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Osprey's examination of the F-100 Super Sabre Units' participation in the Vietnam War (1955-1975). While the F-105 Thunderchief and F-4 Phantom flew the majority of the fighter-bomber missions over North Vietnam, the Thunderchief's service predecessor, the F-100 Super Sabre stayed on to fight the air war in South Vietnam until June 1971. Although it was designed as an air defence fighter, and was later given nuclear capability as the mainstay of Tactical Air Command's deterrent posture, it was the F-100's toughness, adaptability and reliability that made it ideally suited to the incessant 'taxi-rank' close support and counter-insurgency missions in Vietnam. The jet's four 20 mm cannon and external loads of bombs, rockets and fire-bombs defeated many enemy incursions, with US troops in contact expressing a preference for the accuracy and skill of F-100 pilots to save them in situations where ordnance had to be dropped very close to their own lines. Many courageous deeds were performed, although 242 F-100s and 87aircrew were lost in action. Used at the start of Operation Rolling Thunder in March 1965 as an escort for F-105 strikes, the Super Sabre fought MiGs and one pilot made a credible claim for a MiG-17 destroyed, but the more capable F-4 Phantom II soon replaced it in this role. The air-to-ground war was fought by F-100C/D/F pilots from 21 TAC and Air National Guard squadrons at six bases in South Vietnam and Thailand. From September 1965, a number of two-seat F-100Fs were equipped to detect and pinpoint SA-2 missile sites, and they led F-105s in to destroy them in hazardous missions that founded the suppression of enemy air defences (SEAD) techniques developed for F-105F and F-4C 'Wild Weasel' aircraft later in the war. Other F-100Fs replaced fragile piston-engined forward air control (FAC) aircraft, providing more survivable high-speed airborne management of strike missions. Maj George Day, awarded the Medal of Honor in 1973, was the first leader of this 'Misty FAC' unit. The aircraft's strengths and eccentricities will be examined through analysis of its performance and the anecdotes of those who flew and serviced it.
The 'missile with a man in it' was known for its blistering speed and deadliness in air combat. The F-104C flew more than 14,000 combat hours in Vietnam as a bomber escort, a Wild Weasel escort and a close air support aircraft. Though many were sceptical of its ability to carry weapons, the Starfighter gave a fine account of itself in the close air support role. It was also well known that the enemy were especially reluctant to risk their valuable and scarce MiGs when the F-104 was escorting bombers over North Vietnam or flying combat air patrols nearby. The missions were not without risk, and 14 Starfighters were lost during the war over a two-year period. This was not insignificant considering that the USAF only had one wing of these valuable aircraft at the time, and wartime attrition and training accidents also took quite a bite from the inventory.While the F-105 Thunderchief and F-4 Phantom got most of the glory and publicity during the war in Vietnam, the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter was not given much chance of surviving in a 'shooting war'. In the event, it did that and much more. Although built in small numbers for the USAF, the F-104C fought and survived for almost three years in Vietnam. Like its predecessor the F-100, the Starfighter was a mainstay of Tactical Air Command and Air Defence Command, with whom it served with distinction as an air superiority fighter and point defence interceptor. This small, tough and very fast fighter, dubbed 'The Missile with a Man in It', was called upon to do things it was not specifically designed for, and did them admirably. Among these were close air support and armed reconnaissance using bombs, rockets and other armaments hung from its tiny wings, as well as its 20 mm Vulcan cannon, firing 6000 rounds per minute. The jet participated in some of the most famous battles of the war, including the legendary Operation Bolo, in which seven North Vietnamese MiGs went down in flames with no US losses. Even as it was fighting in Vietnam, the Starfighter was being adopted by no fewer than six NATO air forces as well as Japan and Nationalist China. It was later procured by Jordan, Turkey and Pakistan. The latter nation took the Starfighter to war with India twice in the 1960s, and it also saw combat with Taiwan. The story of the Starfighter in Vietnam is one of tragedy and of ultimate vindication. For decades the F-104's contribution to the air war in Vietnam was downplayed and its role as a ground attack machine minimised. Only in recent years has that assessment been re-evaluated, and the facts prove the Starfighter to have been able to do its job as well or better than some of the other tactical aircraft sent to the theatre for just that purpose.
The General Dynamics F-111 was one of the most technically innovative designs among military aircraft, introducing the variable-sweep wing, terrain-following radar, military-rated afterburning turbofan engines and a self-contained escape module among other features. Designed as a cost-saving, multi-role interceptor, naval fighter and strike bomber, its evolution prioritised the latter role and it became the USAF's most effective long-range strike aircraft during three decades of service. Rushed into combat in Vietnam before some of its structural issues were fully understood, the type suffered several early losses and gained an unfairly negative reputation that dogged it for the rest of its career, and restricted funding for more advanced versions of the design. However, in Operation Linebacker in 1972 the F-111 flew 4000 nocturnal under-the-radar missions, delivering, with unprecedented accuracy, many decisive blows that would have resulted in heavy losses for any other attack aircraft. Post-war, F-111E/F variants were concentrated in two USAFE wings in the UK, and one of these was chosen in April 1986 to deliver a punitive strike on Libya in response to a series of terrorist attacks on US targets in Beirut and Europe. The 48th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) flew a 14-hour mission direct from its Lakenheath base, hitting several military targets around Tripoli. Five years later both UK-based wings, including their sophisticated EF-111A defence suppression aircraft, led the attack on the first night of Operation Desert Storm, decimating Iraq's huge military capability. For the rest of the campaign the F-111s were crucial in destroying bridges, airfields and deep-seated command bunkers with pinpoint accuracy using laser-guided munitions.
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