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Chock

Vietnam War elements and flights

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Here's a question someone might be able to answer. I was re-reading Marshall Harrison's A Lonely Kind of War (which if you don't know it, is his memoir about flying an OV-10 Bronco as a Forward Air Controller in Vietnam). In the book, Harrison recounts many instances of directing flights of jet fighter/bombers onto targets over the jungles and plains of South Vietnam, but there's a detail which puzzles me in many of these accounts. As far as I was aware, fighter and fighter/bomber flights are usually made up from multiples of an element of two aircraft, with each element having an element lead and a wingman. so, either two, or four, or six, or eight aircraft etc.But in A lonely Kind of War, most of the time, when the flights of fighter bombers check in over the radio prior to getting target run in details for their drops, they consist of a flight of three aircraft (i.e. Lead and Two and Three). This is true for flights of F-4s, F-100s etc and nearly always seems to be the case that there are three aircraft in the flight (i.e more like a 'Vic' than the 'Finger Four' you'd expect fighters to be in). Of course FACs never flew with a wingman for fairly obvious reasons, but I can't see why the fighter bombers would do so.So here's the puzzle: Why are so many of the flights he appears to direct, made up of three aircraft? Surely that leaves one aircraft without a wingman? Is it because they are flying an old-style bomber vic formation and are unlikely to meet air opposition over South Vietnam, or was there some other reason for having three aircraft instead of multiples of paired elements over Vietnam? Al

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Wasn't there and haven't read your book, but I'm pretty sure the author is actually referring to "Lead" and "One" interchangeably. In short, those are pairs and not threesomes.

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Al,Haven't been able to find any leads on your question, but you're right... there seem to be many instances where there's mention of a "three ship" going in on a mission. I've also read about two fighters covering a single fighter/bomber, usually on Iron Hand missions. I'll keep looking, though! :( Alan :(

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I found the following information via a search. Maybe it will shed some light.1. With improved coordination with ground spotters, three-plane formations had proven to be superb ground-attack weapons during the Vietnam War.2. The new operation, given the title Linebacker II, was marked by top-down planning by the SAC headquarters at Offutt AFB, Omaha, Nebraska. Due to the restrictive time frame imposed by President Nixon (only three days) and the past experience of Linebacker (in which North Vietnamese fighter aircraft had posed the highest threat to the bombers), SAC's plan called for all of the bombers to approach Hanoi at night in three distinct waves, each using identical approach paths and flying at the same altitude.[30] The aircraft themselves were to fly in three-plane formations known as "cells" for more effective electronic warfare (EW) jamming coverage.Todd

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B-52s then, and today, typically flew as three aircraft formations. SAC bombers like the B-52s are pretty much the only aircraft that used three ships as their favored structure and referred to as cells.No aircraft will use the callsign "Lead." You may be a leader. Your wingman may even call you "Lead" in casual conversation (eg. Lead you're on fire.) But in your actual callsign, you're going to be number 1 in that formation if you are the lead. (eg. BOLO 01, CITGO 21, CANYON 11 etc.) There is no such thing in the world as a formation using the callsigns "Lead", "One" and "Two." Even Air Force 1 has a number in its callsign.

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Thanks for the replies but I think people are misunderstanding the query. I certainly know flights have callsigns, i.e. 'Devil Flight' would have Devil Lead, Devil Two, Devil Three etc, even though on radio transmissions they would keep things brief and flight members would usually only use 'Three' or 'Two' as acknowledgement replies. So I'm not mistaking what is in the book, these are definitely three-ship flights showing up for the FAC to use. Neither has my query got anything to do with B-52s, which I know flew in three ship formations for reasons of keeping a formation bombing drop pattern tight and to concentrate defenses in the air. I was specifically referring to the fact that in the book I mentioned, there almost always appear to be only three members in a fighter flight of CAS alert birds and TAC over South Vietnam even though they needed no jamming, nor did they bomb in formation, instead making individual attack runs cleared one at a time by the FAC, which is of course a completely different operation to the Arc Light B-52 strikes and the Rolling Thunder F-105 bombing flights up past Thud Ridge from Thailand, which certainly did use three ships as part of their bombing patterns quite often.The only thing I can think of which might be a reason to use three ship flights for alert birds working in the CAS role over South Vietnam would be that such a division would mean more individual flights of aircraft per squadron could be put up over the area to make a greater number of strike packages available on short notice, so the decision might be based on refueling and/or loiter times for fast movers. But I'm curious to know if this is the case, or if there is some other tactical reason for a three-ship fighter/bomber flight which will be doing CAP, perhaps such as a reduced turning radius over an AO for example. There clearly must have been some reason for dropping the wingman of the second element from what is the traditional fighter-bomber formation.Al

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