Udorn We Have A Problem

July 22, 1973 started off like any other bombing mission. We did our preflight, routine, strapped in and taxied to the arming area. For this mission we had 18 Mark 82 – 500 pound bombs loaded, a more or less standard drop. That was 9000 pounds of bombs hanging from the F4 (almost twice the amount that one B-17 bomber carried in World War II). The munitions folks checked the bombs and pulled the pins. Then we were cleared onto the runway. 

We were the lead for the mission that day, which meant I was flying with an Old Head. Our bird, F4E 237, got clearance and we began our takeoff roll, I called out 60 kts to the AC, and then confirmed that the gear was up. We climbed up, passed over the Klong and turned. Still pretty routine, passing 1,000 feet and climbing. Now we were over the Thai countryside, off in the distance I saw a Monsoon dumping its afternoon load across the landscape.

Then, there was a violent lurch to the right. We were about 6,000 feet and dropped losing at least 1,000 instantly. Our wingman on the rejoin, held back to wait and see what was happening. A routine take off and rejoin seemed to have morphed into a bold face emergency.

The AC was struggling to control the bird. The stick moved but the bird seemed to have a mind of its own. Almost simultaneously, we both got out our checklists and began to run them. I checked all the circuit breakers, many of which were along my right side in panels going up and behind my head and shoulder. It was hard to turn to see them as I was strapped in tight. The AC continued his efforts to regain control, now the rate of descent had stopped, but the bird was not happy.

We were flying in a squirrelly bird with 9,000 pounds of bombs, and thousands of pounds of JP4 still in the tanks.

500 pound Mark 82 bomb load on F4

Not a winning combination. We got on the radio and contacted the SOF in the tower. He said we had two options: One, get the bird out over an uninhabited area and eject. Two, if the bird settled down, a big IF, we could fly it around the area for about 45 minutes to burn off the fuel in the tanks and then jettison the bombs. There was an area off the end of one of the active runways where we could jettison the bombs.

At this point we had only been airborne about 20 minutes, although it seemed a lot longer. We talked out our options. Neither of us relished ejection.  It all boiled down to the basic dislike of any fighter crew to leave the airplane while it could be flown. So we elected for the present to work the problem.

So now 25 minutes had passed and the bird was flying better, but she still was not happy. The AC talked to the SOF and told him we would be staying with the bird for the present. We were able to climb back to about 7,000 feet to give us more altitude and headed away from the populated areas to wait it out. The remaining hour was one of my longest in the air. Nothing more serious happened, and we dumped and burned off fuel, jettisoned the bombs, and landed safely.

That was the first time I came close to buying the farm in a non combat situation, although it was always possible on any flight – any time.

I would like to say I know what caused the flight control issues but never heard. Like many things, once a mission was over it was done, the only thing was important was the current mission.

F4 Aircraft over SEA

The past was past.

About jenorv

John E. Norvell is a retired Air Force Lt Colonel, decorated air combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and former Assistant Professor of American and Military History at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He has written freelance for the Washington Post, the Middle Tennessee Journal of Genealogy and History, and for several newspapers around the country.
This entry was posted in 13 TFS, Air Force, Air Force lingo, American History, F-4 Phantom II, F4 emergency, F4 Phantom II, F4 PhantomII, Fighter Aircraft, Thailand, U Dorn RTAFB, Udorn RTAFB and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Udorn We Have A Problem

  1. MIke Hammon says:

    What did the wingman see when he checked out the jet on rejoin?

  2. Garry M. Beckham says:

    My first flight in the F-4, a C model at Luke AFB, AZ in the spring of 1974 was similar. We were on an Intercept Sortie with one F-4 as the target. We were flying south a Luke at about 25,000 feet. Both planes were about 35 miles a part. Again, this is my first flight, with a real radar system, not the simulator one with big targets. The two planes were rapidly closing together, the target plane was about 1,000 feet above us. Finally, at about 5 miles I get a contact. I told the pilot, “Contact, 30 left, 5 miles.” He immediately rolled the aircraft to start the turn. Just after rolling it all went wrong. The jet snapped to a positive 9 Gs. I found my head in my lap. Of course the pilot was making stick controls to combat this 9 Gs. The jet then unloaded to minus 3 Gs, snapping me around like a bob on a rubber band. Finally after several gyrations of positive and negative Gs, the pilot got the jet under control. We checked all the systems, circuit breaker, and looked over the jet. Our wing man joined us, and looked us over. We declared an emergency and flew back to Luke. We didn’t have to use the hook, and made a normal landing. After taxiing back to the parking ramp, we shut it down and climbed out. We had fuel, oil and other liquids dripping out of the bottom. After going thru maintenance debrief, we got word that all the engine mounts were broken, along with a lot of the other tubes that carried hydraulic fluid and JP-4. That day my neck, shoulder and back began to ache. For the next two weeks my chin was attached to my left shoulder. But I didn’t go DNIF (duty not including flying). Should have gone. Still have spine, shoulder and neck damage and pain, but VA said since I went back to flying, no disability. I have about 2000 hours in the F-4C/D/E/G and was in the 5550th TFTS, 80th TFs, 306th TFTS, 309th TFTS, 90th TFS as a WSO and an Instructor WSO. I also flew cruise missile chase out of Edwards on a TDY basis while a member of the GLCM FOT&E. Also worked at 6200 TFTS “Cope Thunder”, First Air Force, TAC, ACC, and CENTCOM augmentee (Riyadh, SA 1990). Through the years got multiple hops in the F-100, F-16, F-15, F-18, O-2 and some other planes. As aforementioned in the F-4C incident above, I don’t ever think that I ever thought, “I don’t think I will do this anymore!” Either dumb, or big balls!” Enjoyed all the fighter aviation events I participated in and the folks that made fighter aviation the best career ever.

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