Colonel Tomb, also "Nguyen Toon" (Nguyễn Tuân) or "Colonel Toon" was a mythical North Vietnamese fighter pilot and flying ace who allegedly shot down 13 American aircraft during the Vietnam War. According to legend, he was killed in action on May 10, 1972, by the U.S. Navy F-4 Phantom crew of pilot Lt. Randy "Duke" Cunningham and radar operator Lt.(jg) William "Irish" Driscoll.
The name 'Colonel Tomb' rose to prominence among U.S. Navy aviators during the latter part of the war. Photos of a North Vietnamese MiG-17 with the bort number 3020 bearing numerous red victory stars contributed to the rumor, and was occasionally identified as the Colonel's aircraft. However, it was normal practice in the Vietnamese People's Air Force to add victory stars to an aircraft for all claims in the aircraft, regardless of who was flying it. The photo of a MiG-21 with bort number 4326, reported in a Vietnamese official magazine to have been flown by at least nine different airman. This aircraft also had numerous red victory stars. Six of its pilots received the title "Hero of the People's Armed Forces". Information on Toon/Tomb's life and career were never published by the North Vietnamese, nor did they release a photo of him. MiG-17 number 3020 was confirmed shot down and destroyed on May 10, 1972 by Cunningham and Driscoll following a protracted air fight.
Much of the information the U.S. obtained about the North Vietnamese air force came from radio signals intelligence or "SigInt", which monitored enemy radio transmissions. Though Tuân is a Vietnamese name, Toon and Tomb are not. It is likely that a name similar in sound to Tomb was used as a radio callsign, and was responsible for the creation of the story of a Colonel Tomb.
In the years following the war, American military officers visiting Vietnam during the 1990s were privately told by their Vietnamese hosts that Colonel Tomb never existed, and that he was merely a successful propaganda fabrication which was brought to a sudden violent end by Cunningham and Driscoll.
- Ethell and Price 1990, pp.189–190.
- Air Power History 1995 -- Volumes 42-43 - Page 60 "Tactical number 4326 supposedly belonged to the infamous Col. Nguyen Toon (also known as Col. Tomb), and wore thirteen red stars on its nose. At times, Toon's existence has been questioned, for while he led the NVAF in kills, he trailed all ..."
- Peter B. Mersky F-8 Crusader Units of the Vietnam War 1998 - Page 60 "The long-running discussion about whether the VPAF's top ace, 'Colonel Tomb', actually existed may at last have been resolved to an extent. There were several skilled VPAF pilots, and there appears to have been at least a dozen aces ..."
- Ethell, Jeffrey and Alfred Price. One Day in a Long War. London:Guild Publishing, 1990.
- Toperczer, István, "MiG-17 and MiG-19 Units of the Vietnam War", Osprey Publishing Limited, Botley, Oxford, UK, 2001, ISBN 1-84176-162-1.