Da Nang Aircraft part 1

The aircraft

The F-104C aircraft came from the USA and flew via Hawaii and Guam to the Vietnam area. Thanks to George Cline Wells (in his book "It's That Way Everywhere, George: A Memoir") we know that 30 F-104C aircraft (24 with 6 spares) took off from George AFB in April 7th, 1965. They made a first stop after 5.29 flying hours, at Hickam AFB, Hawaii. The next day they flew to Anderson AFB, Guam, which tool 8:20 hours flying time. After a break at Guam they departed again on April 11th for a 3:45 hour flight to CCK AB in Taiwan, In total 26 aircraft arrived here. On April 19th the first operating squadron (14 aircraft) flew to Da Nang AB with Col. Darrell Cramer as commander. At CCK AB the aircraft received there major maintenance and pilots got training for their roles.

Those days the aircraft were just in bare metal with the typical FG-codes removed from the fuselage. Due to the somethimes rainy circumstances and the wet Asian environment the aircraft became less shiny day by day. To avoid corrosion the aircraft had to be cleaned regulary... During the operations they found out that the aircraft has some very shiny area's which could be easily identified on high distance... one of them was the inlet cones. As a way of camouflage, at the end of the deployment, more and more aircraft received black inlets and cones by simple black paint. This compensated the shiny appearance of the aircraft a bit which always helps to avoid being noticed. See beneath a photo taken on the Da Nang flightline showing aircraft with black inlets and cones alsmost looking like F-104Gs. Left aircraft 57-928 with still shiny alluminium inlets and the other ones having black inlets like the 57-929 in the middle (Photo thanks to Mike Evans).

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On the nose section they painted signatures for patrol and bombing missions. And towards the end of the deployment also a few aircraft received nicknames on their noses most of them in red paint. Examples are 56-886 "Fannie", 57-929 (unidentified but looks to be starting with "Happy" and finally 57-930 "Betsy". Beneath 2 photos showing on top the 57-929 with a not complete identified nickname behind all the mission signatures... and 2nd the F-104C 57-930 showing "Betsy". (Thanks to Mike Evans).

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The following 27 different aircraft have been seen at Da Nang during the deployment and were operated by 479th TFW / 436th TFS.

56-883 (c/n 1171) This Starfighter arrived from CCK AB, Taiwan (overhaul) at Da Nang in September 1965. On September 20th, 1965, it was shot down over Hainan-island, China by gunfire from a Chinese NAVY MIG19 flown by Navy pilot Gao Xiang. Pilot Capt. Phil E. Smith became prisoner of war in China and was held until 1973. (After graduating from the Fighter Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base, Phil was assigned to Da Nang AB in South Vietnam). On Sept. 20, 1965, while flying an armed escort combat mission over the Tonkin Gulf, his plane was shot down and Phil had to eject. He was captured by the Chinese Red Army and held as a prisoner of war in China for more than seven years until his release in March 1973. Smith was one of only two U.S. military aviators to be held in captivity by Communist China. Phil Smith wrote (Together with his wife Peggy Herz) about his time as a prisoner of war in his book, “Journey into Darkness.” He stated “I still regret my aircraft was damaged and lost at sea, but I am still grateful that I had the option to eject, I thoroughly enjoyed my military career and remain close to a lot of the men I had the pleasure to serve with. I was on a combat mission when my directional avionics and magnetic compass became inoperative. I knew I had to avoid Chinese airspace, so I ducked below some cloud cover to try and get a visual of my location. Just as I cleared the clouds, a Chinese MIG fired on me. Though my F-104 was damaged, with a missing wingtip and Sidewinder missile, I turned to fight. As the MIG lit his afterburners and disappeared into the clouds, my plane lost hydraulic power, and I knew I had to eject or crash into the sea.  Amazingly, as I was going down, everything I learned in training came back to me, even though when you are in training, you think something like this will never happen to you. I recalled we were told to look up when our parachute opens to be sure it is fully deployed. I did, and it was. We were told not to just enjoy the ride down, but to look around for an escape route. I was over the water, so I knew my escape route would be to get to shore. Our survival seat had a small dingy that falls out on a 20-foot line when you eject that is fully inflated and lands just before you do. As I got closer to the water, looking for the dingy, I saw that I was going to land right in the middle of a Chinese fishing fleet of about 100 boats, so I realized I was going to be captured”. Master Sergeant Doc Blanchard was maintenance Line Chief at Da Nang and responsible for the aircraft flown by Phil when he was shot down. He was very worried about the reason of the loss of the aircraft at that moment. "Was it bad maintenance or was he shot down?... "

Note: Late 2014 new information about the shootdown from the National Security Agency and the Pentagon’s Central Security Service was released. On December 11, the agencies released 170 out of 1,600 soon-to-be-declassified documents involving Americans captured or deemed missing in action during the Vietnam War.  Most of the trove references American pilots lost over North Vietnam, but Chinese fighter jets intercepted and shot down American aircraft on several occasions, killing several pilots. It’s a little-known and politically-sensitive aspect of the war in Vietnam. Some of the details are still classified. Regarding the shooting down of Phil Smith it was stated: “It appears that possible as many as 10 Chicom fighters...reacted to the hostile aircraft over Hainan Island,” noted a September 20 report following Smith’s capture, using an abbreviation for Chinese communists". With 20 Migs on your tail, you have no chance at all....

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Above photos showing the aircraft taxying and also parked at Da Nang AB. Other photos show the shoot down of the F-104 by the guncamera of the Chinese pilots, Phil Smith and finally the Chinese pilots who claimed the shoot down.
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56-886 (c/n 1174) This Starfighter was seen at Da Nang AB in 1965 and was one of a few aircraft which received a nickname painted on its fuselage. It was decorated with the name “FANNIE”.

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56-890 (c/n 1178) This Starfighter was seen at Da Nang AB in 1965. No specific information about this aircraft at Da Nang AB is available. At least it also got his inlets painted black lateron during the deployment. 

56-892 (c/n 1180) This Starfighter was seen at Da Nang from April till December 1965. On December 18th, 1965 it arrived back at George AFB.

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56-898 (c/n 1186) This Starfighter was seen at Da Nang AB in 1965. No specific information about this aircraft at Da Nang AB is available. 

56-902 (c/n 1190) This Starfighter was seen at Da Nang AB in 1965. In September 1965 it was seen receiving overhaul at CCK AB, Taiwan and finally it arrived back at George AFB, USA on December 18th, 1965.

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56-903 (c/n 1191) This Starfighter was seen at Da Nang AB in 1965. In November 1965 it arrived for overhaul at CCK AB, Taiwan and finally it arrived back at George AFB, USA on December 18th, 1965.

56-908 (c/n 1196) This Starfighter was seen at Da Nang AB in 1965 until July when it was lost while performing a Bombing / Strafe mission with two M117 (750#) bombs.  It was hit by ground fire and while pulling out from the dive bomb pass, the left leading edge flap departed. There was a large gash in the left fuselage above the left wing, and the pilot experienced an oil-failure and landing-gear extension failure. It tried to make an emergency landing at Chu Lai Marine Air Base. During this "gear-up" landing the pilot, Cpt. Roy Blakeley, was sadly killed instantly upon landing while skidding off the runway into a sand-dune. It happened on July 22nd, 1965.

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56-910 (c/n 1198) This Starfighter was seen at Da Nang AB in 1965. Photo can seen on next page with 56-938 history.