A picture of a man with a smile on his face, a cigarette dangling from his lips, and a smiley face on the tip of his nose is all that remains of one of the most famous pictures of the Vietnam War.
But there’s more to the story.
The photo was taken by Air France Flight 007, flying from Paris to London in April 1964.
The flight was the first time the French and British had agreed to allow an international flight, and the plane’s pilot, F-86 Sabre pilot, Paul F. Gibson, was one of many Americans and British who’d volunteered to go on the mission.
The plane was a modified Boeing 707, which was one-of-a-kind, thanks to the extensive work done by an Air Force avionics team and Boeing’s flight data recorder.
Gibson was one among many Americans who’d participated in the effort to record flight data during the war, but it was the footage that captured Gibson’s face and the smiley expression that would be the subject of the film, “Paintings of Flying Tigers.”
Gibson died in 1994.
The footage captured Gibson smiling and saying “I am not the greatest, but I am a fighter pilot.”
He was one hundred percent right.
Gibson is one of just four pilots to ever fly a 707 in combat.
But he was never the only one.
Over the next decades, the crew of the flight would make some of the greatest aircraft of all time, including fighter pilots like Alan Grier, the only person ever to fly the F-4 Phantom.
It was the same story with the other pilots who made up the flight: Fred Thompson, Tom Wilson, and Harry Houdini.
These pilots were among the most highly skilled in the world.
They were also one of those who would spend a great deal of time in the cockpit.
When they took the plane off the runway, they’d get out and look around the plane.
They’d then go into the cockpit, turn their head to the right, and start to count to 10.
The pilots’ eyes would move toward the right.
It’s hard to imagine that a crew of four could do this.
It seems like a task impossible to complete on a single flight, but the crew did it.
When the flight started up again in June 1965, the pilot was still smiling.
He was also wearing a smile mask.
In an interview with the Aviationist magazine, Gibson said that he had no idea what the cameras would be able to capture, but he believed that they could give him the footage he wanted.
Gibson had already been a pilot for the American Army, flying the F4A Phantom, which became the first military aircraft to fly combat missions.
He’d previously flown a Boeing 767, which the Air Force also used in Vietnam.
Gibson took part in several reconnaissance flights over Laos, and he was a major part of the “Vietnam Air Force.”
His career would come to an end in 1975, when he and two fellow pilots, James O’Toole and Fred Thompson were killed in an air crash.
Gibson’s legacy continues to inspire today.
Today, we often hear about people like Gibson and his colleagues.
They’re celebrated as heroes for saving lives during a time of war.
But that’s not true.
Gibson himself wasn’t even the first American pilot to take a plane to Vietnam.
The first American to take the chance was an American named Charles A. Johnson.
Johnson was in the process of flying a Lockheed C-141 Starfighter at the time of the war.
He took off from Detroit and headed west, flying at least 40 missions before landing in Hanoi.
He spent the rest of his career flying the Starfighter.
Johnson’s career as a fighter ace lasted until he retired from the military in 1971.
Johnson had been training with an elite fighter squadron called the United States Air Force Flying Tigers, which consisted of two dozen men from all over the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia.
He served as the squadron’s instructor, and in 1964 he took the opportunity to take off from the United Arab Emirates and fly over Laos.
He wasn’t the first to do this, but his performance in the mission made him an instant legend in the military.
By the time the plane landed in Hien Nhat, the United Nations refugee camp on the Laos-Hanoi border, it was time for Johnson to retire.
It would be more than 30 years before he’d make a final flight, though.
He passed away in 1994, and his name would be etched in history for the rest a long time.
He’s one of a handful of people who became a household name.
The others included John F. Kennedy, who flew a B-52 over the Soviet Union in October 1962, and President Lyndon B. Johnson, who took off on a C-130 over the Vietnam-Burma border in 1963.
Johnson became the only American pilot who flew over both countries in a single mission.
He also took off