The McDonnell F-101 Conceived as a fighter escort for SAC nuclear bombers, then adapted to other roles, McDonnell’s 1,000-mph F-101 Voodoo made its mark operationally as a photoreconnaissance platform and fighter-interceptor.
As Lieutenant Colonel James R. Brickel rolled his RF-101C Voodoo into a photo run, he became the target for what could easily have been the most anti-aircraft fire ever aimed at a single plane. The operations officer of the 20th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron (TRS) based at Udorn, Thailand, Brickel had volunteered for a mission to take poststrike photographs of the Thai Nguyen iron and steel plant, 30 miles north of Hanoi. In early March 1967, as part of Operation Rolling Thunder, Washington policymakers—after almost three years of official vacillation—finally approved an airstrike against Thai Nguyen, which had earlier been classified as one of the most important strategic targets in North Vietnam. By this time, however, the North Vietnamese had managed to saturate the site with 37mm, 57mm and radar-controlled 85mm anti-aircraft guns. The plant was also within a 60-mile envelope containing numerous SA-2 surface-to-air missile sites and approximately 100 MiG-17 and MiG-21 fighters.