Last Updated 23 October, 2003
66-018 Col Ivan Dethman
Combat Lancer (March 15, 1968 to November 22,1968)
The Combat Bullseye I tests of early 1967, clinched the USAF decision to rush a small detachment of seven
F-111A's to Southeast Asia, under the name Combat Lancer, to boost night and all-weather attacks while testing the aircraft's over-all combat capability. Combat Lancer was preceded by Harvest Reaper, started in June 1967, to correct known F-111A shortcomings and prepare the aircraft for combat. The Harvest Reaper modifications (mainly more avionics and electronic countermeasures (ECM) equipment) would enter the F-111A production lines, if successfully proven in combat. Combat Lancer looked to another pre-combat project (Combat Trident) for trained pilots. Combat Trident training of the aircrews completed on March 6th, only nine days before the Combat Lancer deployment on March 15,1968. The six aircraft deployed were 66-0016, 66-0017, 66-0018, 66-0019,66-0021, and 66-0022. They reached Takhli Royal Thai Air Base on the 17th. At month's end, after 55 missions that centered on North Vietnam targets, two aircraft 66-0017 and 66-0022 had been lost. Two more aircraft 66-0024 and 66-0025 arrived as replacements. The loss of a third Combat Lancer aircraft on April 22 halted F-111 A operations. The survivingfive aircraft finally returned to Nellis on November 22.
66-0016 flew the first Combat Lancer mission on March 18,1968, attacking a truck park and storage area with 12 Mk11 7 750 pound bombs. 66-0017 flew its first Combat Lancer mission on March 27. It crashed and was destroyed on March 30, 1968, during Combat Lancer mission. Its callsign was Hotrod 76. The crew, Major Sandy Marquardt and Capt Joe Hodges, successfully ejected and was recovered. The cause of the aircraft loss was a tube of sealant lodged in the horizontal stabilizer actuator. 66-0018's first mission was on March 25,1968. 66-0019 on March 27 during Combat Lancer, had a hydraulics problem which gave it the distinction of being the first F-111 combat ground abort. The aircraft arrived at Tahkli on March 27. 66-0022 was the first combat related loss, callsign Omaha 77, destroyed March 28, 1968, three days after Combat Lancer operations started. The target was the Chao Hao truck park. Killed were Major Henry MacCann (McCann) and Captain Dennis Graham.
66-0024, a Combat Lancer replacement aircraft, deployed Takhli on April 1, 1968. Flying as callsign Tailbone 78, Aircraft 66-024 crashed and was destroyed April 22,1968, becoming the third and last jet lost during Combat Lancer. Neither the aircraft, nor crew, (Commander David "Spade" Cooley USN, and Lt. Col. Ed Palmgren), was found.
66-0025 a Cobat Lancer replacement aircraft was deployed to Takhli Combat Lancer on April 1,1968.
Constant Guard/Linebacker (September 27, 1972 to Mid-June 1973)
When the North Vietnamese invaded South Vietnam in the spring of 1972, the 474th TFW began seeing indications of a possible deployment, since their F-111As were the only combat-ready F-111s at the time. It was decided that when the deployment occurred, a record for the elapsed time between the alert order and the bombs on target would be attempted. The 429th TFS was the first squadron to deploy.
They divided into three groups to deploy. The first two groups acted as ferry crews moving the aircraft from Nellis to Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand. The third group flew directly to Takhli and prepared to fly the first combat missions. The combat crews had about 24 hours of rest before the airplanes arrived. The 12 aircraft deployed on September 27,1972. The record was set with F-111As in combat 55 miles northwest of Hanoi - 33 hours after leaving Nellis. However, one of the aircraft, (67-0078), was lost in the first night of operations. The aircraft made it to the target, but did not return home. The first mission package was scheduled for six aircraft and assigned targets in the western part of North Vietnam. The aircraft had been on the ground about four hours before launching on their bombing missions. Three of the aircraft ground-aborted the mission with equipment failure, the fourth aircraft aborted in the air after ECM equipment failed; the fifth airplane (67-0078) never returned from mission; and the sixth aircraft couldn't get to its primary target and was forced to bomb an alternate.
The deployment occurred in three phases.
The first phase consisted of twelve 429th TFS F-111A's deploying from Nellis on September 27,1972.
The following F-111As deployed Tahkli RTAFB in the first phase: 67-0060, 67-0065, 67-0068, 67-0070, 67-0072, 67-0074, 67-0075, 67-0078,67-0079, 67-0083, 67-0084, and 67-0086. These aircraft arrived at Tahkli on October 1,1972.
The second phase was an additional twelve 429th' aircraft.
The following F-111As also left Nellis AFB for Tahkli on September 27: 67-0059, 67-0061, 67-0063, 67-0064, 67-0066, 67-0069, 67-0071, 67-0076, 67-0080, 67-0087,0088,and 67-0090.
The third phase consisted of twenty-four 430th TFS aircraft.
The following F-111 As left Nellis on September 29,1972:67-0073,67-0077, 67-0085.67-0091,67-0092.67-0093,67-0094, 67-0095, 67-0096, 67-0097, 67-0098, 67-0099, 67-0100, 67-0101, 67-0102, 67-0103, 67-0104, 67-0105, 67-0106,67-0107,67-0110,67-0112, 67-0113, and 67-0114. The aircraft arrived at Tahkli on October 4,1972. 67-0092 and 67-0110 had minor problems enroute and arrived on October 5,1972.
Replacement aircraft 67-0062 and 67-0067 arrived on October 23, 67-0058 arrived on November 21, 67-0089 arrived on November 25, 67-0109 arrived on December 11, and 67-0081 and 67-0111 arrived on May 8 of the following year 1973.
After the loss on the first night, the deployed units stood down for five days, while the aircraft systems were checked out.
The first combat missions resumed on October 5, 1972 ,were medium altitude drops on the passes just over the North Vietnamese border. By mid October the F-111As were once again attacking targets in high threat areas. The F-111As flew at night and solo. Four F-111A's could deliver the bomb loads of 20 F-4 Phantoms !! They flew without Wild Weasel or EB-66 electronic countermeasure escort aircraft or KC-135 tankers (needed by the F-4s which they replaced) and in all weather. F-111A's flew 20 strikes over North Vietnam on November 8 1972, in weather that grounded other aircraft. In addition to dropping their own bombs, the F-111A's also served as pathfinders, directing other fighters where to drop their bombs. They also participated in the Linebacker II bombing campaign between December 18 and 29, 1972.
During Constant Guard V/Linebacker ( September 28, 1972 through the end of March 1973 ) the 18 F-111A’s from the 429th TFS and 430th TFS flew over 4,0000 combat sorties with only six combat losses. The resulting 0.015 percent loss rate made the F-111A the most survivable combataircraft of the Vietnam War.
68-0078 on September 28 - was lost the first night of bombing raids ;
67-0066 on October 17;
67-0063 on November 8;
67-0092 on November 21;
67-0099 on December 18;
67-0068 on December 22
67-0066 on December 27.
67-0071 and 67-0098 were involved in a mid-air collision on February 17, 1973. while changing lead and acting as pathfinders for a flight of F-4 Phantoms. There were also two operational non-combat losses (67-0072 on February 20 and 67-0111 on June 16, 1973). The 428th TFS replaced the 430th on January 2,1973.
The air war in Vietnam ended following the January 1973 peace agreement with North Vietnam. By the end of July 1974,the F-111As had moved from Takhli to Korat RTAFB and with the 429th TFS and 428th TFS transferring to the 347th TFW.
During the post Vietnam war era, the F-111A's of the 347th TFW at Korat continued flying combat missions in Southeast Asia (mostly Cambodia and southern Laos), These missions were against communist forces trying to overthrow the Govnment of Cambodia. In May 1975, F-111A’s located the SS Mayaguez after it was highjacked by Cambodian communists, and on May 14, the F-111A’s sank one of the gunboats escorting the SS Mayaguez. The two squadrons (428th and 429th TFS) remained at Korat until returning to the US in mid June 1975.
F-111's combat tail codes of the tactical wings (HG & NA)
474 TFW F-111A's were assigned to the 347th whilst in SEA Ops Tail codes in SEA Operations
NA - 428th TFS - Blue tail fin retained - --- NA NB - 429th TFS - Yellow changed to - HG NC - 430th TFS - Red & white - applied prior to SEA deployement changed to - HG
Reference - Don Logan - General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark
Thanks to Bill Myatt, 474th AMS / TFW, F-111A Aardvarks, Nellis AFB '71-'75, Takhli RTAFB ' 72-' 73.
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