Cold War Era

North Vietnamese MiG-21 Fishbed pilot tells the story of when he shot down a USAF B-52 Stratofortress during Operation Linebacker II

According to Vietnamese records, on the night of Dec. 27, 1972 North Vietnamese Air Force pilot Pham Tuan used MiG-21MF No.5121 to shoot down a USAF B-52D Stratofortress bomber over Moc Chau.

The MiG-21 is one of the world’s most famous jet fighters. This Soviet-made aircraft first flew in 1955, and more than 50 countries have used various versions. Western forces code-named the MiG-21 “Fishbed,” and some versions have flown well into the 21st century. The USSR built more than 10,000 MiG-21s before ending production in 1985.

In the Southeast Asia War, the MiG-21 was a dangerous adversary. Fast as US jets, it was more agile than the F-4 Phantom II, its main opponent. Although American forces lost about 50 aircraft to North Vietnamese MiG-21s, the US Air Force shot down 68 MiG-21s in air combat.

The Fishbed was also used against the B-52 Stratofortress strategic bombers involved in Operation Linebacker II, the heaviest bombing of the entire Vietnam War against Hanoi and Haiphong.

NVNAF pilot Pham Tuan

Beginning on Dec. 18, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) pounded military and transportation targets with B-52s and tactical fighters. After 11 days of intense bombing, the North Vietnamese finally agreed to return to the peace table in Paris. Consequently, the U.S. restricted its air attacks on North Vietnam to the area south of the 20th parallel.

On Jan. 15, 1973, the U.S. announced an end to all mining, bombing and other offensive operations against North Vietnam.

Seventy-five Airmen died supporting the operation, 33 of whom died in the 15 downed B-52 Stratofortress bombers – the primary bomber flown during Operation Linebacker II.

According to Vietnamese records, on the night of Dec. 27, 1972 North Vietnamese Air Force (NVNAF) pilot Pham Tuan used MiG-21MF No.5121 to shoot down a USAF B-52D Stratofortress bomber over Moc Chau.

Pham Tuan took off from Noi Bai and little later landed at Yen Bai with the help of the GCI situated in Moc Chau and Son La. He recalls in István Toperczer book MiG Aces of the Vietnam War:

This print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. B-52H Stratofortress 2nd BW, 20th BS, LA/60-0008 “Lucky Lady IV”.

“At 22:20 hours, I was given the order to take off from Yen Bai at a heading of 200 degrees and broke through the low heavy cloud layer at 200-300 meters only to find F-4s in the vicinity. In the meantime I was informed that the B-52s were approaching Moc Chau and the GCI at Son La and Moc Chau were constantly updating me on the distance of the bombers: 60 kilometers, 50 km and 40 km. As planned, I jettisoned the fuel tank and climbed to 7,000 meters while applying the throttle to increase the speed. The radars were plotting the route of the B-52s and also warned me of the escort F-4s following them. When I saw a yellow light in front of me, I turned left to 40 degrees, increased my speed to 1,200 km/h and climbed to a 10,000 meter altitude where the B-52s were cruising. I radioed to the command: ‘I have the target in sight, tally target, request order for the attack’. The response of the GCI was: ‘You have permission to fire twice, and then escape quickly’. The Americans were holding formation, keeping approximately two to three kilometers of separation. I made last minute checks on my missiles and when I reached the level of the third B-52 pushed the fire bottom on the control stick. I launched two heat seeking missiles from a distance of 2 kilometers. Big flames were visible around the second B-52 when I broke sharply to the left and descended to 2,000 meters before landing at Yen Bai. The attacked formation of B-52s immediately dropped their load and returned to base.”

The loss of Capt Mize’s B-52D bomber (56-0599) to MiG activity was never confirmed by the USAF, which, instead, claimed that the bomber was struck by a SAM.

MiG Aces of the Vietnam War is published by Schiffer Publishing and is available to order here.

Photo credit: Unknown, U.S. Air Force and Wikipedia

Additional source: National Museum of the U.S. Air Force

This model is available from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.
Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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  • Probably not coincidentally, Pham Taun became the first Vietnamese space traveler when he visited the Soviet Salyut 6 space station in 1980. He was part of the Interkosmos program, which brought citizens of Soviet client and satellite states to space.

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