Helen Mooradkanian – March, 2012
Colonel Kris Mineau, USAF (Ret.), of North Reading, flew 100 combat missions into North Vietnam in 1966 as fighter pilot in the supersonic F-4C Phantom II. Capable of speed Mach 2.23, more than twice the speed of sound, the Phantom was key to downing the Soviet MiG-21s used by the North Vietnamese to intercept U.S. bombing missions.
Flying out of Ubon, Thailand, with the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW), Mineau flew deep into North Vietnam as part of “Operation Rolling Thunder,” the first sustained—and the longest—aerial bombing assault in the history of American air power. It cut off the flow of supplies moving south down the Ho Chi Minh Trail to the Viet Cong invading South Vietnam.
Supersonic fighter jets. Lightning-speed maneuvers. Aggressive warfare. Suicide missions. “I was a cocky fighter pilot who thought I was invincible,” Mineau says.
The Wolf Pack”—Record breakers
As a young lieutenant, Mineau was a member of the famed “Wolf Pack,” renowned for their aggressiveness and teamwork in destroying enemy aircraft.
Their wing commander was the legendary WWII ace Colonel Robin Olds who, in 1944-1945, had 12 kills against the German Luftwaffe. Then, at age 44, he led the 8th TFW, as commander and pilot, to 24 aerial victories and 38.5 kills in Vietnam—both records unsurpassed by any other wing in the war. Olds also masterminded “Operation Bolo,” a clever ambush of MiG-21s. The 12-minute engagement destroyed seven MiG-21s—the highest number in any combat operation of the war—without a single American loss.
Col. Olds got his first MiG kill in “Bolo” and went on to shoot down a total of 4 MiG-21s. Mineau also flew with another Air Force legend, Colonel Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr., the first black American promoted to four-star general.
Supersonic ejection— toward hell
Following his combat tour, Mineau was assigned to fly F-4Cs in Europe where in 1969, his life as an intrepid aviator suddenly crashed. Not in an air battle, but during a routine combat training mission. “I was stationed in England,” he says, “leading the life of a rascal with wine, women, and song.”
On Tuesday, March 25, 1969, his F-4 Phantom II fighter jet developed a mechanical flight-control malfunction. From an altitude of 15,000 ft, it nosedived at the speed of sound. His electronic weapons officer in the rear seat ejected. But Mineau’s seat would not fire due to a design problem —no matter how many times he tried.
As the jet plummeted, reaching an altitude too low for ejection, Mineau says, “My life passed before me. Although never a religious person, I cried out, ‘Please, God, help!’ Instantly the ejection seat fired.”
“Now at an altitude of 1000 feet, I’m diving at 1,280 ft per second. My parachute takes 3 to 4 seconds to open. Only a miracle can save me.”
It was later determined his parachute opened in half a second! “Absolutely impossible, mechanically speaking!” he said.
“I looked down and saw this enormous fireball as my plane hit the ground and exploded. I tried to steer away from the fireball but couldn’t. The 750-mph supersonic wind-blast had broken all four limbs. I hit the ground like a 200-lb rag doll, unable to move or cry for help.”
Mineau is one of the very few pilots in the world to have survived a supersonic ejection.
For the next four months, he was totally immobilized in traction, all four limbs, followed by a total body cast. When doctors in the States removed the cast, they found he had not healed properly. They had to re-break his bones and start all over again. At one point, they even prepared to amputate a leg. For six years, Mineau was in and out of military hospitals undergoing major surgeries.
Worse yet, doctors gave him no hope of ever flying again. His dream of flying, his all-consuming passion, lay shattered. Just like his body. Driven to despair, he hit rock bottom.
At that point, an Air Force chaplain and former pilot on two-week active reserve duty, walked into his hospital room unexpectedly. He talked to Kris of Jesus’ love for him. Slowly Kris opened up.
“In that hospital bed,” he says, “I asked Jesus Christ to be my Savior. A vision of Jesus on the cross flooded my mind. For the first time, I understood with my heart everything I knew about Jesus in my head. A deep warmth and wondrous love enveloped me. Then this rough, tough barroom-brawling fighter pilot began crying like a baby because I knew Jesus loved me. All my sins were forgiven, erased!”
From that point on, Kris Mineau began a rapid recovery. His doctors were amazed. Within a month, he was walking again, although with multiple casts and crutches. A year later, he relinquished his will and dreams completely to the Lord. Then he heard the words, “Welcome, home, my prodigal son.” Like the parable of the father and his prodigal son, Jesus embraced him: “For this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:24).
The healing of his shattered life began and he was ultimately made whole in spirit, soul, and body.
On August 28, 1974, the Air Force declared Mineau medically fit for flight status.
On January 1, 1975, Kris Mineau returned to active duty as a pilot.
Six years to the day after his crash, he climbed into a T-38 supersonic trainer. Like “déjà vu,” it was again Tuesday, March 25, with 4:30 p.m. take-off. The T-38’s tail number was 898, the same as the F-4C that crashed.
At the start of the seventh year after his crash, his new life began.
“Wild Weasels”—suicide missions
For five years, Mineau flew the F-15 Eagle, one of the world’s most formidable interceptor fighters, capable of speed Mach 2.5 (1,875 mph).
A second close call with death came in 1984, while serving as F-15 Eagle instructor pilot and squadron commander. Shortly after take-off, a violent engine explosion tore the Eagle apart. Again he called out to the Lord for help. Instantly, the molten mass of engine debris fell out. With flames extinguished, he maneuvered the jet to the runway and awaiting fire trucks.
Later promoted to Colonel and deputy commander for the maintenance group of three squadrons, Mineau spent two years flying the highly sophisticated supersonic jet, the F-4G Weasel, reminiscent of the “Wild Weasels” that flew in suicide missions in Vietnam. Armed with anti-radar missiles for “hunter-killer” operations, the Weasel “trolled” for enemy surface-to-air missile (SAM) sites, waited for the SAM to launch, attacked, then guided bombers to finish the job—before veering off sharply. They called this “dancing with the SAMs.”
The eagle soars to new heights
After retiring from the military in 1992, Mineau served three years in Saudi Arabia under a USAF contract to build F-15 air bases. Then his career took a sharp turn. The U.S. Air Force Academy graduate, with a master’s in aeronautical engineering was called to the ministry.
He graduated from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and became a pastor. Today he is president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, a public policy organization where he serves on the frontlines in the battle to strengthen and protect the traditional family.
The Eagle has landed.
Helen Mooradkanian is our new Valley Patriot Hero columnist and a former business writer. She is also a member of the Merrimack Valley Tea Party, You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org