Tullo and the Giant
For pilots shot down over North Vietnam, the way home was jolly and green.
- By Robert Hanson
- Air & Space magazine, July 1997
Richard Keller, National Air and Space Museum (SI Photo 2001-1887)
(Page 3 of 8)
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.
"Negative," Tullo replied. "It's still flying. I've lost the ATM [the noisy auxiliary turbine motor, which provided the Thud's electrical power but left many of the aircraft's pilots with bad hearing], but I've got the standby instruments, and I'm heading for that ridge straight ahead." In the early days, several pilots whose aircraft were on fire ejected over the target and were either killed or taken prisoner. There had been incidents in the Thud's checkered past when a burning aircraft had exploded before the pilot could eject, but many others had flown for a considerable time without blowing up. Many pilots, like Tullo, had decided to take their chances staying with their aircraft as long as they could, rather than eject in the target area.
The ridge was still well ahead of the aircraft. The flight had climbed some but was still very low and being shot at from all quarters. Tullo's aircraft dropped its nose slightly. He pulled back on the stick. No response. He pulled harder. Still nothing. When he heard muffled explosions in the rear of the aircraft, Tullo hit the mike button: "I've gotta go, Lead. I'm losing controls. It's not responding." At 200 feet, there was no time to wait. If the aircraft nosed down, physics would be against him. Even if he managed to eject, he would likely bounce just behind the aircraft, still in the seat. He pulled up the armrests, which jettisoned the canopy, locked his elbows in the proper position, and revealed the trigger that fired the seat.
The results were the most horrific Tullo had ever experienced. At the speed he was moving, the noise, the roar, the buffeting--it was unbelievable. Everything not bolted down in the cockpit went flying past his face. He froze for a matter of seconds before he squeezed the trigger to fire the seat.
The ejection process that followed was so violent that today Tullo's memory is blank of everything that happened immediately after he squeezed the trigger. He doesn't remember leaving the cockpit, the seat separating, or the chute opening. He had the low-level lanyard hooked, which attached the parachute directly to the seat and caused it to deploy almost immediately. After tumbling violently, whomp! he was swinging in the chute.