Article by Rich Thistle ©
Commissioned by Col. Phil Handley 3 DFC's, Silver Star USAF (Ret.), who has been featured twice in the History Channel TV Series DOG FIGHTS, RHINO CHARGE may well be the definitive Phantom II ("McDonnell Rhinoceros") combat painting. Created with intense attention to every detail through the ongoing involvement of Col. Handley, the USAF F-4 pilot who made history in the skies over Hanoi, this painting dramatically depicts a unique moment in the history of aerial combat.
On June 2, 1972, at approximately 1330 hours, while in a flight of four F-4Es on CAP (combat air patrol) flying Brenda 01, a hard-wing F-4E, tail number 68210, at over 1.2 mach, Maj. Phil "Hands" Handley shot down a MiG-19 with 20 mm cannon fire 40 miles northeast of Hanoi. The estimated flight parameters were; F-4 speed over 1.2 mach (800 kts); MiG 19 speed mach 0.77 (500 kts); altitude above terrain 500 feet; slant range 200-300 feet; and flight path crossing angle 90 degrees.
It was one of the first victories for an F-4 with internal cannon, the only MiG-19 shot down by cannon fire during the course of the war in Southeast Asia, and believed to be the highest speed deflection-shot gun kill in the entire history of aerial combat.
Here is a quote from an email message I received from Phil as the painting progressed ... "Can you imagine Rich what an air show this would have been to a North Vietnamese worker in one of the rice paddies directly below this scene? Jaded by the years of seeing numerous flights of MiGs and American fighters overhead and hearing the distant rumble of heavy bombing, he had learned to mostly ignore the continuing saga which he wished would go away. However, just over a minute and one-half earlier an echoing muffled boom had attracted his attention. Brenda 01 accelerated through the mach several miles southwest of him.
Focusing upon the rapidly turning and descending F-4, his eyes also picked up a second F-4 which was climbing upward and turning slowly left. Soon he saw two more silver aircraft descending and turning to the north. Continuing to watch, he saw a streak come from the F-4 in the direction of the silver aircraft, but it seemed to simply fly harmlessly upward. As his gaze passed northwest, he could not believe how fast all three of the airplanes seemed to be going. Just then a second streak left the brown airplane and flew behind the silver planes. He now realized that all of the airplanes were going faster than he had ever seen, and that they were very, very low.
As he now faced directly north, he looked to the northeast to see the rapidly approaching silver aircraft, and back to the north to see the brown airplane. He suddenly realized that all of them were going to converge directly over his head. He snapped his head to the right as his ears sensed the high-pitch squeal of the four after burning engines of the MiGs and noted that there was some sort of fog streaming off both of the rapidly turning silver airplanes.
Quickly checking back to the north, he saw the same fog streaming from the big brown airplane, but, oddly could hear no noise from its direction. Just then, a long streak of red fire shot from the nose of the brown airplane and his ears heard the staccato cracks of one hundred 20 mm rounds per second breaking the sound barrier over his head at over mach 4.5.
Now, in less than one second both of the silver airplanes screamed directly over him in a westerly direction amidst the loudest roar he had ever heard. At the same instant, he thought he saw some sort of sparkles and puffs on the second silver airplane... but had no time to reflect upon it, for as the brown airplane passed directly over his head, the air in his lungs was suddenly expelled as if hit with a bat when the mach-Y stem of the F-4's shock wave swept over him.
Now crouching on the ground and looking directly south, his eyes followed the brown airplane which had snapped out of its right turn and was pulling rapidly into a vertical climb. As he looked back to his right he saw the second of the silver airplanes streaming fire, with its wings rocking and nose dropping. He continued to watch and in less than ten seconds it hit the ground in one of the neighboring rice paddies, exploding into a huge orange ball of fire. He dropped his rake and began to run toward the black smoke....
Those are but a few of the thoughts that come to mind when I look at your painting. Do I like it? What do you think? I don't know what your are doing with your magic, but it sure as hell seems to be working." ~
In the back seat of the Rhino was WSO 1/Lt. Jack Smallwood. Phil's best friend and partner on many combat missions, Smallwood was the last rated officer to die in the War of 1000 Days, when his F-4 was shot down over Cambodia as the war ended.
Phil 'flew the line' for all but eleven months of a twenty-six year career in the USAF, during which he accumulated over 7000 flying hours in aircraft vintages F-86 Saber through F-15 Eagle, including the C-130A Hercules. He flew 275 combat missions during two tours in Southeast Asia in the F-4D and F-4E. Rising to command the 22nd Tactical Fighter Squadron, he became, in turn, Chief of USAFE Standardization and Evaluation, Wing Deputy Commander for Operations of the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing, and Commanding Officer of the 405 th Tactical Fighter Wing.
Col. Handley is a graduate of Air Command and Staff College, the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, and the US Army War College. He is a member of The Red River Valley Fighter Pilot's Association (River Rats) and a MiG Killer.
In an air show in 1965, Phil rotated a C-130A to a vertical climb from takeoff and stopped in 200 feet from an assault landing. He also introduced in combat, the air-to-air tactical formation that replaced 'fluid four' as the USAF standard for fighters.
On the occasion of his retirement from the Air force in 1984, his awards included 21 Air Medals, 3 Distinguished Flying Crosses, and the Silver Star. Col. Handley and his wife Solvejg live in Midland, Texas where he continues to work in both military and general aviation.
Without doubt, RHINO CHARGE is the most authentically detailed depiction of an exact moment in time in my entire body of aerial combat paintings. I was proud to be a part of this project with Col. Handley. It is published as a limited edition print and each print is co-signed by Phil. NOTE:
Phil finally completed his book NICKLE ON THE GRASS which was published in the Spring of 2006 with RHINO CHARGE on the cover. The following is a quote from the book about the cover art... "The painting RHINO CHARGE shown on the cover is from the easel of noted Canadian artist, Rich Thistle. Working from charts, diagrams, pictures, models and innumerable exchanges with the author, he dramatically captured a historically significant instant of aerial combat with stunning accuracy....I will always be grateful to Rich Thistle for the tenacity, dedication and patience he showed in the creation of this painting which hangs proudly over my bar, and shall forever be a treasured possession."
~ Phil Handley NICKEL ON THE GRASS
Reflections of a U.S. Air Force Pilot
By Philip W. Handley © 2006
A series of vignettes capturing the life of an extraordinary aviator, fighter pilot and leader, Col. Phil Handley. In a military career spanning 26 years "Hands" earned a reputation as an exceptional pilot and leader in war and peacetime. Book Available Through Phil's Website