WARNER ROBINS -- The F-4 Phantom fighter jet at the Museum of Aviation is one of its most prominently displayed aircraft, resting in front of the main building near Ga. 247.
On Friday, one of its most effective users stood beside it as he told the F-4’s story of life and death in Vietnam.
Retired Air Force Col. Charles “Chuck” DeBellevue shot down six MiG fighters in Vietnam as the back-seat weapons system officer, the highest number of kills for any aviator in Vietnam. Five kills earns the title of ace, and DeBellevue was one of only five to become an ace in Vietnam.
“Luck,” was the first answer he gave when asked the secrets to his success, but he elaborated further. “You’ve got to be able to control your fear. I didn’t like flying with people who didn’t have fear.”
Although he was also an F-4 pilot, he got all of his kills as the weapons officer. His job in that role, he explained, was to monitor the radar for enemy fighters, lock the targeting system on an enemy if one was spotted, and fire at the right moment.
Another key role, he said, was to monitor the fuel. A dogfight burns a tremendous amount of fuel, he said, and if they weren’t careful they wouldn’t have enough left to make it back to base.
Both the pilot and weapons officer get credit for each kill. DeBellevue earned four of his kills with one pilot and two with another.
DeBellevue flew in the famed 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron, known as “Triple Nickel,” which operated out of Thailand. He flew 220 combat missions and logged 550 combat hours. Half the squadron was lost, he said, and some flyers ended up in the infamous Hanoi prison.
“They say you make close friends in combat, but you make your best friends in combat,” he said. “Those are the guys who keep you alive.”
DeBellevue was awarded the Air Force Cross. The only higher medal for a member of the Air Force is the Medal of Honor.
The F-4 is a far cry from the most advanced fighters today, the F-35 and the F-22, but DeBellvue said it was a good plane for its time.
“It kept me alive,” he said. “It was a great plane to fly.”
DeBellevue believes he flew the F-4 at the Museum of Aviation. It was assigned to his squadron in Vietnam and carries two red stars on the side, indicating two kills from the plane. It wasn’t, however, one of the planes DeBellevue made his kills from.
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.