Helicopters at Hoa LocEdit
Lt Col USAF (Ret) Bill Sparks and his EWO Charles A. Lombardo flew this Wild Weasel mission around 1 October 1967 as the Barracuda Lead. The following is the Lt Col Sparks' account of the events.
In late September or very early October '67, Takhli was given a pop-up mission to strafe helicopters near Hoa Loc airfield in Route Pack Six (RP-6). We had prepared to attack a railroad marshalling yard at Phu Tho about 25 miles northwest of Hanoi. It was considered a fairly easy target since it was outside the main Hanoi coverage of SAM sites. Col. Bob White, 355 TFW/DO, was the Force Commander of a 16-ship formation of F-105D bombers, 4 F-105F Wild Weasels, and 4 F-4D MIGCAP from Ubon (8 TFW). I was leading the Wild Weasels as Barracuda Lead, George Guss (357 TFS) was #2, #3 was from the 333 TFS, and #4 was from the 354 TFS. It was not at all unusual for us to fly with people from all three squadrons in the Weasel Flight. The Force consisted of two flights of 4 from the 357 TFS, Shark and Marlin, one from the 354 TFS, Bear, and one flight from the 333 TFS. This was normal for all RP-6 missions. The Force Commander and the 2nd Flight from the same squadron, and one each from the other squadrons.
We had just started the mission briefing in the operations center when we were told to scrub everything and plan to hit two targets — two flights to Phu Tho and two flights to strafe (guns only for ordnance) 6 helicopters parked near Hoa Loc airfield. Everyone went bonkers! We left the briefing room and went to planning and started to try and work up a plan to do something we had never seen before. Since Phu Tho was not covered as heavily as Hoa Loc and that it would take several passes to kill 6 helicopters with the gun, Hoa Loc got priority. The 8th wing also had a mission to try a new gimmick at Hoa Loc — level radar bombing of the airfield. Bob White decided that he would lead the Strafe mission and Dale Leatham, Bear Lead, would take the 333 TFS flight and hit Phu Tho. I told both of them that there was ZERO way I could cover both strikes since they were simultaneous and over 60 miles apart. In addition, Barracuda had been tasked to cover the 8 TFW strike at Hoa Loc that was to be 15 minutes later than the Phu Tho strike. The fix was to have Dale go with no Weasel coverage, call Ubon and see if they could move up 10 minutes, and keep Barracuda in the Hoa Loc area to cover both the helicopters and the level bomb drop. We went back into the briefing room with all of the folk and briefed the new tasking. I am sure that everyone in the room was convinced that this was the stupidest idea in the last six months. Strafing anything in RP-6 was about as stupid an idea as possible. We were all sure that we would lose at least one and probably more at Hoa Loc. Strafing was only used in RP-6 when absolutely necessary during a rescue or some other emergency.
While we were all in planning, the flightline people were busting their butts downloading bombs from 10 Thuds (8 primaries and 2 spares). Shark Flight had all been configured with 2 M-118 3,000 pound bombs and a 650 US gallon tank centerline. Marlin had two 450 US gallon tanks on the wings and 6 M-117 750 pound bombs centerline. The Cannon Cockers solved the problem by dropping the centerline MER racks with the bombs on them or dropping the 650 tank full of gas. That was way above the limit for the bomb loader but it worked and the birds were all reconfigured in less than 45 minutes total. We had the best maintenance in the world and easily the most motivated men in the universe.
We made our takeoff times, took gas from the tankers, dropped off in North Laos, and headed for the Black River. The MIGCAP joined up about 3 miles at 6 as briefed and I took Barracuda out 10 minutes ahead of the force to check out the area for SAM activity. We had the normal number of Fire Can and SAM radars up and sniffing plus three height finders and one Bar Lock GCI radar. The presence of the Bar Lock meant that we could expect MiG activity. I took a long poke past the Black toward the Red River and then accelerated straight at Hoa Loc. There was little SAM activity and only the normal amount of gun radars in the area. Shark came into the area and his number three, I think, spotted a Mi-8 under some netting about 4 miles northwest of the airfield. A SAM came up about then and I took him down with a Shrike from Barracuda two. Both Shark and Marlin started a left hand square pattern just like at a training range in Kansas. They found all of the choppers by the second pass and were hitting them in turn. They were in 4 or 5 separate places in a fairly small area, all under netting. On about the 3rd or 4th pass, a MiG-17 rolled in behind Marlin 4 and started to fire at him. I hollered for Marlin 4 to break with no action. I yelled his name and told him to break with no action. I had rolled in and hit the burner to catch the MiG and finally opened fire early to try and get him to break off his attack on Marlin 4. When I fired, the MiG went into a Zone-4 defense (standard Soviet defensive move) and then did a split 'S' from about 3,000 feet. I was closing at about the Mach and pulled high for a re-attack when George Guss decided to follow him through the split 'S'. George pulled over 7 ‘G’ and blew dirt almost the length of the runway at Hoa Loc with a ton of guns shooting at him. The MiG headed for Hanoi. Two MiG-21s came by at about 10,000 feet, were attacked by our MIGCAP, and they headed for home. Barracuda 2 and 4 both called Bingo and I sent them home. Barracuda 3 stayed with me. By now all of the helicopters had been hit and were burning, so Shark called for a Bug-Out southwest. As he started his last pass, a SAM fired a single SA-2 at the force. I was in position to loft two Shrikes at him and then turned to put the missile at my six and went low to check the helicopters. I smoked by them at well over 600 knots and saw numerous fires and a couple of really bent rotors. As we left the area we had about enough gas to make Udorn with about 750 pounds.
On the way in Barracuda 2 saw Fire Can radar on a small hill overlooking the area and asked permission to gun him. I told him to smack him and Guss rolled him off the road. On the way out, we hit the wreckage again and dropped our CBU canisters on a gun that was shooting at us. Post-strike refueling went smoothly and we all made it home. Shark and Marlin killed all of the helicopters, Bear hit Phu Tho with no problems, and the 8th wing troops dropped the radar bombs on Hoa Loc airfield with no losses. Over all, it was a very good mission for all of us.
In 1974, at Kunsan Korea I met an ex-Beret who told me why we were restricted to guns only; however, that’s another story that may not be declassified yet.
- Sparky — Once Barracuda Lead
Audio transcript and commentaryEdit
|Barracuda flight is supporting strike flights hitting Hoa Loc airfield and the railroad at Phu Tho. Shark and Marlin flights make multiple strafing passes on helicopters at the airfield, destroying 5 Il-12 Coach and 2 Mi-6 Hook aircraft. As we join Barracuda, the EWO is lining up the aircraft for a Shrike delivery. Good results are obtained against the SAM radar. Barracuda 3 fires a Shrike at another Fan Song (SAM), also scoring a hit. Shortly after Barracuda sights 2 MiG-17's, chases them, and fires at them but misses.|
00:46 SAM at one o'clock now going to 2 rings
- "SAM" refers to the radar signal of a SA-2 Guideline SAM "Fan Song" tracking/guidance radar displayed on a 3-inch scope indicating intensity in "rings" and direction in clock numbers, 1 o'clock being just to the right of the aircraft's direction of flight and 3 rings being maximum, suggesting a distance to the radar of perhaps 15 miles (25 km).
- "SAM" in context may also refer to the on coming 2,500 pound (1,135 kg) SA-2 Guideline missile in flight. "SAM" in context may also refer to a visual identification of the patterned earthworks associated with a SAM site which includes the Fan Song radar van, six missile launchers, many trucks, a Spoon Rest search radar van, and 37 mm and 57 mm anti-aircraft emplacements
00:49 He is in high PRF.
- "PRF" means Pulse Recurrence Frequency, an indication of how far away from the radar its operator is looking. "High" indicated his interest is short range, the beginning of a targeting mode.
00:59 Marlin stroke the AB.
- "AB" or "Burner" is the afterburner which provides an immediate increase in power and accelleration. If the leader engages it, he notifies his flight.
01:06 Line me up
- An instruction from the pilot to the Bear to give him directions for pointing the aircraft directly toward a SAM (Fan Song) emitter in order to fire an AGM-45 Shrike anti-radiation missile at it.
01:13 Still hanging in there
- The signal remains active. It is not unusual for a SAM site seeing a Weasel aircraft turning into it to deactivate transmission so as to provide no target for the automatic signal homing Shrike missile.
01:21 Mongol 4 inbound
- We hear ALL transmissions from aircraft in the strike package, perhaps 48 aircraft. In this case Mongol 4 has announced that he has passed the Intitial Point in this bombing attack of the assigned strike target, perhaps the air field.
01:28 UGG UGG Heavy breathing
- Throughout the threat area all aircraft are generating 3 to 4 Gravities or "Gs" to make aimed shooting at them difficult. It is extremely tiring, an athletic event.
01:43 xxxx I'm right over Hoa Loc
01:48 Great bombing there Kaiser
- Dive Bombing is visual where others can see the results.
01:52 Shrike's away
- Sixty seconds have elapsed since Barracuda #1 began achieving a position to loft a Shrike at a Fan Song signal. The Shrike may fly as long as 50 seconds before explosive sharpnel from its warhead disables or frightens the operators of the Fan Song, resulting in signal loss "down!"
01:59 Strong guns, mach mach SAMs ahead
- "Guns" means detection of the strength and direction of signals from a Fire Can radar, the gun computer and director of batteries of six 85 mm (3.4 in) anit-aircraft guns capable of reaching up or out four miles (6.5 km). The ring of guns, firing sequentially, can direct a three inch diameter shell each second.
- Mak, Mak = many many
02:08 Radar Van on top of this mountain
- A casual target, GCI-Ground-controlled interception radar, giving warning to SAM sites; nearly all Soviet military equipment was on wheels and routinely relocated.
02:24 At 6 O'clock
- Locations of threats are given relative the the nose of the airplane, that being 12 o'clock. Six o'clock is directly behind the aircraft.
02:31 OK #3 next time around pick out one and zap him
- The Leader, #1, chooses targets, #2, #3, and #4 in his flight carry armament to release upon his instructions, in this case additional Shrikes.
02:51 Harpoon, I've got two bogies at 3 o'clock
- A "bogie" is an unidentified aircraft, which threateningly could be, but seldom was, a hostile MiG.
02:55 Way out, probably the Iron Hand
- "Iron Hand" is an obsolete term for the Weasel "Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses" SEAD-specific mission task
03:59 Ok we've got MiG-17s
- It is exhilarating to attack MiG-17s if they are unaware you are behind them. Otherwise they are exceedingly dangerous since they climb faster and turn far tighter. Until you clean off your airplane (jettison your load and become mission ineffective), they are faster.
04:16 I got him off of you boss.
- Of course a MiG dare not continue an attack on a F-105, with a second F-105 targeting his tail as a counter punch.
05:03 What the xxxx was that?
- Jet wash
- Wing vortex (wake turbulence) spirals behind every airplane can be severe.
05:25 Harpoon flight roll out, temporarily.
- Now seven minutes into the the attack most of our strike airplanes are climbing out and attempting to visually reform for return to base. Dive bombing attacks are performed single-file, sequentially, breaking up flight cohesiveness.
05:36 We've got some 37s
- 37 mm (1.5 in) automatic anti-aircraft cannons are not radar directed but at these low altitudes (below 10,000 ft (3,000 m)) the muzzle flashes can be clearly seen in daylight. 37 mm and 57 mm guns accounted for 80% of US aircraft losses since there was no defense against them except altitude, jinking, and luck.
05:53 Rolling in Harpoon 4
- Later strike flights continue to roll in on the target while Barracuda continues the SEAD mission, giving the strike flights an analysis of the SAM threat.
05:53 Barracuda, Harpoon, where are you?
- The flight called is named first, the flight calling is named second, without designation leader is calling leader, #1 to #1. The recorder is in Barracuda (Weasel).
07:17 Disreguard the Launch Light!
- Every aircraft has a Launch Warning light on the instrument panel, signifying that the aircraft is illuminated by the telemetry signal guiding a SAM, indicating that the missile is on its way. Knowing this, the enemy is "spoofing" the flights without launching a SAM, attempting to disrupt operations. Only the Weasel (our recorder aircraft) has the equipment to decide if a missile, is in fact, airborne.
08:23 Lets get that xxxxxx
- Judging from the enthusiasm, Sparks is directing attack on a SAM site, although it is arguable.
08:39 Bandits, Bandits SW 50 Red Crown Out.
- This is a warning of MiGs from an orbiting surveillance aircraft far distant. We cannot act upon the warning, already fully occupied.
08:44 Buick, SAMs 3 o'clock, no threat.
- Our Weasel lead has advised Buick flight that the threat they can see on their detector is No Threat. Only the Weasel, with a Bear in the back seat, has suffient equipment and experience to determine the "degree" of threat.
08:48 Donner 1 turning base leg
- Strike flights are following pre-briefed routes to the target, Donner reporting passage of a notation point.
09:10 Barracuda, I think we are "Bingo"
- This means that lead thinks his flight has not been properly watching the fuel gauges. "Bingo" is the level of remaing fuel judged in preflight planing to allow return to base, without a tanker, with agreed safety minimums. Bingo less 1,500 is risking everything on finding an emergency air-refueling-tanker. #4 usually runs out of fuel first. It is not unusual for Weasels to seek an emergency tanker, sometimes twice, returning to the combat area to CAP a downed airman. Weasels are the first aircraft in and the last aircraft out of the mission area.
09:17 ???? we've got two of them
- This loud warning call likely refers to a visual sighting of SAMs in flight (or of MiGs), not targeting near Barracuda, and therefore no Launch warning.
09:29 Right back in the target area
- Barracuda #1 continues to orbit the target area, fuel below Bingo, but for flight safety, over the next few minutes, directs that the other three aircraft of his flight "go home". This mitigates the hazardous delays that could occur later at the emergency tanker.
09:44 Up north, Sharky, on the right side of the road
- Refers to a target of opportunity visually sighted, possibily a SAM site.
10:12 Shark flight, lets punch off the 650s
- 650 US gallon (2,500 L) centerline external fuel tanks, now empty, add weight and drag. Because of the expense and supply we do not jettison fuel tanks unless necessary for safety. The 650 when full weighs over 5,000 pounds (2,270 kg)
10:37 They're F-4s
- It is essential to spot early all aircraft within visual range to avoid being surprised by MiGs. F-4 Phantom air-superiority fighters, typically at higher altitudes, are "tasked" to defend the strike force from MiGs.
10:52 Barracuda #1 go manual
- For a private talk on a frequency selected just for Barracuda flight, getting off of mission primary which is used by, perhaps, 48 aircraft.
11:29 I've sent the rest of my force out, I'm by myself
- This is not unusual for a Wild Weasel, emphasis on "wild," where he is risking all for the protection of the mission against SAM attack.
12:09 Tally Ho
- A bogey
I see what you see
12:43 Marlin rolling in
- Marlin beginning his dive; the strike mission continues still, after 15 minutes
13:07 You see those trucks?
- Mission target accomplished, it is not uncommon for south-bound returning flights to shoot up trucks, strafing at low level, and not uncommon to lose aircraft in the process. We have frustrated fighter pilots here, assigned to dive bomber operations.
14:12 Take it down, Sharks, its a Valid Launch
- As many as three individually guided SA-2 Guideline missiles, each 26 feet (7.9 m) long, 18 inches (0.45 m) in diameter and weighing 2,500 pounds (1,135 kg), are targeted in our vicinity, arriving in less than 30 seconds. The SA-2 had a typical targeted distance 15 miles (25 km), with a maximum range of 27 miles (45 km). Our only defense: high-G dive toward the ground, breaking line-of-sight radar and guidance signals, and exceeding the "G" limit of the missile.
14:45 Looks like missile carriers
- Each missile, weighing 5,000 pounds (2,270 kg) and fitted with a booster, fueling tanks, and a launch mechanism, occupies a special trailer truck.
15:01 Shark is across the river
- South-bound. Probably the "Black" here, more commonly the "Red"
16:07 Beauiful xxxx work
- A discussion of the MiG-17 which will be reported in detail in debriefing. Over 20 MiG were eventually shot down by F-105s.
16:34 Shark #1 nine low
- 9,000 pounds (4,080 kg) of fuel below Bingo
16:45 Did you see that SAM?
- Visually, in flight. The Bear's primary function is to decipher his electronic displays, if he sees anything out the canopy that is extra.
17:51 END OF THIS COMBAT SEQUENCE