Dodging Missiles

Thunderchief pilots faced three formidable enemies over North Vietnam: antiaircraft guns, SA-2 surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), and MiG-17s and -21s. On a recent visit to the National Air and Space Museum retired Air Force Generals Spence “Sam” Armstrong and Michael Nelson recalled what it was like to face those enemies. During the Wild Weasel missions that Nelson describes, the F-105s deliberately tried to smoke out one of these threats. Once they were targeted by enemy radar used to guide SAMs to their airplanes, the F-105 pilots would fire missiles that homed on the enemy signals and destroyed the SAM site. Armstrong also describes one technique he used to escape MiGs: leading them to the “SAM ring.” Knowing the dangers of flying within reach of the SAM’s radar, the MiG pilots would break off their pursuit. Video: (7:41)

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