Sikorsky XHSS-2 Sea King, Bu. No. 147137, made its first flight at Stratford, CT. (Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin Company)

11 March 1959: At Stratford, Connecticut, the prototype Sikorsky XHSS-2 Sea King, U.S. Navy Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (Bu. No.) 147137, company serial number 61001, makes its first flight. Sikorsky’s Assistant Chief Test Pilot Robert Stewart Decker is at the controls.

The Sikorsky SH-3A Sea King was the first of the S-61 series of military and civil helicopters, designated as HSS-2 until 1962. It is a large twin-engine helicopter with a single main rotor/tail rotor configuration. The fuselage is designed to allow landing on water. The helicopter was originally used as an anti-submarine helicopter.

HSS-2 mockup, October 1957. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)

The HSS-2 is 72 feet, 6 inches (22.098 meters) long and 16 feet, 10 inches (5.131 meters) high with all rotors turning. The helicopter’s width, across the sponsons, is 16 feet. The main rotors and tail can be folded for more compact storage aboard aircraft carriers, shortening the aircraft to 46 feet, 6 inches (14.173 meters). The empty weight of the HSS-2 is 10,814 pounds (4,905 kilograms). The overload gross weight is 19,000 pounds (8,618 kilograms).

The main rotor has five blades and a diameter of 62 feet, 0 inches (18.898 meters). Each blade has a chord of 1 foot, 6¼ inches (0.464 meters). The rotor blade airfoil was the NACA 0012, which was common for helicopters of that time. The total blade area is 222.5 square feet (20.671 square meters), and the disc area is 3,019 square feet (280.474 square meters). The tail rotor also has five blades and a diameter of 10 feet, 4 inches (3.150 meters). They each have a chord of 7–11/32 inches (0.187 meters). At 100% NR, the main rotor turns 203 r.p.m. and the tail rotor, 1,244 r.p.m.

The first Sea King, prototype XHSS-2 Bu. No. 147137, demonstrates its capability of landing on water. (Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin Company)

The HSS-2 was powered by two General Electric T58-GE-6 turboshaft engines, which had a Normal Power rating of 900 horsepower, and Military Power rating of 1,050 horsepower; both ratings at 19,555 r.p.m. at Sea Level. The main transmission was rated for 2,000 horsepower, maximum. (Later models were built with more powerful T58-GE-8 engines. Early aircraft were retrofitted.)

The HSS-2 has a cruise speed of 125 knots (144 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and a maximum speed of 133 knots (153 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. The service ceiling is 12,100 feet (3,688 meters). The hover ceiling at normal gross weight is 5,200 feet (1,585 meters), out of ground effect (HOGE), and 7,250 feet (2,210 meters), in ground effect (HIGE). The HSS-2 had a combat endurance of 4 hours and a maximum range of 500 nautical miles (575 statute miles/926 kilometers).

The Sea King was primarily an anti-submarine aircraft. It could be armed with up to four MK 43 or MK 44 torpedoes and one MK 101 nuclear-armed depth bomb. Other weapons loads included four MK 14 depth charges and four MK 54 air depth bombs.

In 1962, the HSS-2 was redesignated SH-3A Sea King. Many early production aircraft have remained in service and have been upgraded through SH-3D, SH-3G, etc. In addition to the original ASW role, the Sea Kings have been widely used for Combat Search and Rescue operations. Marine One, the call sign for the helicopters assigned to the President of the United States, are VH-3D Sea Kings.

Sikorsky produced the last S-61 helicopter in 1980, having built 794. Production has been licensed to manufacturers in England, Italy, Canada and Japan. They have produced an additional 679 Sea Kings.

A U.S. Navy Sikorsky SH-3A Sea King (S-61), Bu. No. 149867, near Oahu, Hawaiian Islands, 5 April 1976. (PH2 (AC) Westhusing, U.S. Navy)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

The Boeing 367-80, N70700, prototype for the Model 707 airliner and KC-135 air tanker, being prepared for takeoff on the morning of 11 March 1957, Boeing Field, Seattle, Washington. (Leonard Mccombe/LIFE Magazine)
Pre-flight inspection at Boeing Field, Seattle, Washington. In the background are newly-built Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bombers. (Leonard Mccombe/LIFE Magazine)
Tex Johnston checks that the ramp is clear for engine start. Ready to start number one. (Leonard Mccombe/LIFE Magazine)

11 March 1957: The Boeing jet airliner prototype, the Model 367-80, N70700, made a transcontinental demonstration flight from Seattle’s Boeing Field (BFI) to Friendship National Airport (BWI), Baltimore, Maryland. The aircraft commander was Boeing’s Chief of Flight Test, Alvin Melvin (“Tex”) Johnston. Test pilots James Russell (“Jim”) Gannett and Samuel Lewis (“Lew”) Wallick, Jr., completed the flight crew. The flight covered 2,350 miles (3,782 kilometers) and took 3 hours, 48 minutes.

Cruising at 0.86 Mach. The four Pratt & Whitney JT3C turbojet engines are turning 100% r.p.m. (Leonard Mccombe/LIFE Magazine)
The flight deck of the Boeing 367-80 during the transcontinental demonstration flight, 11 March 1957. The flight attendants are (left) Miss Shirlee Mae Adams of American Airlines, and Miss Jo Ann Reeber, Trans World Airways.(Leonard Mccombe/LIFE magazine)
Reporters balance a pen and a coin in the Dash 80’s vibration-free cabin. (Leonard Mccombe/LIFE Magazine)
A news reporter types his story during the transcontinental flight. (Leonard Mccombe/LIFE Magazine)
Boeing test pilot Samuel Lewis (“Lew”) Wallick, Jr., updates the chart with the Dash 80’s present position. (Leonard Mccombe/LIFE Magazine)
Flight attendants from three customer airlines made up the cabin crew of the Boeing 367-80. Left to right, they are: Miss Shirlee Mae Adams, American Airlines; Miss Jackee Gibson, Braniff International Airways; and Miss Jo Ann Reeber, Trans World Airways. (Leonard Mccombe/LIFE Magazine)

Jet Airliner Crosses U.S. At Record Clip

Seattle-To-Baltimore Flight Made In 3 Hours, 48 Minutes

WASHINGTON, March 12 (AP) A Boeing 707 jet passenger plane set a new transcontinental speed record for commercial aircraft yesterday, flying the 2,325 miles from Seattle to Baltimore in 3 hours and 48 minutes.

At one point it attained a speed of 698 miles an hour.

A.M. (Tex) Johnston, Boeing chief of flight tests, said he would fly back to Seattle tomorrow with stops at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport and at Denver. He planned a series of local flights for congressmen, Pentagon officials and experts.

The big plane averaged 612 miles an hour for its Puget Sound-to-Chesapeake Bay flight, and sliced 10 minutes off the unofficial transport plane record it set between Seattle and Washington, D.C., in 1955.

There were 52 persons aboard, all but 20 of them newsmen.

‘Jet Stream’ Helps

The 707 left Boeing Field at 10:06 a.m., EST. East of Spokane at 31,000 feet, it hit the “jet stream,” a vast windstream with speeds of up to 125 miles an hour.

These winds enabled the plane to attain supersonic speeds in relation to the ground over northwestern Montana and northern Idaho. However, the plane was actually in subsonic flight and did not break the “sound barrier.”

While in the jet stream, the plane’s peak air speed was 596 miles an hour, but at one point the stream boosted this by 102 miles an hour, for a top speed of 698 in relation to the ground.

Fighter Holds Record

The official transcontinental speed record was set by a one-place F-84F jet fighter two years ago—652½ mph for the 2,446 miles from Los Angeles to New York City. [LCOL Robert R. Scott, USAF, 9 March 1955—TDiA]

The fastest unofficial transcontinental crossing listed by the Defense Department: 715 mph for the 2,700 miles from Riverside, Calif., to Boston last Jan. 25, by a Boeing B-47 bomber.

The 707 is to be delivered to its first airline buyers—Pan American and American—late next year and early in 1959.

The plane’s cost varies from 4½ to 5½ million dollars, depending on size and range, Various models will carry from 120 to 162 passengers.

Toledo Blade, Tuesday, 12 March 1957, Page 2 at Columns 2–4

Boeing’s Chief of Flight Test, Alvin M. “Tex” Johnston, updates a member of the cabin crew, Miss Jackie Gibson of Braniff International Airways, on the progress of the Dash 80’s transcontinental flight. (Leonard Mccombe/LIFE Magazine)
Boeing’s Chief of Flight Test Alvin M. “Tex” Johnston guides the Dash 80 to touchdown on Runway 10, Friendship National Airport, 2:02 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, 11 March 1957. (Leonard Mccombe/LIFE Magazine)
Tex Johnston with three flight attendants from Boeing’s customers: Miss Jackie Gibson, Braniff International Airways; Miss Shirlee Mae Adams, American Airlines; and Miss Jo Ann Reeber, Trans World Airways. (Leonard Mccombe/LIFE Magazine)
Boeing 367-80 N70700 parked at the international terminal, Friendship National Airport, Baltimore, Maryland. (Leonard Mccombe/LIFE Magazine)
N70700’s route of flight, 0706–1102, 11 March 1957. (Leonard Mccombe/LIFE Magazine)

Boeing had risked $16,000,000 in a private venture to build the Dash 80 in order to demonstrate its capabilities to potential civilian and military customers, while rivals Douglas and Lockheed were marketing their own un-built jet airliners. Put into production as the U.S. Air Force KC-135A Stratotanker air refueling tanker and C-135 Stratolifter transport, a civil variant was also produced as the Boeing 707 Stratoliner, the first successful jet airliner. Though they look very similar, the 707 is structurally different than the KC-135 and has a wider fuselage.

The prototype Boeing Model 367-80 was operated by a pilot, co-pilot and flight engineer. The airplane’s wing was mounted low on the fuselage and the engine nacelles were mounted on pylons under the wing, as they were on Boeing’s B-47 Stratojet and B-52 Stratofortress. The wings and tail surfaces were swept to 35° at 25% chord, and had 7° dihedral. The Dash 80 was 127 feet 10 inches (38.964 meters) long with a wingspan of 129 feet, 8 inches (39.522 meters) and overall height of 38 feet (11.582 meters). The tail span is 39 feet, 8 inches (12.090 meters). The empty weight of the 367-80 was 75,630 pounds (34,505 kilograms) and the gross weight, 190,000 pounds (86,183 kilograms).

Cutaway scale model of the Boeing 367-80 showing interior arrangement. (Boeing)

N70700 was powered by four Pratt & Whitney Turbo Wasp JT3C engines. This engine is a civil variant of the military J57 series. It is a two-spool, axial-flow turbojet engine with a 16-stage compressor and 2-stage turbine. The JT3C-6 (used in the first production 707s) was rated at 11,200 pounds of thrust (49.82 kilonewtons), and 13,500 pounds (60.05 kilonewtons) with water/methanol injection). The JT3C is 11 feet, 6.6 inches (3.520 meters) long, 3 feet, 2.9 inches (0.988 meters) in diameter, and weighs 4,235 pounds (1,921 kilograms).

These gave the 367-80 a cruise speed of 550 miles per hour (885 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 0.84 Mach (582 miles per hour, 937 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). The service ceiling was 43,000 feet (13,106 meters). Its range was 3,530 miles (5,681 kilometers).

Boeing continued to use the 367–80 for testing, finally retiring it 22 January 1970. At that time, its logbook showed 2,346 hours, 46 minutes of flight time (TTAF). It was flown to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona, and placed in storage. In 1990, Boeing returned it to flyable condition and flew it back it to Renton where a total restoration was completed. Many of those who had worked on the Dash 80, including Tex Johnston, were aboard.

The pioneering airplane was presented to the Smithsonian Institution and is on display at the National Air and Space Museum, Steven V. Udvar-Hazy Center. The Boeing 367-80 was designated an International Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

The Boeing Model 367-80 is on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (Photo by Dane Penland, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)

Highly recommended: Tex Johnston, Jet-Age Test Pilot, by A.M. “Tex” Johnston with Charles Barton, Smithsonian Books, Washington, D.C., 1991

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

Republic F-105D-31-RE Thunderchief 62-4284 was a triple MiG killer. Captain Max C. Brestel shot down two MiG-17 fighters with this airplane, 10 March 1967. Captain Gene I. Basel also shot down a MiG-17 while flying this fighter bomber, 27 October 1967. (U.S. Air Force)

10 March 1967: Captain Max C. Brestel, United States Air Force, a pilot assigned to the 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing at Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base, was flying a Republic F-105D-31-RE Thunderchief fighter-bomber, serial number 62-4284. His call sign was “Kangaroo 03.” During an attack on the Thai Nguyen Steel Mill, the single most heavily-defended target in North Vietnam, Captain Brestel engaged and shot down two enemy MiG-17 fighters.

This was the first time during the Vietnam War that an American pilot shot down two enemy airplanes during the same mission. The following description is from an official U.S. Air Force history:

Brestel’s aerial victories became the first USAF double kill of the conflict. At the time, he was flying the third Thunderchief in a flight of four and was tasked with suppressing flak in and around the Thai Nguyen steel mill and supporting other F-105 strike forces. Brestel relates how his two victories came about:

“We proceeded to the target via the Red River to a point north of the target, where we turned south. Numerous SAM and MiG warnings had been transmitted. Also, the 388th Wing, which had preceded us on the target, had encountered MiGs.

“As the flight pulled up to gain altitude for delivering our ordnance, I sighted two MiG-21s making a pass at Col. Gast [Lt. Col. Philip C. Gast, the flight leader] from his 4 o’clock position. I was in lead’s 8:30 o’clock position. I broke toward the MiGs and passed across his tail. They broke off the attack and I continued on my dive delivery. Flak was normal for the area. We delivered our ordnance as planned.”

As the flight pulled out at an altitude of approximately 3,000 to 4,000 feet, Gast called MiGs at 2 o’clock low. ‘Let’s go get them,’ he urged. ‘I’m with you,’ Brestel acknowledged as he spotted the flight of four MiG-17s in staggered trail heading north at approximately 1,500 feet. Behind them was another flight of four. Brestel’s narrative continues:

“I observed all MiGs light their afterburners. Colonel Gast began firing at one of the first two MiGs. I observed the second two begin to fire at Colonel Gast. I called a break and closed within 300–500 feet of the number four MiG. I fired an approximate 2½ second burst at him as he was in a right turn. I observed hits in the wing and fuselage. The MiG reversed into a left turn. I fired another 2½ second burst into him, observing hits in the left wing, fuselage and canopy, and a fire in the left wing root. The aircraft rolled over and hit the ground under my left wing. I then closed 300 feet on the number three MiG, which was firing at Colonel Gast. He was in a right turn and again I fired a 2½ second burst, observing hits in wing, fuselage, etc. He also reversed to the left and I fired another 2½ second burst, observing more hits and pieces flying off the aircraft. The aircraft appeared to flip back up over my canopy and disappeared behind me. we broke off the engagement at this time after approximately 1½ to 2 minutes of combat. A SAM was fired at us and more flak as we exited the area.

“I know I destroyed the first MiG, as I saw him crash. I did not see the pilot bail out and doubt if he was alive, since hits were observed in the cockpit and the canopy broke up. My wingman, Lt. Weskamp [1st Lt. Robert L. Weskamp] also observed the MiG hit the ground.

“I feel I also destroyed the second MiG, as the range was the same and hits were observed in the same areas, i.e., fuselage, wings, etc. Also, his last maneuver could not be considered normal. The aircraft appeared to be in a violent pitch-up or tumble and out of control… However, because he pitched up over and behind me, I did not see him strike the ground.”

Brestel was given credit for destroying both MiGs.

— Aces and Aerial Victories: The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia 1965–1973, by R. Frank Futrell, William H. Greenhalgh, Carl Grubb, Gerard E. Hasselwander, Robert F. Jakob and Charles A. Ravenstein, Office of Air Force History, Headquarters USAF, 1976, Chapter II at Pages 44 and 45.

This former Egyptian Air Force Mikoyan-Gurevivch MiG-17F in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force is painted in the colors of the Vietnam Peoples’ Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

Vietnamese sources identified one of the downed MiG-17 fighters as being of Z Group, Korean People’s Air Force, flown by Kim Quang Wook, who was killed.

The F-105 was the largest single-seat, single-engine combat aircraft in history. It was designed as a Mach 2+ tactical nuclear strike aircraft and fighter-bomber. The fuselage of the F-105B incorporated the “area rule” which gave the Thunderchief its characteristic “wasp waist” shape.

The F-105D Thunderchief is 64 feet, 5.3 inches (19.642 meters) long with a wingspan of 34 feet, 11.2 inches (10.648 meters) and overall height of 19 feet, 8.4 inches (6.005 meters). The total wing area was 385 square feet (35.8 square meters). Its wings were swept 45° at 25% chord. The angle of incidence was 0° and there was no twist. The wings had 3° 30′ anhedral. The F-105D-31 has an empty weight of 26,855 pounds (12,181 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 52,838 pounds (23,967 kilograms).

The Thunderchief was powered by one Pratt & Whitney J75-P-19W engine. The J75 is a two-spool axial-flow afterburning turbojet with water injection. It has a 15-stage compressor section (8 low- and and 7 high-pressure stages) and 3-stage turbine section (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages.) The J75-P-19W is rated at 14,300 pounds of thrust (63.61 kilonewtons), continuous power; 16,100 pounds (71.62 kilonewtons), Military Power (30-minute limit); and Maximum Power rating of 24,500 pounds (108.98 kilonewtons) with afterburner (15-minute limit). The engine could produce 26,500 pounds of thrust (117.88 kilonewtons) with water injection, for takeoff. The J75-P-19W is 21 feet, 7.3 inches (6.586 meters) long, 3 feet, 7.0 inches (1.092 meters) in diameter, and weighs 5,960 pounds (2,703 kilograms).

The maximum speed of the F-105D was 726 knots (835 miles per hour/1,345 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level (Mach 1.09) and 1,192 knots (1,372 miles per hour (2,208 kilometers per hour) at 36,089 feet (11,000 meters) (Mach 2.08). The combat ceiling was 51,000 feet (15,545 meters). The F-105D’s combat radius varied with the type of mission from 277 to 776 nautical miles (319–893 statute miles/513–1,437 kilometers). The maximum ferry range was 1,917 nautical miles (2,206 statute miles/3,550 kilometers).

The F-105D was armed with one 20 mm M61A1 Vulcan rotary cannon and 1,028 rounds of ammunition. It has an internal bomb bay and can carry bombs, missiles or fuel tanks on under wing and centerline hardpoints. The maximum bomb load consisted of 16 750-pound (340 kilogram) bombs. For tactical nuclear strikes, the F-105D could carry one B57 or three B61 nuclear bombs.

The F-105 Thunderchief was a supersonic tactical fighter bomber rather than an air superiority fighter. Still, during the Vietnam War, F-105s shot down 27 enemy MiG fighters. 24 of those were shot down with the Thunderchief’s Vulcan cannon.

Two Air Force sergeants load belts of linked 20-millimeter cannon shells for the F-105’s M61 six-barreled Gatling gun. (U.S. Air Force)

Republic Aviation Corporation built 833 F-105 Thunderchief fighter bombers at its Farmingdale, New York factory. 610 of those were single-seat F-105Ds. Of the 833 F-105s, 395 were lost during the Vietnam War. 334 were shot down, mostly by antiaircraft guns or missiles, and 17 by enemy fighters. Another 61 were lost due to accidents. The 40% combat loss is indicative of the extreme danger of the missions these airplanes were engaged in.

62-4284 is the only F-105 Thunderchief officially credited with shooting down three enemy fighters during the Vietnam War. Flown by Captain Gene I. Basel, also of the 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 62-4284 was “Bison 02” on an attack against the Canal de Rapides Bridge, 27 October 1967. Captain Basel shot down a MiG-17 with the Thunderchief’s 20 mm cannon. The VPAF pilot ejected.

Having survived the Vietnam War, 62-4284 crashed during a peacetime training mission, 4 miles south west of Clayton, Oklahoma, 12 March 1976. The pilot, Captain Larry L. Kline, 465th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Hill Air Force Base, Utah, was killed.

Republic F-105D-31-RE Thunderchief 62-4347, 333d TFS, Takhli RTAFB, circa 1966. This is the same type aircraft as 62-4284. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2021, Bryan R. Swopes

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Lieutenant Colonel John Robert Pardo, United States Air Force

SILVER STAR

MAJOR JOHN R. PARDO, UNITED STATES AIR FORCE

Major John R. Pardo distinguished himself by gallantry in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force over North Vietnam on 10 March 1967. On that date, Major Pardo was flying as the pilot of the lead element on the return from a 1,000 mile flight in which heavy flak damage was encountered. He noticed that his wingman’s aircraft was in trouble and was advised that the aircraft was extremely low on fuel. Realizing that the wingman’s aircraft would not make it out of North Vietnam, Major Pardo implemented maneuvers to literally push the aircraft across the border. The attempt was successful and consequently allowed the crew to avoid becoming prisoners of war. By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Major Pardo has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

McDonnell F-4C-24-MC Phantom II 64-0839, the fighter flown by Captain John R. Pardo and 1st Lieutenant Stephen A. Wayne, 10 March 1967. (Image courtesy of Scatback Scribe)
Colonel Stephen A. Wayne, United States Air Force

SILVER STAR

FIRST LIEUTENANT STEPHEN A. WAYNE, UNITED STATES AIR FORCE

First Lieutenant Stephen A. Wayne distinguished himself by gallantry in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force over North Vietnam on 10 March 1967. On that date, Lieutenant Wayne was flying as the copilot of the lead element on the return from a 1,000 mile flight in which heavy flak damage was encountered. He noticed that the wingman’s aircraft was in trouble and was advised that the aircraft was extremely low on fuel. Realizing that the wingman’s aircraft would not make it out of North Vietnam, Lieutenant Wayne assisted in implementing maneuvers to literally push the aircraft across the border. The attempt was successful and consequently allowed the crew to avoid becoming prisoners of war. By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Lieutenant Wayne has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

“Pardo’s Push,” by S.W. Ferguson. With both aircraft damaged during an attack on Thai Nguyen Steel Plant and unable to reach their base, one F-4 Phantom II pushed the other so that all four airman could bail out over the Laos where they could be rescued, rather than risk capture in North Vietnam. This is one of the most famous events in aviation history.
Captain John R. Pardo and 1st Lieutenant Stephen A. Wayne, after Wayne’s 100th combat mission. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

Major Merlyn H. Dethlefsen, United States Air Force. (VIRIN: 201001-F-ZZ999-117)

MEDAL OF HONOR

MAJOR MERLYN H. DETHLEFSEN, UNITED STATES AIR FORCE

Major Merlyn H. Dethlefsen, U.S. Air Force, after his 100th mission. (U.S. Air Force)

The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Major Merlyn Hans Dethlefsen, United States Air Force, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, near Thai Nguyen, North Vietnam, on 10 March 1967. Major Dethlefsen was one of a flight of F-105 aircraft engaged in a fire suppression mission designed to destroy a key anti-aircraft defensive complex containing surface-to-air missiles (SAM), an exceptionally heavy concentration of anti-aircraft artillery, and other automatic weapons. The defensive network was situated to dominate the approach and provide protection to an important North Vietnam industrial center that was scheduled to be attacked by fighter bombers immediately after the strike by Major Dethlefsen’s flight. In the initial attack on the defensive complex the lead aircraft was crippled, and Major Dethlefsen’s aircraft was extensively damaged by the intense enemy fire. Realizing that the success of the impending fighter bomber attack on the center now depended on his ability to effectively suppress the defensive fire, Major Dethlefsen ignored the enemy’s overwhelming firepower and the damage to his aircraft and pressed his attack. Despite a continuing hail of anti-aircraft fire, deadly surface-to-air missiles, and counterattacks by MIG interceptors, Major Dethlefsen flew repeated close range strikes to silence the enemy defensive positions with bombs and cannon fire. His action in rendering ineffective the defensive SAM and anti-aircraft artillery sites enabled the ensuing fighter bombers to strike successfully the important industrial target without loss or damage to their aircraft, thereby appreciably reducing the enemy’s ability to provide essential war material. Major Dethlefsen’s consummate skill and selfless dedication to this significant mission were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.

General Orders: GB-51, February 8, 1968

Action Date: 10-Mar-67

Service: Air Force

Rank: Major

Company: 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron

Regiment: 355th Tactical Fighter Wing

Division: Takhli Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand

Major Merlyn H. Dethlefsen and Captain Kevin A. Gilroy

AIR FORCE CROSS

CAPTAIN KEVIN A. GILROY, UNITED STATES AIR FORCE

Captain Kevin A. Gilroy, U.S. Air Force, after his 100th mission. (U.S. Air Force)

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pleasure in presenting the Air Force Cross to Captain Kevin A. Gilroy (AFSN: 0-3109656), United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism while serving as Electronics Warfare Officer of an F-105 aircraft of the with the 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, Takhli Royal Thai Air Base, engaged in a pre-strike, missile suppression mission against the Thai Nguyen Steel Works in North Vietnam on 10 March 1967. On that date, Captain Gilroy guided his pilot in attacking and destroying a surface-to-air missile installation protecting one of the most important industrial complexes in North Vietnam. He accomplished this feat even after formidable hostile defenses had destroyed the lead aircraft and had crippled a second. Though his own aircraft suffered extensive battle damage and was under constant attack by MiG interceptors, anti-aircraft artillery, automatic weapons, and small arms fire, Captain Gilroy aligned several ingenious close range attacks on the hostile defenses at great risk to his own life. Due to his technical skill, the attacks were successful and the strike force was able to bomb the target without loss. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship and aggressiveness, Captain Gilroy has reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

General Orders: Department of the Air Force, Special Order GB-297 (August 15, 1967)

Action Date: 10-Mar-67

Service: Air Force

Rank: Captain

Company: 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron

Regiment: 355th Tactical Fighter Wing

Division: Takhli Royal Thai Air Base

SILVER STAR

MAJOR KENNETH HOLMES BELL, UNITED STATES AIR FORCE

Brigadier General Kenneth H. Bell, U.S. Air Force, then a major, was Captain Dethlefsen’s wingman at Thai Nyugen, 10 March 1967. (U.S. Air Force)

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 8, 1918 (amended by act of July 25, 1963), takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to Major Kenneth Holmes Bell (AFSN: FR-25966), United States Air Force, for gallantry in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force while serving as Pilot of an F-105 Thunderchief of the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, Takhli Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, PACIFIC Air Forces, in Southeast Asia on 10 March 1967. On that date, Major Bell was a member of a surface-to-air missile suppression flight in support of a strike against a large industrial complex. Major Bell and his flight, with great courage, flew through anti-aircraft defenses which were so dense that the flight leader was downed, and all three of the remaining flight members’ aircraft were damaged. Major Bell’s aircraft was damaged to the extent that aircraft control was marginal. However, he elected to remain in the target area flying through the hail of flak three more times until he had the key missile installation shattered and burning from a series of vicious attacks. Throughout the entire flight, Major Bell exhibited complete disregard for his personal welfare in the face of overwhelming odds. By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Major Bell has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

General Orders: Headquarters, Pacific Air Force, Special Orders No. G-1014 (July 15, 1967)

Action Date: 10-Mar-67

Service: Air Force

Rank: Major

Company: 355th Tactical Fighter Wing

Division: Takhli Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand

A Republic F-105G Thunderchief Wild Weasel III, flown by Captain Merlyn F. Dethlefsen and Captain Kevin A. Gilroy. (U.S. Air Force)

The F-105 was the largest single-seat, single-engine combat aircraft in history. It was designed as a Mach 2+ tactical nuclear strike aircraft and fighter-bomber. The fuselage of the F-105B incorporated the “area rule” which gave the Thunderchief its characteristic “wasp waist” shape. The F-105F was a two-place variant, flown by a pilot and a weapons system operator. Its high speed, low radar cross-section, and heavy bomb load capacity made it a good candidate for the “Wild Weasel” mission: locating and attacking enemy radar and surface-to-air missile installations.

The F-105F/G Thunderchief was 67 feet (20.422 meters) long with a wingspan of 34 feet, 11 inches (10.643 meters) and overall height of 20 feet, 2 inches (6.147 meters). Its wings were swept 45° at 25% chord. The angle of incidence was 0° and there was no twist. The wings had 3° 30′ anhedral. The total wing area was 385 square feet (35.8 square meters). Modified to the Wild Weasel III configuration, it had an empty weight of 31,279 pounds (14,188 kilograms), and a maximum takeoff weight of 54,580 pounds (24,757 kilograms).

Republic F-105G Wild Weasel III 63-8320. (U.S. Air Force)

The Thunderchief was powered by one Pratt & Whitney J75-P-19W engine. The J75 is a two-spool axial-flow afterburning turbojet with water injection. It has a 15-stage compressor section (8 low- and and 7 high-pressure stages) and 3-stage turbine section (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages.) The J75-P-19W is rated at 14,300 pounds of thrust (63.61 kilonewtons), continuous power; 16,100 pounds (71.62 kilonewtons), Military Power (30-minute limit); and Maximum Power rating of 24,500 pounds (108.98 kilonewtons) with afterburner (15-minute limit). The engine could produce 26,500 pounds of thrust (117.88 kilonewtons) with water injection, for takeoff. The J75-P-19W is 21 feet, 7.3 inches (6.586 meters) long, 3 feet, 7.0 inches (1.092 meters) in diameter, and weighs 5,960 pounds (2,703 kilograms).

The F-105G Wild Weasel III had a cruising speed of 514 knots (592 miles per hour/952 kilometers per hour). Its maximum speed was 681 knots at Sea Level—0.78 Mach—and 723 knots (832 miles per hour/1,339 kilometers per hour) at 36,000 feet (10,973 meters)—Mach 1.23. It could climb to 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) in 28.0 minutes. The F-105G’s combat ceiling was 43,900 feet (13,381 meters), and it had a combat radius of 391 nautical miles (450 statute miles/724 kilometers). The maximum ferry range, with external fuel tanks, was 1,623 nautical miles (1,868 statute miles/3,006 kilometers).

The Wild Weasel III was armed with one M61A1 Vulcan 20 mm six-barrel rotary cannon with 581 rounds of ammunition, one AGM-78 Standard High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM), and two AGM-45A Shrike anti-radiation missiles.

65 F-105Fs were converted to the F-105G Wild Weasel III configuration. Republic Aviation Corporation built 833 F-105 Thunderchief fighter bombers at its Farmingdale, New York, factory. 395 were lost during the Vietnam War. 334 were shot down, mostly by antiaircraft guns or missiles, and 17 by enemy fighters. Another 61 were lost due to accidents. The 40% combat loss is indicative of the extreme danger of the missions these airplanes were engaged in.

Captains Merlyn Dethlefsen and Kevin Gilroy flew this Republic F-105F-1-RE Thunderchief on 10 March 1967. It is seen here at Nellis AFB, Nevada, 29 August 1966. 63-8352 was destroyed by fire after running off the runway at Udorn RTAFB, 8 December 1969. The pilot, Major Carl R. Rice, was killed.

The Wild Weasel III was armed with one M61A1 Vulcan 20 mm six-barrel rotary cannon with 581 rounds of ammunition, one AGM-78 Standard High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM), and two AGM-45A Shrike anti-radiation missiles.

65 F-105Fs were converted to the F-105G Wild Weasel III configuration. Republic Aviation Corporation built 833 F-105 Thunderchief fighter bombers at its Farmingdale, New York, factory. 395 were lost during the Vietnam War. 334 were shot down, mostly by antiaircraft guns or missiles, and 17 by enemy fighters. Another 61 were lost due to accidents. The 40% combat loss is indicative of the extreme danger of the missions these airplanes were engaged in.

Major James L. Davis and Captain Phillip Walker with Republic F-105F-1-RE Thunderchief 63-8352 (F-105G Wild Weasel III), photographed at Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, 12 February 1968, after they completed their 100th combat mission. The F-105 is now carrying the tail code RM, indicating the 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron. (From the collection of Colonel James L. Davis, United States Air Force)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes