Home Cold War Era Correcting the Record on first confirmed MiG-killing Phantom of the Vietnam War

Correcting the Record on first confirmed MiG-killing Phantom of the Vietnam War

by Dave Bio Baranek
Correcting the Record on first confirmed MiG-killing Phantom of the Vietnam War

On their MiG-killing mission of Jun. 17, 1965, Commander Lou Page (pilot) and Lieutenant JC Smith (RIO) were flying F-4B bureau number (buno) 150646 — not 151488 as sometimes reported.

On their MiG-killing mission of Jun. 17, 1965, Commander Lou Page (pilot) and Lieutenant JC Smith (RIO) were flying F-4B bureau number (buno) 150646 — not 151488 as sometimes reported. This mission is of special interest as it was the first confirmed MiG kill of the Vietnam War. Page and Smith were with VF-21, and the aircraft modex was NE101.

I uncovered this information while doing research for a magazine article about the flight. I confirmed the correct buno by a phone call with JC Smith and a photo of Smith’s logbook from June 1965.

Correcting the Record on first confirmed MiG-killing Phantom of the Vietnam War
F-4B Phantom II 151488 (VF-21 / CVW-2) embarked on USS Midway (CVA 41) – 1965

On the MiG kill mission, 150646 was designated NE101. There is a photo of this aircraft in the book “MiG Killers of Yankee Station,” by Michael O’Connor. In this photo, the front canopy rail bears the name of VF-21’s commanding officer, Commander Bill Franke, but the name on the rear canopy isn’t legible.

Many sources in print and on the Internet erroneously report that Page and Smith flew 151488 for their MiG kill. The confusion could be attributed to developments in the months after the historic kill. First, 150646 was lost on Jul. 28, 1965, just a few weeks after the MiG kill. The loss of 150646 is detailed in the www.vietnamairlosses.com database: The aircraft suffered engine and electrical power failure; both crewmen ejected and were rescued.

After 150646 was lost, VF-21 designated 152219 as NE101. Interesting note, 152219 was the jet flown on the Jun. 17 mission by the wingman, Batson/Doremus, who also scored. And then, just prior to Midway’s return from deployment, 151488 was designated NE101. Navy squadrons occasionally change aircraft modex for a variety of reasons, so these changes are not unusual, while the buno remains with the airframe throughout its life.

Correcting the Record on first confirmed MiG-killing Phantom of the Vietnam War
Smith’s MiG-Kill logbook from June 1965

There were additional events of interest subsequent to the Jun. 17 mission. On Aug. 24, 1965, VF-21 CO Commander Franke was shot down and became a POW. Commander Page, who had been VF-21 executive officer, became the commanding officer per standard Navy procedures. When Page became CO, the names on NE101 were changed to Page and Smith, and their MiG kill was painted on the aircraft. There are photos of both 152219 and 151488 as NE 101 with a MiG kill on the intake splitter. It was there because the aircrew, Page and Smith, scored a kill. In addition, Franke’s RIO when he was shot down was Lieutenant Commander Rob Doremus, who had been Lieutenant Dave Batson’s regular RIO and shared the MiG kill with Batson on Jun. 17, as Page’s wingman. Franke and Doremus were released in 1973 after 7½ years in captivity.

The correct buno is reported in “MiG Killers of Yankee Station” and explained in endnote #21.

The article is expected to be published in Aviation History magazine this summer.

Bio is an occasional contributor to The Aviation Geek Club and the author of two books, Topgun Days and Before Topgun Days. His next book, Tomcat RIO, will be published soon.

VF-51 F-4 Print
This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-4B Phantom II VF-51 Screaming Eagles, NL100 / 150456 / 1972

Photo credit: U.S. Navy and Carol Smith

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