Colonel, Bob Pitt (Left), of El Paso, TX, a former Daedalian Flight 24 Captain, and a long time FASF member, recounted his harrowing experience being wounded, while flying a USAF 101 ‘Voodoo” fighter (below) over North Vietnam, to the monthly meeting of the group.
Bob was on a mission with a fellow pilot over North Vietnam, when his jet suddenly took a direct hit to one of its two engines from a Viet Cong 85 mm anti-aircraft battery. He and his wing man had been flying down “on the deck” – and fast – to help avoid SAM (Surface to Air) missile sites. But, just as they flew out over a large valley, the Vietcong opened up with small arms and anti-aircraft fire.
Some of the explosion’s shrapnel wounded him in his left shoulder. Without warning, the future Air Force Colonel’s life was precariously hanging in the balance. The date was exactly 54 years ago this coming Saturday, the 5th of October. It was 1969 at the height of the Viet Nam conflict.
His fellow team member, his Operations Officer, Major Tony Weissgarber, continued on to the target after getting the go-ahead from flight leader, Pitt. In the meantime, Bob had several quick decisions to make: Should he eject and bail out of his burning fighter right then and there, or try to limp back to the South to the nearest U.S. Air Base? Could he even make it that far, since his fuel was leaking rapidly from one of his ruptured tanks? At least he had managed to extinguish the fire from the bad engine.
He quickly decided to head back to the East in order to get out over the ocean, where he hoped the friendly U.S,. Navy was ubiquitously available to rescue a freshly downed flier – just in case.
If he crashed or had to eject over the jungles below, he’d at best have to register at the “Hanoi Hilton,” where he’d heard . . . “the accommodations were much less than satisfactory,” so the ocean it was. He called for help from the nearest air tanker, but, since they were restricted from flying over North Vietnam, he didn’t have much hope of getting his much needed fuel from his too rapidly diminishing supply.
Luckily, he took no more hits as he wheeled about and headed out to sea. Once over the water, he was surprised to see a KC-135 Aerial Refueling Tanker headed his way.
Meantime, he was constantly scanning the horizon for any incoming North Vietnamese Russian Migs, to which he’d be a sitting duck, since his Voodoo was already seriously crippled.
He was simply no longer able to defend himself from any air-to-air attackers. He maneuvered the damaged jet to a close-up refueling position behind the Tanker, but could not raise he refueling probe to connect to the big Boeing tanker’s fuel boom. He also discovered that his utility hydraulic system was one of the vital systems destroyed by the anti-aircraft strike. That hydraulic system was needed to work the Voodoo’s refueling probe – and also other important mechanisms on board.
He banked towards to nearest Air Base, concerned that he’d wasted some of his vital fuel load maneuvering to get re-fueled by the tanker. He managed to contact DaNang Air Base, whom he advised of his emergency status.
They cleared the field for him in to come on board. He noticed his fuel indicator read “empty” as he lined up to land. Bob came in with extra speed, not sure of how much his normal stall speed had been increased by the damage inflicted on the 101. He touched down perfectly, deployed his Drogue Chute to help him slow down, but suddenly noticed that he had no steering, since the defunct utility hydraulic system also powered his nose-wheel steering.
A stiff cross-wind condition forced his nose to the left, and he helplessly careened off the runway, across the turf, and headed directly towards a base radar (‘GCA’) shack. He yelled to the tower to have any personnel vacate his new “target” immediately. The big crash threw him wildly about and stirred up a huge cloud of dust. As the dust cleared he looked up to see one of the base firemen looking down at him in his silver helmeted fire suit. “I’m OK,” reported Bob. There’s no fuel left to burn!
Two days later, patched up from his wound, and ready to fly, he was quickly airborne on his next mission. For this harrowing experience, Pitt was awarded the DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross), and for his wounds and damaged back (from the crash into the building), the Purple Heart.
Less than a year later, again flying the Voodoo, but this time out of Okinawa island, he lost both his engines shortly after take-off in a giant explosion. Still low over the Pacific Ocean, he had no choice but to eject. His chute opened almost simultaneously with his striking the water. Two lost Voodoo jets, but not their hardy fighter pilot, Bob Pitt.