Major Robinson "Robbie" Risner's sixth kill.
10 October 1952.
At 0900 Risner and his wingman, Joe Logan, taxied [their F-86s] down the Kimpo runway. The other two pilots followed in quick succeession. This flight, code-named "John Red," made its way to the Yalu, some thirty minutes from Kimpo. The flight's mission was to protect a squadron of USAF fighter-bombers that was scheduled to attack a chemical plant at the mouth of the river. When the flight arrived at "MiG Alley," Risner immediately gave the "pus*y willow" command [turn off IFF] and took the flight on a sweep along the Chinese side of the Yalu. This preemptive maneuver would give the fighter-bombers maximum protection against any potential MiG attacks.
The initial sweep yielded no MiG sightings. On the second sweep, however, Risner saw a glint of sunlight at his twelve o'clock low. As if by instinct, he knew that this sparkle meant MiGs. He ordered his flight to drop their wing fuel tanks. The four MiGs did the same as they made a 180-degree turn and retreated back toward their base at Antung. These MiGs were hungry for the lower performance F-84 fighter-bombers, and had no intention of tangling with the top-of-the-line F-86s. But Risner had other plans. He aligned his pipper on the tail-end Charlie and gave his six M-3 .50 caliber guns a squeeze. The incendiaries shattered the MiG's canopy.
In an effort to escape, the MiG pilot descended at maximum speed. At one point the MiG did a half-roll and flew upside down for fifty seconds as Risner pounded him with short bursts from his machine guns. The MiG then entered into a split-S, and Risner thought to himself, "This is going to be the easiest kill of my career." Risner, convinced that the MiG would not be able to pull out of the S in time to avoid hitting the ground, made an angling split-S and braced himself for the impending explosion. Nothing happened.
The MiG did not crash as Risner had so smugly predicted. Instead, it pulled out of the dive just in time, created a billowing cloud of dust and pebbles over a dry riverbed. The MiG, now flying five feet over the deck, was too low to hit with the F-86's guns, which fired slightly upward. But Risner had too much drive to cut off the chase. He was not about to let all those practice dogfights flown in the F-51 over the Oklahoma skies go to waste. FInally, he had met his match -- a pilot who would force him to draw on every skill he had ever learned. Risner was about to embark on the ultimate dogfight. At this point, Risner could not kill the MiG but at least he could take a good look at his foe. He maneuvered his F-86 alongside the MiG-15. As they coasted wingtip to wingtip, Risner peered into the now open cockpit. He could see the eyes of the pilot and the stitching of his leather helmet. Risner noticed that the pilot's oxygen mask was gone: it had been sucked off when he shot away the canopy. The MiG pilot returned Risner's gaze and raised his fist in defiance.
The MiG then throttled back in an attempt to catch Risner off guard. He hoped to slip behind Risner and pound him with his 23- and 37- mm cannons. But Risner had too much situational awareness to fall for such a trap; he did a high G-force roll over the top of the MiG and came down behind it. SImultaneously, the MiG broke right, pulling all the G's it could. But Risner stayed behind the MiG. HE later commented, "I never thought about what I was doing, it was all reflex."
After several minutes of hard maneuvers, both planes exited the dry riverbed and began to climb a heavily wooded hill. To Risner's surprise, the MiG executed one of the craziest maneuvers he had ever seen. In an effort to gain a small speed advantage, the MiG did an inverted roll and flew upside down over the hill. His open cockpit was just a few feet from the treetops. Risner's wingman, Joe Logan, who had been flying high and to the right the entire time, screamed in the headset: "Hit him lead. Pound him!" But Risner could not. He was doing all he could just to stay behind him.
The planes rounded a hill at .8 Mach, then all of a sudden the MiG cut his throttle and Risner rolled over the top of him. Wingtip to wingtip now, the MiG pilot again raised his fist at Risner. Next the MiG made an abrupt, full-throttle, 90-degree turn to the left. Risner new that this was his last chance to blow this guy out of the sky. He let his pipper creep toward the MiG's tailpipe, and just as he was about to fire, Risner heard Logan's voice: "Lead, they're shooting at us." The two planes were now directly over the Chinese air base at Tak Tung Kau.
Despite this warning, Risner continued the chase: he was too close to let the MiG slip away. The MiG pilot erroneously assumed that the flak from the airfield would scare him off. It did not. Risner chased the MiG in between two hangars. When the MiG attempted to land on the dusty runway, Risner hammered him hard. He blew four feet off the left wing.
As the wing burned, the MiG pilot desperately sought out the grassy side of the runway for an emergency landing. Risner still had no intention of letting the plane land; he fired all of his remaining ammunition into its tailpipe. The MiG would not give up: it leveled off and attempted a "belly landing." At this point, his luck ran out. The MiG burst apart in a tremendous explosion, and pieces of flaming aircraft flew all over the airfield, igniting the parked aircraft nearby. "Red lead," Logan yelled ecstatically, "you just destroyed the whole Communist air force." Risner chuckled but was more intent on getting his wingman and himself safely back to base than reveling in his victory. Risner and Logan threw the coal to their engines and made a steep climb away from the base.
As the F-86s climbed out, they passed over some 250 anti-aircraft guns which lined the perimeters of both Tak Tung Kau and Antung air bases. Flak exploded all around them as the pilots jinked to avoid it. Just before Risner and Logan crossed the Yalu back into North Korea, Logan radioed Risner, "Lead, my fuel gauge is down." Risner flew around Logan's F-86 to make sure that the fuel tank had not been hit. It had. Fuel and hydraulic fluid were streaming out of Logan's belly. Risner radioed Logan, "It looks like you've been hit."
Fearing that his wingman would not have enough fuel and fluid to make it back to Kimpo, Risner decided on a bold course of action. He ordered Logan to open the throttle up: "Might as well use it before you lose it, Red 2." As soon as Logan ran out fo fuel, Risner would position his nose behind Logan's stricken aircraft and gently push it periodically until they reached the friendly island of Chodo [Cheju-do?], where Logan could safely bail out. Risner figured that enough air would be flowing through Logan's tailpipe and the gap below Risner's tailpipe to prevent Risner's F-86 from stalling, but the move was still risky. While executing this maneuver, Risner realized that he placed his own aircraft in danger. If he sucked in any damaged engine parts from Logan's plane, his own engine might quit, or worse yet, explode. To the pilots' utter amazement, the emergency maneuver worked.
Risner successfully pushed Logan's plane to a point tenes off the coast of Chodo. At this point, Logan radioed Risner, "OK, I am going to bail out. I'll see you in a little while as soon as they pick me up."...
(Risner lands, waits two hours, meets the seaplane, Logan drowned when the chute cord tangled around his neck)
From: Officers in Flight Suits. Sherwood.
As they coasted wingtip to wingtip, Risner peered into the now open cockpit. He could see the eyes of the pilot and the stitching of his leather helmet. Risner noticed that the pilot's oxygen mask was gone: it had been sucked off when he shot away the canopy. The MiG pilot returned Risner's gaze and raised his fist in defiance.