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“MiG Sweep,” by Keith Ferris
"Mig Sweep" painting by Keith Ferris

This painting is a depiction of the McDonnell F-4C21-MC Phantom II depicting the aircraft making a Vector Roll to gain a firing position on an enemy North Vietnamese MiG-21 on January 2, 1967.

Note the image of a MiG just to the left of the Phantom's cockpit.

Operation Rolling Thunder

In February of 1965 the United States began Operation Rolling Thunder, an attempt to bomb North Vietnam into slowing down its flow of PAVN (Peoples Army of Vietnam) troops into South Vietnam.

One of the targets was Hanoi, North Vietnam, which was heavily defended with radar directed anti-aircraft artillery, surface-to-air guided missels, combined with a fleet of North Vietnamese interceptor fighters, among them Soviet built MiG-21 PFL fighter aircraft.

The US used Republic F-105 fighter-bomber aircraft to bomb Hanoi. These operations were very dangerous and the F-105s were taking heavy losses from the MiG-21s guarding the city.

An image showing the Republic F-105 Thunderchief (nickname "Thud") and its armament
This image shows how the Republic F-105s were configured for their role as a fighter-bomber.

During this period over 20,000 tons of bombs were dropped on Hanoi, reducing much of the city to rubble.

Kham Thien street in central Hanoi which was turned to rubble by an American bombing raid
Kham Thien street in central Hanoi which was turned to rubble by an American bombing raid.

Due to heavy losses the Air Force decided to escort the F-105s with F-4C Phantom jets, but when the Phantoms tried to engage the North Vietnamese MiG-21s, they would flee back to their bases which could not be attacked because of the US rules of engagement.

During the Vietnam War 395 F-105s were lost mostly by antiaircraft guns or missiles, and 17 by enemy fighters.

In early 1967 the USAF came up with a plan to protect the F-105s from the MiGs.


OPERATION BOLO was put together to lure the MiGs into air-to-air combat by having the F-4C Phantom jets simulate F-105 Thunderchief bombing attacks.

Colonel Robin Olds, the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing Commander, would lead 48 McDonnel F-4Cs on the same kind of ground bombing attack that were used by the F-105 Thunderchiefs.

Colonel Robin Olds, United States Air Force, Wing Commander, 8th Tactical Fighter Wing.
Colonel Robin Olds, United States Air Force, Wing Commander, 8th Tactical Fighter Wing.

The F-4Cs were carrying AIM-7 Sparrow radar guided missiles and AIM-9B Sidewinder heat-seeking missles instead of a full load of bombs. This was because the F-4C did not have any guns to attack enemy aircraft with.

A Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21F-13 with the markings of the Vietnam Peoples' Air Force
An Aero Vodochody built Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21F-13 with theVietnam Peoples' Air Force markings.

On January 2, 1967, Col. Olds was flying one of these flights disguised as F-105 fighter-bombers and noticed Mach 2+ MiG-21s begon climbing up through the clouds below them.

The MiG-21 pilots quickly realized these were not F-105s on a bomb run and found themselves faced with F-4Cs, air superiority fighters.

What follows is the after action report filed by Colonel Olds:

At the onset of this battle, the MiGs popped up out of the clouds. Unfortunately, the first one to pop through came up at my 6 o’clock position.

I think this was more by chance than by design. As it turned out, within the next few moments, many others popped out of the clouds in varying positions around the clock.

This one was just lucky. He was called out by the second flight that had entered the area, they were looking down on my flight and saw the MiG-21 appear.

I broke left, turning just hard enough to throw off his deflection, waiting for my three and four men to slice in on him. At the same time I saw another MiG pop out of the clouds in a wide turn about my 11 o’clock position, a mile and a half away.

I went after him and ignored the one behind me. I fired missiles at him just as he disappeared into the clouds.

I’d seen another pop out in my 10 o’clock position, going from my right to left; in other words, just about across the circle from me. When the first MiG I fired at disappeared, I slammed full afterburner and pulled in hard to gain position on this second MiG.

I pulled the nose up high about 45 degrees, inside his circle. Mind you, he was turning around to the left so I pulled the nose up high and rolled to the right. This is known as a vector roll.

I got on top of him and half upside down, hung there, and waited for him to complete more of his turn and I timed it so that as I continued to roll down behind him, I’d be about 20 degrees angle off and about 4,500 to 5,000 feet behind him.

That’s exactly what happened.

Frankly, I’m not sure he ever saw me. When I got down low and behind, and he was outlined by the sun against a brilliant blue sky, I let him have two Sidewinders, one of which hit and blew his right wing off."

The F-4Cs managed to shoot down seven MiG-21s, with the probability that another two had been destroyed. This was almost half of the total MiG-21s that the Vietnam Peoples' Air Force had.

On May 13, 1967, the Phantom that had been flown by Col Olds, shot down a MiG-17, but on November 20, 1967 that same F-4C was shot down by antiaircraft fire while attacking a SAM site.

The weapons office, 1st Lieutenant James A. Bradley bailed out and was rescued, but the pilot, Captain John Martin, was not seen bailing out of the aircraft and was listed as Missing in Action. 

The Keith Ferris painting at the top of this post labeled "MiG Sweep" depicts the Vector Roll used by Colonel Robin Olds to gain his firing postion on one of the MiG21 fighters.

Side Note:

During theVietnam War U.S. Airmen were issued American Optical AO Original Pilot sunglasses before Randolph Engineering won the contract in 1980.

I hope you enjoyed this trip through some of the history of aviation. If you enjoyed this trip, and are new to this newsletter, sign up to receive your own weekly newsletter here: Subscribe here!

Until next time, keep your eyes safe and focused on what's ahead of you, Hersch!



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