This article originally appeared in the November 1967 issue of The Airman Magazine


     First Lieutenant Karl W. Richter was a fighter. He'd found something he believed in,

     could do really well and he wanted to go on doing it. He hated anything that stood in

     the way of total success. That was his philosophy and he lived - and died - by it.

     That's why some people called him a rebel. Maybe that's also why he was such an

     outstanding flyer; and even more than a flyer. He was, in fact, a natural born-fighter

     pilot who excelled at combat. A rebel? Yes, in the sense that he rebelled against

     mediocrity, at leaving a job half done. 1st Lt. Karl Richter and his F-105

     Thunderchief were an inseparable team. He was fascinated with that aircraft. "It

     even gives me a thrill to taxi that F-105," he often remarked. Together, the

     lieutenant and his plane flew more strike missions into North Vietnam than any

     other man and machine - 198*) in all. Their capabilities were never questioned. ''I

     know North Vietnam like I know the back of my hand," Richter often said, and the

     men who flew with him knew he wasn't bragging. "I know every rock, every stream.

     They've got me leading flights now-newly arrived majors and lieutenant colonels

     flying my wing. I think I can help these people become really effective a little earlier."


     That was the young veteran talking when he was fighting for a second tour in

     Thailand. He'd laid his plans on the line. After 200 missions over North Vietnam, he

     wanted to fly an F-1OO tour and then another as a forward air controller in South

     Vietnam. Why? "If I can add an in-country tour to my present experience," he

     emphasized, "I believe I can become the most qualified expert in the Air Force on

     this kind of air war." Lieutenant Richter meant what he said. He was determined.

     Perhaps determined and aggressive enough to have reached his lofty goal.

     Nobody will ever know. Fate stepped in.


     The Last Flight

     On July 28, 1967 , the 24-year-old combat veteran piloted his Thunderchief

     northward, past the DMZ into "package one." It was to have been a relatively easy

     mission. His wingman was a newcomer; this was his checkout mission. "Package

     one" is the safest of the six territories American airmen have designated in North

     Vietnam. "Package six," the Hanoi-Haiphong area is the roughest, the most

     dangerous as determined by the intensity of ground fire. Richter and his wingman

     saw a bridge. Instructing the new man to stay above and watch, the young veteran

     rolled his 105 and dived. Suddenly, communist triple A opened up. The deadly

     rounds spit upward, hitting the Thunderchief on its way down. Instinctively, Richter

     pulled up. His fighter-bomber grabbed at the sky and gained altitude. They turned

     toward home - Korat, Thailand - but the crippled jet couldn't make it. "May Day! May

     Day!" Richter called and then punched out. He ejected safely and had a good

     chute. Then he disappeared into the fog bank and cloud cover. The valley below

     was full of karst (coral and limestone rocks). Normally hostile forces avoided that

     area because of the rough terrain. Richter should have been comparatively safe

     until an HH-3E "Jolly Green Giant' could get there. The rescue helicopter was

     nearby. Its crew picked up the lieutenant's beeper signal immediately and homed in

     to get the downed pilot. No one will ever know exactly what happened. Something

     interfered with Richter's descent. Either he swung into the side of a sandstone cliff

     or his chute hecame snagged on a protruding tree. In any case, the parachute must

     have collapsed causing the pilot to plunge onto the rocks. When the helicopter crew

     found him he was in critical condition with multiple broken bones. He died en route

     to a hospital. Just a few months earlier, at the time he signed on for his second 100

     combat missions, the young man had stated, "They'll never get me, I'm too mean."

     They didn't! An unusual accident did.


     Richter needn't have been over North Vietnam that day. He'd served his time;

     fulfilled his obligation according to regulation. He could have returned home a hero.

     But, that wasn't Karl Richter's way. He was a fighter and the job wasn't done. He

     thought -he knew he could contribute more to the cause of freedom in Southeast

     Asia. He'd always had a problem with books and studying, but, he'd studied this air

     war and he wanted to learn even more.


     Not A Student


     Eight years ago, Karl Richter was preparing to graduate from high school in Holly,

     Michigan. He was very popular - had been his class president four years, lettered in

     football, had played basketball and run track. But, his future was dim. By his own

     admission, he wasn't an honor student. The thought of more schooling wasn't

     appealing at all. Then his sister, Betty May, who was a flying enthusiast,

     encouraged him to apply for entrance to the US Air Force Academy. Thinking that

     "it didn't cost anything to try," he filled out all the papers and completed the tests. "I

     thought I had less than nil chance of getting in," he admitted, but two Michigan

     Congressmen, Senator Philip A. Hart and Representative William S. Broomfield

     thought differently. They made him their primary appointee and nine days after

     graduating from high school Karl Richter became a "doolie" at the Academy.

     Again, he was not an outstanding student. He did excel at intramural sports,

     especially the close-contact activities - rugby, soccer, football and boxing. He really

     liked boxing; standing there toe to toe, matching skill with an adversary. He

     graduated with the Class of 1964. After only a short leave, he went to Craig AFB,

     Alabama, for basic pilot training. That's where he saw his first F-105. He wanted to

     fly that bird. His next assignment was Nellis AFB, Nevada, where, after completing

     survival training at Stead AFB, Nevada, he began advanced flying training in the

     Thunderchief. The F-105 was his "baby"; flying his whole life. Recognized for his

     outstanding ability in this aircraft, Lieutenant Richter was accorded the distinctive

     honor of highflying an F-105 across the Pacific to Southeast Asia after completing

     flying training. This is an honor rarely given to a young lieutenant. Karl Richter

     jumped at the opportunity. He didn't even take a leave before going overseas. On

     April 6, 1966, he arrived at Korat. Four days later he was flying his first mission

     over North Vietnam. One mission led to another and his flying proficiency climbed

     quickly. Richter became a highly professional fighter pilot. With only two years' Air

     Force experience and even less in combat, Lieutenant Richter became an element

     leader. He seemed to have a complete lack of selfconcern in combat. His

     enthusiasm for every flying activity was contagious. Once, while on R&R leave, he

     turned down a trip to Bangkok or Hong Kong and went instead to Nakhon Phanom

     where he flew combat missions in an 0-1E Bird Dog. According to his squadron

     commander, Maj. Fred L. Tracy, Lieutenant Richter was good - one of the best

     fighter pilots in his unit. This became obvious when, with only five months in SEA,

     the determined young airman carved his name in aviation history.


     Youngest MiG Killer


     September 21, 1966, was a red-letter day in Lieutenant Richter's young life. He

     was flying as element leader, 30 miles north-northwest of Haiphong on a mission to

     seek out SAM sites. His flight located a suspected site. The lead and number two

     element prepared to strike while Richter wheeled wide to follow them in. When he

     swung back around he saw two Mig-17s making a pass on the first element. With

     number four on his wing, Richter moved in toward the enemy. As he later described

     the contact: "They slid in front of us beautifully - about a mile, mile and a half or two

     miles out."It was funny - we have so few contacts (with Migs), it takes probably a full

     second before it jogs your mind... those are not airplanes like any we fly. "Well, right

     away the only thing that passed into my mind was set up your sights, babe, there's a

     Mig out there." During the next couple of seconds, he sized up the situation.

     Advising number four, who was behind him, that he was dropping his rockets,

     Richter began closing in on the enemy aircraft. "I cleaned my bird, lit the burners,

     and started in after them. Wanted to be careful. Didn't want to move in too close

     with the burner going - just get an overshoot - 50 rounds at him and go screaming

     by. First thing I'd know then, there'd be a Mig behind me, which is not the best

     (situation). "We moved in. He made an easy turn. I moved the pipper out in front of

     him and started firing. He's going to break, I kept saying to myself: he's gotta

     break... he'll break into the shells and maybe I'll get a couple of hits on him that way

     "But he didn't break and I kept firing. I thought 'boy, this is going to be

     embarrassing' you know? I shoot for three or four seconds; three or four hundred

     rounds of good 20mm ammunition. I thought this is really going to be embarrassing

     if you miss this guy... Then, four was calling, "You're hitting him, you're hitting him..

     Then, I saw fire coming out the back end of the Mig. I didn't think he was in burner -

     but he still seemed to be moving through the sky pretty good." The Mig reversed

     and Richter reversed with him, fired again and saw his bullets impacting the

     enemy's right wing. Just as the F-105's guns went empty, the Mig's wing broke off;

     pieces flew out the tail and another big chunk flew loose from the plane. Lieutenant

     Richter pulled up to evade the debris, saw the Mig pilot eject and heard number

     four's radio call, "He's got a good chute." "You know, that's pretty good," the

     Academy grad thought to himself "lt's strange, but, in a way, I was happy he got a

     good chute. I guess that's the thought that runs through all our minds. He's a jock

     like I am, flying for the enemy of course, but he's flying a plane, doing a job he has to

     do." Lieutenant Richter banked over and watched the Mig crash. When it hit the

     ground, he knew it was his. At the age of 23, Lt. Karl Richter had become the

     youngest American pilot to blast a communist Mig out of the skies over Vietnam.


     Signed A Paper


     One mission followed another and, on October 13, 1966, the lieutenant flew his

     100th strike over the north. But he wasn't ready for rotation. He liked it in Thailand.

     He requested and finally got approval for another 100 combat missions. "lt's a good

     tour". he said. "Over here, the major emphasis is on whatever it takes to get the

     mission done.I like that. I enjoy working at 100 percent capacity." He thought he

     could help the overall mission in SEA. That was the main reason he volunteered for

     another November 1967 round. But that was just one of the reasons. "There's really

     a bunch of reasons", the lieutenant said. "The major one could be...," he hesitated,

     "one of them is...," another pause while he searched for the right words, "it will

     seem strange to say it, hut I kinda believe in what we're doing over here. I believe in

     the work." Then he revealed another facet of his personal character "I signed that

     paper, you know, to be a, fighter pilot, to come in when there's a job to be done and

     to do the job. Getting in there with a lot of guys and mixing it up with enemy

     airplanes and you know, the whole nine yards. "I really like the work. It seems like a

     strange thing to say, but you know, I really enjoy flying. lt's so good, I can't believe it."

     Lieutenant Richter went into Saigon twice, once to receive the personal

     congratulations of Lt. Gen. William W. Momyer, Commander, Seventh Air Force, for

     shooting down the Mig, and again at the personal invitation of Premier Nguyen Cao

     Ky. The latter occasion was New Year's Eve, 1966. There was a party at the

     Vietnamese Air Force officers' club. He occupied a seat of honor that night, next to

     the charming wife of Premier Ky. He was decorated with the Vietnamese

     Distinguished Service Medal and he danced with Mrs. Ky. But most of the evening

     he spent his time talking to top officers, trying to convince them that he should be

     allowed to fly an additional tour after completing his second 100 missions. So,

     Lieutenant Richter went back to Thailand and kept right on flying; doing his Job. He

     liked the challenge. He'd always accepted the challenging things in life. Anything

     routine failed to hold his interest. His father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. Ludwig

     Richter, were never surprised at their son's activities. They understood him.


     "That's the way he is," his father related when Karl signed up for his second tour.

     "Once he starts something in which he believes, he will either finish it or die trying."

     Karl Richter believed his combat missions were "sort of a Ph.D. in professional

     weapons." Someday he had hoped to'return to the United States and become an

     instructor, believing full well that he could help other young fighter pilots on the way

     up. Here was a self-acknowledged rebel who once quipped that his last look at

     school was the best one. Yet, he realized the value of formal education as well as

     practical experience for anyone hoping to become a top-notch fighter pilot. In his

     own way he hoped to contribute to the US Air Force fighter pilot flight education

     program. One day, many years ago, another American veteran of another war said,

     "You never know how far a man will cast his shadow until he stands up."


     Lieutenant Karl Richter stood up. And he stood tall.


     MSgt.K.A. AIlen

     The Airman Magazine, 1967


*) = Word has it that after Lt. Richter's death, close scrutiny of his flight records revealed that he

had actually already surpassed the 200 Missions milestone.