Most people think of historically interesting people of the twentieth century such as the Kennedy’s, Martin Luther King, Audio Murphy, Ford etc. I am writing about a man who did something that no other person accomplished In the Vietnam War. The story actually begins back In the sass’s where cousins Darrell and Charles enlisted In the Alarm Force. They were fresh out of college trying to decide where their lives would lead; they shared a love of flying so the Alarm Force provided a means for work, an opportunity to further their education and to serve their country.
Both wanted to fly retain types of fighters but due to their physical size Charles was too tall to fit in most of the fighters and Darrell opted out of flying the large bombers and transports for the thrill of the fighters. They earned their wings and progressed through their respective careers, in 1957 Charles was married and had a son on the way, after flying many missions of larger transport aircraft to Central and South America, he moved to the Air National Guard to have a more permanent home. Unfortunately, In 1963 Charles while training in Kansas, the canopy of his aircraft had a failure and lee off over Wichita. Even though he was bleeding from his nose and ears he ordered the crew to parachute out of the plane and with a loss of the elevators he steered the plane out of the population center and was killed In a crash In a farmer’s plowed field. Darrel was stationed in France at the time and chose to make a career in the Air Force. The war in Vietnam was escalating and Darrel was transferred early in 1967 and stationed in Thailand to provide air support for the US forces in Vietnam.
He Joined the 35th fighter squadron. With the modern invention of long range sessile and the technology of radar, the art of dogfight lost a lot of the skill the old pilots used to have. However, the new missiles still were not refined enough to be very accurate and there were a lot of misses. Pilots were trained to spot the enemy on radar and make shots from very long distances, many times never actually seeing the enemy they were shooting at.
Because the missiles could miss and had the potential of damaging or harming Innocent people, the rules of engagement required that pilots visually Identify the targets before they shoot. This made It very official for pilots to fight because If they were close enough to see the enemy they were too close to use missiles. (2) The planes at that time were modified to carry only missiles, but in the mid-sixties, engineers found the need, because of the new rules of engagement, to retrofit the fighters with machine guns.
Darrell flew the F-4 Phantom fighter and his job was to fly cover for the bombers that were going into Vietnam for bombing runs. His plane is made to carry the pilot and a weapons officer. Darrel was now a Captain in the Air Force and his weapons officer was First Lieutenant George McKinney. On November 6, 1967 Darrell was in charge of “Sapphire Flight”, their job was to cover the F-105 fighter bombers on their bombing run into North Vietnam. During that run, the Captain was notified by the ground command that the bomber group had two groups of Vietnamese fights converging on the group of bombers.
He broke off his fighter group to try to Intercept the first group of MIX -21 fighters who appeared to be approaching the bombers from the them. Worried that the enemy had gotten by the fighter support, he immediately turned around and headed back to the main group. On approach he found that the second group of MIX-17 Vietnamese fighters were approaching the bombers and started to fire upon the group. They broke up the Vietnamese fighters and he proceeded to line up on the closest fighter behind the main group of bombers.
He could not use his missiles because the missile could not differentiate between the enemy or a friendly plane. Since he had the newly added machine guns he first fired in front of the enemy plane to break him off of his attack. The MIX-17 did break off and Darrell followed him and using his flying skill and the gun, he fired a three second burst of bullets which destroyed the back of the enemy plane. He pulled up next to the pilot in time to see him eject and the plane crashed into the Jungle below. (3) As he returned and met up with his squadron, his weapons officer Let.
McKinney happened to spot another MIX-17 very low trying to hide low to the ground. Once again Darrell dove his plane and caught up to the enemy plane only to find he was too close for missiles. He fired his guns again and the first bullets hit the plane’s fuel tanks, the plane exploded, the pilot bailed out and the second MIX crashed into the jungle. (1) What makes this historically significant is that Darrell is the only pilot in he Vietnam War to shoot down two enemy planes with guns alone and no long range missiles. 2)(3) Darrell went on to be honored as being selected as an escort to one of the pilots, his friend, who was held in the Hanoi Hilton prisoner of war camp by the Vietnamese. He has many times said the honor of escorting that man home was far greater an honor than being singled out as one of the outstanding dogtrotting pilots of the war. 1) 35th fighter squadron history, United States Air Force 2) “Where Have All the Phantoms Gone”, Air and Space Magazine, January 1, 2009. 3) History Channel, Dogfights Season 2, Gun Kills of Vietnam.