The flight pressed lower. The Thud would do nearly 700 mph on the deck. Tullo was sure they were under 200 feet and was working hard to stay in position on Lead.
Without warning, Hosmer broke hard left, exclaiming "Damn, they just salvoed!" Sometimes SAM batteries would fire all their missiles at once in an effort to save the valuable control vans. Tullo could see only the huge wall of smoke and flame coming at the flight from the NVA guns protecting the SAM sites.
Their tremendous speed caused the flight to turn wide enough to be carried directly over the gunsite. As they passed over, Tullo looked right into the flaming muzzles of a battery of quad guns. They were at 100 feet or lower, and still near 700 mph. He glanced over at Lead to check his position, then back into his cockpit. That's when he noticed the fire warning light.
"Lead, I have a fire light," he radioed.
Three called, "Two, you're on fire. Get out!"
Hosmer kept the flight in the turn, saying, "Two, loosen it up. I'm going to look you over."
Tullo assumed the lead and headed for the mountains in the distance. Hosmer said, "Better clean off the wing, Frank." To give himself more speed and maneuverability, Tullo jettisoned the tanks and rocket pods on his wings and felt the Thud lighten.
Three was calling again, his voice tight with urgency.
"Two, the flames are trailing a good 150 feet behind you. You better get out!" In spite of the fire and the calls from Three, Tullo felt a sense of well-being. He was still flying, he had control, and he was with Hosmer. Nothing bad would ever happen with Hoz leading. It would work out. The fire would go out, the aircraft would keep flying, he would make it back. They were still over Hanoi. Houses were below them. The mountains to the west, which would come to be known as Thud Ridge, offered refuge. A good bailout area, just in case.
"You better get out, Frank, it's really burning," Hosmer said in a calm voice.