One remarkable story of an incident over North Vietnam dramatically illustrates the resourcefulness that the aircrews demonstrated while flying their beloved fighter jet. Known as "Pardo’s Push", the tale is one of a desperate effort to escape certain captivity by two crippled F-4Cs on March 10, 1967 after a raid on the steel factory at Thai Nguyen, just north of Hanoi. Call sign Cheetah 04 was assigned to a F-4C flown by Earl Aman and Cheetah 03 to another F-4C, serial number 64-0839, flown by Bob Pardo, both of the 433 TFS based in Ubon, Thailand. Both were hit by anti-aircraft fire during their bombing runs. Aman’s aircraft was hit the worst, with 5,000 pounds of jet fuel pouring out of gaping holes in the fuel tanks in less than a minute. It was clear that Aman and his crewmate Robert Houghton would have to eject over hostile enemy territory, facing sure capture or even death. Captain Pardo had an idea: he would use his aircraft to push Aman’s out of North Vietnam towards the border of neutral Laos and let Aman and Houghton punch out there! At first, Pardo attempted to nudge the stricken aircraft with the nose of his Phantom by placing it against the rear parachute pack housing of Aman’s F-4. The vortices coming off the lead aircraft made it impossible to stay connected. Next, Pardo flew underneath Aman and tried to lift the aircraft with the spine of his. That was unsatisfactory, so Pardo asked Aman to drop his arrestor hook. He then maneuvered his aircraft behind Aman’s so that the hook was planted on the windscreen of Pardo’s Phantom. The exhaust from Aman’s engines prevented continuous contact, so Pardo had Aman shut them down. This helped a bit. Powered only by the engines of Pardo’s F-4, the two aircraft droned on towards Laos. The hook slipped off the one-inch thick glass of the windscreen over a dozen times, and Pardo had to back off and re-engage as gingerly as possible, praying that a mistake wouldn’t send the hook crashing through the windscreen and directly into his face. Cracks started to appear in the glass, so Pardo concentrated on using the lower metal portion of the windscreen frame as his leverage point. As improbable as it sounds, the glide ratio was increasing and prospects were looking good for success. That is, until an engine fire light came on in Pardo’s aircraft, which immediately caused him to shut down the left J-79. On restart, the fire light went off, but the engine’s internal temperature had soared to 1000 degrees Celsius, instead of the normal 600. Pardo had no recourse but to shut down the engine for good, and tried to keep both aircraft aloft with only one good turbojet.
Down to 6000 feet and only two minutes of flying time, the two aircraft disengaged and Aman and Houghton ejected over Laos. They floated down towards a small village, where the natives were preparing a hostile reception. Houghton suffered a compression fracture of a vertebra in his back when he ejected, but still hit the ground running as fast as he could to escape the gunshots that were aimed in his direction. Search and Rescue helicopters supported by A-1 Skyraiders found and rescued both he and Aman. Meanwhile, Pardo and his crewman, Lt. Steve Wayne, also hit the silk as their aircraft ran out of fuel before they could get to the circling tankers, and were rescued as well.
Back at Ubon, the four officers met joyously, then endured a frosty reception by their commanders, who were unsure whether to court-martial Pardo for the stunt that resulted in the loss of an aircraft that probably could have made it back to the base safely. After extensive deliberation, nothing happened. Only through pressure from Senator John Tower two decades later did Pardo and Aman both receive the Silver Star for their heroic bravery and airmanship. Earl Aman contracted Lou Gehrig’s disease in his later life, and Bob Pardo was a champion for his cause until Aman’s death in 1998. Combat artist Steve Ferguson also immortalized the mission in a painting he did to help raise funds for Earl Aman’s affliction.