Excerpt from Volume 1, Chapter 20: Shootdown of Jim Pollak, by Jim Pollak, USAF
F-100D, January 4, 1968
Date of hire by Western Airlines: 1/27/1969
Aircraft #765 was a good bird and accelerated as well as any in the squadron. Flying at 500 knots at 1000 feet over the jungle is quite a ride as the air is usually turbulent at that altitude and high speed magnifies every bump. The ground goes by in a blur but amazingly the adrenaline is flowing so fast and you are so keyed up that at times everything seems to be moving in slow motion. As I got near the target, I started to scan the terrain ahead a little more closely, trying to spot the smoke from the FAC’s rocket. Up ahead I picked up the telltale spot of white smoke in the all green jungle and called, “Lead has the mark,” making a minute adjustment so that I was heading directly at the target. As the bomb sight passed through the FAC’s mark, I mashed the bomb release button with my right thumb. The familiar thump and a slight jolt on the plane told me that a bomb had been released.There was no doubt that the left outboard bomb came off because I immediately had to jam in left rudder to keep the bird flying straight and simultaneously roll into a very tight turn to the left to clear the bomb blast. That row of hills to the left of the target had seemed harmless the first time I had flown through but was now coming directly at me VERY FAST! Things seem to happen about 10 times faster at 500 knots than they do at 300 knots. I eased off the left rudder just a hair and the nose of the bird came up just enough to allow me to rocket over those hills with about 100 feet to spare. That was a little closer than I had wanted but there wasn’t that much clearance between the tops of those hills and the bases of the clouds. I eased back on the power and rolled out on a heading of south to go back to the orbit area for another run. About this time KB radioed that he was starting his bomb run. I called and warned, “That damn hill comes at you real fast when you break left after bomb release and there isn’t a lot of room between the hilltops and the clouds.” He acknowledged and the FAC cleared him to drop. The FAC also commented in a rather ho-hum fashion, “By the way Litter 03, they were shooting at you on that last pass.” I don’t care how many missions you have flown, you always get a chill when you learn that somebody is shooting at you.
As I got back to the orbit point and was about to start my second run, KB transmitted, “Litter 04 is off dry.” My ears perked right up because pulling off dry (not dropping a bomb) meant that he had a problem. Before I could inquire, KB grumbled, “I couldn’t get this dog up to 500 knots.” (If you don’t have 500 knots on a level bomb run the fuse will probably not have time to arm and the bomb could be a dud.) He added, “I’ll tap the burner next time.” (We didn’t like to use the afterburner at low altitude because it used fuel at a tremendous rate and we didn’t have that much fuel to begin with.) KB also commented, “The damn hill really does come at you rather quickly.”
By now I was on the run-in heading at full power and making small adjustments to my speed, heading, and altitude. The FAC cleared me in hot and instructed, “drop this bomb about 50 meters short of your last one.” Up ahead I could see the smoke from the first bomb that I had dropped and made a mental note to remember that the nose of the bird was going to yaw badly again as the other outboard bomb came off the wing. This time the plane would yaw in the other direction. As I approached the target, I could still hear in the back of my mind the FAC saying, “they’re shooting at you.”
My altitude was right, my speed was right and as my sight passed 50 meters short of my last bomb, I pickled off the other outboard bomb. I’d been scanning the area pretty well, but still didn’t see any sign of ground fire. As the bomb left the wing the nose yawed right, as I had expected, and I corrected immediately as I rolled into my tight left turn. I was even feeling a little smug about how much more smoothly I had corrected the yaw this time as compared to my first run. I was pulling about 3 Gs(three times the force of gravity) in the turn and was watching the hills that had surprised me the last time. They didn’t seem to be coming at me nearly as fast this time, but then, the second pass on any mission always seemed slower and more controlled than the first. I guess it has to do with having been there before and knowing what to expect.
At that instant KB called, “Litter 04 is in hot.” I was hoping that he could get his dog up to 500 knots, when suddenly something caught my eye. It was a flash of light that went past the canopy. At 500 knots and a couple of hundred feet off the ground everything is a blur, but this was different. Another flash went by and my heart skipped a beat because this time I knew it was a tracer. Up ahead that row of hills was coming at me rapidly and to my great distress, a string of tracers was coming off the top of those hills and right at me. At the speed I was going there was neither time nor space to maneuver, and I would cross those hills at the exact spot that those tracers were coming from.
I couldn’t have been more than 100 feet from the top of those hills when I crossed them and that’s when it happened. BOOM! The plane was jolted with a deafening bang and I knew instantly that I was in big trouble. Without even thinking I keyed the mike button and transmitted, “I’m hit!”(KB heard this call but thought that it had come over Guard channel, which we always monitored. He had no idea that it was me since I didn’t use my call sign.) Whether it was from the impact of getting hit or possibly I just instinctively tried to get away from the tracers, whatever the reason I found myself in the clouds and completely dependent on my instruments. Smoke was starting to pour into the cockpit, warning lights started to flash, and the engine was starting to sound like it was having serious problems. I knew that I had to get the plane on the ground and the closest field was at Ban Me Thuot, a civilian strip about 40 miles west of my position. At the speed I was going, I could be there in four minutes, but I had to be VFR (visual below the clouds) because there was no instrument approach at Ban Me Thuot. Besides, with the aircraft severely damaged, I wasn’t even sure that the instruments were working correctly. All I knew was that the plane would not hold together much longer and if I wanted to land it, I had to get beneath the clouds again. I rolled the bird inverted and pulled the nose below the horizon (this is the fastest way to descend a high speed fighter). Just before I was about to roll right side up again, there was a muffled explosion from somewhere in the engine and more smoke poured into the cockpit. The annunciator panel, a bank of 9 lights that monitors all the aircraft systems, lit up like a Christmas tree. All the systems had failed and the flight controls had frozen. There was no chance of saving the plane now and I knew I had to get out fast because I was descending in the clouds and didn’t know my altitude. For all I knew I could be rocketing straight down, so I made one last transmission, “I’m getting out!” and ejected. Again I failed to use my call sign.
One of the dangers of low-level attacks is that if something went wrong you often didn’t have time to bail out. To eject from an F-100 you simply raise the armrests and then squeeze the exposed triggers. Everything else is automatic. All of those boring hours sitting in the flight simulator and practicing ejection procedures finally paid off. Once I decided to go, I only vaguely remember doing it; sit straight, head back, elbows in, feet back. When I raised the armrests, it blew the canopy off. The wind noise was absolutely deafening. I really don’t remember squeezing the triggers but I recall the blast of the seat as it ejected and then I don’t remember anything. Although it seemed like an eternity, it was only about five seconds from the time the plane got hit until I ejected.
KB was just approaching the target on his second pass when he heard my transmission and this time recognized my voice. He broke off his attack and started to scan the area for a parachute because he wasn’t even sure that I had gotten out of the plane. The FAC never heard my first call but he heard the second and later stated that he saw my parachute open and also saw the plane hit the ground a second or two later. Obviously, I didn’t get out any too soon.
I have no idea how long I was unconscious, but the first thing that I remember was the silence. It was almost as deafening as the wind blast when the canopy blew off. The first thing I saw was papers, about 5 to 10 sheets of paper fluttering in the air around me, probably from the clipboard that had been strapped to my leg. I looked up and saw the most beautiful orange and white, undamaged parachute canopy above my head. I did a quick scan of the area around me and all I could see was jungle. I did not see the plane or any smoke on the ground from a crash site, and that really puzzled me! I did not see the ejection seat that I had ridden out of the stricken bird and then separated from, and I couldn’t see my helmet and oxygen mask which had obviously been torn off by the wind blast. All I could see was endless jungle. And then, I got scared! Until that point everything had happened so fast and I had been so busy that I hardly had time to think. I had just made a very high speed, low altitude ejection with no severe injuries. The chances of doing that successfully are 3 to 1 against you, so somebody was watching over me.
Dangling in that parachute, I guessed that I was 100-200 feet in the air when I regained consciousness, and I finally had the time to realize that I was in real trouble. I kept waiting for the shooting to start but there was nothing but silence. It seemed like I hung in that chute for an hour but I’m sure it was less than 30 seconds. As I got closer to the ground and realized that I just might make it down without getting shot, I noticed that I was going to land in a rather large clearing, half of which was covered with water and looked like a swamp. The wind was blowing slightly and it looked like I would drift over the swamp and land in what appeared to be tall elephant grass on the edge of the water, so I tried to remember which risers to pull to control my drift but my mind wouldn’t work. In any case, I was more concerned with what was in store for me on the ground.