Junker’s SLUF was devoid of the usually standard AIM-9D Sidewinder And to make matter worse, his A-7 had no working cannon because of a run of malfunctions involving VA-146’s M61s. He would have to rely on his flying skill to evade the MiG-17…
Built by LTV Aerospace Corporation (the same company that produced the iconic F-8 Crusader), the A-7 Corsair II replaced the A-4 Skyhawk as Naval Aviation’s front line light attack aircraft. The A-7 performed its maiden flight in Sep. 1965 and resembled the F-8 Crusader especially in the single jet intake gaping beneath the nose.
However the short and stubby silhouette of the Corsair II embodied ruggedness and left little question that it was designed to carry bombs. The SLUF (Short, Little, Ugly, Fucker as the A-7 was nicknamed by her aircrews) in fact evolved into arguably the most successful tactical jet bomber of the Vietnam Conflict.
What the SLUF wasn’t supposed to do was duelling with a MiG, a thing that actually the aircraft did during the Southeast Asia War.
One of the closest encounters an A-7 pilot had with a MiG occurred on May 10, 1972, the day Operation Linebacker started.
Noteworthy the campaign saw a series of heavy strikes flown by U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) and U.S. Air Force (USAF) aircraft into enemy’s heart – something that military planners had wanted since the early days of Rolling Thunder, more than six years before. Navy raids hit targets along the North Vietnamese coast, including the area from Haiphong north to the Chinese border.
The Navy flew 60 per cent of all Linebacker missions, the principal attack aircraft being A-6s and A-7s, closely supported by F-4 squadrons whose crews were doubly tasked with protecting the strike groups from marauding MiGs that prowled the skies with increasing intensity.
As told by Norman Birzer and Peter Mersky in their book U.S. Navy A-7 Corsair II Units of the Vietnam War, on May 10 Lt. Allan E. Junker of VA-146 “Blue Diamonds” had launched from USS Constellation (CV-64) on a midday strike against the Hai Duong railway marshalling yards, which connected the port of Haiphong to the industrial section of Hanoi. Flying A-7E BuNo 156824/NG 300, he was carrying eight 500-lb bombs.
Nearing the target, he wondered why no SAMs had been seen – usually a sign of MiG activity. Following his strike group, he dropped his ordnance and turned towards the coast. Junker was alone, his flight leader nowhere to be seen.
Unknown to him, Lt. George T. Goryanec of VA-147 had been attacked by a MiG-17 reportedly flown by veteran pilot Duong Trung Tan. As he headed for the water, Junker spotted what appeared to be an A-6 coming toward him. He welcomed the prospect of company until the silhouette developed into a North Vietnamese MiG-17 ‘Fresco’. It was Duong Trung Tan, who had just tried to shoot Lt. Goryanec down, but had broken off the engagement when Goryanec hauled his SLUF around to confront the threatening MiG.
However, Junker’s jet was devoid of the usually standard AIM-9D Sidewinder – a shortage of AIM-9Ds had seen all Sidewinders given to the F-4 squadrons. And to make matter worse, his jet had no working cannon because of a run of malfunctions involving VA-146’s M61s. He would have to rely on his flying skill to evade the MiG.
Lt. Junker radioed he was being tracked by a MiG-17 and dived for the deck. Pre-deployment training had given pilots knowledge of the MiG-17’s attributes. They knew that it could definitely out-run the A-7, and was significantly faster. And its three nose cannon packed a considerable punch. However, they also knew that the MiG’s roll rate was greatly inferior to the Corsair II’s, and it was with this advantage that Junker have to work.
He jinked up and down in a sine-wave pattern as he swept over the North Vietnamese countryside at very low altitude (below 100 ft), huts and meadows flashing by at more than 500 knots. He could see the silver-grey MiG in his rearview mirrors, and he knew that he was now close to the coastline. Junker pulled hard. The MiG pilot was firing, red golf ball-sized shells whizzing past the A-7’s cockpit at such close range that Junker could hear the muzzle blast. He wondered, “How will it feel when my wing comes off at 500 knots?”
Pulling more than six Gs, the desperate A-7 pilot threw his aeroplane over to the left, then to the right, trying to disrupt the MiG pilot’s aim. The MiG was now above him at his ‘two o’clock’, beginning a left turn to re-engage the Corsair II. Junker could see the top of the MiG.
By now his Executive Officer (XO), Cdr. Fred Baldwin was above him, watching as his squadronmate fought for his life. Like Junker, Baldwin had no Sidewinder or working cannon, so there was little the XO could do except offer moral support and try to call the turns for his junior pilot. George Goryanec, who was still in the area, then reportedly heard Cdr. Baldwin’s warning call to Lt. Junker and engaged the MiG. He hastily shot off several bursts of 20 mm fire (Goryanec was flying a VA-147 machine, and this unit had not experienced any problems with its cannon) at the communist jet, and possibly obtained hits in the fighter’s wings.
Baldwin’s calls helped, and Junker was able to fend off the MiG. Because of the repeated reversals, the A-7 was now heading back toward Hanoi – something Junker certainly did not want. He stuffed the nose of his jet down again and levelled off. Junker was beginning to outrun the MiG, and he eventually opened up a 2000-ft gap between himself and his opponent. As he crossed the coast, the frustrated MiG pilot turned around, leaving Allan Junker to return to ‘Connie’, and a huge welcome.
“People shook my hand and hugged me,” he recalled. The entire sortie from launch to recovery had only lasted 1.6 hours.
Some time later, at an officer’s club, a chance meeting between one of Junker’s squadronmates and an F-4B pilot told the rest of the story. Coming off another strike, Lt. Ken Cannon and Lt. Roy Morris (RIO) of VF-51 off the Coral Sea had heard Junker’s frantic engagement on their radio. Along with their flight leader, Lt. Cdr. Chuck Schroeder and Lt(jg) Dale Arends (RIO), they raced towards the fight and found a MiG heading home.
There was some evidence to indicate that the MiG pilot was Duong Trung Tan, who was still ready for a fight. He engaged Cannon’s flight lead, and although he quickly reached and advantageous position behind the Phantom II, the MiG pilot did not fire. He had probably used up all his ammunition on the A-7. Cannon saddled in behind the MiG-17 and shot him down. There is, however, another version of this story that reports Duong Trung Tan had actually returned to his base at Kep after sustaining hits by Lt. Goryanec.
However, with all this aerial action, the North Vietnamese claimed only one air-to-air kill against an A-7, on May 23, 1972, by a MiG-21. The claim is not matched by American records – a frequent difference of opinion. A-7B BuNo 154405 from VA-93 was lost on that date, officially listed as a result of a SAM hit. Cdr. Charles E. Barnett was killed, his remains being returned in 1988. As a lieutenant commander, Barnett had survived being shot down by a SAM in December 1966 while flying an A-4 with VA-195.
Photo credit: skyhawkpc (flickr) via hiveminer.com, Lt. Graves / U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force
Artwork courtesy of AircraftProfilePrints.com