note…while we’re waiting to make caterpillar entries, here’s Lynn Farnsworth’s detailed story
MY FIRST MISTY SHOOT DOWN. 19 JAN 1970 (BACK IN THE UNITED STATES THIS WAS 18 JAN 1970. 18 JAN IS MY BIRTHDAY)
On 19 January 1970 Captain Dan Brown and I were fragged for a Misty mission along the Ho Chi Minh trail. The mission was briefed by Dan with the standard items covered and with one item of special interest. 7th Air Force had requested that Misty aircrews check out a suspected North Vietnamese Army headquarters located in the vicinity of Delta 43. Delta 43 was a river crossing where two branches of the Ho Chi Minh trail converged. Just north of Delta 43 was a wide, long valley. It was in this valley that 7th Air Force suspected the NVA headquarters was located. This would be the primary focus of today’s mission.
Dan was in the front seat and I was in the back seat acting as the observer. Start, taxi and takeoff were standard. The weather was VFR with scattered clouds. Climbing out, Dan checked in with Peacock, the radar control agency in this part of Vietnam. About 10 minutes after takeoff we heard a Mayday call on the radio. From the call sign we could tell the aircraft that was having problems was a F-4 out of Phu Cat Air Base. They had been hit by AAA in Laos. The emergency aircraft was the lead airplane in a flight of 2 F-4s. The damaged aircraft had been hit in the front cockpit and the front seater was wounded. The number 2 aircraft was about 4 miles in trail trying to catch his leader, so as to be of as much assistance as possible.
The lead aircraft, now being flown by the rear seat crew member, was headed east, toward the South China Sea. They wanted to be over the water in the event they had to eject. Most aircrews preferred an over water ejection vs to ejecting over unfriendly territory.
We called the controlling agency and offered our assistance; however, we weren’t needed and continued toward our working area in Laos. We called Peacock for the current information for our tanker aircraft that we would be using to refuel later. They told us Panama, another radar agency, was controlling the tanker on Yellow track. Peacock told us the radio frequency Panama was using for the Yellow refueling track.
As soon as we entered Laos we contacted Hillsboro, an ABCCC C-130 aircraft that controlled air activity in this part of the war zone. We told Hillsboro we were starting visual reconnaissance on Route 110 east.
As we flew along the road system, we saw nothing of significance. Approaching the Delta 87 area we checked in with a Covey FAC who was working this section of the road system. He was the FAC who had been working with the F-4 that had been hit earlier. Covey requested we check out a possible gun site for him. He thought this might be the location of the gun that had hit the F-4. It was about 2 kilometers north of Delta 87, on top of a knoll east of the road. We made several low, high speed passes over the suspected gun site without being able to positively confirm it being the gun. The Covey FAC got a little worried and asked us to not “hang it out” too much because the gun had hit an F-4 a little earlier. We were well aware of this and so were varying our run in heading and using the afterburner to keep the airspeed around 500 knots. Even using these techniques, it doesn’t take someone long to figure out that we were passing over one central point on each pass. So, even though we couldn’t confirm the location of the suspected gun site, we felt that in the interest of our longevity, we would press on and come back later.
We told Covey of our intentions and continued north to Delta 96, just north of the Golf Course. At this point we had reached Bingo Fuel for our tanker. We called Hillsboro and informed them we were outbound for the tanker and turned east to intercept the Yellow refueling track. The tanker rendezvous was made under radar control by a Panama controller. Dan completed the refueling and we depart the tanker.
With the tanks again full, we planned to VR the Delta 43 area in compliance with the request from 7th Air Force. In order to be as productive as possible, we pick up Route 922 where it enters South Vietnam from Laos, a few mile southwest of the Kam Duc Special Forces camp that had been overrun by NVA troops in 1968.
The road was showing increased use, but the quick over flight produced no truck or supply targets. The Gomers had at least 1 bulldozer working on Route 922 and we saw evidence of its work as we did our visual reconnaissance of the road.
Turning north at Delta 41 we again covered route between there and Delta 43. Arriving at the suspected NVA Headquarters area we made 3 passes over the area. We noted several roads leading off from the main road. These in turn had other roads branching off into the thick jungle. After the 3rd pass we decided in view of the heavy concentration of enemy guns and personnel in the vicinity, we had been in the area long enough. The final pass had us going in a westerly direction, taking us away from the main LOCs so Dan turned right to fly over the White Cliffs with the intent to continue a visual reconnaissance of the roads north to Delta 45.
Crossing the White Cliffs we both heard and felt a soft thunk. Dan asked me, “What was that”? My reply was, “I don’t know, I was just wondering that myself”! We both started checking the engine instruments and Dan turned the airplane right to a northeast heading, while initiating a climb. The turn to the northeast was to get away from the road in case something was, indeed wrong. This heading took us away from the road and toward some small hills. One of the first rules if your are hit, is to get as far away from any LOCS as you can get before ejecting. To do so greatly increases your chances for a successful recovery. Of course the best place to eject is over the ocean.
After monitoring the instruments for about a minute, noting nothing abnormal, I had about decided everything was alright and told Dan, “everything looks OK back here”. Just as I finished saying that, I heard Dan say, with considerable concern in his voice, “Oh Oh”! “What is the matter” I asked? “We have a fire light”, he answered! “That’s nice”, I thought to myself, as I looked up to have the bright red fire warning light staring me in the face! The fire warning light coming on meant we had a fire in the forward section of the engine compartment. If the fire was in the aft portion of the engine compartment the overheat light would have been illuminated.
Dan kept the plane headed in the same direction saying, “We need to get over those hills in case we have to jump out”! He then asked me for a heading to Danang, meanwhile climbing and heading away from the suspected NVA Headquarters area.
The emergency procedure for an engine fire in the F-100 is to maintain minimum practical power. In this case we both felt that minimum practical power was full military power. By this time we where over the hills and engine was still running so I told Dan to take up a heading of 090 degrees for Danang. We were climbing through 6,000’ by this time. I felt we had better tell someone about our problem so they could alert the Search and Rescue Forces (SAR).
We were on Hillsboro’s frequency so I decided they were as good as anyone. I pressed the mic button and called, “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday! Misty 40, Delta 43. We have a fire and are climbing through 8,000’ heading for Danang”! It was a few seconds before I got a response. A Hillsboro controller came up on the radio and asked what our intentions were. I told him we were going to try to make it to Danang. “Roger, I understand you are going to try to make it to Danang”, he responded. “Afirmative”, I answered.
About this time the compass system went ape and started rotating uselessly. We still had the magnetic compass as a backup though. While talking to Hillsboro I saw the utility hydraulic system pressure drop to zero. I told Dan and he acknowledged. If there were any lingering doubts as to the validity of the fire warning light, they were, now, completely gone.
Hillsboro called with a request for our heading and altitude. I told him we were climbing through 10,000’ and heading 090 degrees on the magnetic compass. A Stormy Fast FAC (F-4 out of Danang) had checked in with Hillsboro a short time before. Hillsboro gave him a call, “ Stormy…, Hillsboro”. “Hillsboro….. Stormy.. go ahead”. “OK Stormy, we have a misty 40 that has just been hit at Delta 43. He has apparently lost his compass system. He last reported climbing through 10,000’ heading 090 degrees on his magnetic compass. He said he is going to try and land at Danang if he can make it that far. We would like for you to try and join up on him and render what assistance you can.” “We are on our way”, came the reply from Stormy.
Meanwhile, in the cockpit, things weren’t getting any better. I had gotten the map out and verified the 090 degree heading would take us to Danang. Since we had lost the utility hydraulic system, this meant we had lost several things; normal landing gear extension, wheel brakes, speed brakes, nose gear steering , flap extension plus a couple of other items. But, if we got to the point where we needed to lower the landing gear we had the emergency gear lowering system. Danang had barriers at the approach end, mid field and departure end; so, with emergency brakes and the use of one of the barriers, we should be able to get the airplane stopped on the runway. That is, if we can get the airplane on the ground. But, that is a big if. We have already lost one hydraulic system and with a fire burning somewhere back there, there is no telling when or what we might lose next. If we lose the two hydraulic flight control systems we will have to eject. There is only one pressure gage for the two flight control systems. To check the pressure of each system you have to manually switch a selector between system 1 and system 2. So, to keep from switching back and forth between the two systems, I monitor the number 2 system on the gage in the back and Dan monitors the number 1 system on his gage up front. We could wait for the word caution panel to announce the loss of hydraulic pressure but that wouldn’t tell us if it was just one or both systems failing. Also the warning light doesn’t come on until the pressure has dropped below 650 PSI. By monitoring the pressure gages we will know immediately if the hydraulic pressure starts to fluctuate. Our adrenalin level is already high and if the gages show the impending failure of one or both flight hydraulic systems the adrenalin level will certainly increase.
Almost as if to justify our concern for its health, the number 1 flight control hydraulic pressure went through three or four convulsive cycles and died. Well, we still have the number 2 system left?
The A/C generator joined the crowd of the non-working aircraft systems. Normally, this in and of itself, is a major emergency requiring an immediate landing. The reason being, the constant speed drive (CSD) for the A/C generator is on the front of the engine and if the CSD over speeds and sheds parts, they will be injested by the engine and probably quit.
In 1968 an F-100 from Tuy Hoa had an A/C generator while on a combat mission in southern Laos. The closest air base was at Pleiku. The single runway (09/27) was 6,000’ long; marginal for an F-100. Because of the danger of catastrophic engine failure the pilot kept additional airspeed and altitude as he approached the air base. He landed on runway 09; touching down about 1/3 the way down. The end of this runway ended with a steep drop off. Even with the drag chute and heavy breaking there was not enough runway left to stop before plunging down the steep drop off. The pilot survived but the plane was heavily damaged.
King, the C-130 SAR command and control aircraft, had gotten into the drama. After a bit of conversation between Hillsboro, Stormy, King and us, King took command of the emergency and told everyone to change the radio frequency to SAR primary frequency of 364.2. I wasn’t too sure that was a good idea, because we were starting to have electrical problems and I wasn’t sure that if we changed frequencies the radio would channelize to the new frequency. Then we would be in worse trouble. But, no one else seemed to share my concern and the switch was made. I waited while the radio went through the channelization, accompanied by the high pitch whine that channelization always produces. The check in, initiated by King, proved, much to my relief, my fears to be unfounded.
The HSI continued its useless rotation. The Tacan was on the blink.
We level at 20,000’and Dan pulls the throttle back to maintain about 300 knots.
Stormy reports he has a radar contact he thinks might be us and asks for our position off of channel 77 (Danang Tacan). Dan tells Stormy our Tacan is inop.
As we cross the Laotian Vietnamese border the cloud coverage changes from scattered in Laos to solid under cast in Vietnam. This will complicate things quite a bit if we make it to Danang without the number 2 hydraulic flight control failing.
It would be difficult enough in good weather to make a successful landing with the battle damage we have incurred. With the low ceiling at Danang there are two approaches we can make; fly a Ground Controlled Approach (GCA) which would have to be a no gyro approach since our heading system in inop, or fly a formation approach on the wing of the Stormy F-4. Formation flying on the wing of a dissimilar aircraft with only one flight control system, emergency gear extension and no flaps is maybe a so, so idea.
Stormy calls a Tally Ho and slides into an extended route formation off the left wing. If things will just hold together a little while longer we just might get to Danang; or feet wet for an ejection.
We still don’t know how much external damage we have suffered so Dan asked for a visual check by our newly found friend, adding a caution for him to not get too close because we only had one hydraulic system left and if it quit there is no telling what our aircraft might do. Most Fast FACs aren’t noted for their timidity and though Stormy acknowledged the warning, he closed in to get a good look. Looking back to the left, I watched him slowly disappear under our airplane. After a short delay, Stormy reappears on the right side. He reports there is a hole about the size of a fist, located about 2/3 the way back on the bottom of the fuselage plus fluid steaming back along the bottom of the plane.
Stormy requests our intentions. When told we wanted to land at Danang, he said the weather wasn’t too pure when he had departed about thirty minutes earlier and it would require an instrument approach. Dan asked if Stormy if he would be willing to allow us to fly on his wing for the approach. He was agreeable with this suggestion. We were about 40 miles from Danang by this time.
I was hoping everything would maintain the status quo, but it was not to be, as the overheat warning light suddenly illuminated. It looked like it really wasn’t going to be our day.
A glance at the warning/caution panel helped me review the systems that had already been knocked out or were in trouble. First, of course, an engine fire light, and now followed by the engine overheat light. Two of the three hydraulic systems were inoperative, the A/C generator was off line and won’t reset and our navigation instruments were useless. All things considered, things weren’t looking too good for a successful landing.
With the loss of the number one hydraulic flight control system our instrument monitoring was simplified because we could both select the number two flight control position on the hydraulic gage.
Panama, the radar station at Danang, had established radar contact with us and was providing flight following. So, between Stormy and Panama, we had ample navigational resources available, as long as our radio didn’t quit. If the radio should quit, we could still communicate with Stormy, using hand and other visual signals.
The engine was still running well and we had more than enough fuel to get to Danang. Everything depended on the sole remain hydraulic flight control system. If it did fail we, at least, wanted to get feet wet before ejecting. We were over South Vietnam, but there were still plenty of places into which an arrival by parachute would not be well received. The villages and rice paddys around Danang were infested with more than their fair share of VC/NVA. I, for one, wouldn’t want to go down there. Also, the low clouds would make any rescue attempt on land more difficult than one at sea.
To give us every chance possible, Dan trimmed the flight controls neutral, while we still had hydraulic pressure. The F-100 has a “trim for takeoff” button, that when pushed, trimmed the airplane for about 300 knots. With that accomplished we felt we had done about all we could do to insure a safe landing at Danang; or failing that, at least get feet wet before having to eject.
King called us and asked how we were doing? To which Dan replies, “We have a lot of lights on”, referring to the numerous lights that were illuminated on the Master Caution/Warning Panel.
We learned the SAR forces, at Danang, had been alerted but hadn’t yet been directed by King to launch. I wasn’t too happy about that, but then, I wasn’t running the show; there must be something about the operation that I didn’t understand?
Well, if it required us to eject before King would launch his SAR force, the hydraulic gage I had been staring at for the past couple of minutes had just given me the first indication that they would, shortly, be earning their money. I had just seen a momentary 200 PSI fluctuation on the gage. When I saw that fluctuation, my heart must have increased my blood pressure by at least that much. It started pounding and I could feel a surge of new energy as increased amounts of adrenalin were pumped into my blood stream! My “calm” voice, as I relayed the new information to Dan, belied how my stomach felt. Shortly thereafter the hydraulic began an increasingly larger fluctuation, spaced by about 15 second intervals. Then with one last gasp, the needle on the hydraulic gage slowly, but steadily, settled, with finality, on the zero PSI index at the bottom of the gage. “Well, I guess you could try the Ran Air Turbine (RAT) and see if it will do any good”, I said to Dan. He did, and it didn’t. It was not surprising but it was the last thing to try. Our only choice, now, would be an ejection. The airplane was trimmed, and Dan, with manual rudder, should be able to keep the wings level.
Because of the under cast there was no ground to see, so we would have to rely on others to tell us when we passed the coast. No big deal, as long as the radio keeps working. Finally, several of the folks involved (Stormy, Crown and the radar facility at Danang) inform us we’ve passed the coast, outbound. Dan and I say to each other, “sure, but let’s keep going for a little longer”. Our helpers started getting a little impatient, wanting us to eject; telling us we were almost 20 miles past the coast.
Dan and I agreed that 20 miles was enough cushion so the canopy blows off and the seats fire in sequence; me first and Dan ½ second later. Since we ejected at 20,000’ feet I knew I didn’t want to open the parachute right away. The man seat separator worked (however, I later discovered that I had collided with the seat. My helmet had a 3” crack in the top). The freefall would take a while so I curled up in a ball to wait for the automatic stuff to open the chute at the preset altitude (14,000’ or so).
Suddenly I felt the deceleration caused by the opening parachute; the automatic stuff works, good deal! But when I open my eyes to look around, I can’t see anything. Am I blind? I don’t hurt, what is going on?
Much to my relief I discover the blindness is being caused by the oxygen mask. The ejection forces had tried to remove my helmet, but was only partially successful. The helmet had been displaced just enough that the oxygen mask was no longer covering my chin, mouth and nose but my nose and eyes. With that problem solved I decided to deploy my life raft to get ready for landing in the South China Sea. As the raft falls it is attached to me by a lanyard about 10” long. When the raft reaches the end of the lanyard a CO2 bottle inflates the raft.
At some point during the freefall I had entered the clouds, but they were’nt dense. I look around and finally see Dan in his parachute. He is higher and displaced horizontally from me.
Now, back to the upcoming water entry; what do I still need to do? I still need to inflate the personal flotation devices; there are two. A left side and a right side. At that moment I had a great brainstorm. At water survival school, with both water wings inflated I found it difficult to board the raft from the water. This is because water wings caught on the side of the raft. The big brainstorm I just had, concluded that if I only inflated on side of the water wings it would be easier to enter the raft. So, one side it is; now I’m all ready. No, just a minute! I remembered it is important to not get tangled up in the parachute after water entry. The best way to preclude that is to cut free from the parachute at, or just prior to (maybe 5”) water entry.
Cut free, is not really what you do. The parachute risers have a guarded release that when pulled will free the parachute from the parachute harness. To set up for this you have to pull off the release guard cover. This exposes a cable ring that when pulled releases the riser on that side. Ok, all set; just waiting to see the water. The clouds are thickening the lower I descend. Finally, I break out of the clouds and see an angry sea. Big waves and white caps; the wind is not calm. If I release the parachute at the right time the wind should carry it away from me thus precluding any entanglement.
My plan it to pull the riser releases right after I see the raft hit the water. I put a thumb through each cable ring and wait. The raft hits the water, I pull both releases and splash; water entry. It is at this moment that I discover my big brainstorm really wasn’t such a good idea after all. With only one side of the water wings inflated I am just barely able to keep my head above water. Especially with the rough sea I really need both sides inflated. I pull the tab and inflate the other water wing; much better!
The parachute is close by so I need to get into the raft as soon as possible. I find the lanyard and pull the raft over to me and encounter the same problems of raft enter that I had experienced at water survival school. But in a few minutes I was laying on my back in the raft.
Just laying there I could hear the sound of jet engines overhead. I got out my survival radio, made contact on guard (243.0 frequency) with King and told them I was down and in the raft. They said the helicopters were enroute to our location. As it turned out the helicopters involved was a Danang based Jolly Green and, for some reason, the Danang Pedro (H-43).
I heard Dan talking to Crown too so I knew he was OK.
Suddenly through the murk I see a C-130 roaring toward me. The Crown guys had found the bottom of the clouds and were looking for us. Yea for them. Company is nice to have in a situation like this. Things are looking better. Even though King had flown directly over me, visual contact was not made.
Then I see an F-4 pass by a short distance away. Stormy is searching too.
I make voice contact with Dan. We are just kind of making small talk. I guess we pissed off the King guys because we got a radio transmission that said, “If you guys want to get picked up, stay off the radio unless we call you”! Whoa! What did we do? So we stopped talking to each other to keep them happy.
At some point, visually contact was made with both of us. We were told the helicopters were enroute to us. Nothing to do but wait and enjoy the raft ride. While doing that, I happened to look down over the side of my raft. I see my parachute had decided to keep me company and is floating under the raft. I hope it keeps drifting. I don’t want it anywhere near the raft when it comes time for the pick up by the Jolly Green. Getting entangled with the parachute has caused more than one pilot to drown. After a while it drifts away.
We had been in the water 25 or 30 minutes when I hear the distinctive sound of helicopter blades wop wopping the air as the helicopters arrive. They fly a short search pattern looking for us. I watch the search, then a big Jolly Green turns directly toward me. He isn’t far away and in seconds is in a hover about 10’ to 15’ above and slightly to the side of my raft. I can see the Parachute Jumper (PJ) in the right side door looking down at me. The down draft from the rotors blades to very powerful. The PJ and I look at each other for a while. I stay in my raft and the jungle penetrator isn’t being lowered. I guess I’m doing something wrong? Finally with hand signals from the PJ I understand he wants me to get out of the raft into the water. I police up the equipment I had out and roll off the raft into the water; I’m glad the parachute has continued to drift away. The PJ lowers the penetrator; it dips into the ocean to discharge any static electricity that might have built up. At this point I discover I’m still attached to the raft via the lanyard that attaches the raft to the survival kit. I can’t find the quick disconnect to release it. I don’t think the Jolly crew wants me to be hoisted up with a lift raft in tow. The PJ is motioning for me to go get on the penetrator. To show the PJ my just discovered problem, I grab the lanyard and raise it up to show him I’m still attached. I see him say something on the intercom, he takes off his helmet and jumps from the helicopter landing in the water a few feet away. He swam over to me, pulled out a big knife and cut me free from the raft. After that he helps me get on the penetrator. Once I’m on the penetrator the Flight Mechanic hoists me aboard. Inside the helicopter I’m freed from the penetrator and moved to a seat.
That done, the PJ gets hoisted out of the ocean. With him back inside the Flight Mechanic put several bursts of machine gun fire into the raft so it would eventually sink.
The H-43 (call sign, Pedro) picked up Dan and the Jolly Green got me. As a result, Dan didn’t get any of memorabilia the Jolly Greens give out to those they rescue.
The helicopter ride back to Danang was not long, but by the time I was delivered to the Naval hospital I was freezing. Medical personnell were waiting at the helipad for our arrival. The initial medical examination was done in a fairly large room. Dan and I weren’t the only patients. There were two other people laid out on tables; both were unclothed and thus their wounds were visibly apparent. It was not a pretty sight! One was a U.S. soldier. He had several medical personnel working on him. He was laying on his back. He was covered from head to toe with many, many, many wounds. We were told, later, that the wounds were a result of “booby trap” that had explodes a short distance from him.
The other person, laid out on a table, was a Vietnamese girl; maybe 10 to 12 years old. She was just laying there, alone, unattended and unconscious. She uttered an occasional moan but didn’t move. Her wounds appeared to be limited to her head; it had been shaved. There were several wounds from which brain material was oozing.
She had arrived prior to the U.S. soldier, and had been receiving the attention of the Navy doctors and nurses. When the U.S. soldier was brought in, the medical triage principle came into play. He was badly wounded, but appeared very savable. The little Vietnamese girl, sadly, appeared terminal.
The little girl was from a Vietnamese orphanage in Danang. She was playing in an enclosed (walled) area. A Viet Cong terrorist, riding by on a motorcycle, had thrown a grenade over the wall and sped away. Why…………..?
Dan and I were quickly given physical exams; which included xrays. We were both still freezing but a hot shower followed by a complete set of new, dry marine utility uniforms fixed us up.
A message was passed to us that the King C-130 would land at Danang, after its mission for the day was complete, and take us back to Tuy Hoa.
Though the “powers that be” gave us the option to return to our permanent duty station (Dan and I were both TDY from Phan Rang), a week later both of us were back flying Misty missions.
Another day in the war.