14 July 1966, F-4C (63-7489)  / MiG-21 / AIM-9.

Two MIG-21’s were destroyed on 14 July by F-4C aircrews of the 480th TFS. Capt. William J. Swendner and 1st Lt. Duane A. Buttell, Jr. flew the lead Phantom, and 1st Lts. Ronald G. Martin and Richard N. Krieps the number 2 aircraft. They were part of a flight of four F-4s providing MIG cover for an Iron Hand flight of three F-105’s.

Following the Thunderchiefs north of Hanoi, the Phantom flight, in a right turn, sighted the first MIG-21 in a 7 o’clock position. The F-4s jettisoned their tanks and spotted a second MIG pursuing the third F-105. Even though the second MIG closed in on the F-105, the pilot continued his Shrike launch. Captain Swendner and his wingman gave chase.

Swendner’s first Sidewinder passed close to the MIG’s canopy without detonating, and the MIG pilot lit his afterburner, initiating a 30 degree climb to the right. Swendner’s second Sidewinder detonated behind the MIG, but seconds later a third one went up the MIG’s tailpipe and blew the enemy aircraft into pieces.

Lieutenant Martin, meanwhile, had maneuvered behind the second MIG, which was attacking the fourth Phantom. Just after the MIG missed that aircraft with a missile and initiated a climb with afterburner on, Martin fired a Sidewinder which impacted near the right side of the MIG’s tail. The pilot ejected at once.

Narrative by Bill Swendner:  “It was 14 July 1966… Bastille Day.  I was flight lead of four F-4C Phantoms.  We had departed Danang about 1000 hours, refueled from a KC-135 over Laos, then rendezvoused with a flight of three F-105 Wild Weasel Thuds (call sign “Panda”) out of Takhli. My flight was to provide MiG cover for the Thuds during an Iron Hand (SAM suppression) mission. I spotted the Thuds as we passed over the Black River headed for the south end of Thud Rigdge. I had our standard escort combat load (for that time) of two sing tanks, a centerline tank, four AIM-7 Sparrow radar-guided missiles on the fuselage stations, and four AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles (two each on the inboard wing stations).

The centerline tanks had just about run dry, so I ordered the flight to jettison them to get rid of some drag, which would allow us to keep up with the Thuds.  I then descended to position my flight behind and two to three thousand feet above Panda.  They were talking about threat signals on their electronic gear and Panda Lead said he was too close to something (A SAM threat? I wondered) and was coming around to the right. (To reposition, I guessed).  At about the 180 degree point in the turn, my number three man called “MiG, 8 o’clock high, coming in!”  I looked over my left shoulder while turning hard left, and picked up the MiG as flashed behind the flight.  I reversed hard right and jettisoned my wing tanks to “strip down” to fighting configuration.

There was an extremely dense haze layer that reached right up to 7,000 feet, and I lost the MiG in that haze.  I figured the MiG had dove for home when he missed his intercept and was no longer a threat, so I transferred my attention back to the Thuds.  They were at my two o’clock, slightly low. I also saw a MiG coming fast on Panda 3. I figured it had to be another MiG, since the first one could never have made the corner.  I informed nu GIB (Guy In Back) Duane Buttell and called, “Panda 3, break right! MiG at 5 o’clock and closing!” He called back that he was locked on and about to launch a Shrike missile (missile which homed on radar emissions) at a SAM site. I replied “I’ll do what I can!” I continued to roll right, pulling my nose down on the MiG so that Duane could get a lock-on. He said “Locked up, cleared to fire!” I started to squeeze the trigger to launch a Sparrow, noticed the break X on the scope out of the corner of my eye and heard Duane say “Too close” … all within a few milliseconds.  I selected HEAT, squeezed the trigger (again with a break X) and fired a Sidewinder, knowing that I was too close, with too much angle off.  The missile went past the MiG’s canopy, but did not detonate because it had not had time to arm.  But the miG knew that someone was around.  He lit his burner and broke up and to the right.  He now had me “trapped” at his deep six, although I’m sure he didn’t know that. I was pretty close to him, and I doubt that the ground radar could separate up on the screen … so he got no warning (the MiGs relied on ground-controlled radar for their positioning). I let him extend, since he was straight out in a a blue sky, which is a perfect background for the Sidewinder because there is no heat source other than the target for it to look at.

I fired a second Sidewinder, which promptly blew up about 500 feet in front of me! I was really gnashing my teeth now, but told myself to settle down and track the bastard!  I still had a good tone, so I fired a third Sidewinder, watched it wiggle around the way AIM-9s do when they are tracking. It appeared to past him, and I said “Shit, Duane, we missed!”  All of a sudden, there was a huge fireball and pieces of airplane all over the place! The missile must have gone right up the MiG’s tailpipe before detonating.  I pulled up hard to the left to avoid the debris and as I rolled back all I saw was a lot of buying airplane parts, including a complete wing section. As I watched what was left of the MiG falling, I noticed the smoke trail of the Shrike that the Weasel had fired at the SAM site.  I also notched that we were right over the main runway at the big MiG base of Phuc Yen.

I pulled around hard left, noticed my second element was still with me (I had spotted them a couple of times in the rear-view mirrors during the fight, and heard their “clear” calls) but number two was gone.  I called for his position , and he replied that he was “on the way out”. It was not until the INTELL debriefing that I learned that he had dropped out of the formation during the initial hard turn into the first MiG and reversal. He had the flight in sight and as he was trying to rejoin the flight a MiG popped up between us and he shot it down with a Sidewinder.

I looked around for the Thuds and spotted them about 3000 feet low at my ten o’clock. I asked Panda if they had seen my splash.  He replied “Yeah, you see mine?” I said “Rog”. We escorted them back across the Black River, then headed for Danang via the sea, while they continued on to Takhli. We had one hell of a party that night!!!”