With 16-hours of flight time under his belt in a North American F-100 “Super Sabre” during flight training at Craig Air Force Base in Selma, Ala. in 1966, Bob Hardy who was a 26-year-old Air Force captain at the time, got the scare of his life.
“There were four of us flying this mission in F-100s practicing on the bombing range. I had just finished my bombing run and was flying back to base with my after-burners going full blast when I lost control of my airplane,” Hardy recalled. “My throttle cable had become disconnected and I had no control over the engine.
“I was supposed to rejoin our unit in formation over Craig,” he said. “I flew past the formation at 300 mph. out of control. My first thought was, ‘I’m gonna have to bail out.’ But then I rolled the fighter and started turning while pulling 6.5 Gs. That started slowing me down fast.
“I got the airplane flying slow enough I could put down the landing gear. That slowed me down some more. When I got down to flap-down speed I put them down, too. With my speed slowing with my gears down, flaps-down and using my speed brakes while turning some more I got the speed down to about 230 knots as I made my descent.
“While all this was going on I contacted my group commander. He told me to take the plane out over water and jump out. It was a perfectly good fighter plane, I wasn’t going to bail out.
“The base contacted me and after checking my files and seeing I had only 16 hours of flight time in an F-100 and they suggested I jump out, too. However, they said if I wanted to try and land it at Craig I could give it a shot.
“Of course I’m thinking I’m the best fighter pilot there ever was. I wasn’t going to bail out,” Hardy said. “As I was coming in over the overrun on the runway I shut off the master switch and the F-100 just about stopped flying. It glided to a smooth landing without a hitch.
“When I think back on that landing, even today, I think, ‘You dumb son of a gun, you should have bailed out of that plane instead of trying to land it. It was an old airplane and they were taking them out of their inventory. I really risked my neck by doing what I did.”
After flight training in Alabama, Capt. Hardy was sent to Vietnam with a squadron of F-100s.
“I arrived in Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base outside of Saigon the day after the ‘Tet Offensive’ started. When we taxied up to the terminal it was on fire. That was my introduction to Vietnam,” he said. “We were sent to Bien Hoa, South Vietnam. That’s where we flew our F-100 out of as part of the 510th Fighter Squadron.
“I flew 245 combat missions that totaled 303 combat hours,” Hardy said. “The mission I remember best is the one where we were providing close air support for 10 C-123s that were spraying Agent Orange defoliant on the jungle below.
“They were flying maybe 200 feet above the jungle and taking a lot of ground fire. Our 12 F-100s were dropping white phosphorous cluster bombs in front of them to suppress the ground fire.
“At that moment one of our C-123s got shot down. I can still see it. One of the engines on the plane came off its mount as the pilot attempted to pull up out of the formation trying to gain altitude. The aircraft rolled over and plunged into the ground. All were killed.
“A minute after that, while I was dropping cluster bombs flying 50-feet above the tree tops at 500 mph, I was hit by enemy ground fire. I needed another pilot to look my aircraft over while I was still in the air an assess the damage. That’s the first thing you did after you were hit.
“My flying buddy moved in and told me I was leaking fuel underneath one of my wings. I told him to move away so I could jettison all of the ordinance off my wings so it would help reduce the drag in my aircraft.
“I flew out over the Sea of Japan and headed north toward Bien Hoa. It was obvious I wasn’t going to make it because of my fuel leak. I could bail out over the sea, but that was very risky. I knew I wasn’t going to jump out over enemy territory either.
“Then I remembered there was an Emergency Recovery Base half way between where I was and Bien Hoa. I might be able to make the recovery base runway with luck,” Hardy though to himself. “But it only had a short steel plated runway. It was all I had.
“I started my descent and landed straight in with no trouble. Then I taxied to the parking area. Just out of curiosity I checked how much fuel I had in my tank,” he said. “There was no measurable fuel in the tank.
“That was probably my most memorable combat mission.
“After Vietnam I became an instructor pilot with Air Training Command at Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Ga. I was a T-37 instructor pilot teaching young kids how to fly airplanes. By the end of my three years at Moody I was promoted to major and became the flight commander of the training squadron teaching about 40 students how to fly.
Hardy left Moody in 1972 and he went back to the Tactical Air Command where he volunteered to go back to Vietnam. Initially he was assigned to fly missions over Vietnam out of a base in Thailand. Before he could reach the war zone he was reassigned to Korea.
His job was much like Vietnam without the bullets. Hardy flew Nuclear Strike Alert or Air Defense Alert missions.
“Often the Russians would send down an reconnaissance bomber to check us out. Our guys would fly up to meet him in our F-100s. We’d fly real close to them and our guy in the back seat would take pictures with a 35 mm camera of the Russian plane,” he recalled. We’d wave and they’d wave and we’d both fly back to base.
“After two years in Korea I was reassigned to Spangdahlem, Germany. It was a gorgeous place,” he said. “Our mission was similar to what it was in Korea. We were to support NATO’s air defenses since the ‘Cold War’ was still on.
“We had two F-100s on Nuclear Strike Alert and two more on Air Defense Alert. Our targets were marshaling areas for ‘Warsaw Pact’ ground forces. We were still flying F-100s and I was in Germany for four years.
“One of our jobs was to maintain the air defense of our nuclear weapons in any kind of weather in Germany. It was on one of these missions when I was leading a flight of two F-100s on a night run in rainy, cold weather when things started going wrong.
“I was about halfway through my low level bomb run in terrible weather when the guy in the back seat seat said, ‘Oh Hell.’ A light turned on in front of him that indicated our hydraulics had gone out. The hydraulics controlled my flaps, my speed breaks and my landing gear. You could still fly the airplane, but getting it on the ground was a problem. The problem with the airplane was that once it was on the ground you couldn’t control it.
He headed back to base, which was 100 miles away. He thought if they could get back to base he could arrest the air speed with a hook on the back of the plane that could catch a cable run across the runway. If it didn’t catch the cable there was another way of stopping the plane. There was what they called a ‘Rabbit Catcher,’ a big net that spread across the runway for a situation like this.
“The weather was miserable—rainy, cold and wet. We made a beautiful touchdown, but our hook didn’t catch the cable—it malfunctioned,” Hardy said. “I had 10,000 feet of runway in front of me, but I couldn’t control the plane. Unfortunately we had a 20-knot crosswind. A second after we landed the plane started running off the runway. The only way I had to control it was by using my differential breaking. I touched the right brake gently and one of my tires blew out.
“When it did the plane slid off the runway to the right and half ground looped as it got stuck in the mud. As soon as it hit the mud our landing gear collapsed and it slapped down hard breaking both wings.
“Fortunately for us it didn’t roll over. We popped the canopy and climbed out over the nose of the airplane,” he said.
“After my time in Germany I was assigned to Fighter Weapons Center at Nellis Air Force base in Las Vegas, NV. It was there I became a lieutenant colonel and was part of a study group that studied future weapons systems like the smart bomb.
“It became apparent, if you had a more accurate weapons system you didn’t need as many bombs to kill people,” Hardy explained.
He retired from the Air Force after his time at Nellis in 1980, but he didn’t stop flying. Shortly after he became a civilian Hardy went to work with American Airlines. For the next 14 years he flew for them starting as a navigator and worked his way up to captain flying Boeing 727s, A-300 Air Buses, Boeing-757s and 765s.
In 1999 he bought his home in Port Charlotte and moved down here with his wife, Elizabeth, a year later.
Name: Robert Alvin Hardy
D.O.B: 5 Feb. 1940
Hometown: Fort Myers, Fla.
Currently: Port Charlotte, Fla.
Entered Service: September 1960
Discharged: September 1980
Rank: Lieutenant Colonel
Unit: 510th Fighter Squadron
Commendations: Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal w/14 OLC, Vietnam Service Medal, w/3 BSS, Naional Defense Sevice Medal, Air Force Longevity Service Ribbon w/4 OLC, Good Conduct Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon, Republic Vietnam Gallantry Cross with DV, Republic Vietnam Campaign Medal, Air Fore Presidenial Unit Citation.
Battles/Campaigns: Vietnam War, Cold War
This story was first published in the North Port Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Oct. 17, 2016 and is republished with permission.
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