“Mother Henning” a flight of F-4s from Thailand to Kadena, Okinawa

By: Stan Jones, Lt Col, USAF (Ret)

In 1969, I was assigned to the 904th Air refueling Squadron at Mather AFB, CA, navigating KC-135 aerial tankers. During that year I spent three months TDY in Southeast Asia, supporting SAC operations in that region. On one mission, we were “Mother Henning” a flight of F-4s from Thailand to Kadena, Okinawa.

A flight of U.S. Air Force F-4C Phantom fighter bombers refuel from a KC-135 tanker aircraft prior to making a strike against communist targets in North Vietnam. The Phantoms are fully loaded with 750 pound general purpose bombs and rockets. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The KC-135, at that time, had minimal navigation aids, basically Celestial (sun, moon, and stars) and Dead Reckoning. I knew that the F-4 had the latest Inertial Navigation System, supposedly accurate to within a few hundred feet of the aircraft’s actual position on the globe. So, as we progressed along our route, I would call the WSO in the lead F-4 to confirm my navigation and my understanding of our position as we crossed the various check points. For example, I would say “I have us crossing checkpoint Alpha at 0300 Zulu, 8 miles east of course”, what do you show? The WSO would answer “I agree but I have us only 5 miles east of course and I show us over the checkpoint at 0228 Zulu. This went on at every checkpoint. I would give my estimate of our position and the F-4 WSO would invariably come back saying he had us a few miles different and a few minutes earlier or later than I did. Eventually, I started to doubt my navigational abilities.

When we landed at Kadena, I met the WSO I had been talking to and saw that what he was using to plot his positions on was a chart approximately 5 inches by 7 inches on his knee pad! This “mini chart” covered the whole route from Thailand to Kadena! How in the world could he be telling me my navigation was a few miles or a few minutes off? The point of his pencil was wider than the differences he was claiming! My self-confidence was restored.

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