A-1E & F-105D PILOT
602nd AIR COMMANDO SQUADRON & 333rd TFS
BIEN HOA, VIETNAM & TAKHLI AFB, THAILAND
Charles Vasiliades is probably one of the most combat-proven Greek Americans in the USAF. However, this tribute to Charles's service in USAF and his Greek heritage is only partially researched from our team, especially finding details of his roots with his family members. The honor belongs to the late Robert Dorr, an exceptional researcher, and author who was one of the most respected aviation historians worldwide. Without him, we would probably not know Charles in Greece. Robert interviewed the Greek-American pilot many times and wrote about him in his books and various articles in some of the most known and respected aviation magazines. He became a close friend to Charles and his family. So, along Vasiliades we would also like to tribute and honor a great man whose work inspired a new generation of researchers including myself. Although called Charlie by his beloved wife Joan, every other person in the universe called Vasiliadis as Vas, after all, it was easier for the non-Greeks to pronounce his surname. In the inner sanctum of the fighter pilot fraternity, they knew Vas as a stick-and-rudder guy and a combat leader. Born on June 2, 1928, in Huntington, Long Island, New York, Vas was the strapping embodiment of his ebullient Greek origins. He was the son of Constantine Vasiliades (known as Costa) and Sofia Kyriages. Costa heritage was from Artaki, Asia Minor, his father named Nicholas and mother Aspasia (Charles grandparents). Nicholas and Aspasia had four children, Yanni (who moved in NY), Costa, Malamatenia (left during the Asia Minor Catastrophe, and immigrated to the United States (NY) and Evdoxos who moved in Greece, first in Thessaloniki and later Nea Philadelphia Athens. They were in the Silk business and trade business. They were respected and well-liked… this saved his son Evdoxos' life… as he was almost shot to death in a round-up of Greeks, however, Nicholas died before the Catastrophe. Costa came in the United States just before the Catastrophe, in 1921 following his brother in NY. While he was studying at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn during 1922, Costa received a shocking telegram, “My son we have lost everything; you are our only hope.” That would enable him to find a side job in Brooklyn to help his mother and sister Malamatenia and bring them to the U.S. Sofia (or Spudzie as he was called often while in States) was born in Samos island in 1904 and at age of five her parents with her brother George emigrated to Pittsburg, PA and a year or two later moved to New York. The young Greek immigrants, Costa and Sofia married and stayed in the New York area where they created a large family, having four children, Nick, Charlie, Gus, and Marjorie.Charles showed his love for aviation from his early days. Vas entered the USAF in 1951 as an aviation cadet in Flying Class 52-G. A 6ft, bronzed package of energy, he was soon pegged as a non-conformist — and was set back a class.
"I violated regulations during a buddy flight in the T-28A when I tried to demonstrate a double Immelmann. On my third attempt, I got as high as 14,000ft, pushed everything forward — throttle, mixture, and prop — and dived to 2,000ft at 340 kt. The T-28 was 'red-lined' at 270 kt. finished one Immelmann and started the second. I only accomplished a half-assed loop. During the dive, I'd detected the graduated flap handle was down. My back-seater, Jim Cost, had put the flaps down. I admonished him that I was flying the goddamn airplane and to keep his mitts off. I retracted the flaps. Unfortunately, I didn't get the flaps all the way up. They halted in the 1/8 down position. 'Investigation revealed that I tore the flap actuator out, wrinkled the flaps, and popped several rivets from the wing. I was grounded and met a flying evaluation board. I was going to be kicked out. Fortunately, my instructors went to bat for me".
After flying the T-33A Shooting Star, Vas won second lieutenant's bars and silver pilot wings with Flying Class 52-H in 1952. Regarding the Shooting star he stated: "We never thought much about the T-33. It was little like my mother, or my car, or my house. It was just there".
However, the F-86 Sabre was the inspiration for Vas's first priority. The first time he saw a Sabre when it was racking up a nine to one kill ratio over the MiG-15 in Korea, he wanted to fly it. "I wanted to fight in Korea, I wanted to kill MiGs", he said. He did neither. The Korean armistice was inked on July 27, 1953, just as Vas was learning the F-86A and F-86F Sabre.
"While preparing to take off from Nellis AFB, Nevada, followed by air ace Maj Brooks 'Pappy' Liles (who had one aerial victory in WW2 and four in Korea), our two F-86A’s turned at the hammerhead, ready for take-off, when it struck me, abruptly, that I had absolutely no idea how to close the Sabre's canopy. I had succumbed to the temptations of nearby Las Vegas last night instead of studying. I knew just enough to be dead certain that you could not fly the Sabre with the canopy open.
Liles: "Rattler 1', what the hell's the matter with you?'
Vas:'Uh, just one moment please, sir. Er, I mean,'Rattler 2"
"Squirming, I struggled desperately to remember whether anyone had ever told me how to shut the goddamned thing. I dared not risk becoming the butt of ill-tempered joshing — perhaps for my entire career — if I had to ask Liles how to close my canopy. I believe that divine intervention helped me find the switch. I closed the canopy and we took off."
Vas was assigned to the 50th Fighter-Bomber Wing at Clovis (later, Cannon) AFB, New Mexico. With leaders like Col Fred J. Ascani and Lt Col Charles E.'Chuck Yeager, the 50th made the Fox Able 27 transatlantic deployment in F-86Fs and set up shop on August 11, 1953, at Hahn AB, Germany. The wing converted to the more powerful, more heavily armed F-86H Sabre in 1956.
"We were going to defend the plains of Europe against a Soviet armored invasion"
Instead, nonconformist Vas was again defending himself. In January 1956, on just his fourth flight in the F-86H model, Vas was demonstrating low-level aggressiveness when he clipped an electrical cable at Brindisi, Italy.
"I caught 23,000 volts right across the nose. It put indentations on the air intake. Then the wire snapped. It ricocheted off my right wing and put a dent in the leading edge."
Brindisi was plunged into darkness for 36 hours. Returning to Hahn, Vas was summoned by the wing commander.
"Ascani knew from a well-established record of good performance that I was a good pilot and a serious officer. I was about to take off my wings and give them to Fred J. Ascani and tell him it's about time I went back home and became a lawyer, like my wife. But Ascani treated me so humanely and made me feel like such a dumb shit, that I was overjoyed when they allowed me to stay in the Air Force."
Vas later said he took an F-86H to an unprecedented 63,000ft and was rebuked for it. His figure may be an exaggeration but he may have flown a Sabre higher than anyone else. As a captain, Charles Vasiliadis flew the F-100C and F-100D Super Sabre ('an incredibly stable gun platform'). Although designed as a supersonic dogfighter, the Hun’s eight-year career as an attack bomber created a legend in the skies over Southeast Asia. By the time the last combat F-100 departed Vietnam in 1971, Super Sabres had flown 360,283 combat sorties, losing 186 F-100s to anti-aircraft fire, none to MiGs, seven during Viet Cong assaults on its airbases, and 45 to operational accidents.
"We never thought we’d be doing air-to-ground in a stinking Southeast Asia backwater,” recalled Col. Charles Vasiliadis. “We never thought our ‘silver bullet’ of a fighter would eventually be painted the green-brown color of a Vietnamese swamp."
Left: The photos on the left side are from Charles Vasiliadis personal archives and except his portrait shows two of the four fighters he flew while serving in the USAF. Although Vas is known for his operational flying in Vietnam with the A-1H Skyraider and the F-105D Thunderchief he also flew the F-100 Super Sabre and the F-86H. In fact, the latter one became an inspiration for him, as he grew up along with the Korean War and the dogfight stories over the Yalu River. If he didn't fly the Skyraider he would probably fly either the F-105 from the beginning of his tour in Vietnam or the F-100 in which he had experience on type. After all the F-100 was the pioneer fighter-bomber in many roles in Vietnam which were succeeded by the 'Thud', however it was used almost to the end, especially in the Close Air Support (CAS) role. (Charles Vasiliadis Archive)
While flying with 602nd Fighter Squadron (Commando) Charles engaged in heavy fighting flying the famous A-1E Skyraider, usually having a South Vietnamese observer sitting next to him in the fighter-bombers tandem cockpit. In fact, he was the USAF pilot with the most combat missions on the type in one tour, specifically 540! Able to carry more payload than a four-engine B-17 Flying Fortress, the single-engine AD (later A-1) Skyraider was considered one of the finest attack and close air support aircraft ever built. Skyraiders proved critical during the Korean War, striking heavily defended industrial areas and key targets such as the Hwachon Dam. After the Korean War, Skyraiders continued to serve in multiple roles. Some AD pilots trained for nuclear war, practicing long-range flights to deliver nuclear bombs at low altitude. By the time of the Vietnam War, more modern aircraft had begun to assume the attack mission in Naval Aviation. Though the transfer of A-1s to the Republic of Vietnam Air Force began as early as 1960, A-1s continued to fly in the U.S. Navy. A-1s were part of the first attacks against North Vietnam following the Tonkin Gulf Incident and in June 1965, a pair of Skyraiders shot down a North Vietnamese MiG-17 in air-to-air combat. In 1968, when increasingly sophisticated anti-aircraft defenses proved too hazardous for the slow "Spads," Navy A-1s ceased flying attack missions, though they continued to operate in the electronic countermeasures role until 1972. All told, 3,180 Skyraiders rolled off the Douglas Aircraft Company assembly line. (Profile Copyright by Tom Cooper, further info from National Naval Aviation Museum)
He became one of the first F-105 Thunderchief pilots in the early 1960s. Americans had begun to participate in what seemed, at first, to be a small and romantic war in South-east Asia. Angry about missing Korea by only months, Vas began lobbying for combat duty in Vietnam. Joan Vasiliadis lent her support, she had no doubt that Vas wanted to fly and fight. Then came the shock.
"The brass came to me and said, 'We want you to fly an old, slow, propeller airplane that wheezes and belches. 'l told them, 'I'm not going to fly anything with a propeller. I'm a real man. Real men fly jets."
Vas was at Headquarters Tactical Air Command, Langley AFB, Virginia.
"Ί wanted to keep flying the 'Thud' but there was this war brewing and I had missed the previous war by only a few months. I was crushed when I realized they were flying propeller airplanes over there. Ί twisted the arm of Brig Gen 'Boom Boom' Putnam, the TAC personnel officer. I'm a red-blooded fighter pilot and I want to be in the only war we have". He said, "Vas, I don't give a goddamn if you're the f***ing Pope. The only way you're going to get to Vietnam is to fly the A-1E Skyraider". That was before we had jets in Vietnam. So in August 1964, I tacked my jet-jock ego between my leg and went to Hurlburt Field, Florida, for A-1E transition training. My wife gave birth to our second son Mark while I was learning on the A-1E, so it was a hectic time. Airmen dubbed the A-1E the 'Spad'.Pilots cursed the way the 20mm cannon heated, melted down, and sometimes set the wing on fire. The aircraft dripped so much oil that pilots feared slipping and falling on the flight line."
Vass remembers a mechanic telling him that the inside of the Skyraider's wings was a labyrinth of mystery. Over the years, the airplanes had been wired and re-wired so many times, nobody could remember what some of the wires were for. Regarding the Skyraider Vas said:
“It was a brute. As for that Wright R-3350 engine, it was reliable enough but was a terror to work on. Anything was king-sized and in large numbers — seven nose-mounted magnetos, which were practically inaccessible, a carburetor as big as a 15in vision set. It took three sturdy young airmen to pull the four-bladed propeller through every morning for pre-flight. But, oh was it powerful! You could just leap out of our parking space. The take-off roll was the trajectory of an artillery shell. I got to Bien Hoa in November 1964. In those days we were 'advisors'. Under the rules, we had to carry a South Vietnamese observer with us on every flight. We had one guy who was the observer everyone wanted, he could sleep no matter how abruptly you were maneuvering. That meant he wasn’t in the way when you carried out your ‘adviser’ duties by strafing and bombing the Viet Cong. But the truth is we were flying that muscular machine in combat. I would carry two 750lb and six 500 lb cans of napalm, plus a couple of bombs and a couple of tanks, and I would just ease back the throttle and loiter until they needed us. I remember circling up near the la Drang Valley, where our cavalrymen later fought North Vietnamese regulars, and it started to feel like the airplane could stay in the air longer than we could. Capt Dafford 'Jump' Myers would complain to me, I don't think we can stay in the air much longer. My ass is getting really sore".
Myers was later the downed pilot rescued by Maj Bernard Fisher in a daring pick-up under fire that earned Fisher the Medal of Honor. From 11 December 1964 to 12 April 1965 Captain Vasiliadis led flights of A-1E fighters in support of the Vietnamese Forces, with complete disregard for his personal safety, aggressively attacked, and destroyed heavily armed and fortified hostile positions. Also against the odds, he landed twice his crippled from enemy fire A-1E fighter on short, ill-prepared runways. These actions earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross. He continued flying endlessly and on 19 August 1965. Vasiliadis was scrambled on a night mission to aid in the defense of the Dak Sut Fort which was under heavy attack by a large force of Viet Cong. Not to be deterred by heavy cloud cover and mountainous terrain surrounding the battle scene, Captain Vasiliadis pressed his attack against the Viet Cong positions in the face of withering automatic weapons fire to strafe and bomb with devastating accuracy. A Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster in lieu of a Second Award of the Distinguished Flying Cross with Combat "V" was awarded to him. Vas had scarcely arrived at Bien Hoa when the place blew up. And the Viet Cong had nothing to do with it. “The base was jinxed'. The previous Halloween, a Viet Cong mortar attack destroyed five B-57 Canberra bombers and damaged 13. Now, on May 16, 1965, "The whole place went to pieces around us, all at once". That Sunday morning at 08.00hrs, Capt Charles Fox started engines to lead 'Jade' Flight of four B-57s on a strike mission. Fox's twin-jet bomber was carrying a typical load — nine 500 lb bombs in the Canberra's internal bay and four 750 lb bombs under the wings. One moment, there was no hint anything was wrong. The next, Fox's aircraft exploded with a brilliant flash and a shattering concussion that sent shrapnel raining along the Bien Hoa flight line. Capt Floward Greene, pilot of the nearby B-57 using the call sign 'Jade 4', led his backseater in abandoning their aircraft. Greene, his seat parachute flapping against his hind side, sprinted past fuel storage bladders, leaped over concertina barbed wire, and dived into a ditch just as more explosions reverberated. The fuel bladders, perforated by flying metal, sent aviation fuel pouring into multiple explosions and fires. Vas, now assigned to the 34th Tactical Group (soon to be renamed the 1st Air Commando Squadron), was in his 'hooch'(billet) when the first explosion resounded. "The ramp blew up, I poked my head out and saw a lot of smoke. I grabbed my M16 rifle and ran outside." Vas scurried from his cantonment to the ramp, climbed into a 'Spad', did an emergency engine start without the usual warm-up, and taxied the airplane out of the way of the spreading fires. Over the next few minutes, he and other pilots saved five A-1 s by taxing them to safety. New explosions shook Bien Hoa as B-57s went up, bombs exploded, and 20mm cannon shells cooked off. Fox and six other B-57 crewmen in 'Jade' Flight were among those who died in the gaseous, flaming carnage. The reverberations sent an entire J65 jet engine flying for half a mile. In all, 28 men were killed and 105 wounded. Aircraft totally destroyed were 10 B-57s, 11 A-1 s, and a US Navy F-8 Crusader. Vas and others drew little comfort that human error, not the foe, had touched off the carnage. The official finding was that the conflagration was caused by faulty fuses attached to the bombs aboard Fox's B-57. Flying the A-1E Skyraider often meant going eyeball-to-eyeball with the enemy. One of Vas's squadron mates returned to Bien Hoa with pieces of a Viet Cong soldier embedded in his engine cowling. Another painted the words 'F**K COMMUNISM' on the side of a 1,000lb bomb. But it wasn't enough for Vas. He hitched a flight in an 0-1 Bird Dog carrying an M16 rifle.
"I popped off at them with the M16. I didn't hit much but we called up some Skyraiders, marked the VC with smoke, and guided the Skyraiders in."
Charles kept flying the A-1E and the propeller-driven fighter bomber earned his trust.
"That Skyraider was one tough bird, but when you were down low, you could get hit by almost anything. There was a lot of metal flying around over the battle lines in Vietnam."
Vas flew 540 combat sorties in the A-1E!
Right: More photos from Charles Archive during his service with the Air Commandos in Vietnam. The 602nd Fighter Squadron (Commando) was activated in May 1964 for the Vietnam War, and along with the 1st Air Commando Squadron, was a part of the 34th Tactical Group. The squadron became operational at Bien Hoa Air Base on 15 October 1964. By 1966 the squadron had been renamed the 602nd Air Commando Squadron and moved, first to Nha Trang Air Base in South Vietnam, and then to Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand. In March 1968 it moved again to Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Navy Base. On 1 August 1968 it was redesignated the 602nd Special Operations Squadron, and was inactivated on 31 December 1970 at Nakhon Phanom. The original Squadron patch was drawn by Walt Disney in 1944. The sky was blue with a wisp of cloud behind the left wing of the eagle. No call sign was mounted above the patch.The squadron operated A-1 Skyraiders under the call sign "Firefly". Their daylight task was the primary one of combat search and rescue of air crew downed in the Kingdom of Laos. A secondary task was night operations as flareships supporting the Hmong guerrillas of General Vang Pao's Clandestine Army in the Operation Barrel Roll area. At times, the squadron flew single ship sorties; they would also sometimes mark their own targets for their air strikes.(Charles Vasiliadis Archive further info from wikipedia)
In late 1965, he was offered a choice between instructing in A-1Es stateside or setting up a group at Kadena AB, Okinawa, to standardize F-105 operations in Vietnam. The war was no longer small. Now, F-105s were carrying the flight to Hanoi. Vas accepted the latter job, which included family housing on Okinawa, and began scrounging for temporary duty in South-East Asia with the warplane troops called the 'Thud'. Of 833 F-105 Thunderchiefs built, 682 F-105D and F-105F models flew in South-east Asia. Of these, 333 were lost in combat and 63 in accidents at a staggering 58 percent loss rate.
"When I came home from my first tour in Vietnam, Tactical Air Command was taking measures to standardize the tactical air force. A one-star, T. D. Robertson, was empowered by TAC commander Gen. Walter G. Sweeney Jr. to stand up a 4450th Stan Eval Group (standards and evaluation). T. D. Robertson says, “How about coming up here to TAC to be my F-105 systems officer? We’re going to write manuals on standardization, on how we’re going to standardize the takeoff, handling rules, and so on.” I say, “Okay.” I go up to TAC headquarters at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia. My wife, Joannie, is pregnant with our second son, Doug, so I ship her up to New York to live with her mother because we don’t have a house near Langley. I go up to Langley in December or January. Doug is born in February 1962. By then, I’ve bought a house near the base. Now, I’ve become the F-105 guy but just as I’m getting settled into the job, Col. Abner Aust wants me to become the A-1 Skyraider, flight examiner. They’re starting a tactics and techniques group. I promised Joannie I would come back home to America after my tour in the Skyraider in Southeast Asia, but now an opportunity to return to Asia opened up. I can stay at TAC and be the A-1 flight examiner or go to Okinawa and fly F-105s with the 6002nd Stan Eval Group. Those are the two choices they’ve given me. My previous tour in A-1s in Southeast Asia qualifies me on the housing list at Kadena. So I say no to the A-1 job. I say, “I’ll tell you what. I’m going to go with the F-105 at Kadena.” See, at this point in time, the F-105s are hitting North Vietnam. Earlier, when I was in Vietnam in Skyraiders, we weren’t bombing the north, so there was no chance for big-time missions with a robust jet like the F-105. Now, I want to go back to where the big boys are. I say, “Make me the F-105 Stan Eval officer at Kadena,” and they do it. I finish my tour at Langley. They send me TDY to someplace to bone up on the F-105. And then, we’re off to Okinawa. Not long after that, I’m in Thailand flying the Thud against targets in North Vietnam."
Once more the Greek American pilot excelled himself. He joined the 333d Tactical Fighter Squadron and began flying countless missions over the North. On 4 November 1966, Major Vasiliadis was element lead in a four-ship flight of F-105s whose mission was to suppress anti-aircraft fire on a high priority target located on the Northeast Railroad. Despite extremely heavy barrages of all caliber anti-aircraft fire and surface-to-air missile firings from the interlocking surface-to-air missile defenses in the area, Vasiliadis released his flak suppression ordnance directly on a firing 85-millimeter site causing its destruction. The effective flak suppression rendered by Charles and his flight contributed directly to the destruction of this high priority target. For his gallantry action, he was awarded the Silver Star. Almost one and a half months later, on 19 December 1966, Major Vasiliadis was element lead on a flight directed against a heavily defended target. After successfully evading the launch of three surface-to-air missiles and an attack by four hostile aircraft while en route to the target and despite the withering ground fire in the target area, he successfully and accurately delivered his ordnance on target. On the egress route, the flight also strafed and destroyed a hostile radar site! Although he didn't get an immediate award he was honored for his actions next year when he was presented with a Fourth Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster in lieu of a Fifth Award of the Distinguished Flying Cross. On 26 March 1967 Vasiliadis was number two in the lead flight of a force directed against an important hostile supply depot in North Vietnam. In that target area, he encountered heavy hostile defenses but was successful in attacking the target and its defending flak sites. While pulling off the target, his leader encountered and attacked a superior number of MiG-17 aircraft, destroying one. He remained in the target area with his leader, at great risk to himself, to act as MiG Cap for the strike force. His actions during that mission earned him a Second Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster in lieu of a Third Award of the Distinguished Flying Cross. The star of Vas keep rising On April 25, 1967, his actions earned him a Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster in lieu of a Second Award of the Silver Star! Five days later on 30 April 1967, Major Vasiliadis was number four in a strike flight directed against a vital railroad yard. En route to the target, the flight was attacked by MiGs but despite their determined pursuit, Major Vasiliadis retained his ordnance and continued to the target. Again, in the bomb run, Major Vasiliadis was attacked by another hostile aircraft, amid heavy flak bursting on all sides, but with calm determination, he released his ordnance directly on target. A third Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster in lieu of a Fourth Award of the Distinguished Flying Cross with Combat "V" will be attached to his uniform. According to the Greek American pilot:
"The F-105 was a great aircraft, and I was privileged not only to fly it but also to be one of the early guys on the airplane. My experience with the F-105 actually predates my Vietnam combat tour in the propeller-driven A-1 Skyraider. I flew the F-105 at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, in the early 1960s."
"On May 3, 1967, they brief us for three targets. The weather is crappy. The primary target is somewhere around Route Package 6, near Hanoi. The first alternate was on the other side of Thud Ridge, that long string of mountain slopes near Hanoi. The second alternate was Dien Bien Phu. We were flying near Son La on Route 6, the main highway into China. I was flying number two on Tom Leeson. Jim Baldwin was number three and Mac Houston was number four. We dropped our bombs on the second alternate and were in a turn near Son La when we saw truck tracks going from the highway into a clump of trees. We still have a full load of 20-millimeter. We can strafe them. So Tom Leeson goes in first. And he squirts. I’m behind him, and I’m checking because we’re not sure what we might encounter here. I’m checking along the left side, and then the right side, and I think, “Well, hell, I may as well squirt some, too.” This was a really easy mission, actually, or at least until I got shot down. So I strafed. I hosed the trees. I didn’t get any secondary explosions, so I couldn’t tell whether I was hitting stored petroleum, or munitions, or what. As I’m pulling on out and get my nose above the horizon, I start jinking left and right, and that’s when everything goes wrong. That’s when I think, “Uh-oh.” And that’s when Tom Leeson is signaling to me to bail out. I have to make a decision. I’m heading south, roughly 190 degrees. At least I’m going in the right direction, thank God for that. I see little hills to the southwest with a nice build-up of foliage. I say, “Well, I could slow down to three hundred knots, make a controlled ejection, and hope they can get me.” But those welcoming hills are awfully close to North Vietnamese troops. Then I think, “I’m too far north. I’ll end up a prisoner of war. And I don’t know when this stupid war is going to be over. So I think I’d better just take my chances and stay with this airplane.” So I plug in the afterburner. I hit the emergency jettison and clean up the airplane, and continue on 190 degrees. After the master caution light, the fire warning light comes on. The light warning that my landing gear isn’t safely locked comes on, too, which might mean my wheels could pop out into the airstream. I say to myself, “I don’t know how long this airplane is going to stay like this.” By now, I know it’s a hydraulic fire. Leeson has moved over to my left side. I have gone up possibly another thousand feet. I’m supersonic at about 17,000 feet (5180 meters), and my F-105’s central air data computer is still working, but Leeson is using hand signals to tell me: "Eject now! Get out, now!" But I’m saying to myself, "I’m moving at eleven or twelve miles per minute." That’s how fast I’m moving toward being safe from a lot of people who want to kill me. I’m thinking, “I must be getting close to Laos." I’m flying at 535 knots now, and a safe bailout speed is 300. The F-105’s gear-down speed is 275 knots. So if my gear flops down when I don’t want it to, who cares? I’ll be gone by then." My number-two hydraulic system is still working after number one failed, and I’m still thinking I can keep humming on down and getting farther south. I think, "I’ve got a tailhook. I’ll try to make it to Udorn [Thailand] and use my hook to catch the mid-field barrier"—because I know I don’t have any brakes or anything like that. But Leeson is watching my airplane melt around me, because it’s a hydraulic fire, not a fuel fire, and he’s still gesturing: “Vas, get the hell out, now!” I’m still thinking, "I’m going to fly a little longer,” when the airplane pitches down. It yawed hard to the right and pitched down. I applied full left stick and full left rudder. The stick locked, and that’s when I knew I’d lost every system in the airplane, so I went for the ejection handle, put my head back, and bailed out at about 535 knots. You are not supposed to eject from an F-105 when flying that fast. I remembered reading the manual where it cautioned that serious injury could result from bailing out at that speed. The canopy goes. And I’ll tell you something. Things slow down. Everything happens in slow motion. The canopy goes. I’ve got my hands in the right position and my head tucked, and I’m thinking, “Okay, the seat’s going to go in three-tenths of a second.” Then, all of a sudden, I’m seeing all this in slow motion. I feel the slipstream hitting me in the face, then on the shoulders, and then lower down, as the seat pushes me straight up out of the airplane. Everything seems to take an eternity. The seat separates from me and I’m free falling. I lose consciousness."
Above: Various images from Charles Vasiliadis archive during his tour as a 'Thud' pilot. Charles flew the F-105 before he was posted for duty to 602nd Air Commando Squadron. In fact, he did engage in live-fire testing of AIM-9s which were recently integrated to Thunderchiefs arsenal. According to an October 18, 1961 article in Pensacola News Journal: A "blind-flying” USAF supersonic aircraft equipped with a target seeker computer successfully intercepted and destroyed a pilotless target plane high over the Eglin Gulf Test Range recently. The mission was completed 12 1/2 minutes after aircraft "scramble". The Republic-built F-105 Thunderchief of the Tactical Air Command’s 335th Tactical Fighter Squadron at the Air Proving Ground Center remained under radar control during the entire flight. The F-105 pilot was never in visual contact with the QF-80 drone target. The QF-80, launched from the APGC’s Field 3, was destroyed by a "Sidewinder” heat-seeking, air-to-air missile launched from the F-105 which can fly at speeds twice the speed of sound (Mach 2). The purpose of the mission was to further test the F-105's blind intercept capabilities. The F-105 pilot was Capt. Charles C. Vasiliadis, 33, of Huntington, N. Y. The F-105 was directed by an Eglin Gulf Test Range tracking station to the target area where the aircraft's blind intercept system assumed direction. The F-105 is currently undergoing testing at APGC by the 335th TFS as an advanced weapon system for TAC. It is described as the world's most powerful one-man airplane and is capable of delivering nuclear weapons at speeds better than 1,400 m.p.h. regardless of weather conditions.
On May 3, 1967, 333rd TFS / 353rd TFW, Major Charles C. Vasiliadis flew the F-105D, 62-4405 as a member of a flight, in an armed recce mission near Son La, 100 miles to the west of Hanoi. Soon they spotted trucks on a road in some hills. The Greek American pilot went down to strafe the target but his fighter was hit by 37mm anti-aircraft fire. With the wings burning, Maj. Vasiliadis headed away from Son La but was forced to eject after a few minutes. Despite severe injuries to his left leg and hip during the ejection he evaded North Vietnamese troops and was rescued by an HH-3 'Jolly Green' like the ones he flew with while flying his A-1E during his service with the 602nd Air Commando Fighter Squadron. The injuries were caused because Vas was attempting to maintain control of the aircraft by keeping his foot on the rudder when he lost aileron control. As he ejected his leg hit the instrument panel and was badly shattered. (Profile Copyright by Tom Cooper, further info from Chris Hobson)
"I swear to God, while I’m unconscious floating through the air over North Vietnam, my mother talks to me. She says, “Charlie, my boy, please be careful. You know how I worry about you.” And I say to her, “Spudsie, don’t worry. Everything’s going to be alright.” And that’s when I come back from unconsciousness. This is happening at 8:00 A.M. in North Vietnam, which is 8:00 P.M. on the east coast of the United States. Later, I learn that at that exact moment halfway around the world, my mother is driving along a road in Long Island with my father and she says, “Dad, something has happened to Charlie. I just know it.” My father says, “Mama, don’t worry about Charlie. He can take care of himself.” Later on, I went over this story with my mother and father again and again, and you can, believe me, some kind of communication happened at that instant even though we have no human explanation for it. I’m free-falling into North Vietnam. Or is it Laos? I’m not sure. The aneroid barometer on my parachute is set to open a thousand feet above the highest terrain. So far, my chute hasn’t opened. I’m free-falling. And the pain is indescribable. My leg is coming out of my belly button. When I came out of the airplane, I had my left foot on the rudder. My foot was there because I was trying to hold the airplane steady. When I went for the ejection handle, I expected to be in the correct position when I went out of the airplane, but I wasn’t. The ejection seat has nylon rope leg garters that are supposed to pull your legs into the correct position for an ejection, but something went wrong with my left leg and it was battered on the way out of the F-105. Back at the plant where they made the airplane, they later redesign and rebuild the whole design because the leg garters didn’t work right during my ejection. After my ejection and their investigation at the plant, they discontinue the use of the leg garters—but that doesn’t help me now. There isn’t a nerve, a muscle, or a blood vessel intact in my leg. My left leg is a dead piece of meat. Finally, the parachute opens and I’m hanging there, and I’m in really awful pain. Tom Leeson’s F-105 is overhead. He’s trying to cover me.
When I’m free-falling, I’m in a cannonball. I’m cursing and moaning and clutching my gut because the pain is killing me. I don’t know my left leg was coming out of my belly button. I expect a hard fracture to the left femur, which is what normally happened to people that eject from F-105s. I say to myself, “Well, I know I’ve got an aneroid barometer that’s supposed to open my chute, but I’d better get my hand on the D-ring in case I’ll have to pull the ripcord.” So I put my hand on the D-ring and just at that moment the chute pops open. I go unconscious again. I regain consciousness again. I’m looking down. I will tell you, the countryside is gorgeous. I’m right on the border of North Vietnam and Laos—remember, I was thinking of making it to Udorn and landing on afterburner—and it’s a spectacular scene of color and beauty. So I come on down, and I see a stream and log huts. I’m trying to stick my ass in a sling, and I’m, really hurting, I’m, in pain, and I say to myself, “I think you’d better let yourself go back to being unconscious again.” I do. And I’ve awakened again with this sensation of oscillating. My parachute is oscillating. I say to myself, “Vas, you’ve got to resist the urge to go under. You’ve got to wake up and be ready for the PLF [parachute landing fall].” And I say, “Vas, take this arm and stick it between the risers and get into a good position here because your left leg is all fucked up.” I hit the ground hard. Evidently, the parachute gets a sudden blast of air inside the canopy and then deflates just as I hit, so I hit the ground really hard. Thank God I still have my helmet on, chin strap and all, because now I knock myself out again from the impact. And then I come to again, lying on the ground on a 45-degree incline. The parachute comes down right on top of me, with its orange and white panels against the green foliage, flowers, and elephant grass—so I’m laying there and I’m highly visible to anyone who might want to find me, which could mean rescue forces or North Vietnamese infantrymen. I wonder if the North Vietnamese appreciate us for those bright orange panels. Down in North Vietnam, My concern is, “Do they see me?” I haven’t used a survival radio yet and haven’t been in touch with anybody. I can see Leeson in his F-105 still circling on top of the terrain. I try to get to my survival radio, which is inside my harness, but I can’t straighten out my damaged leg to reach the radio. After some effort, I manage to kick away the parachute restraints. Now, I’m unencumbered by the parachute, but I’ve got to be able to turn over to pull my radio out of its pouch. Apart from the leg, I also have a fractured knee and have no movement below it. Those are my injuries, caused by my high airspeed in the F-105 when I ejected: I’m in excruciating pain, can’t move, and can’t pull out the radio. I’m woozy. I’m sweating. I’m about ready to go unconscious yet again. I say to myself, “Vas, knock it off. You can’t afford to go unconscious.” I’m wondering whether the North Vietnamese are going to come upon me at any second. All of a sudden, to my left, here comes this goddamned Skyraider. This was the prop plane I flew on my earlier tour, and it’s also the plane that escorts and covers rescue forces, using the radio call sign Sandy. I look up and the Skyraider comes right overhead and rocks its wings, signaling that he sees me. I’m hurting real bad but now I’m smiling, too. I say to myself, “Vas if the Sandys are here, the Jolly Green can’t be too far behind.” The A-1 Sandy flight and the HH-3E Jolly Green helicopter were in a holding position ready to move in if anyone got shot down today—they do that every day, throughout the entire goddamn war. Radio calls from Tom Leeson and Jim Baldwin brought them in. I guess Baldwin marshaled them in while Leeson covered me. The pararescue jumper, or PJ, who rescues me is Mike Benno. He comes down from the helicopter, lowered by the chopper’s hoist. I was never so glad to see anybody in my life.
I was very badly battered—the injury to the leg has been a problem throughout the rest of my life—but when Mike (whose name I learned later) hauled me into that helicopter, I felt I was one really lucky F-105 pilot. At Korat Army Field Hospital, I wake up and put my hand down here. And my leg isn’t coming out of my belly button any longer. This doctor is standing there. I say, “Shit hot, Doc! You fixed it! How long before I can fly?” He looks at me. He says, “You kidding?” I say, “No, I’m not kidding you. You fixed it! How long before I can fly?” So he takes out a pen. And he jabs me—here, and, and here. And he says—the expression I used earlier—“There isn’t a nerve, a muscle, or a blood vessel intact in that leg. If we save the leg, and that’s only if we save it, walking will be a bonus.” And I say to him, “I want to tell you something, Doc. I have to tell you about me. I have a secret weapon.” He says, “Yeah? What’s that?” I say, “I’ve got good, high-protein Greek blood. I’m going to fly again. Home from War After the doctor tells me my leg will never work, they send me to Okinawa, where my wife is. She’s pregnant with number-three son, Roger. I step out of the C-130 at Kadena and see my wife. I say, “You’ve got to be shitting me! Look at that belly!” Joannie says, “I can see from that grin on your face that you’re going to be okay.” They told her that I was hurt ejecting from my F-105 over North Vietnam, but they didn’t describe my injuries to her. Col. Bob Scott who was the F-105 wing commander at Korat—and had been with me at the test squadron at Eglin—called her, but she still didn’t know my condition. They take me to the Army field hospital on Okinawa. I say, “I’m going to fly again. I’m going to fly the F-105 again.” The medic shakes his head. My blood count is down. I’m bleeding internally. They want to give me a blood transfusion. My leg is yellow, but the skin isn’t broken and there’s no bleeding. And I won’t let them because I don’t want to dilute that good high-protein Greek blood. In October and November 1967, we lose sixty-six F-105s in the campaign over North Vietnam. There aren’t enough pilots to make the frag. So I call a friend at Pacific Air Forces and say, “I want to go back.” He tells me to write a letter volunteering to return to Southeast Asia to complete a hundred missions. I write the letter. The operations officer at Korat Air Base, Thailand, comes and gets me and picks me up in a C-130. I didn’t want to go back to Takhli because I was flying their airplane when I was shot down, so I got myself assigned to Korat. I flew again and flew again in combat, in the F-105."
On 11 January 1972, the Air Force Reserve officials learned that three reserve components would receive the F105. "The F-105 was becoming surplus to U.S. requirements in Southeast Asia, and Reserve C-124 units at Tinker AFB, Carswell AFB in Texas, and Hill AFB in Utah would convert to it." The Wing's last Director of Operations was none other than Col Charles C. Vasiliadis. He last flew the F-105 on 18 July 1972 by which time he had accumulated 1340.8 hours flying the airplane. After the war, he was Chief, Tactical Division, Directorate of Operations, Deputy Chief of Staff, Plans and Operations, Headquarters United States Air Force, from 25 August 1972 to 17 January 1975. During this period, Colonel Vasiliadis' outstanding professional knowledge, initiative, and devotion to duty were responsible for the resolution of many complex problems of major importance to the Air Force. His management ability and personal endeavor significantly contributed to the combat capability of the tactical fighter force. For his performance, he was awarded the Legion of Merit. From 27 January 1975 to 30 September 1976 he served as a Vice Commander and Assistant to Wing Commander, 31st Tactical Fighter Wing, Homestead Air Force Base, Florida. During this period, the dynamic leadership, outstanding initiative, and devotion to duty of Colonel Vasiliadis were instrumental factors in the resolution of many complex problems of major importance to the Air Force. Through his superb executive ability, many difficult problems relating to changes in the Wing's organization and mission, the upgrading and improving base services and facilities, and the revitalization of the Air Reserve Forces Advisory Program were resolved. The superior initiative, outstanding leadership, and personal endeavor displayed by the Greek American pilot earned him a Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster in lieu of a Second Award of the Legion of Merit. In total, he logged 560 combat missions and 1.141 hours of combat flying. Charles lives with son Doug and he was lucky to see his grandaughter Sofia following is steps, entering the United States Air Force.
Maj. Charles C. Vasiliadis of Huntington, L. L, F-105 Thunderchief pilot, bailed out over North Vietnam today and was rescued within 36 minutes, the Air Force reported. Vasiliadis jet fighter-bomber was hit by enemy ground fire as he was pulling out of a bombing run. He nursed his crippled aircraft as far as he could, an Air Force account said, and then hailed out, making voice contact with other members of his flight over his survival radio. A rescue helicopter arrived and lowered a para-rescueman who picked up the pilot. Vasiliadis, 39, was injured slightly, the Air Force said. On hearing of his son’s rescue, C.N.Vasiliadis, a retired electrical engineer, of Oakwood Drive, Lloyd Neck in Huntington, said: “Thank God for that". Vasiliadis' mother said her son is “a very dedicated pilot” and she talked of his military record with obvious pride. (First photo from Vasiliadis Archive, next photos from http://www.takhli.org/ and contributors David Jones, John Evans)
A Remarkable Aviation Historian and Author.
Robert F. Dorr (September 11, 1939 – June 12, 2016) was an American author and retired senior diplomat who published over 70 books, hundreds of short stories, and numerous contemporary non-fiction articles on international affairs, military issues, and the Vietnam War. Most recently, he headed the weekly "Back Talk" opinion column for the Military Times newspaper and the monthly "Washington Watch" feature of Aerospace America. He is also on the Masthead as the technical editor of Air Power History, the journal of the Air Force Historical Foundation, and was Washington correspondent for the discontinued World Air Power Journal. He has appeared as an expert on numerous CNN, History News Network, C-SPAN and other national and cable television programs. Dorr was born in Washington, DC on September 11, 1939 to government workers Blanche Boisvert and Lawrence Gerald Dorr of 2800 - 33rd Street, Washington, DC. In 1947, Dorr moved with his family to the nearby Maryland suburbs where ....
For further details regarding his life and his books please click the following link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_F._Dorr
Special Thanks to Doug Vasiliadis, son of Charles Vasiliadis for his invaluable help, and also to Gus Vasiliadis, brother of Charles and Doug cousin Mala Tsandilas.
1. Dimitrios Vassilopoulos corespondence with Charles Vasiliadis family.
2. Pensacola News Journal, Oct.18, 1961 issue
3. The Santa Fe New Mexican, Nov.25, 1965 issue
4. Fort Lauderdale News, May 31, 1967 issue
5. Daily News, May 4, 1967 issue
6. VDaily News, May 13, 1967 issue
7. Rapid City Journal, Nov.24, 1965 issue
8. The Boston Globe Sun, Dec 19, 1965 issue
9. The Daily Herald, May 4, 1967 issue
10. The Daily Oklahoman, Nov 23, 1965 issue
11. Combat Aircraft 29, Mig-21 Units of the Vietnam War, István Toperczer, Osprey Publishing, ISBN 978 1 84176 263 0
12. Combat Aircraft 84, F-105 Thunderchief Units of the Vietnam War, Peter E. Davies, Osprey Publishing, ISBN 978 1 84603 492 3
13. Combat Aircraft 107, F-105 Thunderchief MiG Killers of the Vietnam War, Peter E. Davies, Osprey Publishing, ISBN 978 1 78200 805 7
14. Vietnam Air Losses: United States Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps Fixed-wing Aircraft Losses in Southeast Asia 1961-1973, Chris Hobson, Midland Publishing, ISBN 978 1 85780 115 6
15. Air Combat: An Oral History of Fighter Pilots, Robert Dorr, Berkley/Penguin, ISBN 978 1 43795 108 0
16. Combat Aircraft Monthly Magazine, March 2010, Sabres, Spads and Thuds: The Air Wars of a pilot named Vas, Robert Dorr, ISBN 0 70989 30635 6
17. 100 Missions North: A Fighter Pilot's Story of the Vietnam War, Ken Bell, Potomac Books, ISBN 978 1 57488 639 9
18. The Year in Special Operations 2015-2016 issue