Bob Pardo, daring rescue pilot in the Vietnam War, dies at 89

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Bob Pardo, a fighter pilot who during the Vietnam War kept a colleague's damaged plane flying in a daring aviation feat that became known as the Pardo Push, died Dec. 5 at a hospital near his home in College Station. , Texas. He was 89 years old.

His wife, Kathryn Pardo, said the cause was lung cancer.

In March 1967, Captain Pardo was on a mission over North Vietnam in an F-4 Phantom when anti-aircraft fire hit his plane, inflicting damage and, worse, destroying the fuel tank of another strike force fighter. . Both planes left to return home. But the second plane had lost too much fuel to reach safety. Captain Pardo realized that his two-man crew would be forced to eject over enemy territory and face capture or worse.

Flying below the compromised plane, Captain Pardo told his pilot, Captain Earl Aman, to lower his tailhook, a metal pole on the back of a fighter used to stop its landing. At 300 miles per hour, Captain Pardo pushed the glass windshield of his plane against the tip of the pole. For nearly 90 miles, he pushed the other plane as both planes bled fuel, until they crossed the border into Laos. Both crews were ejected by parachute and the four men were rescued.

When they returned to their airfield, Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand, Captain Pardo faced criticism for the unorthodox maneuver, which may have saved the lives of Captain Aman and his weapons officer, First Lieutenant Robert. Houghton, but he arrived on the Cost of Captain Pardo's plane.

“When we got back to Ubon, they didn't know whether to court-martial me or put a medal on my chest,” he recalled in an interview with an Air Force publication in 1996. “Some people felt I should have let Earl and Bob “They eject and take risks so I can land my plane safely.”

The “Pardo Push” entered Air Force legend, an extraordinary act of aerial ballet, but one that would never be prescribed in any pilot manual or flight simulator. Only once before, during the Korean War, was a similar rescue maneuver carried out.

The military did not honor Pardo for decades. In 1989 he received the Silver Star for his bravery. The citation described him pushing Captain Aman's plane to safety. “The attempt was successful and consequently allowed the crew to avoid becoming prisoners of war,” he said.

In a later interview, Pardo said he thought about the words his father had said to him when he made the decision, a risky decision since the windshield could have broken.

“My dad taught me that when your friend needs help, you help,” he said. “I couldn't have come home and told him I didn't even try anything. Because that's exactly what he would have asked of me. He would have said, 'Did you try it?' So he had to be able to answer with a yes.”

John Robert Pardo was born on March 10, 1934, in Lacy Lakeview, a suburb of Waco, Texas, the son of William Roland Pardo, who installed pipes for a gas company, and Lucille (Williamson) Pardo, a homemaker. He graduated from high school in nearby Hearne, Texas, in 1952 and enrolled at the University of Houston. He dropped out of school to work briefly with his father before enlisting in the Air Force in 1954. The following year he was awarded his pilot wings at Bryan Air Force Base in Texas. He was stationed at bases in Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, Missouri and Maine before his combat tour in Vietnam in 1966-67.

After a 20-year uniformed career, he retired in 1974 as a lieutenant colonel and worked in corporate aviation, including as a pilot for the Adolph Coors Company in Golden, Colorado.

His first marriage, to Bárbara Pardo, ended in divorce. Along with his wife, whom he married in 1992, Mr. Pardo is survived by a sister, Stella Gordon; a son, John Robert Pardo Jr.; a daughter, Angela Fresh; two stepsons, Scott Arnold and Kevin Arnold; 10 grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.

In Southeast Asia, Pardo was assigned to the 433rd Tactical Fighter Squadron when its strike force took off from Thailand on March 10, 1967, to bomb a steel factory 30 miles north of Hanoi, the capital of what was then It was North Vietnam.

Backed by China and Russia, North Vietnam was fighting South Vietnam, which the United States supported. The Vietnam War was a major conflict of the Cold War. It cost the lives of more than 58,000 American soldiers and an estimated 1 to 3 million Vietnamese soldiers and civilians.

Between 1965 and 1968, the United States Air Force and Navy carried out an intense bombing campaign against the North known as Operation Rolling Thunder to destroy infrastructure. The tonnage of American bombs dropped exceeded American bombing raids in the Pacific during World War II. North Vietnam's defenses included anti-aircraft batteries, missiles, and Russian-made MiG fighter aircraft.

Both Captain Pardo and Captain Aman's F-4 fighter-bombers were hit about 40 miles from the steel mill, Captain Pardo recalled in a 2019 interview with The San Antonio Express-News. Captain Aman began climbing after being shot.

“I knew something was wrong due to the state of its fuel, so I started climbing with it,” Captain Pardo recalls. “When we got to, oh, 30,000 feet, he leveled off and was dumping fuel.”

Captain Pardo knew that Captain Aman's plane would not be able to leave North Vietnam to rendezvous with a refueling tanker plane. At first, he tried to push Captain Aman's plane by sticking the nose of his own plane into a rear hatch, but there was too much turbulence. He then attempted to maneuver directly under the other plane and piggyback it, which also failed.

Then it occurred to him to push Captain Aman's tail hook. The Navy version of the F-4 Phantom used a tailhook to land on aircraft carriers. The Air Force used it for emergency landings on runways, when the hook snags a cable stretched across the runway.

Captain Pardo told his partner to turn off his engines and carefully made contact with the tailhook using the windshield of his own plane.

“If it had hit the windshield, I would have had that tail hook in my face,” Houghton, who was in the back seat of the injured plane, recalled in a 1996 interview. “We're talking about glass here. “It was a phenomenal flight, nothing less.”

Mr. Pardo recalled: “I can't remember how many times the rear hook came off the windshield and I had to fight to get it back into place.”

After one of Captain Pardo's engines caught fire and shut him down, the two planes began to rapidly lose altitude, sinking at 2,000 feet per minute. They crossed the border into Laos at an altitude of only 6,000 feet, leaving them only two more minutes of flight time. Both crews jumped off shortly after and floated into the jungle by parachute. They were rescued by American helicopters.



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