In April of 1969 1st Lt, Ross Detwiler was serving with the 416 TFS out of Phu Cat AB, Vietnam. He recalls,
“In Laos, they were beginning to get quad-mounted 23-mm guns that could throw a lot of lead out and bring down a fighter. Also, there were 37-mm guns. As I said, when the war first turned to Laos in November 1968, there was little to scare an F-100. That had begun to change as the enemy knew that all of North Vietnam was once again “safe.” By early spring of 1969, things were getting a little dicey, and the Misty FACs would soon face some horrible losses in that area of operation.
I wasn’t big on attacking gun sites. There was little upside and a lot of potential trouble in so doing. If you killed the target, the enemy hadn’t lost any ability to wage war on the ground. When I was in Misty, I used gunfire to indicate something that the enemy wanted to protect and tried to attack that instead of the guns. But the Misty’s were on to an awful lot of the supplies coming down the trail at that time, and they had taken a tremendous amount of fire in so doing. If Bob was putting me in on a gunsite there were probably supplies very close that would be hit later.
I came around to the east side of the target and rolled in, pulling the plane up hard to slow the forward speed, rolling to the left until upside down and pulling the nose of the plane toward the target smoke inverted. This was just like old MacCathun had shown me about eleven months earlier.
Rolling back out, the bombsight was just below the target. Starting the roll in from ten thousand feet, I knew the speed would build rapidly, so I pulled the power about halfway back and felt the first enemy shell hit the airplane.
“Lead, they shot part of your right wing tank off, it looks like.” I didn’t respond. All I did was continue tracking until I reached the release altitude and pickled the two outboard 750s off.
“Lead’s coming off to the right and then back to the left.”
I felt the plane jar as the second round hit it just at the release point. The hard jink to the right destroyed the tracking solution the guns had, but it was too late. I looked at the warning lights at the lower right of the instrument panel. There were about four lights on, but I zeroed in on the hydraulic failure light. The 100 wouldn’t fly well without hydraulics. I checked the number-two system and it was at zero psi.”
Lead Al Winkelman told Ross his plane was on fire.
“I can remember looking at a line of thunderstorms about twenty miles ahead that I didn’t want to fly through on fire.” Ross told Al he’d probably have to eject.
“I gave it a little thought, as by this time I had climbed to twenty-three thousand feet and wished I hadn’t climbed so high.
I remember thinking that right there was the air at twenty-three thousand feet. I was basically sitting in an open cockpit twenty-three thousand feet up in the air.
“No turning back now.”
I initiated step three: pull the trigger levers. I pulled the trigger levers in the handle grips. Nothing. I distinctly remember squeezing the triggers at least two more times, but nothing happened.
Then the seat slowly, and I mean very slowly, started moving up the tracks and out of the airplane. I saw the instrument panel go by. I saw the top of the canopy rail go by, slowly, very slowly. I saw the empty cockpit as I looked down, and I saw the big silver luminescent 13 on the side of the airplane. The airplane was Mike Peloquin’s, and I think he named it “Luck.” I remember thinking that, for tempting the gods of fate, I was going to put a finger in his eye if I ever saw him again.
Then I was just sitting about ten feet above the canopy, flying along with the airplane. I remembered a conversation with Bullet Bob Bryan at the Phu Cat club where he said that he tumbled very violently right after the seat cleared the canopy. Bob had jumped out twice and was considered our expert on the experience. I was thinking that the tumbling hadn’t happened yet.
Then it did happen. I tumbled so hard that I thought I would pass out. When it stopped, I was now sitting twenty-three thousand feet in the air on a chair, just falling. The lap belt was supposed to have opened automatically, but it hadn’t.
I thought to myself that maybe it was lucky I had jumped out so high, as the seat didn’t seem to be functioning correctly. I waited for the lap belt.
I waited some more, and still, nothing happened. I started to go for step four: open the lap belt manually. I reached down to do so and saw a small puff of smoke right in front of my belly button, and the two sides of the lap belt and the shoulder straps floated away from the middle of my stomach, very slowly.
If that belt opens at all, it opens one second after the seat triggers are pulled. It takes that long for the residual charge to work through the tubing that connects it to the seat. It takes one second. All that I’ve described since pulling the triggers takes one second, or it doesn’t happen at all.
So, there I was, no lap belt or shoulder harness buckled around me anymore, just sitting in the seat still. I remember thinking that the seat kicker wasn’t working either. The kicker is a strap that is connected to an inertial reel behind the pilot’s head and then runs down the back of the seat, under the pilot’s rear end, and connects to the front of the seat between his legs. When that inertial reel is fired, it winds up the strap and separates the pilot from the seat.
Figuring that the seat kicker wasn’t working, I thought about pushing away from the seat and started to do so when I felt the seat peel off my butt and fly away. It didn’t kick me out. It peeled
the seat off of me. The air charge that fires that kicker is the same one that opened the lap belt and shoulder harness. It had continued through the tubing and fired the kicker half a second after the
belt opened. It happened half a second later, or it wouldn’t have happened at all… I looked down and saw that puff of smoke as the lap belt opened happened in half a second.
I tried to roll over on my stomach and do the normal picture of skydiving, and all hell broke loose. I tumbled so violently that I remember seeing red. I said, “Dear God, get me out of this and I promise I won’t f**k with it again.” I immediately found myself in the same position as before, falling with my head low and feet high, on my back.
…With the chute working, the seat pack deployed, and me drifting down into a “safe” area, I thought, why not do the cool thing and talk to Al on the survival radio? I pulled it out and made several comments to him. I heard him say that the Sandys (other A-1s out of Nakhon Phanom where Vince would later be killed) and the Jollies (Rescue CH-53 helicopters out of Da Nang) were on the way. I thanked him and stowed the radio. How cool could I be?
For the rest of the story, see Ross’s Caterpillar Story at https://supersabresociety.com/biography/ross-c-detwiler/