Academic journal article Air Power History

"Ozark Lead Is out of the Aircraft"

Academic journal article Air Power History

"Ozark Lead Is out of the Aircraft"

Article excerpt

The takeoff on July 16, 1975, of two T-38 Talons from Randolph Air Force Base (AFB), Texas, was like most other flights by student pilots flying the sleek supersonic trainers. Once airborne, the planes looped and rolled and flew Immelmans and Cuban 8s, standard aerobatic maneuvers student pilots must master. (1) They landed back at the base after the one-hour flight. "Freedom 138" was the call sign of one of the planes and, for its student pilot, the flight was anything but routine. It was the "Champagne Flight" of former POW Col. Robert W. "Bob" Barnett who last flew an Air Force jet seven years and nine months earlier when he was shot down in his F-105D over North Vietnam. (2) This flight, with instructor pilot Lt. Col. Rocco DeFelice of the 560th Flying Training Squadron, was the beginning of Bob's return to flying status after five and a half years of torture and isolation in North Vietnamese prisons and two years of recuperation following his "Freedom Flight" on the C-141 that flew him and his fellow POWs out of North Vietnam on March 14, 1973. (3) Of his T-38 flight after years out of the cockpit, Bob Barnett remarked, "I felt that I hadn't missed a beat. We made a formation take off and I was right there." (4)

This article tells the story of how he got there. It describes his being shot down in his F-105 and his three days on the ground before being captured and taken to Hanoi. It is one of many combat stories about F-105 pilots and their valiant efforts during the failed bombing campaign called "Rolling Thunder." Bob's ordeal began with his mission on October 3, 1967.

Tuesday, Oct 3, 1967: SAMs and MiGs

Continuing their almost daily attacks against targets along the Northeast Rail Line in North Vietnam, the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) from Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base, launched an afternoon strike of F-105 Thunderchiefs against the Dap Cau railroad and highway bridge 20 nautical miles northeast of Hanoi. The bridge was number 16 on the Top Secret target list compiled by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Part of the strike force was targeted against the Dap Cau bypass bridge, a pontoon bridge about one mile south of the main bridge. (5) Both bridges had been bombed many times before but were to be hit again in a persistent effort to block trains and trucks carrying goods from China to Hanoi. (6)

It was the height of the Rolling Thunder bombing campaign that had started in March 1965, and other strike forces were taking advantage of this afternoon's unusually clear weather. Takhli's 355th TFW was sending four flights of F-105s against the Lang Gia railroad yard further north on the Northeast Rail Line, and Navy A-4 Skyhawks from the carrier Intrepid were attacking the railroad and highway bridge just north of Haiphong. (7) The Northeast Rail Line separated the section of North Vietnam assigned to the Air Force, Route Pack 6A, from the Navy's Route Pack 6B. Korat's route to their target crossed Navy territory. The F-105s were to be covered by a MiG-CAP flight of F 4C Phantoms, and supported by the electronic equipment operators in an EB-66B orbiting off the coast to jam the North Vietnamese radars that guided their surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and aimed their anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) flak guns. (8)

Korat's F-105 strike force consisted of a Wild Weasel flight with radio call sign "Warhawk," followed by four strike flights with call signs "Pistol," "Hatchet," "Ozark," and "Crossbow" that were to attack the target in one-minute intervals. (9) The two-seat F-105F Wild Weasels, with their specialized electronics and radar-seeking missiles, were to find and kill SAM sites and to call out SAMs heading their way so that strike pilots could spot and avoid them. Each strike flight had four single-seat F-105Ds that carried 750-pound bombs or cluster-bomb units (CBUs) for attacking the bridge or nearby flak sites.

The F-105s from Korat flew from their base in Thailand, then across Laos to the Gulf of Tonkin where they refueled from KC-135 tankers in the "Tan" refueling track, an established tanker orbit area off the southern coast of North Vietnam. …

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