FighterSweep Fans, it’s safe to say we all have our heroes in the aviation world who inspired us to pursue our passion. I personally have been very fortunate to meet a number of the men I read about growing up: Bud Anderson, Chuck Yeager, Bob Hoover, Joe Engel, and Pappy Boyington immediately come to mind.
Last summer, during Exercise Sentry Eagle 2015, I had the opportunity to meet another one of the men whose exploits are the stuff of legend. One of the guests of the 173rd Fighter Wing for the event was none other than Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Robert Pardo. Today is his 82nd birthday, and we thought it was especially fitting to honor this man by telling his story on Throwback Thursday.
So with the help of Wikipedia, here is one of the most amazing tales of courage, ingenuity, and heroism in the entire history of aviation:
Captain Bob Pardo (with rear pilot 1st Lt Steve Wayne) and wingman Captain Earl Aman (with rear pilot 1st Lt Robert Houghton) were assigned to the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, 433rd Tactical Fighter Squadron, at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand. In March 1967, they were trying to attack a steel mill in North Vietnam just north of Hanoi.
On March 10, 1967, the sky was clear for a bombing run, but both F-4 Phantom IIs were hit by anti-aircraft fire. Aman’s plane took the worst damage; his fuel tank had been hit, and he quickly lost most of his fuel. He did not have enough fuel to make it to a tanker aircraft over Laos.
To avoid having Aman and Houghton bail out over hostile territory, Pardo decided to try pushing the airplane. Pardo first tried pushing the plane using Aman’s drag chute compartment but turbulence interfered.
Pardo then tried to use Aman’s tailhook to push the plane, the Phantom having been originally designed as a naval aircraft equipped with a heavy duty tailhook for landings aboard aircraft carriers. Aman lowered his tailhook and Pardo moved behind Aman until the tailhook was against Pardo’s windscreen. Aman shut down both of his J79 jet engines. The push worked, reducing the rate of descent considerably, but the tailhook slipped off the windscreen every 15 to 30 seconds, and Pardo would have to reposition his plane. Pardo also struggled with a fire in one of his own engines and eventually had to shut it down. In the remaining 10 minutes of flight time, Pardo used the one last engine to slow the descent of both planes.
With Pardo’s plane running out of fuel after pushing Aman’s plane almost 88 miles, the planes reached Laotian airspace at an altitude of 6,000 feet (1,800 m). This left them about two minutes of flying time. The pilots ejected, evaded capture, and were picked up by rescue helicopters.
He was initially reprimanded for not saving his own aircraft. However, in 1989, the military re-examined the case and awarded both Pardo and Wayne the Silver Star for the maneuver, two decades after the incident.
A very Happy Birthday to you, sir! I am glad our paths crossed, and I hope to see you again soon!
(Featured photo courtesy of TacAirNet.com)