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Flying A-4s and A-7s with Captain Bo Smith

Welcome to the seventy-seventh episode of the Lessons from the Cockpit show with your host retired Lt Col Mark Hasara, KC-135 pilot and Air Force Weapons School graduate.

I was turned on to a great memoir website by my good friend Scott Brown. Navy Captain Bo Smith is responsible for helping create the Navy’s IRON HAND Surface to Air Missile or SAM suppression procedures during the Vietnam War. Bo started his Naval Aviation career with two Vietnam tours in the Douglas A-4B and A-4C Skyhawk with Attack Squadron VA-15 Valions. His third tour during the 1972 LINEBACKER I and LINEBACKER II campaigns Bo was assigned to Attack Squadron VA-82 Marauders flying the A-7C Corsair II. In this first of a two part series, Bo tells us what it’s like flying the A-4 and A-7 on YANKEE Stations, to teaching new aircrews in the Republic F-105 Thunderchief at McConnell AFB Kansas in a US Air Force exchange tour.

This episode of the Lessons from the Cockpit show is financially sponsored  by Wall Pilot, custom aviation art for the walls of your home, office, or hanger. Wall Pilot sells four, six, and eight foot long profiles of famous aircraft printed on vinyl you can peel off and stick on any flat surface.

Bo’s first assignment flying Navy attack aircraft was in the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk with VA-15 during the 1966 and 1967 Rolling Thunder air campaign. Bo flew with VA-15 Gold Tails, developing the IRON HAND SAM suppression tactics used in Carrier Air Wing Ten. This print of a VA-15 A-4C was Bo’s personal Skyhawk during his second 1967 Rolling Thunder Vietnam cruise.

During the LINEBACKER I and II campaigns in 1972 over Vietnam, Bo flew with the VA-82 Marauders. This VA-82 Marauders A-7C is loaded for an Iron Hand mission he spoke of during the show carrying Mk20 Rockeye cluster bombs and AGM-45 Shrike anti-radiation missiles. US Navy attack planes carried similar weapons loads on Iron Hand SAM suppression missions like this A-4F Skyhawk assigned to VA-55 Warhorses.

The Marauders were chosen for the famous Than Hoa Railway Bridge strike on 6 October 1972 carrying AGM-62 Walleye tv guided bombs. Walleyes launched by LCDR Leighton “Snuffy” Smith and his wingman Ltjg Marv Baldwin destroyed the center pillar supporting the Than Hoa bridge causing the center span to collapse. LCDR Leighton Smith retired as a four star Admiral and Commander in Chief of all Naval Forces in Europe, and Allied Forces Southern Europe during the Kosovo Air Campaign of 1999.

Bo flew the Republic F-105B/D and F-105F Thunderchief as an instructor pilot training new Thud crews during his Air Force exchange tour out of McConnell AFB near Wichita Kansas. Being around Thud Drivers, Bo learned a lot about Air Force SAM and defense suppression tactics, techniques and procedures. Although Bo did not fly Wild Weasel Thuds, this F-105G from the 333rd Tactical Fighter Squadron flew missions over Vietnam and is credited with three North Vietnamese MiG kills, one by dropping a bomb rack off the jet which hit the MiG chasing it.

The last combat cruise for LTV A-7E Corsair IIs was during Desert Storm. VA-46 Clansmen and VA-72 Blue Hawks were part of the USS John F Kennedy air wing sailing in the Red Sea. This VA-72 A-7E was the Squadron Skipper Commander JR “Shooter” Saunders jet armed for a Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses or SEAD mission into Iraq during the Desert Storm air campaign.

Please go by Bo Smith’s fantastic website, an electronic journal of his exploits flying missions in the A-4 Skyhawk and A-7 Corsair II over North and South Vietnam. He even has some of the charts of his targets showing the triple A gun sites and SAM sites on the maps! This is one of the best Vietnam War websites you will come across at Bo Smith. He does update the wesite when he finds new information.

The second episode with Captain Bo Smith will be out next week. Thanks for downloading and listening to this and previous episodes of the Lessons from the Cockpit show. We are over 25,000 downloads now. This and previous episodes can be found on the new Lessons from the Cockpit website at www.lessonsfromthecockpit.show  

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