National Museum of the U.S. Air Force adds Wild Weasels exhibit
By Rob Bardua, National Museum of the U.S. Air Force
/ Published September 20, 2006
DAYTON, Ohio -- An exhibit that will commemorate the accomplishments of the Wild Weasels will be unveiled to the public on Sept. 24 at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.
The exhibit will contain an F-105G Thunderchief aircraft and items such as maps, flight gear, helmets, gloves, patches, photos and other artifacts used by the Wild Weasels.
The name "Wild Weasel" originates from the U.S. Air Force's first anti-SAM program, which took place in 1965 during the Vietnam War and was known as Project Wild Weasel.
The Wild Weasels were specialized U.S. Air Force crews, aircraft and missions that suppressed enemy air defenses, including the Soviet SA-2 surface to air missile, with direct attacks from 1965-1972. These attacks were some of the most dangerous missions in Southeast Asia.
"We are extremely honored to have an exhibit that pays tribute to the kind of courage and bravery exemplified by the Wild Weasels," said National Museum of the U.S. Air Force Director, Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Charles D. Metcalf. "Their story is one that we are excited to share with the public because they accomplished their mission despite the long odds and great risk to themselves."
Developed in the mid 1950s, the SA-2 was the first effective Soviet surface-to-air missile. The Soviets used it to shoot down Gary Powers' U-2 over the USSR in 1960 and Maj. Rudolph Anderson's U-2 over Cuba in 1962.
Shortly after the start of Operation Rolling Thunder in the spring of 1965, North Vietnam began receiving SA-2s, and with Soviet help, built several well-camouflaged sites. In addition, the North Vietnamese also ringed SA-2 sites with anti-aircraft artillery, making them even more dangerous to attack.
The Air Force placed great hope on the success of the Wild Weasel concept. Project Wild Weasel used modified two-seat F-100Fs, with the pilot flying and firing the weapons from the front seat, while an electronic warfare officer tracked enemy radar systems in the back seat. These trailblazers created, tested and proved SAM suppression tactics in combat.
Typically, one F-100F Wild Weasel crew hunted enemy SAM radars with electronic equipment. After pinpointing them visually, they attacked the radars with rockets. Accompanying F-105s then followed with bombs or rockets.
The two-seat F-105F or "Thud" formed the backbone of the U.S. Air Force SAM suppression during Operation Rolling Thunder. The F-105 Wild Weasels continued to develop tactics, flying two types of missions - strike support, by far the more common of the two, and "hunter-killer" search and destroy attacks.
On strike support missions deep into North Vietnam, Wild Weasels ranged ahead of strike forces to suppress SAM sites and gun laying radars in the target area. Ideally, the Wild Weasels would destroy them, but intimidating the radars to shut down and keeping them occupied also accomplished the main mission of protecting the strike force. To complete their mission, the Wild Weasels selflessly kept themselves between the enemy defenses and the strike force. They remained in the area until the strike force was gone -hence the motto "First In, Last Out."
The other type of Wild Weasel mission, search and destroy, involved hunting SAMs to destroy them as a primary mission. Usually flying in the southern part of North Vietnam, the Wild Weasel would "troll" for SAM sites, acting as bait to tempt them to fire. When a SAM site fired, the tell-tale smoke and dust created by the SA-2 launch visually revealed its exact location. After the trolling Wild Weasel outmaneuvered the missiles with a "SAM break," they or other aircraft would attack and destroy the SAM site.
The Wild Weasels in Southeast Asia created an essential and lasting capability for the U.S. Air Force. Though some believed that SAMs would be "the death of the flying Air Force," the Wild Weasels provided an effective counter, paving the way and protecting strike forces over North Vietnam. The Wild Weasels accomplished their mission at great risk to themselves - thirty four Wild Weasels were killed or missing in action and nineteen became POWs.
For more information on this exhibit or other exhibits at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, please visit the museum's web site or call (937) 255-3286.
The National Museum of the United States Air Force is located on Springfield Pike, six miles northeast of downtown Dayton. It is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day). Admission and parking are free.
NOTE TO MEDIA: For more information, contact the National Museum of the United States Air Force Public Affairs Division at (937) 255-4704, ext. 330.