27 September 1968 – Kuldar “Koot” Visnapuu was serving with the 174th TFS Phu Cat “Bats” in Vietnam. Lt. Kuldar Visnapuu’s had just taken off from a base in South Vietnam when his Supersabre was hit by enemy fire. He turned the plane toward the South China Sea and ejected safely, watching as his jet
“One great thing about being a fighter pilot is you have more interesting stories to tell than all the other old farts in your neighborhood.”
The Story …
During World War II, l was really into building model airplanes and l kept track of all the Fighter Pilot “Aces”. After the war, my Dad took me out to our local grass airport and arranged for a pilot to take us for several rides in Lacombe. I loved it and knew that someday I wanted to be a pilot. The Air Force offered me the opportunity to satisfy my dream. l went to UPT (Undergraduate Pilot Training) at Laughlin in Del Rio, Texas, and then got my first choice of assignments, F-100 training at Luke AFB in Arizona.
After gunnery school, my new wife and I headed off to Hahn Germany. Flying the Hun around Europe and North Africa was my job, but a “perk” of the assignment allowed Carolyn and me to ski at almost every major resort in the Alps. Then in Feb. 1968 with a brand-new son, I was assigned to PHU CAT AB, South Vietnam, where I flew 238 combat missions in the F-100.
My most memorable story starts out as a scramble from the alert pad leading a flight of two. The target was a Viet Cong unit that was attacking US Army Infantry near the Cambodian border.
The Army unit had wounded soldiers and Med Evac helicopters could not get in for the rescue. They were pinned down by anti-aircraft fire plus considerable enemy Infantry personnel with small arms.
My flight arrived in the area late in the afternoon. There was a thick undercast of clouds and I could not find a hole to get down under them. l told the ground FAC (Forward Air Control) that I was going to have to return to base because I couldn’t get down.
He said, “Sir, please give it another look”, and I could tell from his voice that our troops on the ground were in real trouble.
After telling my wingman to hold high, I rolled over in a dive, put my nose in the clouds, and broke out in a valley between the surrounding hills. Once I was in the clear and got oriented using a prominent bend in a river, I started up the valley and asked the FAC to pop smoke if he heard or saw me. l saw green smoke about the same time that I was passing a cleared-off area on a ridge top on the right.
With smoke coming from guns on my right, I broke up and away. I confirmed the green smoke was the friendly ground troops and the FAC confirmed the bad guys were shooting at me.
I came back up the valley this time between the clouds and the ridgeline with my 500 lb. “Snake Eyes”1 armed up. I saw the clearing and pickled singles2. The ground FAC called with a great deal of excitement and told me that the bombs had hit the artillery dugouts and there were pieces and parts flying everywhere. He then relayed that there were Viet Cong soldiers spread out in the tree line just under the first target.
I flew up the valley with my napalm armed and the airplane really humming so I could spread the fire along the hillside. I told the FAC to tell his guys to keep their heads down because it was going to “get warm”3 from the napalm fire.
Between the two ridgelines, there was tall grass in the valley and the FAC said he thought there were Viet Cong sneaking around in the grass. I told him I had 800 rounds in my 20mm cannons that I could spray in the valley if he was sure his guys were away from the valley floor. He confirmed that they were dug in, so I made one pass through the grass firing all four cannons. With Bingo fuel I pulled up, rocked my wings, and disappeared into the clouds.
The ground FAC called and said, “That is the closest I will ever see to an angel from heaven,” a very impressive compliment. Back on top, I joined up with my wingman; we found a place to jettison his ordnance and headed back to Phu Cat. I learned later that Med Evac choppers were able to pick up our guys. I was given a KBA of 85.
That was memorable but the mission that was most exciting was when I took a hit in the belly of the airplane that cut my fuel line. The FAC said I was smoking badly. My wing man said it was fuel. Losing fuel at a high rate I could not make Phu Cat and diverted to Pleiku Army Airfield.
I made high key at 10,000 feet and configured the airplane with gear and half flaps. I started a steep diving turn holding 250 knots. The engine was windmilling at 35% and I “dead-sticked” it and stopped on the runway with no other damage. I received the PACAF Able Aeronaut award for saving a valuable AF asset. The asset I was saving had nothing to do with that airplane.
My wife Carolyn and son Mike lived in California during the year I was in Vietnam. When I returned, we went to Cannon AFB in Clovis, NM where I was a Flight Commander and IP in a training Squadron. Our daughter Julie was born at Cannon and the family was now complete.
In 1971, we were off to Kansas where I was a full-time student for a year earning a Mathematics degree. I then became the Air Force advisor to the Oklahoma Air Guard, and I was there for the transition from C-97’s to F-100’s.
This was a great assignment, and we met many civilian friends. One of them was a Confederate Air Force Colonel that had several airplanes that he allowed me to fly, including my exclusive mount, a Mark 5 Sabre (Canadian F-86). It had my name painted below the canopy and I was the only one that flew it. It was really a thrill to fly the P-51 and P-38 of my WW II heroes.
During my time in Tulsa, I built the Pitts Special S-1 that I flew for 38 years. It was a 4.5-year building project. I am very proud to say that I donated my pride and joy to the MAPS Museum in Akron Ohio. It is now on permanent display hanging upside down from the ceiling in the main hangar. After leaving Tulsa I went to Hurlburt AFB in Florida to check out in the OV-10 before spending a solo year in Korea as an ALO. My last Air Force assignment was at Shaw AFB where I was the 507th Wing DOT and flew the OV-10.
The Man …
I am a 1st generation American, and like my father, who came to this country from Italy, I love being an American. My Grandfather fought on the side of the Allies in WW I.
When the war was over, he ended up in France, was offered US citizenship, and boarded a ship to New York. After a year he earned enough money working in a coal mine to bring his wife and two sons to the U.S.
My father was 11 years old with a 3rd-grade education, and his first job was with a brick mason. He worked with the mason until he was old enough to get a job in the local steel mill. For him, learning about America and speaking English was a primary goal which he did without an accent.
He went to night school to learn a trade and after marrying my mother during the early years of the Depression, he started a little business on the side making store counters and kitchen cabinets. He worked at his “side job” until he could quit the steel mill and go full-time on his own. A brave move at that time and he became very successful.
My parents believed that their children should get the best education possible. My sister Dolores and I started 1st grade in a private Catholic school, and I graduated from a Catholic college with a degree in Math and Physics.
Several years later I earned a master’s degree in Math from the University of South Carolina where I taught Math after retiring from the Air Force.
Retired Life …
I thought getting used to Civilian life was going to be tough but my new career in education turned out to be an easy transition and I was able to get involved in our local community.
Our parish priest asked me to take over as Principal of St. Anne Catholic School and I decided it was time to “payback” and took over the position at the school for a year. All Principals before me were Religious Nuns. That year led to one more and then one more and l was there l0 years.
The school prospered to full enrollment, and more than half the teachers had master’s degrees. We started the first computer education class for kids and were among the first private schools to be recognized by the State Board of Education. I found another retired Catholic pilot to take my place.
During this time, I volunteered to serve on the board of the Sumter Historical Society and helped plan the 200th anniversary of its founding. This is where General Thomas Sumter4 and his family are buried. I then was appointed to a volunteer position on the airport commission. I was elected chairman of the commission about two months prior to Hurricane HUGO which destroyed a good part of the facility. Working with national and state politicians we built a new terminal and hangars. It helped that my next-door neighbor was a Senator with connections and a SC Guard Fighter Pilot.
I joined my wife Carolyn in the Real Estate business and became a Broker. We formed a team and started a weekly TV show. For the first year, we filmed the show in our home. Our kids printed cue cards and held them for us to read. It became successful and we moved to a studio with live music and a teleprompter, the kids were happy. The show began each episode with an acrobatic routine with me flying in my Pitts Special home-built airplane. We had guests and sometimes filmed the show on location.
One location was the Sumter SC airport. Carolyn is also a Pilot. She taxied up to the new terminal in her Cessna 172 and I taxied up next to her in my Pitts. We de-planed and started the show. We also filmed tours of our listings.
Carolyn used her experience as a beautiful and successful fashion model to highlight and speak about the features of the home. She was also in the top three for sales in the entire Board of Realtors for about 20 years.
I was elected President of the Sumter Board of Realtors for two yearly terms and Chairman of the Multi-List service for 12 years. During my terms in office, the Board transferred to a computer-driven system. I was voted Realtor of the Year. Later when I retired, I was inducted into the South Carolina Real Estate Hall of Fame. The Real Estate business was very good to us.
I was elected to the board of directors of a large resort in Myrtle Beach SC, The Links Golf and Racket Club. I later became president of the board and continue in that position.
During my spare time, I wrote a book about my life and family. It is called, My American Dream. When I first started, knowing that I was not an English major, maybe I could come up with 100 pages. The hard-bound edition turned out to be 411 pages.
I was the Executive Director and CEO, “Chief Executive Officer” of the Super Sabre Society from 2018 to 2023. I really enjoyed this position because I was able to meet some of the best guys and their spouses in the world. My first job was to design and have an SSS coin made. It turned out really great and we sold about 800 of them.
I set up two SSS reunions and a few of the F-100 Fly-Ins at Fort Wayne Indiana. I flew the F-100 twice with Dean Cutshall and we became friends. A great Guy that owns the only flying F-100 in the world. Talk about a bucket list item 42 years after my last AF F-100 flight.
A worthy note, Carolyn and I will be married 60 years in May of 2024. Our kids are very bright and successful. My daughter Julie graduated with a degree in Education. She was a great teacher for several years and now owns her own business. She was invited to join the Duke University TIP program for talented kids. The minimum IQ is 140. This allowed her to take the SAT college entrance exam with High School seniors. She was in 7th grade.
My son Mike has a degree in Engineering. He was the youngest plant manager in all of Bosch. He is currently the President of all Bosch North America. This includes Canada, USA, and Mexico with approximately 35,000 employees.
From parents that did not graduate High School to being a retired LtCol with amazing kids.
I really did live “The American Dream”.
- 500lb “Snake Eyes”: the standard Mk-82 General Purpose bomb fitted with a special high-drag tail fin unit. In this configuration, it is referred to as the Snake Eye
- “pickled singles” using the control button that drops ordnance, in this case dropping them one by one.
- ‘get warm” bombs and bullets dropped on a particular area nearby
- General Thomas Sumter: also known as “The Gamecock” for his fierce fighting style during the War of Independence, a friend of the Cherokee, a congressman, and a senator.