Some 80th Squadron members showing Col. Bell how we felt about our extension past Christmas. Left to right: Unidentified, Bob Reichart, Dave Groark, Dave Weaver, author, John Anderson (squadron commander), Gordie Walcott, and Neal Jones. Fonthill Media / mediadrumworld.com

By Tom Dare

THE FASCINATING TALE of a Vietnam fighter pilot who flew the American Air Force’s premier fighter-bomber in the most dangerous skies in the history of warfare has been told in a new book documenting the early years of the Vietnam War.

Images from ‘Thud Pilot’ by Victor Vizcarra show the ashen-faced author being helped away from a helicopter shortly after having to eject from his aircraft over the Vietnamese jungle, while others see various different combat pilots posing with their severely damaged aircraft after returning from duty.

Portion of 80th TFS First Deployment. Standing left to right: Bob Reichart, John Atkinson, Giles Gainer, Andy Olman, Larry Wilson, Gary Banks and Del Smith. Kneeling left to right: Phil Coll (ops officer), John Anderson (squadron commander), Art Mearns, and the author. Fonthill Media / mediadrumworld.com

 

Further pictures show a huge Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun in action, demonstrating the scale of the threat faced by the pilots, with other images show some of the surface to air missiles that the air force had to face during combat.

The F-105 Thunderchief undertook three quarters of the Air Force’s bombing missions in North Vietnam during the first five years of the war, and in ‘Thud Pilot’ author Victor Vizcarra tells the story of the courageous men who flew them. Going beyond just the initial battles and delving into the emotional impact on the families left behind, this is an account that pulls no punches in its assessment of one of the most controversial wars in recent history.

Michael ‘Scar’ Vizcarra (USN, captain 1984–2014), Mark ‘Viz’ Vizcarra (USN, commander, 1984–2005). Fonthill Media / mediadrumworld.com

 

One of the many trials Victor had to overcome during his time serving was being forced to eject from his aircraft due to an engine failure, a story which he tells in detail in the book:

“I immediately felt the mild opening shock of my parachute and then was surprised by how close the seat came falling by me,” he writes.

“I looked down as it fell away from me and saw this Thud [plane] passing directly under me. I thought, “Damn, Glen did you have to get that close to me?” Then, I realized it was not lead; it was my airplane that I had just left.

The Pussy Galore II viewed from KC-135 boomer’s position circa October 1966. Fonthill Media / mediadrumworld.com

“I watched it as it flew away from me and then started a slow turn towards the left. It crashed into a mountain ridge about five miles away with a resounding explosion and large black smoke column. I was relieved I had finally gotten out of that airplane.

“I became aware of how quiet and peaceful it was hanging in the parachute. The only noise was the wind blowing through my helmet as I descended. I prepared for a tree landing by tightly pressing my feet and legs together with toes pointed downward, both arms up by my head, one across the back holding the rear parachute risers and the other across the front of my face holding the front risers. I was as streamlined as possible.

The author, shocked to find himself saved by the Navy. Fonthill Media / mediadrumworld.com

“I was surprised at the abruptness and sudden stop as I hit the trees and crashed through some of the branches. It knocked the wind out of me and I ended hung upside-down by my right ankle, which was wedged in between a branch fork. I leaned my head back to check how high I was from the ground, but the upside-down perspective along with the thick vegetation prevented me from determining how high I was. I started the arduous task of pulling myself up to the branch holding my ankle. The weight of my survival vest and parachute harness compounded the problem.

Game of hearts in ops room. Left to right: Chan McInelly, Larry Wilson, Bob Keller, and Wayne Ensminger ‘Kibitzing’. Fonthill Media / mediadrumworld.com

“I took my helmet off and released it to check my height. It immediately disappeared in the dense vegetation below me; I had not learned anything from dropping the helmet. I was so tired and anxious to get down from that tree that in desperation, I released myself from the parachute and let go of the branch. It was risky but I hoped I was not too high off the ground. To my astonishment, I only fell about six feet; my head was probably only about three feet above the ground when I was hanging upside down. The vegetation was so dense that I could not distinguish the ground from my position in the tree.”

‘Thud Pilot’ by Victor Vizcarra is published by Fonthill Media, and can be purchased here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01MZWKRI8/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

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