The routine procedure for aircrews returning to base after a combat mission was initially to debrief the crew chief on how the aircraft performed and to record in the aircraft forms any equipment problems or malfunctions that had occurred during the flight. It was then the crew-chief’s job to call technicians to repair any equipment malfunctions, refuel the aircraft for its next mission, take engine oil samples, check for tire wear, replace any external fuel tanks that had been jettisoned inflight, install the drag chute and generally make sure the aircraft would be ready for its next flight. The F-105 landed at such a high rate of speed (around 175 knots), that the pilot would deploy the drag chute (a large sturdy parachute installed in a compartment in the aircraft’s tail) to slow the aircraft down enough that we could make the turn at the end of the runway, where the drag chute was jettisoned.
A squadron bread truck type van would meet the aircrew at the aircraft. As soon as the crew chief was debriefed, the van would drop the aircrews and their flight gear (helmits, oxygen masks, survival vests and parachutes) off at the squadron personal equipment section. Aircrews then went into the wing operations section for the intelligence debriefing. Here the aircrew was questioned about all aspects of the mission: how the refueling went, problems coordinating with the various air traffic control agencies, enemy defenses encountered, how much damage was done to the targets, and details about any aircraft damaged or shot down, and how effective other unit’s support was.
After our first mission or two, Sam and I got pretty used to the routine, but then we noticed another fellow always came in and asked a lot of questions about any SAMs or AAA that we encountered. I asked this fellow, a major with navigator wings, what his job was. He said, “Well, my name is Frank Herty, and I am your friendly ASCAT officer.” I asked, “What the hell is an ASCAT?” He replied, “I’m part of the anti-SAM combat assistance team. Tactical Air Command (TAC) has a unit at Eglin AFB, Florida whose mission is to learn as much as possible about how the SA-2 surface to air missile system works and to figure out how best to combat it. We have an ASCAT officer at each wing with a wild weasel unit, and we want to know what you are experiencing, anything you need that we might help with and what tactics work or do not work. We then communicate back to Eglin, where they can get assistance from TAC HQ.”
One day we briefed Frank Herty about the heavy concentration of flack our dive bombers encountered from the Kep airfield area on the northeast railroad. This was especially frustrating for our guys because in May 1967 we were still restricted from bombing any aircraft on the ground at Kep, even if they were some of the MIG-17s stationed there. Once MIGs were airborne, they were fair game, but not if they were aground! One of our squadron flack suppression flights even got criticized for destroying a couple of Mig-17s on the airfield with cluster bomb units (CBU), which “accidently” hit the MIGs instead of some 85mm AAA guns located nearby!
Frank was interested in the heavy flack and asked me if there were AAA fire control radars on my radar receiver associated with the AAA. I said, “Sure. There are always a few of them at Kep.” Frank then said, “It’s too bad we don’t have some way of dropping some chaff” (strips of aluminum foil cut to the AAA gun radar frequencies). Then Sam said, “I think there are some leaflet bomb casings in storage at Bangkok that were left over from WWII. Maybe you could fill some of them with chaff.” Frank said, “Great idea, but how would you drop them over the AAA guns without getting shot down yourselves?” Sam said, “The Thuds have a toss bomb computer that was designed to allow us to toss nuclear bombs on a target and reverse direction with a half loop, avoiding passing over the target ourselves.”
Frank said, “Great. I’ll see if I can get chaff and some of those bomb casings shipped up here. Then, next time you guys are going to Kep again, we can load you up with ‘em. Are you willing to try that?” We both said, “Sure. We’ll try most anything once.”
When we got back to the squadron, Sam got his technical order (TO) books out, figured the ballistics of the leaflet bombs and reviewed procedures for setting up the toss bomb computer in the aircraft so we’d be ready if and when the permission came down to try it on a real bombing mission.
A few days later Frank phoned Sam and told him everything was ready, so we could try the chaff tossing scheme next time we headed to Kep Airfield.