FEB 2011 – In another amazing insight (thanks to ebay sale) i have come into contact with a person whose father was a USAF F-86 Sabre jet fighter pilot, RF-101 Vodoo reconnaissance pilot and finally a 0-2 Deuce FAC pilot in the 1950-70s.

Additionally for a few years i have already known another person connected to the pilot and they both served in the same squadron in Vietnam at Tan Son Nhut… tho different years.

RF-101C seen landing at 45th TRS home base – Tan Son Nhut AFB in late 1960s.

RF-101s from the 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing deployed to Vietnam in October 1961.
They started off flying flood damage photos and missions over Laos. As the war grew tactical recon for operations in South and then North Vietnam became more common.

RF-101s acted as leaders/pathfinders for F-100s in the first USAF strike against North Vietnam on 8 February 1965. This was due to the RF-101 carrying Loran navigation equipment.

In some 35,000 sorties over 9 years, 39 RF-101C aircraft were lost, 33 in combat including five to SA-2 Guideline SAMs, one to an airfield attack, and one in air combat to a MiG-21 in September 1967.
The RF-101C’s speed made it largely immune to MiG interception. 27 of the combat losses occurred on reconnaissance missions over North Vietnam.

In April 1967, ALQ-71 ECM pods were fitted to provide some protection by jamming the radars used by SAMs. Although the Voodoo was again able to operate at medium altitudes, the added drag decreased the speed enough to make RF-101 vulnerable to MiGs and thus requiring fighter escort.

More than 30 RF-101Cs were lost during the early years of the aircraft’s service life, often because of pilot inexperience due to the aircraft features such as pitch up and crashing due to the T tail design at high speed.

The first RF-101C combat loss occurred in late 1964. Highly sophisticated enemy defenses in North Vietnam accounted for most of the later losses.

Reconnaissance pilots had a motto – alone, unafraid and unarmed.

The reality was most pilots flying into the North Vietnamese airspace on missions were alone, brave and unarmed for most.

Flying tactical reconnaissance demanded nerves of steel. As a pilot of a reconnaissance aircraft they had to keep straight and steady as they flew over targets which by mid 1965 were ringed with growing air defences as AAA then SA-2 Guidelines and MiGs waited to kill the intruding Vodoo…

The Vodoo pilots beside the F-105 pilots were the only aircrew in Vietnam to exceed Mach 1 regularly after hitting the targets. The Vodoo pilots used to light the afterburner and zoom out of the area at the high speed.

Speed was their ONLY defence.

The RF-101 crews flew low.. as shown here their shadow crept into the images at time. Here a AAA site is captured for intel purposes. The Vodoo at this stage would of been doing around 600mph to avoid been shot down. The Vodoo crews really pushed their planes hard over the target to minimise their exposure.


Flying a predetermined route either daily or before a strike or post strike, after a while due to the regularity ensured that the Tac Recce crews a became a known and predicted target for the AAA gunners and SA-2 sites.

After 1967 when equipped with ALQ pods, they began to fly with armed escorts to try and deter the North Vietnamese.

(As a comparison the USN provided their strike reconnaissance flying from the carriers at Yankee Station off the coast – RF-8 Crusaders and RA-5C Vigilantes with some F-4 Phantoms/ A-4 Skyhawks at times for support – the effectiveness can be said to be debatable, as these aircraft when loaded with bombs etc could not keep up with the clean and VERY fast recon birds).

The USAF used tactical reconnaissance as it primary method to determine BDA – Battle Damage Assessment capabilities, target strike information and further information for mapping uses.
The reconnaissance crews came from USAFE and CONUS based units. The USAF had some experiences of RF-101 in action as they used them in Lebanon crisis of 1958 flying tac recon, Cuba 1962 and in missions out of South Vietnam from 1961s prior to Vietnam escalating into an all out war.

Here a RF-101C Vodoo awaits a mission from Tan Son Nhut in 1965. Overheard is the signs of a war – a C-123B Provider takes off and a O-1G Birdog flying FAC duties are sure signs the war is heating up.
McDonnell-F-101 Voodoo

After withdrawal from Vietnam, the RF-101C continued to serve with USAF/ ANG units until 1979.

John Ross – RF-101C pilot
John Ross was one of the many brave people to strap on a jet and fly into harms way over North Vietnam with no weapons –
ONLY film.
He flew the RF-101C in Vietnam in 1968 while assigned to the 45th TRS – Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron based at Tan Son Nhut Air Base

John finished jet flight school in Bryan, Texas and F-86 training at Nellis AFB, Nevada.
After his training he was deployed to Kadena AFB, Okinawa with the 12 FBS. The squadron had transitioned from the F-51 to the F-86 a few years earlier.

Here we see on display a rare set of 12th FBS Foxy Few items – patch , cap and scarf.
The patch and cap are extremely rare nowdays, as the 12th FBS heritage from the Korea war – where they flew the F-51 Mustang and F-86 Sabre – was soon after the war absorbed into another squadron the 336th FDS.

The 12th FBS was merged with the 336th Fighter Day Squadron in mid 1950s. John was assigned until 1958 in the 336th.

Here we see John in 1957 next to a F-86F Sabre jet. He wears a B-5 life vest, K-2B flight suit, backpack parachute, flight boots, G-3A g suit and holds a P-3/4 flight helmet and MS22001 oxygen mask. He wears a 336th squadron cap.

He transitioned to the reconnaissance world in the early 1960s and flew the RF-101 Vodoo. He was stationed at USAFE and then was called into action in 1968 for missions over Vietnam.

Here is John in 1968 at Tan Son Nhut air base. He wears a garrison cap, holds a HGU-2A/P flight helmet / MBU-5/P oxygen mask, is wearing a backpack parachute, K-2B flight suit, CSu-3/P g suit, flight boots and SRU-21/P survival vest. The photo on right is a check of the Vodoo prior to take off.

John is seen here wearing a K-2B flight suit with TAC patch, garrison cap, HGU-2A/P flight helmet with ramshorn visor. Note the Vodoo has a formation light strip on nose.

Here we see Johns DASC books used in Vietnam and a map for a recce run.

Here we see John at work – post strike flight over a Arc Light strike by B-52 Stratofortress bombers in South Vietnam. The work was done under the 460th TRW at Tan Son Nhut.

Patches- name tag, Vodoo patch, 45th TRS patch, 29th TRS patch and 38th TRS patch.

After his tour with the 45th TRS (less than a year due to completion of 100 requisite missions) he volunteered for a tour with the 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron stationed at Da Nang AFB.

Here we see a 20th TASS FAC squadron patch with Snoopy..

He was noted by an USAF evaluation that he was the only pilot in SEA that was a recon pilot, recon officer and O-2 FAC.

The eval sheet noting his unique skill and position. Also seen is his 20th TASS “party suit”.

John was awarded the DFC for his work in the Vietnam War.

John retired from USAF in the 1970s and sadly died in 1992 at age 64.

His son, John Ross, has kindly loaned to HFGD some of his fathers photos and Vietnam era items to display as a tribute to his father’s service.
It is further appreciated by many of us historians and enthusiasts that John’s father kept so many items from his USAF service days for the future generations to see.

John had for years had a interest in what his father did in the USAF. As as a kid growing up in the USAF on bases, he got to see a lot of base events up close and got to know people.
Over the last few years he has been attending his fathers squadron/wing reunions where he has become accepted as a Recon member.

The 460th TRW was honoured to take John onboard and since then he has become great mates with many of his dads old flying / ground crew mates.


Another connection to John Ross unbeknown to me until just this year, was a friend of mine Nick Economou had served at Tan Son Nhut in 45th TRS as a photo intelligence officer and was present when the large and wide scale Tet Offensive in South Vietnam erupted in February 1968.
Nick took many photos of the battle and aftermath around the air base.

In 2009 Nick sought from Sabre Business – my online internet aviation business http://sabrebusiness.blogspot.com/– a lot of 45th TRS patches for an upcoming 45th TRS group reunion …. soon my patches were found on special flight jackets. It turns out John Ross had one of the jackets done for him.
John Ross and Nick were mates in the USAF and John’s son also got to know Nick from meeting at the Vodoo reunions.

Nick shares with us a few of the 45th’s coded RF-101C Vodoos landing at TSN.

We get to see some of the Spooky Gunships working over Saigon at night to stem the Tet Offensive attacks..
Note the tracer rounds pouring down from the sky. Thousands of bullets could be easily expended in a Gunship sortie like this.
We only see captured on the time exposure the red lines are from the tracer ammunition showing up. These were belted up as every 1 in 5 rounds…. and on a time exposure photo like this, you only got to see the result. Also out there streaking down was the other 4 in 5 rounds that you couldnt see streaking down….so a lot of rounds coming from the Spooky’s miniguns.. Death from the skies.

We see here the damage from the NVA/ VC attacks on TSN. RF-4c Phantoms and RF-101C Vodoos were hit by rockets and mortars. Note how the damage was limited to the bays by the revetment’s design.

Here we see other parts of the base area damaged from the attacks during the daytime .Note the depth and size of the impact from the rounds. Much damage was caused and people shocked.

Ramp side building were seriously damaged in the attacks.

Some more general images of Tan Son Nhut during the Tet Offensive

So the world of tactical reconnaissance as shown was for brave people.
Nowdays most reconnaissance is left to satellites or UAVS. The U-2 spyplane is nearing the end of its airframe life with retirement around 2014 pending.

With the passing of the RF-101C Vodoo and the RF-4C Phantom which were for their time, the most advanced and suitable tactical airborne reconnaissance platforms.

The USAF has now moved on from manned tactical reconnaissance platforms. It is safer to send technology than a human into battle nowdays for some roles.

Thus has closed an era of nearly 60years of tactical airborne reconnaissnace aircraft and people.

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  1. Ken Myers says:

    I served as a Crew Chief at Tan Son Nhut from 10/1968-10/1969. It was great to see the photos, they brought back a lot of old memories. The outfit was the 45th TRS with RF-101Cs. I remember the AH tail codes but I will have go back now to my pictures to find the Serial # of my aircraft.
    Thanks for sharing. Ken

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