An emerging MiG threat in SEA resulted in an urgent requirement to deploy the Air Force’s newest F-4C assets to the region where they could exploit their air-to-air capability. This resulted in the 45th TFS, then assigned to the 15th TFW at MacDill, being selected to deploy, at very short notice, for a three month period of temporary duty in the region. Luckily, the squadron was in the final stages of working up for a pre-planned rotational deployment to Clark AB, so it was pretty much ready to go. Both aircraft departed MacDill on April 4 1965, for their transpacific flight (the movement being designated ‘TWO BUCK TWO’) and arrived at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base three days later. For both, this was to be their only exposure to combat although in the end they shared different fates:
F-4C 63-7551 was one of four aircraft in ‘LEOPARD’ flight tasked on a July 24, 1965, MIGCAP mission for an F-105 strike on Lang Chi, North Vietnam. While orbiting near the target, an SA-2 SAM was launched and exploded under LEOPARD 02 (63-7599), which became the first loss to a SAM during the conflict. The same explosion also badly damaged aircraft ‘551’ but made it back to Thailand. It was initially thought ‘551’ could be repaired and was moved to Clark AB shortly afterwards. Further work revealed that she was beyond salvation and she was officially terminated from the USAF inventory at Clark AB on December 29, 1965. This was not quite the end as the airframe was stripped and shipped back to the USA, patched together and put to further use for munitions training at Lowry AFB. Of passing interest is the fact that this combat loss does not appear to be included in any official (or unofficial) accounting.
F-4C 63-7606 stayed at Ubon until May 29, 1965, when she was transferred to the 46th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Clark (a sister squadron then on temporary duty for air defence duty with the 405th Fighter Wing). This was part of a mini swap of F-4C assets to give the Ubon squadron some aircraft with gun pod capability. Aircraft ‘606’ ultimately deployed home to MacDill, but was lost in an accident on Sep 27, 1965
A rare colour view of F-4Cs 63-7551 and 63-7606 from the 45th Tactical Fighter Squadron on the alert pad at Ubon in May 1965. They had the honour of being among the first USAF Phantoms to see combat while on a temporary duty attachment to the 2nd Air Division. Both are in the production standard grey scheme complete with Tactical Air Command insignia on the fin and the then standard Distinctive Unit Identification number (better known as the ‘buzz number’) on the fuselage.
(Vance Need via Richard Davies Collection)