USAF controller recalls when he directed two F-102s to shoot down a fully loaded F-4 that flew towards Chinese border after its crew ejected (The Phantom II ran out of fuel and crashed in the Gulf of Tonkin)

USAF controller recalls when he directed two F-102s to shoot down a fully loaded F-4 that flew towards Chinese border after its crew ejected (The Phantom II ran out of fuel and crashed in the Gulf of Tonkin)

By Dario Leone
Nov 6 2023
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Has an aircraft ever “flew away” after the crew ejected?

In aircraft, an ejection seat is a system designed to rescue the pilot or other crew of an aircraft in an emergency. In most designs, the aircraft canopy comes off and the seat is propelled out of the aircraft by an explosive charge or rocket motor, carrying the pilot with it. Once clear of the aircraft, the ejection seat deploys a parachute. In two seat aircraft, the seats are ejected at different angles to avoid a collision.

Before ejection seats, pilots would have to remove the aircraft canopy manually to climb and jump out.

Ejection seats can save lives.

But has an aircraft ever “flew away” after the crew ejected?

Control over 2 F-102s with orders to shoot down an F-4

Marc Santacroce, former USAF controller who controlled morning and afternoon strike packages for a year in a Vietnam, recalls on Quora;

‘Have to tell you my experience: I was controlling strike aircraft in Vietnam. An F-4 checks in with battle damage, couldn’t jettison armament, couldn’t lower gear.

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‘After consultation w HQ decision was to have crew eject and F-4 run out of fuel and crash in the Gulf of Tonkin. We scramble rescue forces to pick them up as soon as possible after ejecting.

‘Then they eject, and the F-4, fully bomb loaded, turns NE on its own, directly for Hainan Island (China)- hair on fire as we’re afraid to start WWIII – I got control over 2 F-102s out of Danang (Paine Red 1 & 2) with orders to shoot down the F-4 before it gets into Chinese airspace.

‘So off we go, full gate (with after burners) climb and set up to splash one F-4. However, she ran out of fuel before I could get my deuces in position to fire.’

Santacroce concludes;

‘The F-4 crashed into the gulf- the crew was successfully recovered BTW.

‘Another day another dollar.’

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

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Dario Leone

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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