Charles B. DeBellevue
American flying ace
Charles B. DeBellevue
Colonel Charles Barbin “Chuck” DeBellevue is a retired officer in the United States Air Force. In 1972, while flying during the Vietnam War, DeBellevue became the first Air Force Weapon Systems Officer (WSO) to become a flying "Ace". He was credited with a total of six MiG kills, the most earned by any U.S. aviator during the Vietnam War and is a recipient of the Air Force Cross.
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  • 1995
    Age 49
    He was then assigned as the commander of the 95th Air Base Wing at Edwards AFB, California, until 1995.
    More Details Hide Details The 95 ABW is the host wing at Edwards AFB, which is the second largest base, area-wise, in the U.S. Air Force. DeBellevue retired from active duty as a full Colonel while serving as commander of Air Force ROTC Detachment 440 at the University of Missouri in January 1998 after 30 years of military service. He was the last American fighter ace on active duty.
  • 1975
    Age 29
    In 1975, he moved to Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, where he served as the assistant operations officer in the 43d Tactical Fighter Squadron.
    More Details Hide Details He went on to serve as the 5th Air Force deputy chief of staff at Yokota AB, Japan and the Commander of the 432d Combat Support Group at Misawa AB, Japan.
  • 1972
    Age 26
    Removed from active combat following his fifth and sixth kills, DeBellevue re-applied for and re-entered pilot training at Williams AFB, Arizona, in November 1972.
    More Details Hide Details After pinning on his new pilot wings, he returned to the F-4 as a pilot assigned to the 49th Tactical Fighter Wing at Holloman AFB, New Mexico.
    His skill as a weapon systems officer was recognized when he and the other two Air Force "Aces", Ritchie and Feinstein, received the 1972 Mackay Trophy. He also received the Veterans of Foreign Wars' Armed Forces Award and the Eugene M. Zuckert Achievement Award. The six MiG kills credited to DeBellevue in 1972 are:
    More Details Hide Details The aircraft in which DeBellevue flew when he achieved his six MiG kills:
    Ritchie's final victory (his 5th making him an "Ace") with DeBellevue (his 4th) came on August 28, 1972, while leading Buick flight, a MiGCAP for a strike north of Hanoi.
    More Details Hide Details During the preceding month, 7th Air Force had instituted daily centralized mission debriefings of leaders and planners from all fighter wings called "Linebacker Conferences". Ritchie had just started his flight of Combat Tree Phantoms on its return to base (Ritchie and DeBellevue were flying F-4D AF Serial No. 64-7463, in which they had scored their first kill). Red Crown, now the USS Long Beach, alerted the strike force to "Blue Bandits" (MiG-21s) 30 miles southwest of Hanoi, along the route back to Thailand. Approaching the area of the reported contact at 15,000 feet, Ritchie recalled recent Linebacker Conference information that MiGs had returned to using high altitude tactics and suspected the MiGs were high. Buick and Vega flights, both of the MiGCAP, flew toward the reported location. DeBellevue picked up the MiGs on the Phantom's onboard radar and using Combat Tree, discovered that the MiGs were ten miles behind Olds flight, another flight of MiGCAP fighters returning to base. Ritchie called in the contact to warn Olds flight. Ritchie, concerned that MiGs might be at an altitude above them, made continuous requests for altitude readings to both Disco and Red Crown. He received location, heading, and speed data on the MiGs (now determined to be returning north at high speed to their base) but not altitude as Buick flight closed to within 15 miles of the MiGs. DeBellevue's radar then painted the MiGs dead ahead at 25,000 feet, and Ritchie ordered the flight to light afterburners.
    On July 8, 1972, Ritchie and DeBellevue were leading Paula flight, in gun-equipped F-4Es instead of the Combat Tree F-4Ds they usually flew, on a MiGCAP to cover the exit of the strike force.
    More Details Hide Details While they were west of Phu Tho and south of Yen Bai, the EC-121 vectored them to intercept MiG-21s returning to base after damaging one of the US chaff escorts. The MiGs were still approximately 4 miles away and Ritchie turned the flight south to cross the Black River. As they closed, Disco gave them warning that the MiG return had "merged" with the Paula flight's return on his screen. Ritchie reversed course, observed the first MiG at his 10 o'clock position and turned left to meet it head-on. When Ritchie passed the first MiG-21, he recalled the engagement of May 10 and waited to see if there was a trailing MiG. When he observed the second MiG, which he also passed head-on, he reversed hard left to engage. The MiG turned to its right to evade the attack, an unusual maneuver, and Ritchie used a vertical separation move to gain position on its rear quarter. DeBellevue obtained a solid boresight (dogfighting) radar lock on it while at the MiG's 5 o'clock, although fired from the edge of their flight envelopes, both AIM-7s struck home.
    Ritchie and DeBellevue's assignment on May 10, 1972, the first major day of air combat in Operation Linebacker, was as element leader (Oyster 03) of one of two flights of the F-4D MiGCap for the morning strike force.
    More Details Hide Details Oyster flight had three of its Phantoms equipped with Combat Tree IFF interrogators, and two days previously its flight lead, Major Robert Lodge, and his WSO Captain Roger Locher had scored their third MiG kill to lead all USAF crews then flying in Southeast Asia. At 0942, forewarned 19 minutes earlier by the EC-121 "Disco" over Laos and then by "Red Crown", the US Navy radar picket ship, Oyster flight engaged an equal number of MiG-21s head-on, scattering them. Oyster flight shot down three and nearly got the fourth, but fell victim to a MiG tactic dubbed "Kuban tactics" after those of the Soviet WWII ace Pokryshkin, in which a GCI-controlled flight of MiG-19s trailed so that they could be steered behind the American fighters maneuvering to attack the MiG-21s. The F-4 flown by Lodge and Locher was shot down. Major Lodge was killed, Capt. Locher ejected and was rescued three weeks later. Almost simultaneously Ritchie and DeBellevue rolled into a firing position behind the remaining MiG-21 of the original four with a radar lock, launched two Sparrows and scored a kill with the second.
    Flying in a F-4D as the WSO with pilot Capt Steve Ritchie on May 10, 1972, he and Ritchie scored the first of four Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 kills they would achieve together.
    More Details Hide Details Both DeBellevue and Ritchie, along with Capt Jeffrey Feinstein of the 13th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 432nd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, would become the only USAF "aces" during the Vietnam War. May 10, 1972 was the same day that Cunningham and Driscoll scored their third, fourth and fifth aerial victories, becoming the Navy's only aces of the war. An advantage that the "Triple Nickel Squadron" pilots and WSOs had over other U.S. aircrews was that eight of their F-4D Phantoms had the top-secret APX-80 electronic set installed, known by its code-name "Combat Tree". Combat Tree could read the IFF signals of the transponders built into the MiGs so that North Vietnamese GCI radar could discriminate its aircraft from that of the Americans. Displayed on a scope in the WSO's cockpit, Combat Tree gave the Phantoms the ability to identify and locate MiGs when they were still beyond visual range (BVR).
    In 1972, DeBellevue became one of only five Americans to achieve flying ace status within the Vietnam War and the first Air Force Weapon Systems Officer (WSO) to earn ace status.
    More Details Hide Details He was credited with a total of six MiG kills, the most earned by any U.S. aviator during the Vietnam War and is a recipient of the Air Force Cross. DeBellevue was born in New Orleans on August 15, 1945 and grew up in Louisiana.
  • 1969
    Age 23
    Accepted into Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT), he failed to complete the course, but subsequently applied for and was accepted into Undergraduate Navigator Training (UNT) at Mather Air Force Base, California in July 1969.
    More Details Hide Details He completed F-4 combat crew training at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona and was assigned to the 335th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina, as a McDonnell Douglas F-4D Weapon Systems Officer (WSO). In October 1971, DeBellevue was sent to the famed 555th ("Triple Nickel") Tactical Fighter Squadron, of the 432nd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, at Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand.
  • 1968
    Age 22
    After applying unsuccessfully to the United States Air Force Academy, he attended and graduated from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (then named the University of Southwestern Louisiana), in 1968.
    More Details Hide Details Upon graduation, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant through the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC) program at the university.
  • 1945
    Born on August 15, 1945.
    More Details Hide Details
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