Legend behind 'Pardo Push' visits Seymour Johnson Airmen

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Ashley J. Thum
  • 4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
The 4th Fighter Wing welcomed one of the Air Force's most heroic fighter pilots from the Vietnam War for a base visit, Oct. 10.

Retired Lt. Col. Bob Pardo, known for saving the lives of a fellow F-4 Phantom crew with what became known as "Pardo's Push," visited the 4th Training Squadron's F-15E Strike Eagle simulator and later addressed the graduating pilots and weapons systems officers of the F-15E Basic Course.

On March 10, 1967, Pardo was a pilot with the 433rd Tactical Fighter Squadron, Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, when a mission to destroy North Vietnam's only steel mill started to go wrong. The last plane in Pardo's formation had been hit by enemy fire and was rapidly running out of fuel.

"In that area of North Vietnam, it was all rice paddies," Pardo said. "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.'"

Pardo tried having the other aircraft jettison their drag chute so he could put the nose cone of his plane into the chute compartment, but the turbulence kept him from approaching near enough.

Downwash had eliminated the possibility of using the fuselage of his F-4 to carry the weight of the other aircraft as well. At that point, the other plane had flamed out, and Pardo said there weren't many things left for them to try.

"I looked up and there was the tailhook," Pardo said. "I thought, 'What do we have to lose?' He put the tailhook down and we eased in very gently and put it on our windshield and started adding power. His rate of descent decreased from about 3,000 feet per minute to about 1,500 feet per minute."

Pardo said given the condition the other F-4 was in, it would only have been able to travel on its own for approximately 30 miles. With the help from Pardo's plane, which had sustained its own share of damage, it covered nearly twice that distance.

"It got a little discouraging after about 10 minutes because our left engine caught fire and we had to shut it down," Pardo said. "We continued to push and it got us where we needed to go."

Both aircrews managed to eject safely over the Laotian border and were all rescued in less than two hours by HH-53 "Jolly Green Giant" helicopters.

Pardo was nearly court-martialed for the loss of the F-4s, but his wing commander, Col. Robin Olds, convinced the 7th Air Force commanding general to drop the charges on the condition that Pardo and his wingman would receive no recognition.

"They lost eight airplanes that day, but the four of us were the only ones that made it back," Pardo said. "What the general didn't understand was we had already got what we wanted, which was our friends."

Pardo was later awarded the Silver Star in 1989, along with his rear pilot from that fateful mission, Steve Wayne.

During his visit to North Carolina, Pardo was able to relive some of his tour in Vietnam in the simulator, where he shot down a MiG-17 and pulled up behind an F-4 to attempt a recreation of his legendary move.

"I don't know how anyone could do something like that," Pardo said to the amusement of those watching his flight. "It must have taken a lot of guts."

Capt. Gordon Olde, 333rd Fighter Squadron weapons systems officer, joined Pardo in the simulator.

"Flying a simulator mission with Lt. Col. Pardo was an amazing experience - one I will never forget," Olde said.

Pardo retired from the Air Force in 1974 before going on to fly commercial aircraft, bringing his total flying experience to 51 years. Olde said he hasn't lost his touch.

"It was clear to me as he aggressively maneuvered the jet in position for a tracking guns kill that he was a professional who had lost none of his warrior spirit," Olde said.

Pardo recounted his experience in Vietnam for the B-Course graduates on the evening of his visit, where he thanked the Airmen for their service and reminded them to always put their wingman's safety ahead of their own.

"When I was on that mission, there was no decision process - no delay - and I attribute that fact to my dad," Pardo said. "He taught me that when your friend needs help, you help."