April 19, 2018

Pardo’s Push

SOAR Magazine

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Sometimes during hostile events, a single person emerges with an inspiring act of heroism. On March 10, 1967, that person was U.S. Air Force Captain Bob Pardo.

 

During the Vietnam War, U.S. Air Force Captain Bob Pardo, piloting a F-4 Phantom, carried out a remarkable aviation maneuver now known as Pardo’s Push. Pardo and his wingman, Captain Earl Aman, were sent on a mission to attack the well-defended Thai Nguyen steel mill north of Hanoi, North Vietnam, with intelligence reports warning them of the dangers they would face in the sky during this important effort.

Roughly 75 miles from the steel mill target, Aman’s F-4 experienced deadly flak from anti-aircraft shell, fiercely shaking the fighter jet as it approached. Through antiaircraft blackened skies and an instantaneous check of his aircraft, Aman continued the mission, staying on course and flying into enemy fire bombs on the target alongside other F-4 and F-105 fighter jets. Aman felt the power of two direct hits, and soon realized he was in serious trouble over a very hostile North Vietnam.

Pardo’s F-4 received heavy anti-aircraft fire as he also made a run at the steel mill, and was hit a second time by a 37mm round to the fuselage as he exited the target. Though heavily damaged and losing fuel, his F-4 was still handling remarkably well. The pair radioed their element leader who proposed a route south of Hanoi in hopes of in-flight refueling, but Aman’s F-4 was rapidly losing fuel – it could not reach the tanker aircraft or make it 90 miles to relative safety at the Laotian border… ejection would be necessary over hostile territory.

“As we flew over the target, we took at least one hit, maybe two right in the belly of the airplane,” recalled Pardo during an interview with 1stCombatCamera for the Veterans in Blue Series. “Just as we started rolling out, our number four man [Aman] got hit again. When number four [Aman] checked in, he checked in with bingo minus 5,000 which meant he had 2,000 pounds left, which was not enough gas for him to get out of North Vietnam.”

Preserving fuel meant climbing to 30,000 feet, then gliding once the fuel ran out to cover as much of the 90 miles to safety as possible before ejecting. As fast as Aman was losing fuel, Pardo was not convinced he had enough fuel to make the glide successful – he was concerned for his wingman. If Aman was to eject at that moment, it was certain he would become a prisoner of war, most likely facing death at the hands of the enemy. “My dad taught me that when your friend needs help, you help,” Pardo staunchly stated. “I couldn’t have come home and told him I didn’t even try anything because that is 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.”

Pardo’s father served in the National Guard, his oldest brother served in the Navy and his younger brother served in the Air Force during the Korean War. The family was well versed in the importance of trust and camaraderie during combat. “As we were climbing up, I started thinking, ‘what can I possibly do to help get this guy out of North Vietnam’ – because North Vietnam was nothing but rice paddies.”

Pardo radioed Aman telling him to jettison his drag chute, allowing Pardo to slide his plane under Aman’s and position the nose of his F-4 into the empty drag chute receptacle. The attempt failed, so Pardo moved on to positioning the top of his F-4’s fuselage against the belly of Aman’s F-4 – but again, the attempt failed due to immense jet wash.

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