From the Stars and Stripes archives

Prop jock outmaneuvers MiGs

A U.S. Marine pilot unleashes four rockets (lower left) toward an enemy bunker in the An Hoa Basin, about 15 miles southeast of Da Nang, in December, 1968. The OV-10 Bronco from Marine Observation Squadron 2 was helping out in Operation Taylor Common 2.


By SPECIAL TO STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 10, 1971

SAIGON — Except for the two MiG 21s trying to shoot him out of the sky, it was just like any other day for 1st Lt. Thomas C. Jensen.

The forward air control (FAC) pilot had checked out his OV-10 Bronco as usual two hours earlier, and the mission was fairly routine even after he got the call that "Bandits" were nearing his area.

He'd flown a lot of missions, and he was used to MIG alerts, though he hadn't seen any of the Russian-built planes.

But now, with the mission for May 9 over the Laotian Plain of Jars only half over, Tom Jensen was about to become a target ... just nine months into his Southeast Asia tour.

"I had just started working away from the general area of the alert," he said. "All of a sudden, I caught sight of the first one, only a few hundred yards away on my left and banking into a sharp left climbing turn.

"It was the first MiG 21 I'd ever seen outside of a picture book, and I instinctively turned into the aircraft to keep it in sight."

What Jensen didn't know was that an instant before he spotted the MiG 21 it had fired upon him. It was now banking away.

"Almost immediately I felt two close bursts, no more than 15 or 20 yards from the right side of my tail. The plane shuddered from the explosion.

"I quickly jettisoned all my marking pods and external fuel tank to give me better maneuverability and dove to a lower altitude.

"I began turning or 'linking,' in an attempt to locate both aircraft I had lost the first one shortly after the pass.

"While I was looking for clouds to jump into or under a MIG made a second pass.

"Again the plane vibrated, and I could see the smoke from the explosions.

"I didn't want to get too low. I knew I was over a high anti-aircraft threat area and wanted to maintain as much flexibility as possible. Being right down in the weeds wouldn't have helped me keep them in sight," Jensen said.

"About this time I figured that I was going to wind up on the ground one way or the other, and the one thought that flashed through my mind was that if I ever did get back to the base, this would make one helluva war story for the club bar," said Jenkins, a 1988 graduate of the Air Force Academy.

"I could see both MiGs about a mile above me, circling. They looked like a couple of vultures waiting to swoop down for the kill.

"I knew I couldn't keep in a position where I could clearly watch what both of them were doing," he said. "I figured it was only a matter of minutes before one of them would position himself to attack me from the rear.

"I was constantly bobbing and jinking to try to keep them in sight. I was 2,000 feet up, but I felt like a fish in a barrel with nowhere to go," Jenkins said.

"Then I was advised that help was on the way, and in a matter of minutes I lost sight of both of them.

"Radar told me they were heading back toward their side of the fence, and I decided to head home.

"I was running low on fuel since dropping my tank and was in no mood to continue the mission at that point anyhow," he said.

"When I think back on the incident," Jenkins Jibed, "It strikes me as a bit unsporting for two mach 2-plus fighters to pick on me in my 150-knot Bronco."

"But it taught me one thing, and next time I get a MiG warning they'll have to look more than twice to find me."

An OV-10 Bronco from Marine Observation Squadron 2 flies over the coast of South Vietnam in December, 1968.

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