The extraordinary Nguyen Hong My is one of the many special characters you can meet with Wild Frontiers in South East Asia. For Hong My went from being a student to becoming one of Vietnam’s first fighter pilots in the Vietnam War. We met up with Hong recently and he told us a little bit about his extraordinary life.
In 1964 the US Air Force began bombing raids in Vietnam as the war intensified. With no air force, the country needed pilots, and quickly. At the time Hong My was studying economics but he took a test to join the military aviation school, which he passed with flying colours. He was sent to the Soviet Union to train to be a pilot along with 120 other students. The Soviet training programme for new pilots was usually 7 years but given time was tight and Vietnam needed pilots urgently, they trained non-stop and Hong My graduated in just 3.5 years.
Hong My was one of only 19 out of the 120 who qualified to fly the Mig-21, the most high tech of the country’s fighter jets, capable of a top speed of 2200 kmh. 35 pilots meanwhile qualified for the more pedestrian Mig-17 which flew at a relatively leisurely 1,500kmh.
In March 1968 Hong My officially returned to his home country and started combat flying, on the front line defending against American air attacks.
In Russia the students spent a long time studying American aircraft, so Hong My was aware that the American jet fighter the F4 could pick up signals of enemy fighters from an antenna on its rear wing, which would alert the pilot to their presence. On 19 January 1972, Hong My took off on a sortie, where he saw a group of 12 American aircraft approaching. Turning his radio off and flying underneath the planes, he became hard to detect. Eventually he chased an F4 and took a shot, bringing the jet down. In doing so he became the first Vietnamese pilot to shoot an American plane down in what was a greatly under-resourced air force compared to their opponents.
Two years later, Hong My’s Mig was shot down itself, by American pilot Dan Cherry. Hong My ejected but upon landing he broke both of his arms, and his war was over. He left the war and settled down as an economist and started a family.
In 2007 Dan Cherry travelled to Vietnam to meet Hong My, and the following year Hong My travelled to the United States where he met Dan Cherry as well as John Stiles, the American pilot he had shot down. It turned out Stiles had ejected, and been rescued by a helicopter pilot. The three are now friends. As Hong My says “Sadly, I had no choice but to go to war. We were all just doing our job, but we have become friends since then.”
Speak to our South East Asia experts to find out more and arrange to meet Nguyen.