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Date: 12 December 1970
Aircraft type: B-57G Canberra
Serial Number: 53-3931
Military Unit: 13 TBS, 8 TFW
Service: USAF
Home Base: Ubon
Lt Col Paul R Pitt (Survived)
Lt Col Edward Buschette (Survived)

Aircraft type: O-2A Skymaster
Serial Number: 67-21428
Military Unit: 23 TASS, 504 TASG
Service: USAF
Home Base: Nakhon Phanom
1Lt Thomas Allen Duckett (KIA)
Maj Owen George Skinner (KIA)

Following operational trials in Southeast Asia in 1968 with modified B-57Bs in the night intruder role, 16 aircraft were modified to B-57G standard for the night interdiction role. Under the project name Tropic Moon III the aircraft were fitted with forward-looking radar, infra-red sensors, a low-light television and a laser rangefinder in a modified nose section. The aircraft could find and identify a target on the darkest of nights, mark it with the laser and drop up to four 500lb laser-guided bombs with a high degree of accuracy. Thus one of the oldest jet aircraft still in the USAF inventory became one of the most technologically advanced weapons in the war in Southeast Asia. The 13th TBS was reactivated at MacDill AFB, Florida on 8 February 1970 and deployed to Ubon to join the 8th TFW in September.

During the B-57G’s 20-month tour of duty at Ubon only one aircraft was lost. The squadron commander, Lt Col Paul Pitt, and the squadron sensor officer, Lt Col Ed Buschette, were flying a night mission over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in southern Laos when their aircraft (call sign Manna 1) was hit and they had to eject near Ban Vangthon, 25 miles west of the DMZ. After spending an uncomfortable night in the jungle they were picked up by a HH-53C from the 40th ARRS the next morning. The loss of the aircraft was initially put down to AAA but when an O-2 Nail FAC from Nakhon Phanom also failed to return from its mission in the same area, it was assumed that the two aircraft had probably collided in the darkness.

The following day the largely intact wreckage of the O-2 was spotted on the ground along with what was thought to be an empty parachute hanging from a tree. Radio contact was made with an unidentified individual and SAR beepers were heard for two days but as they were constantly moving a fix on their location could not be made. Like many other airmen brought down in Laos, Duckett and Skinner disappeared and were never seen again.

The 13th TBS left Ubon for Clark AFB in April 1972 having built up an impressive record of night operations on the Trail. Although fraught with technical difficulties and expensive to operate, the B-57G programme proved the effectiveness of its various sensors and laser technology. The advanced weapons and targeting systems of today’s US military aircraft owe much to the pioneers of the Tropic Moon programme.

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