Thuds, the Ridge, and 100 Missions North
How the Republic F-105 got good at a mission it was not designed to fly.
- By Carl Posey
- Air & Space magazine, March 2009
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE US AIR FORCE
(Page 5 of 8)
“The F-105 flew like a heavy T-38,” says Brazelton. “Even with bombs on it, I could do an aileron roll. My favorite [configuration] was a centerline tank and a 3,000-pounder under each wing. A lot sleeker.”
The classic PAK VI mission, says Rasimus, was “always a package, 30, 40, 50 airplanes,” including a Douglas EB-66 electronic countermeasures aircraft, F-4 Phantoms to fight off MiGs, and Wild Weasels, two-seat F-105F or -G models used to counterpunch anti-aircraft defenses.
Once airborne, the four-Thud formations headed for a herd of Boeing KC-135 tankers flying 30-mile-long racetrack orbits over Thailand. “Each [formation] had their own tanker,” says Rasimus. “They’d fill everybody up. Tanker would head north, take us up over Laos, about halfway to the target. We’d quickly cycle through again and drop off with full fuel.”
“It took about half our gas to get up there,” says Brazelton. “But once refueled, we could fly a long way, a thousand miles.”
The F-105s would then head into North Vietnam, flying at 18,000 to 20,000 feet. Going into PAK VI, the pilots followed two main approaches. One took them out over the Gulf of Tonkin, where they then turned to the attack. The other took them along a mile-high branch of the Day Truong Son (Long Chain of Mountains). Paralleled on the south by the Red River, this narrow complex of karsts and dense-canopy forest points southeast toward Hanoi. Americans called it Thud Ridge, after the men who were lost there and the F-105 detritus littering its rough slopes.
“We flew down the center of Thud Ridge,” recalls Guild. “If we skimmed it to the south we would get hammered out of Phu Tho and Quan Tri. If we skimmed it to the north, we would get hammered from that valley. I think it was just too hard for them to put AAA guns or SAMs on Thud Ridge.” Later in the Rolling Thunder campaign, a heavy-lift Russian helicopter added weapons to the ridge.
“We’d go to a target line abreast,” says Cooper. “The Thud had a pretty good automatic nav system if you were bombing Vladivostok with nukes, but if you’re bombing bridges up in the mountains, you can’t even tell which valley or which slope.”
“In the cruise in, we’d be on altitude hold, autopilot,” says Rasimus. “Not a whole lot of threat. Once down, it was hand flying. You’d want to be jinking a little bit. In the target area at 540 to 600 knots: 4-G pull up, zoom climb, 4-G pull down on the [30- to 40-degree] dive angle, drop it at about 3,000 feet above ground, down to about 1,000 [feet above ground level], then 4 to 5 Gs recovering. After they left the target, it was everybody for himself.”