Thuds – a little Vietnam History

Thuds, the Ridge, and 100 Missions North. Air & Space Magazine, Smithsonian.

F105s in Thailand

On the weekend of April 4 & 5th, I was in Arizona to attend a wedding and to interview my uncle for the Veterans History Project. Among the many things my uncle did in his Air Force career was to fly F105s as a fighter pilot, flying 105 missions into North Vietnam (the requirement was 100).

My uncle mentioned that the latest Air & Space had an article on the F105s. I found it online; here it is.

Other things my uncle mentioned that the article does not:

The tires would last for two flights. Takeoff, land, takeoff, land, change tires. That plane was so heavy on takeoff — what with fuel, external fuel tanks, and the ordinance they had on board, the plane was heavy at takeoff — 50,000 pounds. Sometimes they had to rolling at 300 mph before the plane got airborne. Landing, the plane was 25,000 or 30,000 pounds. (I’m reciting the weights from memory; I’d have to go back and listen to get exact figures, but the point is takeoff weight was close to double the landing weight).

He lost half the pilots in his squadron — killed or missing in action (held as POWs). Many’s the time he’d attend a memorial service in the morning and fly a combat mission in the afternoon.

He was damn lucky to make it out himself; he mentioned one time he leaned over in the cockpit just as his plane was hit with shrapnel from an exploding anti-aircraft shell — one piece pierced his headrest. If he hadn’t leaned forward just then, he’d be dead. When he got down, they stuck broomsticks through all the piercings, and looked at where the broomsticks “converged” to see where the shell exploded.

Heaviest. flak. ever. He mentioned those WW2 movies of flying through the air with those lines of upward surface to air fire… and said that what they experienced in North Vietnam was much heavier. The flak was so thick, it was a solid cloud and you could not see the ground.

RK on the tail of an F105

RK on the tail. In the photos for the article, you can see either an RK or an RE. Those were randomly assigned letters for the aircraft. It so happens that my uncle’s initials are RK. He told a story of going to see the commanding officer after the planes got those tail markings. He congratulated his CO on his tactical brilliance, etc., etc., for putting his own initials on all the planes. The CO threw my uncle out of his office.

(By the way, check out the comments for the article … Within the first half dozen or so comments is one from a reader who discovered that “his” POW — he wore a POW bracelet — was of one of the people interviewed in the article and depicted in a picture)