‘Pardo’s Push’ Pilot Dies

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Bob Pardo, the fighter pilot behind one of the best known—and for decades officially least recognized—aviation exploits of the Vietnam war died in a hospital in College Station, Texas, from lung cancer complications in early December. He was 89. According to the Washington Post obituary, Pardo and his wingman both took ground fire in their F-4 Phantoms in an attack on a steel mill in North Vietnam on March 10, 1967. The other Phantom’s fuel tank was hit and emptying rapidly. Pardo maneuvered behind him, told him to lower his tailhook and began what was known as “Pardo’s Push.”

Bailing out would have meant capture and likely death for both crews but Pardo knew the other Phantom, flown by Capt. Earl Aman, would lose all its fuel long before they could get to friendly territory. Pardo nudged the frame around his windscreen up to the bottom of the hook and added power. Although it slipped free numerous times, Pardo was able to rejoin with the tailhook and extend the descent of the other aircraft just long enough for them both to cross the border into Laos where both crews ejected. They were picked up about two hours later by U.S. HH-53 helicopters.

The incredible feat of airmanship earned widespread accolades from the aviation community but left the U.S. military in a quandary. “[They] “didn’t know whether to court-martial me or pin a medal on my chest,” Pardo said in a 1996 interview. Standard operating procedure would have been to save himself, his backseater and his airplane by hightailing it back to his base in Thailand, but Pardo was having none of that. “How can you fly off and leave someone you just fought a battle with?” he wondered in a 1996 interview with Air & Space Forces Magazine. “The thought never occurred to me.” Wing Commander Robin Olds managed to officially sweep the incident under the rug, but that meant the Air Force would not formally recognize the pilots’ exploits. That was fixed in 1989 when Congress awarded Pardo and his weapons systems operator each the Silver Star.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

10 COMMENTS

  1. This mission and Bob Pardo saving his wingman is similar in that Bernard Fisher landed his Skyraider under heavy fire to save a fellow pilot who had been shot down and landing in enemy territory. Incredible stories of loyalty and heroism and one of my favorites is Bat 21. A true story of the recovery and rescue effort of Iceal Hambleton in the Easter Offensive 1972 Vietnam. I read this account while on a long, cold winter layover in Cleveland completing the book before the van ride back to the airport. Col. Hambleton retired in Tucson and my very next layover on the three day trip was in TUS. I gave him a call that night and we talked about our experience in the Easter Offensive. As usual, the book is far more riveting than the movie.

    While Bob Hoover’s escape via a German fighter he found after evading the prison guards is remarkable and so characteristic of his flying career, another event which is notable describes a German fighter escorting a badly damaged B-17 across the English channel described in “A Higher Call”.

  2. Air Force pilot Robbie Risner, during the Korean War, managed to push his wingmans’ F86, who was also leaking fuel, out of North Korea. Unfortunately when his wingman ejected he got tangled up in his parachute lines in the water and drowned. This was also kept quiet by the Air Force so Bob Pardo didn’t know about that when he saved his wingman in Vietnam.

    RIP to Mr. Pardo.

  3. My dad and Bob were friends from the Air Force and I was able to get to know Bob a little in the 1980’s. He was selling copies of his “Pardo’s Push” painting to raise money for his backseater to help him with some health issues and I purchased a signed copy which I proudly display in my bar. It’s always interesting to me how attitudes change over time as society changes. At the time I knew Bob he was still not appreciated by the AF brass to say the least. They had wanted to hang him as an example to all the AF that sacrificing an airplane for a wingman was explicitly not acceptable. Fast forward a few years and “new thinking” came to realize that Bob showed incredible leadership, airmanship, heroism and courage not to mention “out of the box thinking” (not desired by the AF) that day. He was eventually awarded the Silver Star for his actions that day and the “push” became a shinning example for the AF for all the reasons above.

    Bob was a hell of a guy, hell of a pilot and a hero!
    Check 6 Bob.
    RIP Bob.

  4. I met Bob at the REAL 50th River Rat reunion in October in Bowling Green KY. He was quite frail at that time. At the time of the push it was Prohibited in AF regs to push another airplane with your airplane, following a attempt during Korea that resulted in both pilots getting killed. That is why the threat of Courts Marshal.

    Never leave your wingman behind if it is humanly possible to save them…….

    Then there is the story of Pardo’s “second push” as heartwarming as the first.

  5. I was watching a live broadcast on a TV network called TBN over 20 years ago which featured USAF Brigadier General James Robinson “Robbie” Risner as their main guest and General Risner told about performing this maneuver to his wingman during the Korean war, in 1952.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Robinson_Risner

    He and his wingman, (1st Lt. Joseph Logan), were 35 miles inside China strafing an airfield in F-86’s when, 1st Lt. Joseph Logan’s aircraft was struck with anti aircraft fire that hit his fuel tank.

    Logan told Risner he was losing fuel rapidly so General Risner told Logan to shut down his engine, Risner stuck the nose of his F-86 into Logan’s tail pipe and pushed him out over the sea near Cho Do where Logan bailed out – unfortunately Logan got tangled in his chute after landing in the sea and drowned.

  6. Airplanes are expensive, but easy to replace. Good pilots and crews are expensive to train and very hard to replace. You don’t leave your wingman behind. He did the right thing.

  7. Lots of lives and treasure in multi-million dollar packages left over there attacking ground targets of far less value…

  8. I enjoyed reading both the article and the responses given to it.
    The bravery of these pilots, and servicemen is nothing short of mind-boggling to most of us ordinary humans.
    But I can’t help thinking that creatures like Fonda still carry on to this day (without repercussion) as she was part of the terror of surviving capture by the N. Vietnamese at that time.
    Anyone else ponder this?

  9. My dad was a Marine Corp fighter pilot in WWII & Korea flying Corsairs both wars. Another pilot on one of his Korea missions got shot down and was in the middle of a frozen lake. My dad stayed on site and made repeated straffing runs on the enemy on the lake perimeter, keeping them at bay while a helicopter came and rescued the downed pilot. My dad got a Distinguished Flying Cross for that (1st of 2). He died about 2yrs ago at 99 and would still tear up talking about friends that didn’t make it back.

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