Robert K. “Bob” Dundas
Chapter Four (from the book The Friday Pilots)
The Zipper – Upside Down Is Better by Bob Dundas
My interest in flying started at age 14 or 15. A man was installing linoleum in our kitchen at Great Falls Montana. When he mentioned that he had a Curtiss Robin airplane at the city airport, my curiosity got the best of me! Being young and pugnacious, I asked if he would give me a ride. He agreed if my mother would bring me to the airport that weekend. She agreed. I was “hooked!!”
In the 1940s the USA was giving Russia a lot of combat aircraft. Since Malstrom AFB was under construction at Great Falls, the city airport was used as a refueling stop on the way to Alaska and then to Russia. I must have seen 500 to 1000 P-39s in those years. Also, we saw many P-40s and B-25s. Occasionally, the city would get buzzed, and that was great. The city airport (called Gore Hill) had a good drainage system. The concrete piping was large enough for small kids to get into the airport without a problem. I remember one windy day a tied down P-38 nearly got airborne with the wind gusts.
When in college at Montana State University in Bozeman, I enrolled in AFROTC, and with that came ROTC Summer Camp at McCord AFB Washington. I lucked out and got to fly the rear seat of an F-94C. The pilot was a real ”wimp!” When I asked him to do a roll, he refused. The best he would do was a 30-degree banked turn. Needless to say, I was extremely disappointed!
While attending college, I met and married Jean, a fellow classmate, in September of 1951. By the time we graduated we were the parents of one daughter, Sheryl Anne, and another on the way. I was assigned to Marana Air Base west of Tucson AZ, as a 2nd Lt. to begin my pilot training ( January 1954).
We started in the PA-18, a small Piper aircraft, learning how to take-off and land, spin the bird, etc. Next, came the T-6. We flew about 20 hours in the PA-18 and 150 hours in the T-6 (class of 55-G). Then, it was off to Williams AFB. At Willy, we flew the T-28 and T-33. What a great time we had with our first jet. Next, I was assigned to Nellis AFB near Las Vegas NV. Most of our instructors had just returned from Korea and were really wild compared to our civilian instructors. The F-86 was really easy to fly and they taught us ”air to air” combat over the “green spot,” an area close to Nellis. If you showed up there it was assumed you wanted to hassle.
The next assignment was Korea for a year. We were allowed a 30-day leave, so Jean, Sheryl, Mary (Mary was born in Tucson) and I were off to Montana for R & R. Really it was I & I (“intoxication & intercourse” for those not in the know). Jean taught home economics and science at West Side Jr. High while I was gone. My mother let us know immediately that she would not be available to be a full-time babysitter; bless her heart for being honest. With two such adorable (?) children, we had no problem finding a nearby neighbor who was looking for extra work, and who loved children. Jean drove them to her house every school morning, which was no big deal, except when the streets were icy.
Our squadron commander was Lt. Col. Bud Anderson, who looked as young as the rest of us. Bud was an “Ace” with 16 kills during WWII in his P-51, and what a pilot he was. I recall doing barrel rolls in finger-tip formation at 15,000’ in high cirrus clouds. If you fell out of formation you were the bad guy. He really taught us how to fly.
During this time the squadron went to Taiwan to pull alert with the Chinese, who were flying straight-winged F-84s. We ate lunch together and it was amazing how fast the Chinese could inhale that rice with chopsticks. Bud decided we should check out the Sixth Fleet, so every F-86 was loaded with rolls of toilet paper in the speed brake wells. All of that TP was left on the deck of a Navy carrier (I can’t remember the name of the carrier). As far as I know, Bud never got in trouble over that incident. Ah, fond memories of those days.
The Chinese threw a party for us. There were about 10 courses to the meal and after each course, was a toast. It was not too long before we were all drunk! Several weeks later we hosted them, and the drink of the day was the martini. Our NCOs were the bartenders and we drank water and the Chinese got the real martinis, so we had to carry them home (now, that’s how to get even).
That year in Korea was really fun. The war was over, but every so often “Bed-Check Charlie” would fly down from the north and we would be scrambled. As soon as the North Koreans saw us on their radar, Charlie would head back north.
In 1956 I was assigned to George AFB CA. The first three years we flew F-100Cs. We were all “Green Card” pilots, but the weather at George was always good, and we never flew in bad weather until 12 of us were picked to ferry F-100Ds to France.
On the American Airlines flight to east coast, they seated us in an area where two cases of beer were stored. By the time we got to the coast, all the beer was gone. You can’t trust those young fighter pilots.
As I recall we each got two flights in the D-model to get used to the flaps. We departed for Harman AFB Newfoundland the next day and were we ever surprised. We were past the “point of no return,” when we got word that Harman was socked-in. They called the weather, 100-foot ceiling with a half-mile visibility. Larry Brehm was on my wing. I did not see the runway until Larry said, “Lead, chop it, we are over the runway.” All 12 of us made a safe landing, so it was off to the club for a few drinks.
The next three years flying the F-104C were even more exciting. I had two four-month rotations to Moron Air Base Spain, near Seville in the southern part of the country. We refueled from KB- 50s in those days. On one rotation Col. “Rudders” Rudell, the wing commander led a gaggle of 16 (we called him Rudders because, when he got excited, he kicked the rudders). The weather was forecast wrong and it appeared we would not make the rendezvous. Rudell called Ocean Station Echo and asked if they could call the KBs to head our way. The lead of the 50s had a loud southern drawl and as they picked us up on their radar, he said, “Come on down here boys, we have what you need.” There were four 50s and each could refuel three birds at a time. No one missed the hook-up, as the alternative was to go for a swim in the ocean. We arrived safely at Lajes Field, Azores before heading to Spain.
The four months in Spain were lots of fun as TAC headquarters was far away, and we were free spirits. Every 104 on the line could go Mach 2, and our radar site guys wanted us to see how fast the 104 would really go. I took one to 2.4 mach on one of my runs. The J-79 engine in the 104 had a tendency to stall occasionally. I was on Max Jesperson’s wing on take-off and when he nodded to come out of burner, my engine stalled. At that time the procedure to restart the engine had about eight steps, I went through as many steps as I could with no luck. I punched out at 1,000 ft. in a downward ejection seat, made one swing and hit the ground. A Spanish guy with a small donkey walked up and asked if I had a cigarette. I still smoked at that time, so we lit up and watched the 104 burn. The 104s were being modified to an up ejection seat. I was the last guy to punch-out in a down configuration. I don’t recommend it.
A week later, I was pulling alert with George Ziegelhoffer, when we were scrambled after a target that was at 65,000 ft.. The radar on the 104 was worthless, but the target was pulling a small contrail. That was the only way we could keep it in sight. We got behind it by about 30 miles, got our speed up to 1.8 mach, and went for it. George didn’t come up there with me, but as I went by the B-57D it appeared to be going backward. My mach was still high and the 104 became difficult to handle at that altitude. I finally rolled it over and split–S’ed down to 35,000 ft. and joined up with George. We were not wearing pressure suits, so I would probably have died if the canopy had blown. Our third daughter, Roberta, was born at George AFB in April 1960.
The next four years were really great flying the F-105 at Spangdahlem Air Base Germany. The 49th Tactical Fighter Wing was composed of three squadrons, the 7th, 8th and 9th. During the Vietnam War years, two of the Thud drivers from the 49th wing were awarded the Medal of Honor. Merlyn Dethlefsen, 10 March 1967 and Leo Thorsness, 19 April 1967.
In 1962 the Russians brought missiles into Cuba, and JFK was President. I was on nuclear alert and we were listening to Kennedy’s speech. It sounded like we might go to war. We were playing Bridge in the ready room, so I got up, put on my G-suit, strapped-on my .38 and went to my aircraft, so I could be the first one airborne. That was one disaster that, thank God, never happened.
The four years in Germany were wonderful. We did a lot of gunnery at Wheelus Air Base, Libya. Socially at Spang, the Officers Club was active, food was good and off-base the small towns had good restaurants. Both of our parents visited us in 1965. My mother took the older girls on trips she had planned to Oslo, Norway and Rome, Italy. The time in Europe was quite a learning experience for the family. We were only an hour from Luxembourg City and they had a very good movie theatre. I remember seeing The Sound of Music there.
For our country, the four years 1962 to 1966 were very active. Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, and LBJ became President. In 1965 things became active in Vietnam and it appeared the F-105 would be used as the prominent air-to-ground fighter.
I got orders for my next assignment to Korat Air Base, Thailand in May 1966. From July to December 1966 the flying schedule was heavy and many of us finished our 100 missions in about six months. North Vietnam was very well defended with SAMs, MiGs, and AAA. Bob Brinkman was one of the best Wild Weasel pilots in the wing. I remember one mission in particular. We refueled over the water and entered North Vietnam south of Haiphong, looking for SAM sites. We got a launch and headed for the deck. I ended up in the trail at about 500 ft. The first missile was high and between us. The next one had my name on it. When I finally saw the missile, it was to my left, I pulled up hard and the missile blew just past me. Not one hole in my bird, perfect timing, thank God.
The 421st TFS was my squadron and in November 1966 Hollywood guys showed up to film us. It turned out to be a pretty good title, “THERE IS A WAY.” That title reflects what we as pilots said to each other whenever we had a hard mission coming up. We would kiddingly say, ”THERE AIN’T NO WAY.”
On the 4th of December 1966, I led 12 aircraft to hit JCS-19, which (to the best of my knowledge) had never been hit. JCS-19 was the main rail yard in the northeast part of Hanoi. This was my 96th mission over the North and we all made it back to Korat. Four more easy missions to 100, and it would be time to go home.
I was a major at that time and after Vietnam, quite a few of us were assigned to the Pentagon. At “Studies and Analyses” I was selected to be on a special study held at the Arba Vita study facility in Los Angeles CA, close to LAX. Gen. Bill Chairsell led the study, but Lt. Col. Jasper Welch ran the place. Welch was a Ph.D. with connections to most of the defense contractors in the country. The only active duty Air Force guys were Chairsell, Welch, and myself. The rest were PhDs with defense connections. Every morning when I came to work, I would kiddingly ask our cute secretary if the White House had called for me. A week or so later a Col. at the White House did call to let me know that LBJ would be presenting Merl Dethlefsen the Medal of Honor and could I attend. Most people think that LBJ was a huge man. I was 6-feet at that time and about half an inch taller than LBJ, (I have a picture to prove it).
I made airline reservations, and Jimmy Stewart happened to be on the same flight. Since I was in uniform I went up to him, saluted, and said, “How you doing, General?” (Stewart was an Air Force Reserve Brig. Gen.). Stewart was met by his wife and two daughters at Dulles, as my wife met me. They were very friendly. We must have spent five minutes in the terminal chatting. The Stewarts were heading to Quantico where his son was an active duty Marine.
After several years at the Pentagon, I volunteered for a second combat tour. In Tuy Hoa, Vietnam I was an F-100 squadron commander for the year and got 200 more combat sorties. I now had 300 combat missions, five Distinguished Flying Crosses, and 23 Air Medals. I retired a few years later with 20 years of service. I am 83 years old now and think of my 20 in the USAF as the best part of my life!