ROBERT DAVID MORRISSEY
SYNOPSIS: The General Dynamics state-of-the-art variable-geometry wing F111 Aardvark was first used in Southeast Asia in March 1968 during Operation Combat Lancer. However, because of problems that surfaced during initial combat evaluation, it was withdrawn from the war zone later that year. This sophisticated aircraft returned to Southeast Asia in 1972 and flew regular combat missions from then on. One of the innovations which made the F111 unique was that for the first time the two-man crew, who sat side by side rather than the standard front seat/back seat configuration, ejected together inside a crew capsule rather than individually in an ejection seat. This design was being "field tested" as a prototype crew capsule for NASA and the US space program. Another innovation of the F111 was its terrain following radar (TFR), which reads the terrain ahead and flies over any obstructions. This feature made it an ideal night, all weather, low-level strike aircraft.
On 7 November 1972, then Major Robert M. Brown, pilot, and Major Robert D. Morrissey, weapons systems officer, comprised the crew of an F111A, call sign was "Whaler 57." At 0219 hours they departed Takhli Airbase, Thailand on a single aircraft strike mission. Their target was the Luat Son Highway ferry and ford nestled in a populated and forested area where the highway crossed over the river approximately 24 miles south of the major port city of Dong Hoi, 10 miles southeast of the coastline and 9 miles north of the demilitarized zone (DMZ), Quang Binh Province, North Vietnam.
Normal voice and radar contact was established with Whaler 57 before and after takeoff. The last radar contact was made by "Invert GCI" at 0258 hours and the last voice contact was with Moonbeam, the onsite battlefield airborne command and control center. At 0306 hours Major Brown reported the mission was progressing normally. At 0400 hours Moonbeam initiated a standard communications check with Whaler 57. When he was not able to establish contact with them, Moonbeam began a communications search of the area.
An extensive formal search and rescue (SAR) effort was initiated at 0500 hours on 7 November and continued until 20 November. When no sign of aircraft wreckage was found and no contact with either downed crewman could be established, the SAR was terminated. During this massive search, a wide variety of aircraft were used to include OV10 Broncos, A7 Corsairs and F4 Phantoms. Further, this aircraft was the third F111 reported lost over North Vietnam in 1972. At the time the formal search ended, both Robert M. Brown and Robert D. Morrissey were listed Missing in Action.
In mid-1991 the Brown family learned through declassified US government reports that both men were probably captured alive and taken to the Soviet Union. This fact was later verified by two NSA analysts who separately corroborated this information. Further, they both testified under oath before Congressional Committees investigating the Live Prisoner of War issue that the Brown/Morrissey aircraft went down practically in tact, that both men and the aircraft were captured and taken out of Southeast Asia within 100 hours after the incident to the Soviet Union. Major Brown and Major Morrissey were flown out of North Vietnam and the NSA analysts believed the F111 was dismantled and transported to the Soviet Union by train.
Articles from Aviation Weekly and Space Technology document the major redesign of the Soviet space program within 18 months of the downing and capture of this aircrew. The families of these men believe this is a direct result of information "coerced" from them. The article also strongly asserts that Robert Brown and Robert Morrissey are alive and being exploited by the Russians. The Communists desperately wanted to capture an F111 in tact in order to reproduce its advanced technology for their own ends. They also wanted to secure the aircraft's crew in order to exploit all the knowledge each man possessed. The Communists found that they had unexpected bonuses in both men.
Robert Brown graduated from the US Naval Academy in the top 30% of his class and was given his choice of branch of service. He chose the US Air Force and trained as a pilot while adding to his Bachelor of Military Science Degree an Electrical Engineering Degree from the University of Michigan. He was assigned to NASA to work on the Mercury and Gemini Space programs. During his first tour of duty in Southeast Asia in 1966, Major Brown compiled an impressive record of 299 combat missions while flying the F100 Super Sabre. Upon returning to the United States, he went to work in Research and Development for America's Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems program as a project scientist. In 1972 he returned to Vietnam for his second tour as a highly decorated fighter pilot to fly the most advanced combat aircraft of its time - the F111A Aardvark.
Major Robert Morrissey was also on his third tour of duty in Vietnam. He was a 20-year veteran of the Air Force who had compiled an impressive record as an officer and navigator. Among his many accomplishments, he was a military intelligence staff officer during the Cuban missile crisis. He was also qualified as a bombardier/navigator on the nuclear equipped B47s, a position that few qualified for.