Pardo’s Push

Today we have a great example where an original commercial painting fulfils an important illustrative role of an event – not otherwise captured in the full colour movie and photo age of 1967. The Vietnam War. It required artist Ken Dallison in Esquire to bring the event to us in pictorial form.


The story is remarkable; amazingly not unique (see below*) but where one airman pushed his powerless wingman’s aircraft to safety, by pushing with his windscreen against his wingman’s lowered arrestor hook. In the first McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom was Captain Bob Pardo (with Weapon System Officer 1st Lt Steve Wayne) and in the second wingman Captain Earl Aman (with Weapon System Officer 1st Lt Robert Houghton). An extract from History Net:

“Although his comrades in the front fighter were now convinced there was no choice but to bail out in enemy territory, Pardo would not give up. He radioed seemingly impossible instructions to Aman: Drop your tailhook, and we’ll push you out of here!
The suggestion was mind blowing. The steel tailhook was designed to be used only for emergency landings to snag barrier cables and break the plane’s forward momentum–as in the U.S. Navy procedure for landing on an aircraft carrier. But to use the tailhook to push a crippled aircraft while still in the air? What Pardo was planning to do had never been tried.

Flying at 300 miles per hour, Pardo carefully brought his plane’s nose up under the rear end of the other plane to nudge his inch-thick glass windscreen against the tailhook. Any pushing had to be done with utmost care. If the glass broke, the tailhook would smash into Pardo’s face. Pardo cautiously began to push his windscreen against Aman’s tailhook for a few seconds at a time, in each instance just until the force of turbulence thrust his plane aside. Nonetheless, Aman’s rate of descent began to slow.
Suddenly, cracks started to zigzag through Pardo’s windscreen. Pardo immediately backed his fighter off and tried a different approach. This time he positioned the tailhook against the square of metal at the junction of his windscreen and his radome. Carefully, Pardo continued to push the other fighter a few seconds at a time, until turbulence would once again brush Pardo’s plane aside. But the tactic was working. The rate of descent of Aman’s F-4 was cut from 3,000 to 1,500 feet per minute.”

The full story is worth a read. But back to the art. From the Facebook Today’s Inspiration Page, we have a copy of the artwork by a remarkable artist. Commercial illustration can sometimes be seen as an extra, but in this case, I’d argue art is the only way to really envisage a remarkable otherwise visually undocumented event.

Update: On the ModelArt Australia Facebook page, here, Bjorn Jacobsen posted his interpretation of the event, using two 1/48 scale F-4 models (he notes they’re not the right subtype, but another great way of illustrating the story. Bjorn’s photos above and below.

James Kightly, Vintage Aero Writer.

* I’d thought Pardo’s effort was unique, but another United States Air Force airman did a similar job in the earlier Korean War. Despite James Risner’s effort being successful, his colleague was entangled in his parachute shrouds after bailing out, and was killed. Story on Wiki here.

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