We at FighterSweep received news on October 5th of this year that one of America’s great aviators had “Gone West,” or as Tailhookers would say, made the Big Muster in the Sky.
Lieutenant Henry “Black Bart” Bartholomay was born in Chicago, Illinois on 20 March 1945. Raised in Winnetka, Illinois, he graduated Rockford College in the class of 1967 and was also an accomplished sportsman and musician.
After graduation, “Bart” enlisted in the Naval Reserve and soon began the Naval Aviation Officers Program at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida. Initial training was carried out in the formidable North American T-28 Trojan, with carrier landing training on the USS Lexington. Fast jet and advanced training was conducted at Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas, using the Grumman F9F Cougar. It was here that Henry was awarded his Naval Aviator Wings of Gold in 1969.
His first assignment was to the F-4 Phantom Replacement Air Group, or RAG, in San Diego, California. Shortly after, he found himself assigned to Fighter Squadron 161, Carrier Air Group 5 on board the USS Midway. Originally stood up in WWII, VF-161 (nicknamed ‘Chargers’) had a distinguished combat record in the Pacific campaign. It was decommissioned in 1945, but was reactivated in 1960 and was soon positioned at NAS Key West, Florida–on standby for the Cuban Missile Crisis. By the time ‘Bart’ joined it, the squadron was equipped with the McDonnell Douglas F-4B Phantom II and it would be in this aircraft that he would complete his first deployment to Vietnam.
Following this tour, he was given the role of Weapons Training Officer. During this period he attended the US Navy Fighter Weapons School at NAS Miramar, where he would hone his Air Combat Maneuvering (ACM) skills and graduate in 1972 as TopGun.
Henry re-joined VF-161 and in April 1972 sailed out for his second deployment to Vietnam; once again aboard the USS Midway. On May 18th ‘Bart’ and his RIO Oran Brown were joined by Lieutenants Patrick “Pat” Arwood and RIO James “Taco” Bell, flying MiGCAP for a strike on the Haiphong Highway and rail bridge in North Vietnam. Having refueled offshore, the pair headed up the Red River and over Haiphong to arrive on station in their patrol area.
Whilst in orbit, Bartholomay glanced to his right to check on Arwood and saw two sun flashes against a ridgeline at about 8 miles range. Closing on the targets at 650 knots, Bartholomay identified them as MiG-19s and called “shooter,” with Arwood providing protective cover.
The dogfight between 300 and 500 feet above ground level, with Bartholomay deciding to push the MiGs into a left turn away from their home airfield at Kep. Pulling 3 to 4G at 550 knots, they entered a sustained high energy turn; but, each time Bart tried to get a lock on them, the MiGs would out-rate the bigger, heavier Phantoms, forcing Bartholomay to back off.
Arwood was the first to get a shot and fired an AIM-9 Sidewinder missile at the lead aircraft. This shot missed and exploded behind the MiG, but as it pulled up and to the right, Arwood was able to maintain a position of advantage and fired another Sidewinder. Following a bright flash in the tailpipe, the MiG veered out of control with the pilot choosing to eject.
Meanwhile, Bartholomay had positioned himself at the belly of the second MiG as it twisted through 6 and 7G turns in attempts to shake him off. Accelerating to 550 knots, he pulled up and hard left into the MiG. After briefly losing visual on his quarry, the RIO regained visual, with the MiG at the Phantom’s 9 o’clock and moving towards their six. Bart executed a brilliant nose-up, rolling maneuver and made the MiG overshoot, which then countered with its own roll.
By this point in the engagement, both jets were down to around 250 knots airspeed; the MiG seemed to be making a run for it as it pitched down. Bartholomay, by coincidence, was lowering his nose to gain airspeed and in unison, both aircraft accelerated to around 400 knots. As they were gaining on the MiG, Bartholomay realized that enemy pilot had lost sight of them as it was climbing. Around 10 seconds after Arwood’s missile hit the lead aircraft, ‘Bart’ pulled up behind his MiG and fired a Sidewinder.
In his own words: “It looked like they guy had gone into afterburner, and it apparently hit him in the tail because he spewed fuel or something. Then he pitched nose-up and went into a flat spiral.”
The two F-4s regrouped and headed back out to sea to refuel and recover to the carrier. Something amazing and noteworthy about the engagement: it had taken place within 6 to 9 miles of an enemy airfield and they had encountered no AAA or SAM launches. More significantly, this engagement would leave the two F-4 Phantom crews as the only Naval Aviators to shoot down MiG-19s in the entire Vietnam War. Henry Bartholomay credited much of his success in this encounter to the training he had received at TopGun.
Lieutenant Henry Bartholomay left the Navy in December 1972 with a grand total of 1200 flying hours and 267 aircraft carrier landings to his name. For his actions that day he was awarded the Silver Star, to which he added the distinguished Flying Cross and ten Strike Flight Air Medals. On leaving the Navy, he became a consultant on the Sidewinder missile as a weapons system engineer and finally returned to Chicago to work in insurance, investment and technology. He passed away at Indian River Memorial Hospital in Vero Beach, Florida.
Rest In Peace, Bart…
(Featured Photo: “Rock River Advantage” by Robert D. Fiacco)