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By John J. Fitzgerald

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I transmitted on the designated frequency that I was ready to go. ‘I recall this whole event as being sort of surreal. I could not comprehend the enormity and the implications of what might happen, but I was mentally prepared to charge ahead into whatever the day had in store for me. After about 15 minutes we were informed over the radio that the operation had been cancelled. ’ President Kennedy’s strategy had forced the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, to back down, and put on hold USAF Chief of Staff Gen Curtis LeMay’s determination to press for an immediate invasion following the shooting down of a U-2 by a Russian SAM over Cuba.

And even when they were detected Big Eye aircraft were usually left alone as VPAF controllers kept their fighters away from EC-121Ds. Any VPAF pilot that ventured out over the Gulf of Tonkin in search of patrol or tanker aircraft knew that he would also face US Navy carrier-borne fighters as well as F-104C patrols. com 41 CHAPTER THREE 42 Escorting EC-121Ds proved a challenge for F-104 pilots nevertheless. Flying at low altitudes in poor weather or at night was difficult enough for the Big Eye crews, operating at speeds below 290 mph.

This approach required a training programme that qualified all new pilots as flight leaders. com 35 CHAPTER TWO 36 was used by US Navy fighter squadrons in their MiG duels from the late 1960s. For Starfighter pilots over Florida it proved to be a successful way of defeating missile-armed F-106As. Pilots also became very proficient in aerial gunnery through the use of towed dart targets, with good scores at ranges of up to 4000 ft being attained. A successful ‘attack’ on a pair of F-106s or F-4s involved a zoom climb directly behind the targeted jet and a simulated AIM-9B launch or a gun pass, followed by a vertical zoom and a high-speed re-attack from above, before escaping from the second fighter in another vertical manoeuvre.

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