Udorn 1966-1967

Introduction - Udorn AB deployment (June 1966 till July 1967) 

In the early months of 1966, MiG operations in SEA again began to increase. In addition, NVN MiG-21s began to be spotted in recon photos in March, and were first seen flying over NVN on 23 April. On 26 April, two MiG-21s attacked a pair of F-4Cs that were escorting an EB-66C over NVN. One of the MiGs was shot down by one of the F-4s, and the other MiG escaped, but the limitations of the F-4C and its missile-only armament soon became of great concern to 7th AF. Air superiority in SEA was again in jeopardy. On 29 April, 7th AF's request for more F-104s was met with approval by the Air Staff.

PACAF then explained the need for an F-104 re-deployment to CINCPAC, and received concurrence on 14 May. After granting of JCS approval, eight F-104Cs of the 435th TFS landed at Udorn, Thailand on 6 June 1966.

At the time of the F-104's second deployment to SEA, TAC was in the process of phasing-out the type. The 479th TFW was converting to F-4 aircraft and when the 435th's F-104s crossed the international dateline, they were attached to PACAF's 8th TFW.

On 7 June, the eight F-104s began flying missions in concert with 8th TFW F-4C aircraft, escorting F-105 strikes over NVN. Special tactics were employed which exploited the unique capabilities of the F-104s and the F-4s. Unfortunately, no MiGs were encountered. These missions also involved close coordination with the F-105 strike aircraft, the Thuds providing SAM warnings for the F-104s, which lacked RHAW gear. Soon after the F-104s arrived at Udorn, the Wild Weasel III EF-105Fs deployed to Korat, Thailand. After some unsatisfactory attempts at using F-4s to escort the Wild Weasels, it was decided to give that mission to the F-104s. The F-104's range and speed was superior to the F-4's in the Weasel escort mission. The Weasels appreciated the F-104's ability to stay with their Thuds, often tailoring missions to the availability of F-104s for escort.

F-104 availability was enhanced on 22 July, when an additional twelve F-104s deployed to Udorn and joined the 8th TFW. 1 August brought tragedy to the 435th when two F-104s were lost to SAMs within one hour. Their pilots, Lt. Col. Arthur Finney and Capt. John Kwortnik, were both killed. The loss of one-tenth of the USAF's remaining combat F-104C force in one day led to a re-assessment of the need to escort Wild Weasel missions. It was reasoned that at the speeds and altitudes at which Weasel F-105s operated, the MiG threat was negligible. Furthermore, the Weasels were regularly exposed to intense target defenses, and it was judged a reckless utilization of very limited F-104 assets to place them in harm's way if a viable MiG threat could not be demonstrated. The F-104s were therefore withdrawn from strike escort missions over NVN until they could be fitted with ECM gear, and until the MiG threat increased -- because, once again NVN MiG activity dropped perceptibly when F-104s entered the theater. By late August 1966, F-104s had been shifted to a primary ground-attack role. Missions in the lower RPs, in Laos and SVN were deemed safe enough for F-104s. However, losses continued to mount. On 1 September, an F-104 was shot down by AAA while conducting a road recce mission over northern Laos. Its pilot, Maj. Norman Schmidt, was captured and died in captivity. On 2 October, another F-104 went down over northern Laos; this time to a SAM. The pilot, Capt. Norman Lockhard, was rescued. The final blow was struck on 20 October when Capt. Charles Tofferi, 1962 William Tell winner, was shot down and killed by AAA over northern Laos. Although the Air Staff had repeatedly questioned F-104 use in the ground attack role, there was no mission change until Tofferi's death.

In early December, the F-104s were assigned exclusively to escort missions. By late 1966, all F-104s in SEA had received APR-25/26 RHAW gear under Project Pronto. So equipped, the F-104s once again began flying missions over NVN. Sixteen F-104s took part in Operation Bolo on 2 January 1967. Notably however, the F-104s were not used to actively entice and engage MiGs, but were fragged instead to protect the egressing F-4 force. The F-104s of the 435th continued flying escort missions over the Gulf of Tonkin until 19 July 1967, when they were withdrawn from the theater and replaced by F-4Ds of the 4th TFS.

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F-104C's enroute Puerto Rico, some of them clearly show their noseart (B.Preciado) . Click on the photo for a bigger look.
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In the month of December 1966, the F-104s of the 435th flew 506 combat sorties for 1706.9 hours. Nine aircraft flew over 100 hours, and one flew 156.4 hours that month. Eight of the 435th's pilots flew over 100 hours, and one flew 127:25. When the State Department became aware of these facts, it sent a letter to Gen. Momeyer suggesting that the 435th be decorated for its outstanding achievement. Momeyer responded by directing an investigation of the 435th's records, apparently disbelieving that only eighteen single-engined fighter aircraft could fly such hours. The records were confirmed, but the unit decoration was never issued. When the records were finally released to the press after the F-104's withdrawal, the totals for the month of December 1966 were listed as the totals for the entire tour of the 435th in SEA, a mistake that endures in many publications to this day. The official reasons for the withdrawal were the need to shepherd remaining F-104C assets in case the MiG threat increased in SEA or elsewhere in the world, the imminent phase-out of the F-104 from active USAF service, and the deficiency in air-to-ground load that could be carried by the F-104. During their second deployment to SEA, the F-104s of the 435th TFS actually had flown a total of 5306 combat sorties, for a total of 14,393 combat flight hours. Due to increasing parts shortages and unrelenting sortie rates, aircraft in-commission rate dropped from a high of 85% to a low of 62%. Nevertheless, despite their tired birds, the 435th maintained the reputation of the F-104 among the warriors in SEA. If the F-104C is judged against other US aircraft for its ability to sustain battle damage, to deliver large bombloads or to conduct operations in bad weather, the 104 rates as an also-ran. If, however, the F-104C is judged for its ability to deter MiGs, to ensure the safety of the aircraft entrusted to its escort, or to out-perform any aircraft in existence at the time, the Zip4 is unrivaled. The F-104 had a mission in SEA: air superiority -- a mission it performed brilliantly.

Note: It may seem contradictory that the F-104s were being shepherded to ensure their availability at the same time that they were due for phase-out. The plan was to retire the F-104Cs to ANG service once sufficient F-4Es were available to replace the Starfighter; however, F-104 retirement was accelerated because of the operational toll of sustaining operations in SEA. It was thought that F-104Cs could be safely managed by the 198th TFS of the PRANG, and could be returned to active service should the need arise.

The Air Base

Udorn Air Base was located in Thailand. Beneath a wonderful photo taken over the ramp of Udorn, showing the F-104 operations flightline. (Click on it to enlarge!!). Some aircraft carry nosearts which means that the photo must have been taken in 1967 (Thanks to Rodney Trimble).

Udorn Air Base 1967
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On the airbase lots of other aircraft were stationed and also some were on deployments. Overall a lot of crew was available as well and the 435TFS crew were very motivated as group. Ace Rawlins, one of the pilots, remembered that period very well. He stated: "We got to know our aircraft and maintenance guys better and flew our own jet anytime we were on the schedule together. Example -- We did a gun check on every mission when we crossed the fence. The 20mm fired 6000 rounds per minute, was electrically operated, and we had about 10 sec of ammo on board. I didn't want to waste any on the gun check; wanted to save it all for the bad guys. A normal quick burst would fire at least 6-10 rounds. We had two generators. I learned that on “6902” I could turn off one generator prior to firing the gun, the gun would turn at about half speed, and I could actually get one (1) bang out of the gun. Then turn the generator back on. Gosh I was clever. As long as I'm ramblin on I'll take credit for another -- the inner tube we sat on. We were flying the birds into the dirt. How maintenance kept up I don't know. We went for three months solid where every pilot in the Sqdn got more than 80 hrs a month. We flew every day and sometimes twice. The average mission was about 5 hrs with 2-3 refuelings. In Dec 66 I personally got 127 hrs and one mission was 9 +40 when our replacement flight aborted. Anyway I got the crew chief to get me an inner tube out of a paluste cart so I could sit on it. It worked great and several of the guys started using them. The fear was a broken back if you had to eject, but one day an ejection occurred due to a fire while on the tanker and the pilot didn't hurt his back (sorry, but I can't remember his name right now - maybe Tom remembers) - so that fear went away. The Lockheed seat was a good seat. There was a technique to the inner tube. First you didn't want to put very much air in it at all. Second, you had to make sure the valve stem was in the front so you could get to it and let air out of the inner tube (it expanded as you went to altitude and would really squeeze you against the seat belt). Took a couple of sorties to get it adjusted just right -- after that it was great and really helped on those long sorties. The EP for a runaway donut was to use the survival knife. I don't know of anybody that had to use that procedure”.

Photo album - life at and around Udorn Air Base

Beneath a collection of pilot, crew and scenery photos taken at or over Udorn Air Base (or after arrival at Muniz AFB, Puerto Rico)... Thanks all of you for sharing!!!
(Click to enlarge all photos)

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(Udorn, Thailand 1966-1967) This great groupsphoto was taken at Udorn Thailand of all the personnel of the 435th TFS. It is just too much to mention all these names. But historically this is a very interesting photo. Aircraft seen on the photo are the F-104Cs 56-936 loaded with people and behind the 56-891 and 56-892.  (Udorn, Thailand July 1967) This is the group of who flew back a number of the F-104Cs from Udorn, Thailand to Muniz AFB, Puerto Rico. Back row (left to right) Lt. Arther K.Poe, Lt. Dennis R Magnum, Maj Hugh B Spencer, Maj Bobby D. Bedsworth, Maj Joseph (Joe) R. Nevers, Ben McAvoy (Lockheed representative technician), Maj William J. Caffery, Capt Rodney Trimble. Then front row (left to right) Capt James B. Trice, Maj James L. Foster (also known as "Diamond Jim"), LtCol Robert H. McIntosh, LtCol Robert A. Preciado (435TFS squadron commander) and Lt Travis E. Harrold. Rodney Trimble provided this great photo. aThe photo was taken just prior the departure from Udorn.
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(Udorn, Thailand 1967) The famous "donut" photo which we received from Rodney Trimble. The pilots on the photo are from left to right (standing) Capt Bill Sedor, Col. Robert T McIntosh, Col. Vernon Sandrock and Maj. Karl Hofman. Sitting from left to right are Lt. Tom Mahan, Lt Addison "Ace" Rawlins and Roger Wicker. "Ace" Rawlins once explained: We were flying really long missions and the seats were hard and a bit uncomfortable after 3 or 4 hrs. Our missions were averaging 5 hrs with some going as long as 8 to 9 hrs. The life support types told us the reason the cushion was hard was to reduce back injury upon ejection and of course it was not legal to use a soft cushion. Anyway, I got an inner-tube from a start unit tire and tried it out. Worked fine and caught on fast. I honestly don’t know where the donuts in the pictures came from – possibly the hospital. My first flight was a big learning curve and I figured out right away that you didn’t need much air in the tube cause it expanded as you went to altitude. I had too much air in it and had to release some. Lesson #2 was to place the valve stem in the front so you could get to it to release air and to have your survival knife handy in case you needed to puncture the donut. After a flight or two the air was set right and didn’t have to be changed any more. It made a big difference on the long flights and most of the pilots began to use them. (Udorn, 1967) . From left to right: 1. Vernon Sandrock - Squadron Ops Officer 2. Bill Sedor 3. Bob McIntosh - Assistant Ops Officer (with a donut cushion) 4. Karl Hofman - (rear of picture) 5. Tom Mahan - 6. Bob Preciado - Squadron Commander 7. Joe Nevers - Flight Commander - 8. Unknown - (Head only behind Nevers) 9. Roger Wickers 10. Ace Rawlins - first operational tour (Photo; unknown - Hubert Peitzmeier collection)
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The F-troop not long before the back flight to the US. From left to right Rodney Trimble, and a lot of more people. Who recognizes all these pilots on the photo? (Photo by Rodney Trimble). Again an F-troops photo. From left to right Bob Preciado (commander), Unknown, Unknown, Unknown, Rodney Trimble and Ace Rawlins. They are standing in front of F-104C 56-929 Snoopy Sniper...(photographer: Unknown)
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The F-104C's were flown back to the USA (Muniz AB) in two flights (19 and 5). Here a photo of the group of 5 which all got special made blue flight overalls to celebrate this occasion. From left to right Rodney Trimble, Herb Drisko, Hugh Spencer, Ace Rawlins and Tom Mahan. It was taken just prior the departure to the USA. (Photo: Rodney Trimble) Joel Swanson was crewchief of aircraft 56-929 flown by Major Herb Drisko (Photo: J.Swanson)
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The F-Troop building entrance.. very typical fighter home.... (Rick Drisko) The F-troop building entrance but now with pilots and others. (Rodney Trimble)
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Ben McAvoy was a very important Lockheed technician. Here he is seen inside the cockpit of one of the Udorn based F-104C's (USAF) Newpapers mentioned the wonderful record achieved by the Starfighters in SEA. This article was sent to us by Fred Doughty.
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Capt Hugh Spencer talking to 8TFW commander Col. Olds. Interesting to see the "sex machine" insigne mounted on the back of his flying overall. (Rodney Trimble) Floyd Totten preparing himself for another F-104C mission, in the shadow. Note the donut cushion next to him. (Rodney Trimble)
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Working on the 435TFS flightline at Udorn Air Base (Fred Doughty) Working on the 435TFS flightline at Udorn Air Base (Fred Doughty)
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An F-104C landing at Udorn Air Base, rough photo but somehow it gives the exact feeling about the atmosphere was... (Fred Doughty) Working on the 435TFS flightline at Udorn Air Base (Fred Doughty)
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F-104C hooking onto a Tanker (USAF) Very nice shot showing an F-104C arriving for refuelling (Mark Morgan)
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Air refuelling by KC-135 tanker, very nice shot thanks to Rick Drisko F-104C taxying to the runway, a traditional scene at Udorn Air Base in 1967 when this photo was taken. (Joel Swanson)
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Starfighters taxying to the runway of Udorn AB (Joel Swanson) Starfighters on the ramp of Udorn AB with blue "AM" in front. (Joel Swanson)
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To work under very hot and sunny circumstances, special covers have been made. Here an F-104C is seen receiving maintenance. (via Bob Irwin) Activities in the night on the Udorn flight line.. (USAF)
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Starfighters with 56-891 Snoopy Sniper under the sun-cover. (Joel Swanson) Rodney Trimble and kneeling Floyd Totten showing their 104 car at Udorn. (Rodney Trimble)
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Unknown F-104C 56-??? flying over SEA. Does someone recognize its camouflage pattern? Lineup at Hickham AFB, on route Udorn in July 1966 (Photo Earl Boucher)
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Unknown F-104C being refuelled over SEA (Rick Drisko)
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Arriving at Muniz AFB, left Bob Preciado and in the middle of the ladies, Rodney Trimble A 100th Vietnam mission badge on a very strange spot of the flying suite..
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Back in the USA. The Udorn AFB Starfighter operations have come to an end...(Rodney Trimble)
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If you have photos from the Starfighters period (1966/1967) at Udorn period please share these with the F-104 community by contacting us.