Weapon wizardry and exciting, in-the-moment pilots’ accounts comprise this homage to the group of first trackers of the pesky surface-to-air missiles during the Vietnam War.
Former Air Force lieutenant colonel and bestselling author Hampton (Lords of the Sky: Fighter Pilots and Air Combat, from the Red Baron to the F-16, 2014, etc.) fashions the book as a kind of tribute to the lost pilots. Of the 72 “Hunter Killers” shot down during the Vietnam War, 31 were killed in action, 19 were POWs, two died in captivity, and 20 were rescued. Soviet specialists aided the North Koreans in developing the SAMs necessary to knock down American fighters, as was disastrously proved in July 1965 when USAF F-4 Phantoms were successfully targeted, to the Americans’ utter surprise. Although American tactical aviation was supreme, not much had changed in military mentality since the Korean War until the advent of the anti-aircraft missiles. With President Lyndon Johnson’s long-sustained bombing campaign Operation Rolling Thunder unleashed in March 1965, the pilots, flying low in altitudes without specific intelligence or specialized technology, became increasingly vulnerable to SAMs, the launch sites of which were frequently moved and expertly camouflaged. The key to a countermeasure would be radar detection: developing an antenna for the bottom of the jets tuned in to the SAMs’ specific signal. The California-based Applied Technology, Inc. was employed to come up with the answer in a stunning 30 days in August 1965. Without training, the pilots were supposed to “just make it work,” as successfully validated by pilots Jack Donovan and Allen Lamb, who knocked out the first SAM in November. Hampton’s command of the nuances of technology, in addition to his knowledge of the Vietnam War on the ground and in the air, renders this book both informative and moving.
A fast-paced Vietnam War story that cheekily employs the pilots’ vernacular as well as plenty of technological terminology.