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Thud Pilot

Thud Pilot Copyright © 1969 Dick Jonas.
All rights reserved.
Words and music: Dick Jonas; Enchantment Music/BMI

The Phantom was not the only jet fighter with a piece of the action in that fracas--although, you'd never know it by listening to a bunch of Phantom pilots. There was the F-105 Thunderchief. Most of us called it a Thud; but, never with an ounce of disrespect. There's enough pure, raw courage in one Thud pilot to make heroes out of an entire bomber squadron. I've watched those F- 105 drivers baby that monstrous bucket of bolts into places the Devil himself wouldn't go. They'd come roaring in, peel off in a screaming dive, point that thing at the ground. . . and pray, I reckon. You see, the Thunderchief don't carry but one pilot. I used to wonder just how lonesome it got for those guys. Nobody to talk to like in the Phantom, except the Lord, maybe. One engine, one seat, one set of eyeballs and one pilot. Among fighter planes, the Thud was sorta the last of the red-hot mommas. Now it's true that to a Wolfpack fighter pilot, there ain't a plane anywhere that can hold a candle to a Phantom. But, I'll give you a little tip: Don't ever badmouth a Thud-or a Thud pilot-where a Phantom driver can hear you. It could cost you a few teeth. THUD

There's a million, plus or minus, Thud yarns. Built by Republic originally as a high-speed, low-level penetrator for the nuke mission, the bastard sat countless hours of alert all over the world in places you never heard of. But Vietnam is what gave it a full grown personality.

That son-of-a-bitch would go like a scalded-ass ape.

We had driven the Alpha Day Strike Force into downtown Hanoi one beautiful, bright sunshiny forenoon and were beating feet back out along MiG Ridge for the water. The idea was to get as close as we could as fast as we could to the Navy rescue choppers, just in case. We had our flight of four Phantoms spread nicely in fluid-four (patrol formation) with the speedometer reading something in excess of nine miles a minute.

Looking back over my left shoulder I see this lizard-colored machine creeping up from seven o'clock.


Five seconds later, I key the mike again. "Disregard. It's a Thud. . ."

This lonely bastard is all by himself, smoking along with the throttle locked high and tight in the far northwest corner of the cockpit. They say the Thud will do 800 knots on the deck. This guy drives right past us and leaves us behind in the North Vietnam smog.

The Thud was among the first to fire in anger in Southeast Asia. The squadrons based at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa started out down there on a TDY (temporary duty) basis. That's how Robbie Risner and a bunch of other guys became very high tenure POWs.

By 1965, the gallant Thunderchiefs were falling like flies to Nguyen's guns, missiles and MiGs. Especially the guns, so Robbie told me.

One story making the rounds at the bases in Thailand had it that the epitome of optimism was a Thud jock who quit smoking because it was hazardous to his health.

The Thud had some very unusual characteristics. It was big and heavy, and equipped, they say, with a sandsniffer like its daddy, the F-84. Story goes, there was a small bag of sand mounted in the nose-wheel well with a string attached which ran back to the cockpit. On takeoff roll, particularly on a hot day with a heavy bomb load, the pilot locked his eyeballs to the nose of the airplane and when the far end of the runway disappeared from view, he yanked the string. This dumped the sand in the wheel well onto the runway under the screaming nose wheel. The airplane, thinking it had used up the last bit of asphalt, finally struggled into the air.

The Thud was known for some of the longest takeoff rolls in history. Somebody once said that if you built a runway all the way around the world, Republic would build an airplane that would use every inch of it to take off.

When the machine was still just a boy, it had one horribly disconcerting habit. Sometimes, while drilling around on the tamest of missions it would calmly, and without notice, simply blow itself to bits. They tell stories of North Vietnamese fighter pilots who became aces early in the war by following F-105s around, waiting for them to blow up. That is how the Thunderchief became known as the Thud.

As I approached the end of flight school, the Air Force stopped handing out F-105s to brown- bar lieutenants because they were too young to die. Instead they gave them to horny-backed old field grade farts who would sell their souls to the Devil for the chance to get back into a fighter cockpit, even if it meant going to Vietnam in a Thud.

There was this one super-annuated field-grader who had the highly instructive experience of getting his ass shot down on the very first sortie of a 100-mission tour. The Jolly Green picked him up and lugged him back to Takhli where he was met by the wing commander and some other staff dignitaries. When asked how he felt, he observed sagely, "I don't know if I can stand another 99 of these. . ."

I remember when the pieces of ignorant, ununiformed shit in Washington ordered the BUFFs (Big Ugly Fat Fuckers-B-52s) into the war. They settled at U-Tapao Air Base in southern Thailand and began taking their aluminum overcasts all the way up to Mu Gia Pass. "To hell and back," they said.

My ass; Mu Gia was a milk run and an easy counter to the fighter people further north.

We didn't know it then, but the venerable BUFF would show its true heroic colors a few years later. They, with some help from their little friends-and a bunch of other people-would bring Hanoi unequivocally to a sincere negotiating stance which would end the madness for us.

Anyhow, there was this Thud jock who had finally lived through one hundred missorts into the dragon's maw and was headed home. The class way to leave the war was to go down to U-Tapao and hitch-hike a tanker (KC-135) to Yokota Air Base, Japan. From there, you could jump a C-141 trash hauler for CONUS UNITUS-company air all the way.

This Thud jock was strapped to a bar stool in the U-Tapao O'Club teaching a lesson in survival to a jug of Black Jack. The BUFFs crunched onto the ramp after another uneventful trip to 'hellunback' and SAC's intrepid aviators herded into the bar yelling, "Make way for the combat crews!"

The Thud jock focussed his shell-shocked eyes on the door, poured himself off the bar stool. . . and cold-cocked the first 0-6 in reach. Never said a word; just climbed back up on his stool and reengaged the bottle of Black Jack.

Thuds-and Thud jocks-will be forever in a class all their own.

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