Testimony to the strength of flying skill, American plastics in the ‘60s, but far more significantly it is the story of one US aviator’s selfless loyalty to his wingman, for which ironically he would be reprimanded.
On the 10th of March 1967, US Air Force Captain Bob Pardo and wingman, Captain Earl Aman, were flying their two F-4 Phantoms on a mission to attack a steel mill just north of Hanoi when both were hit by North Vietnamese anti-aircraft fire.
Captain Aman’s Phantom was worst hit, with serious damage to a fuel tank and soon his F-4 did not have to power it over the Laotian border to relative safety.
The obvious choice for Aman was to eject.
Unfortunately below him was a very hostile North Vietnam, not known when dealing with prisoners for following the letter or even the spirit of the Geneva Conventions.
But Pardo was having none of that though, even though Pardo’s aircraft could have made it back on its own, despite a fire onboard. He knew that the only right thing to do was to push Aman over the border. In an interview with 1st Combat Camera 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.”
First he tried nuzzling his aircraft up to Aman’s dragchute compartment but the downwash and buffeting killed that idea.
Fortunately though, the Phantom was also designed to serve in the US Navy where a carrier’s 1000-foot, floating runway was far too short for the prolonged niceties of a fluffy dragchute. As a result, all F4 Phantoms, both Navy and Air Force, sported very sturdy tail hooks to snatch the aircraft to a stop in feet, not miles.
So Pardo backed off. Aman dropped his hook shutting down his engines. Then Pardo closed in to push, using his cockpit canopy to nudge Aman’s lowered tailhook.
And this worked – sort of.
Pardo had already shut down one of his engines due to the fire so he could only slow, not arrest, the rate of descent for both aircraft making it a race against time between the border or the ground. And on top of this, every 30 seconds or so, Aman’s tailhook would slide off Pardo’s polished plexiglass.
Despite all that, after 88 miles of precise pushing, both safely aircraft limped into friendly airspace, but at an altitude of only 6000 feet which meant, at their rate of descent, just 2 more minutes in the air. Pardo was running low on fuel himself, so all four airmen ejected to safety.
Incredibly, Pardo was scolded for not saving his Phantom. Over twenty years later, Pardo finally received the recognition he deserved. Pardo and Aman eventually received the Silver Star for their heroism. (See below for Maj. Pardo’s citation.)
Although unquestionably an incredible feat, Pardo’s Push was actually not a first.
In 1952, James “Robbie” Risner who had first flown for the USAF in World War II, was now flying a F-86 Sabre in the Korean
War. On the 15th of September while escorting fighter-bombers he attacked and then chased at near supersonic speeds an enemy MIG at ground level, down a dry riverbed and finally between the hangars of a Chinese airbase 35 miles inside China where the MIG crashed among parked Chinese fighters. Unfortunately returning from this triumph, Risner’s wingman, Joseph Logan, was hit, quickly draining his tanks.
To help him reach safety, Risner also decided to push Logan’s aircraft by inserting the nose of his F-86 into Logan’s now cooling tailpipe and, like Aman’s Phantom 15 years later, Logan’s F-86 made it to safety where Logan ejected. Sadly, Logan became entangled in his parachute and drowned.
Risner would go on to fly in a third war, was captured, tortured, freed rose to the rank of Brigadier General – but that’s another story.
Watch an interview with Lt Col Pardo (ret):
LtCol Pardo was interviewed as part of the amazing “Veterans in Blue” series by 1stCombatCamera. You can watch his interview below.
Major John Pardo’s Silver Star Citation:
Major John R. Pardo distinguished himself by gallantry in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force over North Vietnam on 10 March 1967. On that date, Major Pardo was flying as the pilot of the lead element on the return from a 1,000 mile flight in which heavy flak damage was encountered. He noticed that his wingman’s aircraft was in trouble and was advised that the aircraft was extremely low on fuel. Realizing that the wingman’s aircraft would not make it out of North Vietnam, Major Pardo implemented maneuvers to literally push the aircraft across the border. The attempt was successful and consequently allowed the crew to avoid becoming prisoners of war. By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Major Pardo has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.