On this day in 1967, a United States Air Force pilot risks his life to save his wingman. Captain John R. “Bob” Pardo would try an untested maneuver, using the windshield on his F-4 Phantom to push another plane to safety. The technique would come to be known as “Pardo’s Push.”
Pardo and his wingman, Captain Earl Aman, were then participating in an attack on Thai Nguyen Steel Factory, just north of Hanoi. Unfortunately, Aman’s F-4 was hit early in the mission. “He would have been justified to jettison his bombs and head for home,” Pardo later said. “Going ahead with the run showed a hell of a lot of fortitude and determination.”
But Aman was soon hit again. “We were hit hard,” Aman’s rear pilot, Lt. Bob Houghton, later described, “and losing fuel . . . . we understood we weren’t going to make it to the Laotian border. It was a sure bet we’d have to bail out over hostile territory.”
Pardo’s plane had been hit, too, but he seemed likely to make it back to a refueling tanker. No one would have blamed him if he’d simply worked to save himself and his own rear pilot, Lt. Steve Wayne. But Pardo couldn’t leave Aman and Houghton behind. “In that area of North Vietnam, it was all rice paddies,” Pardo later explained. “There would have been no possibility of evading capture. I thought, ‘If there’s some way we could get him to the jungle, he’s got a fifty-fifty chance of getting out of this.’”
He decided to try something a bit unconventional: He’d push Aman’s plane to safety.
“We first tried to put the nose of our aircraft in his drag chute compartment,” Pardo later said. “But there was too much jet wash coming off Aman’s plane.” Then he spied Aman’s tailhook. Would that do it? He radioed to Aman to drop it. He’d put the windshield of his plane against that tailhook.
Not exactly what the tailhook—or the windshield—was built for!?
Pardo angled his plane so that the two, it was later said, “kissed.” They were barely touching. “Kissed is the right word,” Houghton later said. “If he so much as bumped the windshield, he would have had that tailhook in his face. We’re talking about glass here. It was phenomenal flying, nothing less.”
The tailhook kept slipping off Pardo’s windshield, but he kept getting it back into position—and it worked. Pardo’s efforts slowed the rate at which Aman was descending.
Wouldn’t you know that one of Pardo’s engine chose that moment to catch fire? That left a single engine to push two planes out of Vietnamese airspace.
It was enough. Pardo pushed Aman and Houghton’s plane about 80 miles over the course of 20 minutes. Aman and Houghton got across the Laotian border and ejected safely.
“By the way, I am out of fuel myself,” Pardo soon casually radioed. “I am going to punch out.”
All four men would be rescued by friendly forces.
Pardo’s superiors had mixed feelings about what had happened. “It was a great act of courage and flying skill,” Col. Daniel (Chappie) James said. “At the same time, I don’t expect it to become standard operating procedure. In fact, I don’t want it to happen again.”
Charges were threatened against Pardo for losing an expensive plane. Why hadn’t he taken his F-4 straight for a tanker? You’ll be glad to hear those charges were ultimately dropped—and he even received a (much delayed) Silver Star for his bravery that day.
“When I was on that mission, there was no decision process—no delay,” Pardo later told a reporter, “and I attribute that fact to my dad. He taught me that when your friend needs help, you help.”
Airman 1st Class Ashley J. Thum, Legend behind ‘Pardo Push’ visits Seymour Johnson Airmen (U.S. Air Force; Oct. 16, 2014)
John L. Frisbee, Valor: Pardo’s Push (Air Force Mag.; Oct. 1996) (archived HERE)
Keyes Beech, Jet Gets ‘Push’ in Flight (Des Moines Tribune; Mar. 14, 1967) (p. 2)
Peter E. Davies, USAF F-4 Phantom II MiG Killers 1965–68 (2004)
Pilot of flak-crippled F-4 recalls heroic push home (Honolulu Star-Bulletin; June 6, 1996) (p.15)
Preston Lerner, Bob Pardo Once Pushed a Crippled F-4 Home With His F-4. In Flight.…while in combat over Vietnam (Air & Space Mag.; Apr. 2017)
Tech Sgt. Steve Smith, Pardo’s Push: A battle-damaged F-4 and its crew were in danger of bailing out over North Vietnam (U.S. Air Force; Dec. 1996) (archived HERE)
Wayne Thompson, To Hanoi and Back: The United States Air Force and North Vietnam, 1966-1973 (2015)