

But the fighter jocks had some other interesting and unusual experiences as well.

This one happened to a couple of F-4E crews out of the 388th TFW on MIGCAP over the Plaines des Jarres (PDJ) in northern Laos.  Brigham Control (the GCI radar at Udorn) had detected a medium speed non-squawker (no IFF) coming southwest out of Hanoi.  Since the bogie couldn't be identified electronically, Brigham vectored the MIGCAP to go check it out.  They were cleared in for an ID pass.  The first F-4E went smoking past the bogie at a high rate of speed. 

"Didja see it?" the pilot asked the GIB (Guy in Back). 
GIB:  "Yeah, it looked like a DC-7 to me." 
Flight lead:  "Two, your cleared in." 

The second F-4E went smoking past the bogie at a high rate of speed. 

"Didja see it?" the pilot asked his GIB. 
"Yeah," replied the GIB. 
 "Well, what was it," asked the pilot. 
GIB:  "I don't know, but it has CCCP painted on the side." 

Editor's Note:  For those too young to recall the Cold War, the Cyrillic acronym for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) is CCCP.  It is pronounced as ESS ESS ESS ERR.

IL-18 "Coot"
There was a long pause while that news was digested.  It turned out in the aftermath that it was a Soviet embassy Il-18 (NATO code Coot), and it was taking a circuitous routing over the PDJ (probably for intelligence purposes) enroute to its destination, which was somewhere in Burma.

In any case, a message from 7th Air Force went out to all flying units and GCI squadrons pointing out the fact that the schedule of all Soviet embassy flights in the theater was provided on a weekly basis and everyone had better start paying attention to it.


Same wing, different crews, different day.  This time Brigham had a very high speed non-squawker coming southwest out of Hanoi.  This one couldn't be identified electronically either, but since its parameters implied an attack profile, the MIGCAP was vectored on it and cleared to fire. 

Excitement ran very high.  Now, the F-4E crews are humping along at over 35,000 feet and at as good a mach number as the bird will do, but they are barely closing on the bogie.  Finally, 75 miles inside Thailand, the flight lead thinks to himself that this is not an attack profile; he told Brigham Control  that this would be an ID pass – when he finally caught up to the bogie. 

A few minutes later, the MIGCAP finally got close enough to see that it was an SR-71.  It seems that the SR-71 crew had a few hydraulics problems over their "area of interest" and aborted the mission.  They had neglected to turn on the IFF.  It's probably fortunate that the flight lead was not some eager beaver looking to paint a red star on the side of his airplane.  The SR-71 landed at Korat, home of the guys who had been cleared to shoot it down. 

KC-135Q with SR-71A
Shortly, a KC-135Q arrived at Korat with a maintenance team and enough JP-7 to get the SR-71 to its intended destination, which was U-Tapao Air Base, Thailand.  A day or so later the SR-71 continued on its way.  There was a short work stoppage while everyone on the flight line watched the bird depart.  The SR-71 pilots never missed a chance to put on a good show.

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