Delta Six Charlie
Chemical Fuse Bombs
The D6C was the 2,000 pound box fin general purpose bomb with a chemical fuse. The Marine Corps used the big bombs for interdiction/road cuts on the Ho Chi Minh trail and the many routes that split off into "I" Corps and other Provinces of South Vietnam. The chemical fuses were designed to activate upon impact. The chemical would detonate the huge bomb between 40 minutes and eight hours after the fuse was activated. This munition had the purpose of discouraging overnight road repair on the Ho Chi Minh trail.
Death Angel Crusader aircraft carried two 2,000 pound bombs-one on each of the two wing stations. The squadron ordnance personnel loved the big bombs because they were so easy to handle and load on the F-8s. A simple, relatively cheap, forklift handled the bombs quickly and safely.
One worry with the chemical fuse was the possibility that the jolt of the powerful thrust increase of the J-57 afterburner ignition would activate the chemical fuse and could detonate the bomb before the bomb impacted the ground. This was not just a theory. I was orbiting with a flight of two F-8ís overhead the Brasserie just north of Cambodian border waiting to drop our load of four D6Cís on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Norm Marshall was leading the section on target and called off on his bomb run. I watched his bomb flight for contact with the road but noticed the bomb detonate in a fireball about 2000 ft above the target. Since the bomb was dropped from about 6000 ft., there was safe separation between the F-8 and the explosion. Premature detonation became a cause for concern by all pilots scheduled to drop the Chemical Bombs. However, no Death Angel pilots ever said they wanted to skip the Delta Six Charlies.
A particularly dangerous situation occurred when the Death Angel operations office received notification that Sabu Sabia was inbound in a crusader with a hung D6C. We knew that the fuse could have been activated and we were time limited for safely disposing of the huge bomb. An F-8 was parked at the end of the duty runway ready for the dangerous bomb to be loaded on the right wing station. Finding a pilot willing to risk his life to fly the standby Crusader out to the South China Sea and jettison the 2000 lb bomb was another issue. Assigning a pilot to fly the potentially deadly mission was a tough call.
Norm Marshall, the Animal, had a reputation for stepping up for risky assignments. Without hesitation Norm volunteered for the hairy flight. He strapped in, started the engine, and performed all takeoff checks. Minutes later Sabu landed the F-8 with the hung bomb and taxied up beside Normís plane. The duty bound ordnance crew quickly downloaded the D6C and attached it to the right wing of Normís crusader. Within seconds Norm was rolling down the Da Nang south runway on takeoff. He climbed out at maximum rate and headed for the Tonkin Gulf. We all breathed a sigh of relief as he crossed the beach southeast of Da Nang but kept our fingers crossed for the safety of Norm. A few minutes later, Norm called that the bomb was jettisoned safely and had detonated upon impacting the water. Norm was met upon his return by most of the squadron and treated like the hero he was. OoooRaahhh!
The Animal was absolutely fearless and seemed to be watched over by a doting God. Norm Marshall was exposed to multiple opportunities for an early and violent death in and out of combat, aboard carriers, bad weather and faulty aircraft, etcetera, but our Hero soared through every attempt at his life. Norm took chances but weighed each hazardous condition and made decisions based on the attempt to complete the mission and take the risk based on his balance of duty, honor and Country over the simpler choice of RTB, divert, eject or hold short of the bomb line. Norm seemed always to choose to ride it out and still complete the mission.
Such was the case one day when Norm took off from DaNang as the section leader in a four plane bombing flight in the DMZ area on the border between North and South Vietnam. All four Crusaders were lined up, armed by the ordnance crew, in echelon on the DaNang runway, and lead rotated his right hand for turn-up to maximum throttle in basic J-57 engine. Pilots checked their gages and gave a thumbs up to the leader after scanning the adjacent aircraft for wing and fuselage in takeoff condition. Lead commenced takeoff by releasing his brakes and selecting afterburner. 7 seconds later Dash two followed lead and so on down the flight of four.
Norm started his roll and selected afterburner. The boom and solid blow to his back was proof his burner was functioning normally. As he rotated the nose of the aircraft for liftoff, the big, red Fire Warning light illuminated. Easy decision for Norm. He was travelling at 150 knots and fully loaded with high explosive ordnance. The aircraft was not stoppable on the runway so he continued the takeoff. When Norm had the gear up and the wing down to the fuselage and locked, his attention went back to the fire light and he pulled the throttle out of the afterburner detent. The fire warning light went out. Norm continued the flight as if his F-8E was in perfect condition and dropped his bombs, fired rockets and strafed along with the rest of his flight.
The flight safely recovered back at DaNang. The Crusaders were de-armed at the end of the runway and refueled at the fuel pits. Norm wrote up the Fire Warning Light as a downing discrepancy on his post flight Yellow Sheet. Norm then came to me since I was the Aircraft Maintenance Officer and told me how his AB light had illuminated at lift off and then went out after he deselected afterburner. Norm said he had not used the Afterburner at any other time during the flight.
The following morning Gunny Vernime came to me for a decision. He said , "We checked the afterburner electrical connections and the light functions normally. We can find no trouble with the system but we need to see if the warning light will repeat the discrepancy as written." I told him that since it was too difficult to tie the Crusader down anywhere on the field in afterburner without creating problems, I would make a simulated takeoff and abort it after lighting the afterburner.
I suited up and taxied the downed aircraft out to the duty runway 18R. When cleared by the tower, went to full power and hit the afterburner. Soon after the 'boom' I was accelerating rapidly and the Fire Warning Light illuminated. I quickly pulled out of afterburner and back to idle with the throttle. The warning light did not go out. I taxied off the runway and started up the taxiway back to the Death Angel flight line. I opened the canopy and saw smoke passing by me from the tailwind that I had taxiing back. I took off my mask and could smell the cooking JP-5 fuel. Then I knew that Norm had a real fire in the afterburner section and that the accelerating jet had blown out the fire after the burner was deselected. I was taxiing downwind and the tailwind was aggravating the fire that was coming from a puddle of fuel that would not blow out.
I fast taxied to the nearest parking space with a fire bottle. The troops had seen the smoking F-8 returning to the flight line and were spraying the tail with extinguisher before the aircraft stopped. The aircraft engine was quickly shut down and the fire put our without damage. When the mechanics found the broken afterburner fuel line the problem was recognized and easily repaired. The rigid fuel lines caused many Crusader accidents and fires because of sudden breakage. A few years later, flexible fuel lines became the safe way for most high performance aircraft.
The end of this story that most probably would have caused the loss of a valuable aircraft and possible pilot loss or injury if Norm Marshall had not been the decisive pilot assigned that aircraft on that day. He calculated that if the fire warning light went out when he came out of afterburner, then a wise decision was not to use the afterburner under any circumstance for the remainder of that combat flight.
Thanks Animal !!
Back to Back We Face the Past
Donald Cathcart LtCol USMC Ret.