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While the F-105 Thunderchief and F-4 Phantom II flew the majority of the fighter-bomber missions over North Vietnam, the Thunderchief’s service predecessor, the F-100 Super Sabre, stayed on to fight the air war in South Vietnam until June 1971.
Although it was designed as an air defence fighter, and was later given nuclear capability as the mainstay of Tactical Air Command’s deterrent posture, it was the F-100’s toughness, adaptability and reliability that made it ideally suited to the incessant ‘taxi-rank’ close support and counter-insurgency missions in Vietnam.
Super Sabres fought MiGs and SAMs, escorted strikes and relentlessly attacked Viet Cong targets from the earliest air-defence deployments to Thailand in 1961 to the final ‘Misty’ forward air control (FAC) missions ten years later.
Noteworthy, during assignment to the Misty unit crews flew around 50 missions over a four-month period before being rested, this short tour time being dictated by the element of high risk associated with being a Fast FAC – losses were four times greater than those of other Super Sabre units.
As told by Peter E Davies in the book F-100 Super Sabre Units of the Vietnam War, the solo nature of most Misty operations, with IFF switched off and virtual radio silence, meant that losses were sometimes mysterious. Lt Col Larry Whitford, the Misty CO, and 1Lt Patrick Carroll were flying a ‘trails’ mission near Dak To, in Laos, on Nov. 1, 1969 when they called for refuelling from a KC-135A. Their aircraft (56-3796) then vanished without trace. Capt Larry Nophsker and Maj Jim Cruson searched for them on the next Misty mission, thought they saw a crash site but were unable to detect any signs of survivors. Short of fuel themselves, they had to divert to Chu Lai halfway through the search, and as the base lacked F-100 facilities, they had to re-pack their own drag chute.
Maj John Overlock was making his final Misty flight on Aug. 16, 1968 with the former 37th TFW safety officer, Maj Mike McElhanon, as ‘Misty 11.’ They reported that they were heading out over the sea for a second refuelling during their long morning mission. The incoming relief Misty, flown by Capts Chuck Shaheen and Dick Rutan, expected to contact ‘Misty 11’ to receive information on their observations over the North. They heard nothing, neither did the tanker crew nor did the Hillsborough airborne controller, and the loss remains a mystery.
Ironically, Chuck Shaheen and Dick Rutan also made their final Misty flights the following day with a flight of bomb-laden Phu Cat F-100Ds. When the latter failed to hit a truck target that Shaheen had found, he decided to strafe ‘on the deck’. His guns shredded the vehicle, but as he pulled up to avoid a cliff face he felt a solid hit in the aircraft’s belly and fire immediately billowed from the fuselage as leaking fuel torched in the afterburner flames. The crippled F-100 took them about ten miles out to sea before the fuel gave out and they ejected safely. It was Dick Rutan’s 105th, and final, Misty flight out of a total 325 combat fissions.
Capt Lee Gourley and 1Lt ‘Scottie’ Dotson vanished in unknown circumstances on Aug. 9, 1969 over Laos. They reported a hit and announced imminent ejection, but no further contact was ever made. Their loss took Misty casualties to eight aircraft in a 12-month period, which in turn prompted Gen Momyer’s replacement (Gen William ‘Spike’ Momyer was Seventh Air Force commander until 1968 and supported the Misty FAC programme), George Brown, to limit sortie length to four hours in the hope that this would curb the mounting loss rate. Missions had regularly lasted more than five hours, and occasionally up to eight hours.
Gen Brown also commenced the transition of the ‘Fast FAC’ role to the F-4D, setting up a unit at Da Nang where Phu Cat Misty crews trained the Phantom II flyers as Stormy FACs. The 8th TFW had already begun to fly Wolf missions of this kind from Ubon RTAFB, using rockets and SUU-42/A flare pods to mark targets for strikes in Laos. A Tiger FAC F-4E operation was also established at Korat RTAFP but the Phantom IIs wide turning circle, heavy fuel consumption, highly visible smoke trails and poor visibility from the rear cockpit were only partially compensated by better acceleration and ordnance-carrying capability.
‘Super FAC’ ‘Huns’ remained at Phu Cat, where full Super Sabre facilities were available, rather than moving further north to Da Nang, closer to their operational area. However, the base became home to 12th TFW F-4Ds in March 1970 and the 37th TFW was inactivated. Its 612th TFS Misty Det 1 returned to Tuy Hoa in June 1969. By the time attrition made the F-100F’s combat phase-out inevitable in mid-1970, Misty crews had completed 21,000 combat hours. Operations continued on a reduced scale in Laos, but on May 12, 1970 Seventh Air Force decided that the unit should be inactivated — a process that was completed for the 612th TFS by Jul. 31, 1971 when F-100 activity ended Tuy Hoa AB.
The 155 pilots who served with the Misty Det had suffered the heaviest losses of any F-100 unit. Thirty-four were shot down, two of them twice – a 22 per cent loss rate. Seven were killed and three were taken prisoner. Misty included some notable pilots. Two, Maj Merrill A McPeak and Capt Ronald Fogleman ,were eventually promoted to Chief of Staff, USAF. In 1986 Capt Dick Rutan became the first man to fly around the world on non-stop without refueling, Capt Don Shepperd retired as Head of the ANG and 1Lt Charles Veach and Capt Roy Bridges became astronauts. The small Misty detachment’s contribution to the war effort was disproportionally great, and it pioneered tactics that remained in use during the Gulf War and Operation Allied Force in Kosovo in 1999.
F-100 Super Sabre Units of the Vietnam War is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force
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