A US Navy F-4 Phantom II flown by Commander Lou Page (pilot) and Lieutenant JC Smith (RIO) recorded the first confirmed US air-to-air kill of the Vietnam War. The Phantom II, of Fighter Squadron 21 (VF-21) from the carrier USS Midway (CV-41), shoot down a North Vietnamese MiG-17 using an AIM-7 air-to-air missile.
On their MiG-killing mission of Jun. 17, 1965, Page and Smith were flying F-4B bureau number (buno) 150646 — not 151488 as sometimes reported. 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.
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.
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 had been published in Aviation History magazine in the summer of 2020.
Bio is an occasional contributor to The Aviation Geek Club and the author of two books, Topgun Days and Before Topgun Days. His latest book, Tomcat RIO, was published in 2020.
Photo credit: U.S. Navy and Carol Smith
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