The Ultimate Display of Ingenuity, Courage and Airmanship.
On the 10th of March 1967, US Air Force Captain Bob Pardo and wingman, Captain Earl Aman, were each flying their McDonnell F-4C Phantoms on a mission to attack the Thai Nguyen steel mill, north of Hanoi, North Vietnam
North of Hanoi, Aman’s aircraft was hit twice by North Vietnamese anti-aircraft fire, and fuel was streaming from the fuselage.
During the strike, Pardo’s aircraft also caught an anti-aircraft round and was leaking fuel, and he wasn’t even sure he could reach an airborne tanker to refuel for the flight back to their base in Thailand.
Captain Aman’s Phantom was worst hit, sustaining serious damage to a fuel tank; his F-4 could not make it over the Laotian border to safety.
According to his training the obvious choice was to eject.
Unfortunately for Aman, the territory below him was very hostile. The North Vietnamese were not for known for treating their prisoners according to the Geneva Convention, so bailing out was out of the question.
Pardo’s aircraft was still flyable, despite a fire on his one engine. He knew that the only right thing he could do was to push Aman’s aircraft over the border.
Pardo’s initial plan was to snug the nose of his F-4 against the tail of Aman’s so he could use the thrust of his two General Electric J79 engines to propel both stricken airplanes to the Laotian jungle, where rescue was a safer option. Pardo told Aman to jettison his tail parachute, in order to open a good push point at the rear end of Aman’s fuselage.
“But there was so much turbulence coming off his airplane that I couldn’t even get within 10 feet of him,” Pardo recalls.
As Pardo reluctantly backed out from underneath the other F4, he spotted the tailhook at the rear end of its fuselage.
Pardo radioed Aman, “Put the hook down.” (All F4 Phantoms, both Navy and Air Force, sported very sturdy tail hooks to snatch the cable on carriers or on short runways to stop the aircraft within feet).
Aman dropped his hook and shut down his engines and his F-4 started descending at a rate of 3,000 feet a minute.
Pardo then closed in to push; using his cockpit canopy to nudge Aman’s lowered tailhook.
Pardo had already shut down one of his engines due to the fire. Both aircraft were now flying a lot slower, resulting in a gradual descent, making it a race against time between the border and the ground. To make matters worse, every 30 seconds or so, Aman’s tailhook would slide off Pardo’s polished plexiglass, and Pardo would have to reposition.
Then Pardo’s left engine caught fire. He immediately shut it down, but the loss of thrust increased the sink rate of both aircraft to 2,000 feet a minute and Pardo had to work overtime with the rudder. So here were two F4 Phantoms flying with only one engine between them.
It didn’t look like they were going to reach Laos. So in a flagrant violation of normal procedure, Pardo restarted the engine and ran it until the temperature gauge was pegged. After 10 more minutes, North Vietnam passed out of sight. Both aircraft limped into friendly airspace at an altitude of only 6000 feet which meant, at their rate of descent, just mere minutes in the air. Aman and Houghton immediately ejected. Pardo’s right engine, starved of fuel, flamed out a few minutes later, and he and Wayne ejected as well.
Pardo, Aman, and Houghton injured their backs punching out, and all four airmen had to move to evade an approaching group of Laotian communist militia.
Later, the aviators were extracted from the jungle by rescue helicopter crews.
“The next day, Steve and I went back to war.” The target? The same steel mill north of Hanoi.
Incredibly, Pardo was scolded for not saving his Phantom
Pardo’s Push, as the feat became known, had lasted for about 20 minutes and carried both jets 88 miles.
Over twenty years later, Pardo and Aman finally received the recognition they deserved, receiving the Silver Star for their heroism.
In a later interview Pardo said, “My dad taught me when your friend needs help, you help. I couldn’t have come home and told him I didn’t try anything because that’s exactly what he would’ve asked me. He would’ve said, ‘did you try?’ So I had to be able to answer that with a yes. And luckily, it worked.”