Take five dumb bombs, one dumb A6 (non-system), one dumb target, and one dumb way to fight a war. Add a large portion of luck. What's the result? An averted disaster. But leaving a crew who will be able to fly another day and an Intruder still around to fly in harms way.
Back in September of '67 'someone' found some old World War II 2,000-pounders lying around somewhere. What good were they? What could they be used on? What airplane could carry them? 'Someone' had the answers. 'Someone' might have been a McNamara "Whiz-kid" at the Puzzle Palace, or maybe just a lowly Wing staffer.
'Someone' said to strap those heavies onto an A6 and go tunnel and cave busting where the Viet Cong take shelter. The 500 pounders don't make much of an impression; they merely bounce off. These behemoths will do some real penetrating, some real damage, 'someone' thought. That was the plan.
My Bombardier/Navigator and myself were presented with the dubious honor of being the first to make that 'someone' look good. We were given an 'Iron Bomber' A6 with one 2,000-pound bomb hung on each of the five external stations. It would be a daylight dive-bombing mission with the target being marked for us by an airborne Forward Air Controller. Dive-bombing? There was no accurate mill setting data for this ancient ordnance. So invent one. Release airspeed? Pick a number. Release altitude? Throw a dart. But the A6 is not rigged to carry these things. The ordnance guys will come up with something.
So off we went.
Getting airborne was no problem. This was a mere five tons of steel and high explosives. The A6 can easily slip the surly bonds of earth with seven tons (28- 500-pounders).
Our FAC turns out to be an Air Force O6 (colonel), pretty high ranking for this job. (Could this be the 'someone'?) He was out of Da Nang and was flying a little Cessna O-1 Bird Dog. He marked our target, the tunnels, with smoke. We set up for our first run. Since this was 'Indian country' I wasn't too concerned about missing the target on the first drop. From the first impact spot I could easily adjust something (airspeed, release point, mill setting, dive angle) so as to be more accurate on subsequent runs.
We pulled up after the first run and the FAC was ecstatic, initially. "Right on target, Armorplate. Right on target" he shouted over the radio. Then this: "but it didn't go off. It was a dud. Check your armament panel. Put the next one in the same place".
The armament switches were all as they were supposed to be. But the second run had the same results - a dud. Our FAC was getting pissed and so were we.
Third run. "Right down the pipe, Armorplate. Good job! No dud that time. That got their attention. Put your next one right on top of that".
I managed to do just that, but it too failed to explode as well. That's awful. One out of four. One bomb left. Hope it's got some life in it. I set up for the dive. Banked hard left, kicked left rudder and let the nose drop into a thirty-degree dive. The airspeed is building as I walk the pipper on the gunsight up to the target. I press the pickle to release the last bomb, then pull the nose up and start a left bank. Something is not quite right. The airplane feels a little sluggish, out of trim. There's some excess airstream noise. Then there's banging. I glance out to my left. I couldn't believe what I saw. The front lug on the bomb rack had released but the rear lug hadn't. The 2,000-pound bomb was nose down about 45 degrees and flopping in the breeze! It was oscillating and banging against the fuselage right where the left engine bay access door is located. I leveled off, reduced airspeed and zeroed the bank so as to try to eliminate the banging. The question of the moment was would this thing detonate?
We tried pulling some G 's. Pulling 3 Gs would make that thing weigh triple its weight. That might break it free. No joy. After several attempts to G it free I tried to fishtail it off using rudder. But this only aggravated its lateral motion resulting in more contact with the fuselage. Still no joy.
Time to let some other folks know of our problem. We called Da Nang and told them to launch the rescue helo, Jolly Green. It appeared we might have to leave this machine if the bomb didn't leave it first. We certainly couldn't land with it like that. We'd end up a ball of fire on the runway. So, as the late afternoon turned to dusk we headed for the South China Sea in the vicinity of Hue. We'd continue to try to muscle this thing off and although we had plenty of fuel to work at it for awhile, we were now limited by the approaching darkness.
Our plan was to eject just about over the coastline so as to parachute into the offshore waters. We didn't want to come down on land, which may or may not be Indian country. Especially with night approaching. We also wanted to have Jolly Green get a visual on us as we left the aircraft.
Our options are limited to either the bomb leaves or we leave. Time to review the ejection procedure. Cinch down those leg restraints. Tighten up that chinstrap on the hardhat. This is a plus. Given the nature of the beast, an ejection is usually a spontaneous thing. You're on fire, you're out of control, and pieces are falling off your airplane and the time to get out is now. But we have some time to talk about it.
We can now make out the coast up ahead. But there's a cloud deck below, which increases in solidity out over the water. Great. Wonder what the base of the clouds is? We get word that the rescue chopper is inbound to the area. The light is fading fast. We're just minutes away from crashing through the canopy of this perfectly airworthy A6. Airworthy but not landworthy. What a shame.
We reach the coast and plan on making one or two orbits while coordinating with Jolly Green. Then we hear a "clunk" and the Intruder lurches a little. I look out and it's gone! Bombs away! Hoot and I are elated. What timing! What luck! I bank around to see if the bomb impact can be observed. Maybe the explosive flash. We see nothing. Good. It's probably another dud. Hopefully it went into the gulf.
We cancel our pick up service and head for Chu Lai.
Don't relax too much. There's still the matter of the landing gear coming down. That steel flailing around out there may have crinkled a landing gear door into the sealed shut position. But Grumman Ironworks comes through. The rollers extend as advertised.
After landing and shutting down, Hoot and I climb out, anxious to check BDA (bomb damage assessment). On the airplane that is, not the target. Surprisingly it is minor. Nothing that a good body and fender guy from the Airframes Shop couldn't patch up.
Later, at the club, where we are well on our way to oblivion, we learn that 'someone' has decreed that our A6s won't be carrying around World War II 2,000- pounders anymore.
"Hoot, lets drink to that"!
Note: By Captain Bill Kretschmar (retired), VMA (AW) 533
MAG 12, 1st MAW, Chu Lai, RVN, September, 1967
I Corps, South Vietnam