Let’s step away from the politics for a moment, and take a look back at one of the all-time great Air Force operations. The year is 1966, the North Vietnamese MiG pilots are shooting down unacceptable numbers of American F-105s. Something had to be done.
The idea and planning of this operation was the masterpiece of a living legend among the US F-4 pilots in South East Asia: Colonel Robin Olds. He was a P-38/P-51 Ace during WWII, credited with 12 kills against the German Luftwaffe in 1944-45, and now – at 44 years old – he was the CO of the 8th TFW (nicknamed “The Wolf Pack”). He was an “old-fashioned” fighter pilot: impulsive, rough, hard-drinking, but a natural leader and an intuitive tactician.
He realized that the F-105 and F-4 formations used the same approaches time after time, and the SIGINT analysts in Hanoi became expert in identifying the more vulnerable F-105 “Thuds” from the F-4 Phantoms, from their radio frequencies and call signs. So Olds decided to fly Phantom F-4s using the same routes, altitude, and callsigns as the F-105s, ambushing the MiG-21s that would be guided towards them, expecting to find Thunderchiefs, and when they realized the truth, it would be too late for them.