History of the F-4C Wild Weasel
The Air Force converted 36 F-4C aircraft to Wild Weasel capability starting in 1968 carrying the AGM-45 Shrike and the AGM-78 Standard ARM which gave it a much greater range and capability over the AGM-45. Together with F-105Gs the F-4C aircraft was used extensively in Vietnam during Operations Linebacker protecting aircraft strikes in southern North Vietnam. During Linebacker II the Weasel crews supported numerous B-52 strikes against targets in Hanoi one of the most heavily defended places on the planet.
One F-4C Wild Weasel unit, the 67th TFS at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, sent six F-4C Wild Weasels to Korat, Thailand, in September 1972. Used in southern North Vietnam during Linebacker, the F-4C Wild Weasel aircrews effectively supported strikes around Hanoi during Linebacker II, flying 460 sorties in Southeast Asia without loss. The F-4C continued service post-Vietnam and this section is dedicated to the skill and bravery of these Airmen
Engagement with MiGs
Snakes in The Weeds
F/4C 637-474 “Brain Damage”
Captains Tom Floyd and Al Palmer
67th TFS Wild Weasels
Linebacker II Night 3
Hanoi, North Vietnam 23:53:30 to 0:01:16
Our MiG engagement on the 20th of December, 1972 started after we left the red tanker taking on 6,000 pounds of gas and headed up to North Vietnam through the fish’s mouth. As we were approaching 60 miles Southwest of Bullseye well before the first BUFF TOTs, we heard the first bogey call from Red Crown that bogies were to the west of us. Also west at high altitude was an F-4E chaff flight of four flying at the speed of heat from northwest to southeast right across Bullseye seeding the chaff corridor for the night’s B-52 strikes. We caught their afterburners high at 10:00 o’clock and then shortly thereafter chaff lead called bogies coming around him at their 4:00 o’clock overshooting on what was likely a GCI intercept on the supersonic fighters…dumping them tight into our lap.
I got a visual on one bogey in burner converting from 9:00 o’clock back to 8:00 o’clock on a port turn and the other one climbing on our nose. Not sure of exactly who we had in radar contact, we turned into the lead bogey climbing high and closed on it. Red Crown called bandits high, 270 for about 36 miles, At that point we were about 270 for 30 from Bullseye headed NW and now we just had one bandit we were following…we didn’t know that the blacked out white bandit was in trail by a good distance. Finally Red Crown called “bandits attacking” as they were simultaneously calling bandits at 274 for 27 from Bullseye. And of course we’re right there!
Red Crown asked for our position off of Bullseye and then said “You’re the only one in there now!” At that point we were passing 30,000 feet still climbing and we fired one of the two AIM/7E Sparrows we had on board (I didn’t know at the time, but Tom could get only one missile to tune and that was the one that we were about to shoot). The missile left the fuselage in a bright flash, headed toward the MiG at 12 o’clock just a little inside Max range. It streaked right by the MiG and vanished in the blackness of the night sky, apparently without guiding on our radar lock.
Undeterred, we pressed on, still with a radar lock closing to about a quarter of a mile with Max expansion of the radar ranging ring and with the guidance dot centered…and me shouting FIRE! FIRE! Unfortunately, the remaining Sparrow missile was a dud. So there we were…out of bullets… except for the two strikes we had on board for killing SAM sites. I had the half serious idea that we ought to fire a Shrike at our close range…if we didn’t actually spear him, at least it might scare him off for the night. But that quickly became unnecessary because very shortly he came out of burner and just disappeared bugging out for home…out of the fight.
At that point the MiG/19 that was low in the weeds came up passing right under us, overshooting as we reversed on him. We fell in behind him trailing his two bright afterburners shining brightly above canopy bow. But out of missiles, we decided at that point to break it off because we were approaching our TOT time for the night’s buff strikes. That’s where my tape stops at 8 minutes and 13 seconds into the fight.
Our target for the night’s SAM hunting was notorious SAM site VN-119 about 5 miles North of Phuc Yen airfield. So although we didn’t get the MiG kill, we did nail one SAM site that night and another probable for the two Shrikes we had on board as we fought off over 160 SAMs that were launched that night by at least a dozen very active SAM sites. Sadly, it was a dark night for SAC B-52 losses. The sight of the burning aircraft spiraling down 30 thousand feet and exploding in a blinding mushroom cloud is still etched in my memory of the campaign. Lots of heavy breathing!
EPILOGUE: Our bird we were flying that night, tail number 474 “Brain Damage”, was involved in a second MiG-21 encounter 6 nights later in the same general area while being flown by Captains Bob Tidwell and Denny Haney. Both crews flying the same aircraft were awarded the Silver Star for their actions…the only Wild Weasel MiG engagements of Operation Linebacker II.
Early F-4C Wild Weasel Operations In PACAF
“These are my recollections of the evolution of the F4C Wild Weasel mission in PACAF during 1968 through early 1972. I was fortunate to be in the first F4C class in 1968 and performed the “additional duty” of squadron historian during assignments to the 35th, 67th, and 80th Fighter Squadrons. This narrative attempts to provide additional detail to the history of the Wild Weasel mission as chronicled by Larry Davis in his book Wild Weasel – the SAM Suppression Story.”
– Joe Snoy, Major (ret) USAF
Initial F4C Weasel Training at Nellis circa 1968.
The F4C Wild Weasel program finally got off the ground at Nellis during the summer of 1968 (See page 50,Larry Davis’ book – Wild Weasel- the SAM Suppression Story for a description of the problems with the initial F4C Wild Weasel aircraft modification). My class began in August and I graduated in October with all crews reporting to their respective PACAF or USAFE fighter squadrons. The training syllabus consisted of both classroom and flying activities. The 17 flying missions including air-to-air, air-to-ground and weasel missions plus two additional orientation flights in T-39s (modified to carry the F4C APR 25/26 and ER-142) for the EWOs. For those of us EWOs who had no previous fighter experience the flying training was extremely demanding – we learned the fighter business by the seat of pants. . I remember returning to Nellis with a full barf bag in hand on 11 of 17 sorties.
I was told that later EWOs were sent to F4 RTU before weasel training at Nellis.
The initial PACAF crews formed at Nellis were; Captains Klaus Klause/Joe Snoy, Nick Kemp/JimViolette, Billy Gough/Bob Emerson and Jerry Timm/John Fraser. All the F4 aircraft commanders were experienced Vietnam F4 pilots while EWOs Jim Violette (F105F), John Fraser (F105F), Bob Emerson (EB-66) and myself (Joe Snoy EB-66) had just completed combat tours in Vietnam. The Nellis F4C weasel instructors that I remember were; Jim Hill (IP), Norm Wells (IP), Tony Paytek (sp?) EWO and Marsh Goldberg (EWO). Two non-weasel instructors of note were Tom Swalm (later M/G and TAWC CC) and Chris Patarakis (sp?)(later Thunderbird lead). I remember Jim Hill asking me if I had ever been supersonic and I truthfully said “No”. So he said “There is a brand new F4E on the ramp with no tanks or pylons that needs a flight control test – lets go!” To make a long story short we took off, got permission from LA center to enter the Nellis supersonic track and accelerated to Mach 2. After reaching Mach 2 Jim said, “I wonder how high this plane can climb?” Passing 55k on the altimeter he said, “We need to nose this baby over”. I can vouch for the sky being very dark at 58,00ft!
In 1968 the Nellis electronic combat training ranges were primitive by later standards. Caliente Range (located on BLM property east of the Nellis bombing ranges) was the closest range and had a single AAA signal (no live bombing and limited low level tactics possible). At that time an EWO by the name of Dick Syzmanski was running around the range in a truck/camper trying to modify/install surplus WWII AAA radars as a surrogate threats for training. A little farther from Nellis was the St George, UT radar bomb scoring site (RBS) that had a Fansong signal (no live bombing or low level tactics possible). The most sophisticated site/range was Fallon NAS in northern Nevada that provided Fansong, and AAA signal plus an adjacent live-bombing range. The weasel sorties to Fallon provided the best combination of threat signals and tactical weapons delivery but time on the range was short because we were operating at the maximum range of the F4 with two wing tanks – only two short simulated attacks were possible before we were “bingo fuel” for Nellis.
The 347th TFW struggles to understand the Wild Weasel mission
After completing training at Nellis in October, PACAF’s first F4C weasel aircrews were assigned to the 80TFS at Yokota AB, Japan (347 TFW) despite the fact the only three F4C weasel aircraft in existence were assigned to the weasel school at Nellis. The 347th was in sad organizational shape and was still recovering from the aftermath of the USS Pueblo debacle of early 1968. The Pueblo crisis caught PACAF’s two fighter equipped bases in Japan (Yokota and Misawa)) in a transition from F-105s to F4Cs. Neither base had the resources to provide a conventional response to the North Korean atrocity. As a result, starting in mid 1968, PACAF populated Yokota and Misawa with old F4Cs from Cam Rahn Bay and inexperienced F4 aircrews from the US. Few F4C aircraft commanders had many hours in the F4 and the backseat was totally filled with Pilot Weapons System Operators (PWSOs) mostly First Lieutenants. The 347th senior leadership had little fighter experience (many had transitioned from B-47s or B-52, etc). When the first F4C weasel crews arrived they were met with questions; “What is a Wild Weasel?”, “What ‘s an EWO?” or better yet “What do you mean you’re not a pilot?”.
Thus began the 347TFW’s painful adjustment to the new AF policy of replacing the F4 backseat pilots with navigators and a small number of EWOs. Bob Hipps (“the Hippogator”) was especially glad to see the weasel crews because had just arrived at Yokota from his Vietnam tour as a Nite Owl FAC backseater as was the only non-pilot backseater at that time. Although equipped with fighter aircraft, the primary mission of the 347 TFW (Yokota) and the 475 TFW (Misawa) was nuclear weapon delivery in support of the Single Integrated Operations Plan (SIOP) from forward operating bases in Korea (i.e., Osan and Kunsan). A secondary mission was air defense of Japan.
The first challenge faced by the new F4C weasel crews in late 1968 and early 1969 was to become “combat ready”. My first “tac check” was dropping a Mk106 on a shear rock island somewhere in the ocean south of Tokyo after flying a low level to the simulated target +/- 2 minutes. (I passed that check ride and everyone thereafter for the next nine years). During this time period the Yokota weasels lost their first aircrew (Capt John Wadsworth/Maj Burt Fontenot) recently graduated from the second Nellis F4C weasel class in a night aircraft ferry accident to Korea. The crew apparently suffered a major electrical failure on takeoff at Yokota and hit some power lines while trying to land the aircraft under a low overcast.
Finally in April 1969, the first two modified F4C weasel aircraft arrived at Yokota – the TAC ferry crews were surprised to be met with champagne was they deplaned the aircraft much to the joy of weasel crews who were waiting for them. These were the first of seven weasel modified F4C aircraft (Misawa received eight). Although the Yokota weasel crews were assigned to one flight in the 80th TFS, the weasel aircraft were distributed throughout the 347th’s aircraft pool at Yokota or Osan without regard to its special electronic equipment. The weasel aircraft were not liked by the non-weasel backset pilots or backseat IPs because the cockpit visibility was restricted by the ER-142 display and this hampered formation flying or landing from the backseat.
In June 1968, much to the dismay of the weasel crews, the 347 TFW weasel crews were reassigned throughout the squadrons (35th, 36th and 80th). The struggle to raise the importance of the weasel mission continued through 1969 and 1970 despite the increasing number or weasel aircraft and weasel crews. Also the replacement of PWSOs by young navigators right out of nav school by way of F4 RTU continued. I remember having to take my first annual navigator written exam based on C-130 navigation problems. Also at that time our F4 stan-eval written test was heavily based on pilot skills or equipment located in the F4 front seat. I had little interest in understanding what the minimum startup hydraulic pressure should be if he gauges are only visible in the front seat. The navs and weasel crews complained loudly that the stan-eval tests never asked questions focused on the back seat equipment (e.g., radar, INS, radio, etc). I vividly remember my frontseater, Klaus, asking me to get the letdown book out for a weather approach at Yokota and my answer – “What’s a letdown book?” after I had been flying F4s for months!
Eventually it took a directive from PACAF to force changes to the stan-eval and annual flight exams for EWOs and navs. Instrument School replaced the annual refresher nav school/exam – what a smart decision for us non-pilots flying fighters.
The Weasel Mission is Recognized – Training Improvements
Slowly the importance of the weasel mission in support of the Korean theatre became recognized within 347th as more senior Vietnam experienced personnel replaced the early Wing leadership. Despite the early lack of embrace for the wild weasel mission at the Wing level, the weasel crews were able to practice weasel tactics in 2-4 ship formations while deployed to Osan, Korea. The addition of an AAA radar at the Koon-ni bombing range added more realism to the practice weapons training missions in Korea. Also captive Shrikes were installed on weasel aircraft. As more Vietnam experienced crews populated the three F4 squadrons more and more advanced training events were conducted including “shooting the dart”, air-to-air combat maneuvering, live AIM-9 and AIM -7 firings at drones. Weasel crews were rotated back to Nellis for short refresher courses and advanced tactics missions against the greatly upgraded electronic-threat ranges at Nellis.
Consolidation of PACAF’s F4C Wild Weasel Resources
In 1970 PACAF HQ directed the consolidation of all F4C weasel crews and aircraft at Yokota. Shortly thereafter the weasel crews and aircraft from Misawa were transferred to Yokota and all weasels crews from both Yokota and Misawa were assigned to the 80th TFS. With only a few exceptions the squadron was composed entirely of Vietnam-experienced veterans – the aircraft commanders all had over 1000 hrs F4 time and the EWOs either had a tour in F-105s or EB-66s. Late in 1970 or early 1971 Captain “Dickey Duck” Myers was assigned to the 80th (Dick was later to become the Chairman of the JCS during Gulf War II).
The 67th TFS becomes PACAF’s F4C Wild Weasel Squadron
In late 1970 the long standing rumor that PACAF was about to reorganize the fighter forces in Japan and Korea became reality as the fighter squadrons in all of Southeast Asia were reorganized more closely to historical unit lineage. The 80th was included in the reorganization and in Feb 1971 all 80th weasel crews were reassigned to the 35th then on or about 15 Mar 1971 the entire squadron of weasel crews and aircraft flew to Kadena, Okinawa and become the 67 TFS (the squadron designation having been reassigned from Misawa). The 35, 36 and 80 squadron designations were reassigned to Korea along will all Yokota and Misawa aircrew personnel who had not completed a combat tour in Vietnam as of that time.
On Okinawa, home of the 18 TFW, the 67th joined the 12th TFS (F-105s) and 15th TRS (RF4Cs). In early 1971 Lt Col David Oakes, former 80th and current 67th CC, was promoted to Colonel and Lt Col Don Parkhurst, former 35th and current 67th Operations Officer become the new 67th weasel squadron commander. During 1971 and 1972 new weasel pilots and EWOs joined the 67th as the initial cadre of F4C weasel crews from the 1968-1970 Yokota and Misawa era began to rotate to the US after 3 years or longer in PACAF.
Linebacker I and II
Operations Linebacker and Linebacker II initiated the end of the Southeast Asia War. During those offensives, U.S. airpower stopped the North Vietnamese ground offensive and B-52s vigorously bombed previously untouched targets in North Vietnam. The Wild Weasels challenged North Vietnamese defenses that had been heavily built up over the course of three and a half years.
In the spring of 1972 the U.S. renewed large-scale bombing of North Vietnam in response to the communist Easter Offensive against South Vietnam. Since the end of Rolling Thunder in 1968, the North Vietnamese had developed their fighter forces and created an integrated defense system of mutually supporting early warning radar, AAA and SAM sites. By 1972 the North Vietnamese had more than 200 SA-2 launchers, extending their coverage into parts of South Vietnam.
To assist the 17th Wild Weasel Squadron, the USAF sent over part of the F-105G-equipped 561st Tactical Fighter Squadron — together they totaled 28 F-105 Wild Weasel aircraft. In addition to these, the USAF introduced the F-4C Wild Weasel IV to combat during Linebacker.
Efforts to make the F-4C a Wild Weasel aircraft started in 1966, but developmental problems prevented it from being fielded until the spring of 1969. One F-4C Wild Weasel unit, the 67th TFS at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, sent six F-4C Wild Weasels to Korat, Thailand, in September 1972. Used in southern North Vietnam during Linebacker, the F-4C Wild Weasel aircrews effectively supported strikes around Hanoi during Linebacker II, flying 460 sorties in Southeast Asia without loss.
Linebacker II, the most concentrated air campaign against North Vietnam, began on Dec. 18, 1972, after the communists again stalled at the peace table. Over half the targets were within 25 miles of Hanoi, protected by some of the densest air defenses in the world. Even so, the Wild Weasels, along with other anti-SAM measures, kept SA-2 losses relatively low, without any losses to themselves. In 1972, the year of Linebacker and Linebacker II, the North Vietnamese fired over 4,000 SA-2s — nearly half the total they fired during the entire war — shooting down 49 U.S. aircraft (meaning it took over 80 SA-2s to down one aircraft).
Courtesy of the National Museum of the Air Force