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Old "Herc" a pioneer in laser guided bombing, another Blindbat first


Blindbat, a pioneer in laser guided bombing

Illuminating the skies at night through flaredrops was Blindbat's job from 1964 through her departure from the Southeast Asia Theater of War in 1970, when she was replaced by the AC-130 Spectre gunship, which of course, had a far improved capability, most notably heavy-duty guns. Blindbat flew unarmed, alone, and unafraid, well, maybe a little anxious. The
Blindbat-Yellowbird-Willy the Whale relationship extended through 1965. Following that, Blindbat teamed more and more with other kinds of aircraft to achieve the same purposes.


C-130A Blindbat aircraft noseart, "Blind Bat. We get ours at night." Photo credit: Bill Tkacs, CMSGT, USAF (Ret.)

This noseart on a Blindbat aircraft tells a central part of her story, and the story of American warfare that would follow her legacy:
Blindbat operates at night.

Here you see one going through pre-flight.


Blindbat pre-flight. Photo credit: Bill Tkacs, CMSGT, USAF (Ret.)

We need to spend a few moments talking about this business of flying, fighting, and destroying targets from the air at night. It is central to the Blindbat story, and central to the development of precision munitions such as the laser guided bomb (LGB).

Most of us in the past decade or so have watched a lot of US war fighting at night on television. Americans now expect to see night warfare video on the internet. Americans today, and their adversaries, understand that the US military has global superiority in fighting war at night. In fact, US military forces now prefer to fight at night. American air forces now can fight at night almost as well as during daylight, in some instances, arguably better at night than during the day.


F-16 Fighting Falcons wait on the "hot ramp" at a forward-deployed location in Iraq while maintenance crews ready the weapons for a night mission. Photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew Hannen. Presented by Air Force Link.


The AC-130 Spectre sensor suite consists of a television sensor, infrared sensor and radar. These sensors allow the gunship crew to visually or electronically identify friendly ground forces and enemy targets in most environmental conditions. This is a dead-on AC-130 attack seen on its sensors live, at night. Whoever was under that explosion top center is now dead; whatever was there is now destroyed.


Staff Sgt. Joesph Vialpando uses a bungee cord catapult to launch a Desert Hawk force protection airborne surveillance system aircraft for a night surveillance mission in Iraq. The seven-pound remote controlled, battery-powered aircraft can stay aloft for about an hour as it flies over the base transmitting imagery to its controlling laptop computer. It tells Marines on the ground what's around the corner, and a lot more. Photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Lance Cheung. Presented by Air Force Link.


In this night-vision image taken on the early morning of November 9, 2004 in Fallujah, Iraq, U.S. troops launch an offensive to destroy key rebel strongholds in the beleaguered Iraqi city. American forces now like to attack at night, where the advantages are theirs. Photo credit: APTN, Pool - AP photo. Presented by Air Force Times


Two 16th Special Operations Wing MC-130 Combat Talons fly along the US coastline. The 16th SOW specializes in unconventional warfare, often undertaken in enemy-controlled or politically-sensitive areas, most frequently at night. Photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Andy Dunaway. Presented by Air Force Link.


An F/A-18A Hornet assigned to the “Silver Eagles” of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 115 lights its afterburners to maintain full military power immediately following a night arrested landing aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, Nov. 26, 2004, while fighting the war on terrorism. Interestingly, full power is applied in case the pilot misses all four arresting cables and has to takeoff. Navy and Marine pilots, no matter how good they are, will tell you these landings always command their attention. Photo credit: U.S. Navy photo by Seaman Kristopher Wilson. Presented by Defend America.

This ability to fight at not was not always this way. The capacity to want to fight at night, then to fight and win at night, have been revolutionary changes that have been a long time in coming and have given US forces, ground, naval and air, a clear and distinctive military advantage few, if any, opponents enjoy. We will be talking about the role played by the C-130A Blindbats in moving this revolution along, but everyone involved deserves special recognition.

Major advances in the ability of US air forces to conduct night attack operations developed between the Korean and Vietnam wars.


Night flying an F-4C Phantom, 1960s. Night flying is a regular part of any Air Force fighter pilot's life in South Vietnam. First Lt. Robert W. Wickman, 25, of Bellevue, Wash., checks the underside of his F-4C Phantom jet prior to takeoff, Jan. 17, 1967. Photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo, presented by Air Force Link

During the Vietnam War, technologies began to catch up with the need to operate efficiently at night. It was not an easy start. Many airmen flying at night did so by the seat of their pants. But ultimately, most squadrons were flying night missions as a matter of routine. The tactics and the technologies made this easier and easier over time.

Multiple technologies were brought to bear on the problem, including precision munitions, air intercept radars, identification friend or foe systems, radar bombing, inertial navigation, long-range radio navigation systems, and terrain following radar to name the biggies.

While advances were made during Vietnam, and at a rapid pace, US air forces lacked the capacity to do precision bombing in day or night until the introduction of the laser guided bomb (LGB) technologies. Lacking this capability impeded the American war effort in several areas.

Let's first address the Ho Chi Minh Trail.


Map of Ho Chi Minh Trail courtesy of National Geographic magazine

During much of the Vietnam War, the number one priority for Allied air and ground forces was to stop the logistics flow on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a trail that began in North Vietnam, wove its way through eastern Laos, and then shot off multiple entry routes into South Vietnam. Despite vigorous, continuous and treacherous around the clock bombing of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the US was not able to stop the flow of men and materiel from North Vietnam to the South on this trail.


This is Interdiction Point Alpha in central Laos. Experts tell us that there is a fresh bomb crater on the road just below the center of the picture. However, trucks already had driven over the fresh dirt between the two segments of the road now covered by the debris.  This illustrates that closing the road with general-purpose bombs was almost impossible unless the road had to pass between tight confines forced by karst, steep mountains, and rivers. After 10-20 trucks had packed down the earth alongside the crater, a new segment of the Trail had been created, and it was as if the crater had been a near miss instead of a direct hit. In addition, thousands of laborers supported the Trail and would come out almost immediately to move aside downed trees or fill in minor craters. Photo and interpretation presented by Jimmie Butler.

The North Vietnamese moved much, perhaps even most, of their logistics flows of men and supplies over this trail, and they did much of it under the cover of night. A plan to insert significant amounts of American and South Vietnamese ground forces into Laos to block the trail, combined with constant night air interdiction against enemy targets on the trail, would have shut this trail down. The outcome of the war would have been far different had these two things happened. Without the logistics flow, the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong armies would have completely collapsed. Without doubt, they would have lost the war.

General Westmoreland's plan to conduct the ground operation to shut down the trail was disapproved by authorities in Washington. The USAF and Navy commenced Operation Rolling Thunder daytime and night interdiction bombing operations against the Ho Chi Minh trail in February 1965 and continued, on and off, through October 1968. We say on and off because Washington authorities would halt and re-start the bombing in fits and starts, hoping to get the North Vietnamese to call the war off. Some in the State Department also thought the "goodwill" of halting the bombing would touch the hearts of the enemy, causing the enemy to want to sit down and chat about ending the war. All ridiculous, off course. The enemy understood only one thing --- getting pounded and pounded, day after day, unceasingly. But that's another report.

The weapons and doctrine employed during Rolling Thunder were much the same as used in WWII and Korea. Furthermore, the operation demanded something the USAF and Navy were not equipped to provide: precision conventional bombing, day and night, all weather.

The trail was not the only requirement for such a capability. Allied ground forces, especially special forces, increasingly moved against the enemy during the hours of darkness and fought against them at night. They frequently needed helicopter and fixed wing close air support at night to avoid being overrun and/or captured.


This is an authentic photo of a US Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) in a dimly lit and mottled jungle in Vietnam. The photographer commented that photographing these guys was a technical challenge, saying, "If they aren't moving you would step on these men before you would see them. Most of the time was spent watching, waiting, and calling in artillery. Unless we initiated an ambush, the only time small arms were used was if something had gone dreadfully wrong." These kinds of patrols almost always operated at night. Photo credit: Roger B. Hawkins, extracted from "What Tomorrow brings, memoirs of a photo officer in Vietnam, 221st Signal Company (Photographic)," presented by azcreative.com


The photographer says this: "This is the heart of darkness, this is what exhausted LRRPs look like when they have climbed to their overnight position and before they have had a chance to settle in—here we have our claymores out and we watch and wait to see if we are being followed. It doesn't look late, but night comes early in the jungle and everything needs to be put where your hands can find it in the night." Photo credit: Roger B. Hawkins, extracted from "What Tomorrow brings, memoirs of a photo officer in Vietnam, 221st Signal Company (Photographic)," presented by azcreative.com

The net result of these and other requirements for precision night time, all weather bombing was that the skies of both Vietnams and Laos were filled with aircraft at night, whether they had the right equipment or not. The good news was that Allied air forces had air superiority over the entire area through most of the war. Most of the threat to air forces came from ground-based anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) and surface-to-air missiles (SAM), not enemy aircraft.

B-52 and a multitude of fighter bombers, along with helicopter aircraft conducted numerous attacks at night, throughout the entire theater. Fighter combat air patrol flights hovered above just in case ingressing and egressing bombing forces need their help. In addition, airborne command and control, reconnaissance, search and rescue, helicopter insertion and extraction, logistics transports, and a host of other support aircraft were also operating at night, everywhere.

Many of the aircraft flying at night were forced to fly lights out, especially those operating at low altitudes in high threat areas. Avoiding mid-air collisions was always on our pilots' minds. Pilots at the lower altitudes also worried about getting struck by friendly bombs and rockets from higher altitudes. Air traffic control was a major challenge at night. We did not have full radar coverage of the entire theater.


EC-121 Warning Star AWACS

The first Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft used was the Lockheed EC-121 Warning Star. It was designed to spot Soviet nuclear bombers as they approached North America. In Vietnam, they had to find enemy fighters and control friendly aircraft. It was not until 1965 that these aircraft were deployed to Vietnam and not until October 1967 that an EC-121 guided a US fighter to a successful intercept of a North Vietnamese MiG-21. The Air Force was not happy with this capability, but had to use it through the rest of the war. Work on the present-day E-3 Sentry AWACS began in 1967, with the first aircraft declared operational in 1977. In thinking about today's Air Force, it is hard to contemplate how it could operate for so long with such a void.

While this void was serious, the requirement to bomb accurately at night dominated. Aircrews had no choice but to step up to the challenges with the equipment they had. It must be remembered that at the time the USAF went into Vietnam, it was an air force built on delivery of nuclear weapons, built on destroying the Soviet Union. It was not a force designed to engage in tactical operations such as were encountered in either Korea or Vietnam.

Accuracy against tactical targets was always a high priority requirement. There were concerns about "collateral damage." But don't be misled by that. One of the dominant reasons accuracy was so much in demand is that missing the target and failing to destroy it meant that other operations might not be able to proceed and other attack pilots would have to come back and try it again. Each time aircrews had to return, the risks to them rose, in some cases exponentially. Our aircrews paid a high price for having to make such return trips to targets already attacked during the Vietnam War.


F-105s rolling in on their targets in Hanoi, June 1968. USAF photos, courtesy of Ralph H., via Paul Jarvis, presented by 388th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) F-105 Thunderchief's over Vietnam

The workhorse for the Air Force was the F-105 Thunderchief. This aircraft was designed to drop nuclear bombs, not fly tactical interdiction. Nonetheless, she flew 75 percent of all bombing sorties directed at North Vietnam. She had a radar bombsight designed to drop a nuclear weapon within a city block of its aim point. Unfortunately, that was not good enough for taking down point targets like a bridge, even with high explosive bombs. As a result, many pilots had to resort to daytime dive bombing.


A F-105 "Thunderchief" taxing out for a combat mission at Taklhi RTAFB. Note its bomb load are not precision munitions. Photo by Republic, presented by Thud Ridge Web Photo Album

The F-105 had a variety of nicknames: Iron Butterfly, Lead Sled, Mighty Iron Hardware, Squash Bomber, Ultra Hog, and, the most famous, Thud. She was one helluva machine.

We present two examples of what night air warfare was like without the benefit of the technologies that came later, and those that we have today. Our pilots were up against a tough challenge, that's for sure.


Night strike over Vietnam, from "Of planes and men, US Air Force wages cold war and hot," by Kenneth F. Weaver, photographers Emory Kristoff and Albert Moldvay, National Geographic, September 1965 edition.

In the photo above, you see an actual battle at night in the Mekong Delta area of South Vietnam. Kenneth Weaver, who was flying above this battle at the time, described it like this:

"A mile below me the red lights of helicopters winked fitfully, like fireflies, in the Vietnamese darkness. Suddenly, a parachute flare cut through the night with the glare of a million candles, mirrored in the twisting waterways of the Mekong Delta.

"We could just make out the lonely (friendly) outpost below, but not the stealth figures of Viet Cong insurgents attacking it. Now fighter planes, guided by the flare, swept across the scene to rain explosives and shells on the guerrillas. An explosion's concussion nudged our plane, I saw an awesome yellow 'rose' bloom along a bend in the river. Dashed lines of fire, streams of tracer bullets, stabbed venomously from fighters to the ground, and answering streams rose skyward. Some probed toward us, fading out like spent Roman candle balls.

The attackers melted away."

The Air Force part of this battle raged for an hour. In this particular fight, the navigator aboard the flare ship asked, "Where is the enemy?" He radioed the troops on the ground to get some identification of enemy strongpoints. Another crewmember directed fighters in as best he could, based on what he was told by the guys on the ground, and what he could see through the flare drop.

So that's an example of the close air support challenge without nighttime precision weapons.

For an example of the challenges associated with knocking down point targets without precision munitions, you need only study the case of the Thanh Hoa Bridge, also known as the Dragon's Jaw Bridge.


"Dragon Slayers," original art by Robert Bailey. Navy F-4 Phantoms and A-4 Skyhawks attack the Thanh Hoa Bridge (Dragon's Jaw) in North Vietnam. One hundred and four pilots were shot down within a seventy five square mile vicinity of this infamous target. The communists used the bridge to push Russian and Chinese supplies southward to the front by rail, truck and foot. It stood for almost ten years against every conceivable ordinance that the Americans could muster via air power, surviving wave after wave of determined airmen. For the North Vietnamese, it assumed a prominence that approached mythical status and became a symbol for the North of their determination, fortitude and cause. Presented by oldgloryprints.com


"Jaws of the dragon," original art by Stan Stokes. The Ham Rong Bridge in North Vietnam was a frequent target for F-105s. Ham Rong translates into English as “Dragon’s Jaws,” and this very important north-south rail and highway line was a vital supply link in allowing the North Vietnamese to send streams of men and materials south. The Ham Rong Bridge was 546 feet long and was 56 feet wide. SAMs and antiaircraft batteries heavily defended it. From 1965 to 1968 almost seven hundred aircraft flying about 800 sorties had attacked the bridge, hitting it with more than 10,000 tons of high explosives. Despite these attacks, repair crews worked around the clock, and the bridge remained usable. The North Vietnamese knew that American fighter-bombers would have to pass directly over the Dragon’s Jaws to release their bombs. A wall of antiaircraft fire would be directed directly over the bridge during such attacks, and a horrific toll was exacted on attacking American aircraft. Presented by Stan Stokes Art


Unguided bomb craters known as "Valley of the Moon" mark the approach to Thanh Hoa Bridge. Photo presented by Air Force Research Laboratory Munitions Directorate.

On one day in 1965, seventy nine F-105s targeted the Thanh Hoa Bridge in North Vietnam with 638 750-pound bombs. Five aircraft were lost in the attack and the bridge remained in service.


Guided bombs destroy Thanh Hoa bridge. Photo presented by Air Force Research Laboratory Munitions Directorate.

But then the nature of air warfare made a dramatic change. In 1972, the bridge was destroyed by one sortie of four aircraft carrying the Paveway-1 laser guided bomb, the LGB. The 8th TFW at Ubon was credited with taking this bridge down on May 13, 1972. Three days earlier, the same wing, using the LGB, took down the Paul Dourmer bridge crossing the Red River as it flowed into downtown Hanoi. Both bridges had come to be known as "indestructable" until the arrival of the LGB.

Colonel Dick Horne, USAF (Ret.), led the raid that finally destroyed the bridge. He has been quoted saying years after:

"It had survived attack after attack. Most pilots thought the whole world was held together by the Thanh Hoa Bridge."
Shelby G. Spires, writing "Building the better bomb: the development of laser guided munitions," says this:

"The stark black and white photo shows a bridge, a river and thousands of  water filled craters in the ground -- missed bombs -- made in the attempt  to drop the bridge.  The effort had been costly in terms of aircrews and aircraft lost, and yet the Dragon's Jaw, as the bridge was nicknamed, still remained open to traffic.  The bridge was one of hundreds of targets over Southeast Asia which were either too well defended to bomb accurately or protected by Washington due to fears over civilian deaths that may result from a stray bomb.

"The problems weren't due to any lack of effort on the part of American aircrews in 1965. That the North Vietnamese prisons were quickly filling up with pilots, navigators and weapons system operators attest to their courage.  Difficulties with bombing were quickly identified from Thailand to Washington, aircrews flying sorties over Southeast Asia didn't have the proper tools for the job.

"The accuracy problems cost the American military in the terms of dead and imprisoned aircrews and lost aircraft, but it also created the vicious circle of overkill.  Because leaders in Washington couldn't be certain a target had been destroyed, they required multiple sorties back to the same place to expend ordnance on phantom structures.

"The military needed a weapon to keep airmen out of range of ground fire and one accurate enough to cut out needless trips back to a target which was already destroyed.  The need was a precision guided munition which was safe, cheap and easy to use."

This brings us to the Paveway laser guided bomb program.


Paveway laser guided bomb, GBU-10, presented by deagel.com

The “Paveway” series of LGB smart bombs were first released for use in 1965, and first introduced into combat during the Vietnam War in 1968. In those days you would not have heard the term "Paveway I" for the first series of LGBs. The "Paveway I" designation was not officially adopted until 1978, when a PEP (Production Engineering Program) was started for an overall improvement in laser-guided bomb capabilities. But we'll use it here.


Paveway laser guided bomb, GBU-10 diagram, presented by Raytheon. Essentially, the mid-part of this weapon is a standard MK-84 2000 lb. "dumb bomb,” with fins attached to the rear and the forward sections of the bomb, and a guidance seeker head attached up front.

Texas Instruments, now Raytheon, was the main developer of the Paveway system. Paveway I was used in Vietnam, primarily to reduce the number of bombs required to knock out bridges in North Vietnam.

Fundamentally, the weapon consists of a guidance seeker head and moveable fins fitted to a high-explosive bomb body. Paveway I kits were attached to ordinary Mark 82 225 kilogram (500 pound), Mark 83 450 kilogram (1,000 pound), and Mark 84 900 kilogram (2,000 pound) bombs. The kit included a laser seeker head attached to four control fins in a cruciform arrangement, which was attached to the front of the bomb, and a set of four larger fins, also in a cruciform arrangement, which was attached to the rear of the bomb to provide some limited glide capability. All the LGBs used the same seeker head, but had different fin assemblies to accommodate different types of bombs.


This is a modern-day photo, to help explain the process that would be employed by Blindbat from the air back in the Vietnam War: Here you see modern Air Force controllers on the ground armed with lasers and handheld GPS units. Using these, they are able to call in close air support strikes from 40,000 feet and hit targets that are mere feet away from their own positions with ground forces. When you outfit an aircraft with this kind of system, you substantially increase your line of sight view of the target to laser designate. Presented by Air Force Association.

The bomb(s) needs to be tossed into the general area of the target.


This is again a modern-day photo. In this one, you get the sense for the "tossing" of the LGBs. In this case, an F-15 Strike Eagle equipped with GBU-12 LGBs "tossed them" into the general area of the target. Photo credit: US Department of Defense. Presented by How Stuff Works.

A laser light needs to be focused on the intended target, and during its ballistic trajectory towards the target, the guidance seeker picks up the laser light reflected off the target and the bomb's computer passes instructions to the fore and tail fins and aligns the bomb's flight on the target for a direct hit. The advantage of laser light is that it can project a spot over great distances and the beam of light stays tight, tight enough to guide a weapon.

Perhaps the least well known of the participants in the Paveway I program in Vietnam, under combat conditions, was the C-130A Blindbat, in a program nicknamed "Pave Blindbat."

Pave Blindbat consisted of a laser target designator attached to Blindbat's Night Observation Device (NOD) to illuminate targets for the Paveway guided bombs launched by F-4 Phantom fighters equipped with the LGBs. Pave Blindbat had an effective range of about 18,000 feet.


21st Troop Carrier Squadron (TCS) C-130A Blind Bat "Flarebird," 1965

Initially, when they first entered the Vietnam War in 1964, the Blindbats were flareships, lighting up targets for incoming attack aircraft and friendly forces on the ground. Through the early years, the Blindbat crews evolved to where they were best suited to coordinate the actions of ground forces and incoming attack air forces at night, very much like a forward air controller (FAC), most of whom were either on the ground or were aloft in very small aircraft.

Over the years, the Blindbat mission expanded and adjusted, some of its night-fighting equipment improved, and its role in finding and arranging the destruction of targets on the ground became increasingly important, though not widely known. This mission expansion included a pioneering role in employing laser-guided bombs under combat conditions in Vietnam.

Employing the C-130 Blindbat in this initial LGB role in combat offered the Air Force several advantages. First, the Air Force had the chance to try out a new weapon, under actual combat conditions, in virtual secrecy. The Blindbat flare mission already was held very close to the chest throughout most of the war. You can still talk to Blindbat crewmembers to this day who are reluctant to talk about their missions.

Second, using a C-130 to try out a new bombing system presented the advantage of obscurity. Who would expect the Air Force to test a revolutionary bombing system from an old C-130A? The secrecy already surrounding the Blindbat mission enhanced this obscurity, and the number of Blindbat crewmembers involved was held to a minimum.


Loadmaster, Night Observation Device (NOD) operator, and the NOD. Photo credit: Bill Tkacs, CMSGT, USAF (Ret.)

Third, after operating for its first years as a flareship employing only the naked eye, the Blindbats were finally upgraded with a Night Observation Device (NOD). The Night Observation Device (NOD) was a passive image light intensifier that magnified moon and star light to provide a clear view of ground activity to the NOD operator on all but the darkest nights. The NOD operator could set his sites directly on a target, and convey that locational data to attack aircraft to help them zero in. This was very much a Forward Air Controller (FAC) role. In this photo, you see loadmaster Bill Tkacs, at the time a staff sergeant, with the NOD. It is worth noting that Tkacs flew aboard 196 Blindbat missions during the war.

Fourth, the Blindbat crews had enormous experience flying over the Ho Chi Minh Trail at night. And, for many years, they did so with only the naked eye, and a lot of GI ingenuity. Adding the NOD just made these crews far better at what they had been doing for years. Arguably, they were among the most experienced air crews the USAF had at spotting the enemy at night on the Trail and arranging for their destruction.

Knowing that Blindbat was a closely held program with vast experience in and around the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and knowing that it had the NOD, a proven system, authorities decided to mount an active laser light generator, known as an "Airborne Laser Designator," or (ALD), on top of the passive NOD.


This is a Blindbat mission in a turn. The actual photo was taken during daylight hours. We modified it to give you a sense for flying a night mission orbit very near the target. Original photo credit: Bill Tkacs, CMSGT, USAF (Ret.)

The Blindbat would fly low and slow, circling its assigned target area, usually over the Ho Chi Minh Trail. By low and slow, we mean about 4,000 feet and 140 knots. The Blindbat crews would find a specific target worth striking, combining their visual experience with the NOD, they would put the NOD cross-hairs directly on the target, await a flight of incoming LGB equipped F-4 fighters, beam the laser light on the target located with the NOD, the LGB equipped F-4 would "toss" his ordnance, the bomb seeker head would pick up the laser designation coming from Blindbat, and it was "bye-bye" target.


MiG Killer F-4D Tail Number 66-463 at Ubon RTAFB, home of the 8th TFW "Wolfpack." Note the "WP" tail code instead of the "F" series normally used. The "WP" was put on this bird to indicate she was a "Wolfpack" wing aircraft, an honor to all Wolfpackers who flew combat in Vietnam. The aircraft scored six MiG kills during the Vietnam War, while flown by five different crews. Capts. Steve Ritchie and Chuck DeBellevue scored two of their kills with this aircraft. Ritchie went on to become the USAF's first ace with five kills during Vietnam, obtaining his fifth victory in this aircraft, while DeBellevue finished his tour with the highest number of kills, six. Presented by 8th TFW History.

The F-4D was first introduced to the Vietnam War in May 1967, taking on most of the air-to-air-role. Indeed it quickly came to be known as a "MiG killer." Most surely 66-463 shown above was among those that scored well.


A typical F-4D of the 497th Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) "Night Owls," 8th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) "Wolfpack", Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base (RTAFB), armed with GBU-10 LGBs. Photo credit: USAF. Presented by the Air Combat Information Group (ACIG)

But, in May 1968, the F-4D became the first aircraft to use laser guided munitions carrying, GBU-1O/B Mk 84 Laser Guided Bombs. "GBU" stands for Guided Bomb Unit. It uses a Mk-84 2,000 pound general purpose or penetrating warhead. All of this is married to a laser guidance package. The Air Force had begun the Paveway program with a Bolt-117, which was the world's first LGB. But the larger GBU-10 bomb had proven twice as accurate and had far more explosive power, and this was the munition the F-4Ds carried to get started. The 8th TFW's 433rd Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) was the first squadron to get the LGB.


Two GBU-10/Mk-84 LGBs on their way to their target. These were dropped by a Canadian CF-18. These are more advanced versions than used in Vietnam, but you get the idea. Their external features are about the same. The guts are what changed drastically over time. Photo credit: TSgt. Mike Ammons. Presented by CF-18 Hornet Reproductions.

The GBU-10/Mk-84 was used against targets requiring deeper penetration, like bridges and bunkers. The Paveway I version had fixed wings, while the follow-on Paveway II had folding wings and many other improvements borne from combat experience.

Throughout the laser designation, Blindbat had to keep the NOD crosshair and its laser designator focused directly on the target to be struck, and wait for the attack. This meant that the Blindbat pilots did not want to conduct any evasive maneuvers even when receiving hostile fire. The need to keep that ALD and NOD systems focused directly on the target had to be balanced with avoiding hostile fire. Much of the time, the Blindbat pilots held their orbit and took their chances. After all, F4-Ds with LGBs, a scarce resource at the time, were inbound and the target had to be destroyed. But remember, the Blindbat was a big bird, lumbering about at low altitudes and low airspeeds. This was dangerous stuff.


North Vietnamese gunners manning an anti-aircraft artillery site. This was photographed by an Air Force reconnaissance pilot. Presented by secretvietnamwar.com


This is an actual Blindbat mission taking 37 mm anti-aircraft fire from enemy forces on the ground. What you see are tracers, which the enemy uses to get a sense for its direction of fire. Of course, the Blindbats could also see the tracers and often counted them. Crew members also kept their pilots informed of how close the fire was coming. Photo credit: Bill Tkacs, CMSGT, USAF (Ret.)

As an example, a Blindbat mission flown by George Nadler was taking a good amount of hostile fire one evening from a gun hidden in a cave. When Blindbat came on the scene, the enemy gun would roll out of the cave, and fire at her to push her away. When the fighters arrived, the gun would be rolled back into the cave. Nadler told his NOD operator to put his cross hairs about six feet above the cave entrance. The NOD operator did so, the ALD was turned on, the crew called in an LGB equipped F-4D fighter, the LGB was on its way and the cave went away.

We have heard directly from some who participated in the program. One crew, Blindbat 02, flew with the laser designator attached to his NOD. Joe Tucker recalls how scary it was when the LGB equipped F-4D came in and dropped his munition on a mountain road switchback from an altitude above the Blindbat. There was always a worry the Blindbat would be hit by the LGB.

Pete Brown, co-pilot on Blindbat 14 for four months, flew a Paveway mission with Tom Aldrich, Russ Graves, Bill McCarthy and Angel Montemayor.

In these early days, the Blindbats were getting only about 30 LGBs per month to help guide in. Had more been available, crew members who participated in this endeavor believe they could have done enormous damage to the Ho Chi Minh trail. The Blindbats left the war in June 1970, and their role was picked up by other aircraft, most notably the AC-130 Spectre Gunship.

This was a new concept of fighting from the skies at night, and it changed the way the US fights war to this day. With this Blindbat endeavor, the US was now in the business of precision bombing at night. Advances in technology development were made at a lightening pace.

F-4D Phantoms soon flew with an ALD known as Pave Light attached to the left side canopy frame. Later on, laser pods were fitted below the wings.

We happened on a F-16 "Fighting Falcon" forum whilke touring the internet where someone was bragging:

"Well sonny...in my day ... we didn't need no fancy schamancy laser pod and we liked it...Here is a photo of the cockpit holder for the AN/AVQ-27, possibly a son of the AVQ-9 'Zot Box.'"


He was referring to an ancestor of a more modern laser targeting pod known as the AN/AVQ-9/9A Paveway ALD, also known as "Pave Light." As our F-16 forum commentator was noting, it was not a pod, but instead was clipped inside the cockpit of an F-4D Phantom, by the back seat, and the Weapons System Office (WSO) or "wizzo" used a telescopic sight ganged to a laser to perform target designation. In order to use the system, the pilot had to fly in a left turn around the target and shine the laser while other aircraft attacked it. The scheme worked.


We found this photo of two 8TFW Wolfpack F-4Ds, one of which (bottom aircraft) is carrying the "Zot Box," also referred to as ZOTZ by some, the other (top aircraft) carrying what we believe are two GBU-10/Mk84 2000 pound LGBs, noted by the red arrows. These photos are from about 1971-1973. The ZOTZ equipped F-4D marked the target while the top aircraft fired his LGB. Presented by secretwarvietnam.com.

In doing this story, our curiosity over this "Zot" thing became overpowering. That was because we started seeing references to the "Zot Box" and the "ZOTZ" in the context of our story and we had a photo of patch provided to us by a Blindbat aircraft commander who flew the LGB designation missions. This patch was developed in about 1970.


Such patches are great collectibles, because they usually tell a story, and that is certainly true here. Paveway of course refers to the LGB development program. White lightning most probably refers to the laser designator's "white light." But getting down to the nuts and bolts, the patch carries a brown animal that turns out to be an anteater. And, of course, there in big red letters is the term "ZOT."

After quite a bit of digging, we learned that our fighting boys in the early days of laser-guided bombing referred to laser designation as "Zotting." They did so based on their university studies of Johnny Hart's BC comic strip "Zot." Hart created and drew the comic strip "B.C.", "Before Christ," in 1958 and it still runs to this day.

In one series, Hart had a character that was an anteater.


This is a Johnny Hart comic portrayal of the anteater using his tongue to capture an ant in mid-air after it was propelled out of the anthill by the anteater slapping the ground with his trunk The sound of the anteater's lethally accurate tongue, you can see, was "ZOT." This particular artwork was done in the 1970s. The photo here was taken from a frosted glass pitcher you can buy with two such comic strip art features on it, courtesy of Ruby Lane.

In any event, laser designation became known as "Zotting," the laser designator came to be known as the "Zot Box."

The term "ZOT" is intriguing. Do a Google search on it and you will be amazed, perhaps horrified, at how many internet sites deal with this term. In the vernacular, more frequently than not it has come to connote getting "zapped," frequently by a laser, but by also by electricity, and even a nuclear atomizer used by "Commander ZOT" to wipe out aliens! It is a favorite term used by sci-fi lovers and comic book writers. The
mascot for the University of California at Irvine is an anteater based on the BC comic, and its battle cry is "Zot!" Other battle cries include "Give 'em tongue" and "Rip 'em Eaters."

The mascot was adopted in 1965, just about the time our pilots were rolling out of the comforts of university life and into the cockpit of their mean-machines outfitted to start a revolution in precision bombing that has turned around the way American military forces fight and win. So, it is understandable how the term "Zot" would make such a rapid transfer to laser designation in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Believe it or not, ZOT also is an acronym used by scientists working with lasers that refers to the "Zeeman-shift optical trap," or ZOT. The ZOT is a means by which scientists holding a cluster of neutral atoms suspended in a very small space, in a high vacuum. It is particularly useful for studying the decay products of radioactive atoms. Held in such a trap, these atoms are not in contact with any substrate with which they could interact, so the products observed arise only from the radioactive decay. Laser beams are used to slow the atoms' movements to confine them to a small region. The laser not only can direct the course of these atoms, they provide the confinement.

For those of you who now know that the Blindbat C-130A was zotting targets in the late 1960s in Vietnam, you are among a select few.

This mission is not widely known or publicized. Eventually, some of the equipment, most notably Blindbat's NOD, and many of the lessons learned, were transferred to the AC-130 Spectre gunships which arrived at Nha Trang in September 1967 for combat testing. In late 1968, four AC-130s arrived at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base (RTAFB), followed by three more six months later. A ninth aircraft came later. This evolution gave the AC-130 crews what Blindbat did not have, a powerful integrated sensor-weapons system the likes of which no enemy wants to endure at the receiving end.

The pioneering LGB role played by Blindbat crews was important to the development of more sophisticated and improved follow-on systems. The Blindbat crews and their F-4D Phantom II partners from the Wolfpack proved the concept could work.

Today, of course, we know precision attacks are central to American combat doctrine, and saving lives, the lives of our own forces and innocent civilians near the bombing attack, quote often adjacent to it.


A member (bottom right) of the Combined Weapons Effectiveness Assessment Team assesses the impact point of a precision-guided 5,000-pound bomb through the dome of one of Saddam Hussein's key regime buildings here. Photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Carla Kippes. Presented by Air Force Link.

We also know that the US military is now well organized to fight at night. We can thank the Blind Bats for their contribution to giving our forces that advantage,