RUN FOR THE RIVER

by by George McKay

Editor's note: George McKay was a P-51 Mustang driver with the 81st Fighter Group in China during Word War 2. During the Korean War WcKay went in Korea with jet experience and hoped to be assigned to one of the F-86 units. He was, but nor exactly the he was hoping for

I kept volunteering for a combat tour in Korea every week, but for some reason I was never accepted. This went on for months until I changed tactics and went to 15th AF Headquarters at March Alf, arid volunteered for Korea there. This was on Monday and by Wednesday I had my orders for a fighter assignment in Korea, On Saturday, I was on board an Air Force C-54 on my way to Japan. Landing in Japan, we were transported to Fuchu. Air Station which was 5th AF (Rear) for assignment orders to a combat unit. Here my limited hours of jet time stood me in good stead for I had left the states as a F-51 replacement pilot.

But instead of going to one of the fighter groups, I was assigned to the 67th Tac Recon Wing. I flew to Seoul in a C-47, where I was met by a 67th enlisted man who hauled me down the road to Kimpo. Again, my limited jet time was a life saver for I was assigned to the 15th Tac Recon Squadron (Photo jet), which was equipped with the same RF-80s I'd flown at March AFB several years earlier. My first mission was a two-ship RF-80 flight, with me flying wing and watching for MiGs that might attack us as soon as we got above Pyongyang. Inbound to the target area I noticed some contrails headed our way. Not knowing who or what they were, I called them out to my leader. It was a good thing that I did for things happened much more rapidly in the jet age.

The MiGs intercepted us at about the time I ended my transmission! Our standard evasive tactic was to drop the speed brakes, and stick the nose straight down in about a 4.5G spiral, and head for the deck. The MiGs were very limited on fuel and much less maneuverable than the RF-80 at lower altitudes. These evasive maneuvers were very effective, for in some 13,000 RF-80 sorties, we lost only one aircraft and pilot. And they worked again this time. However, they were very hard on the ear tubes if you had even a slight cold. Shortly after I arrived, they began talking about converting me to RF-86 pilot. The day finally came. My checkout in the F-86 consisted of a cockpit briefing, instructions on starting the engine, takeoff and landing speeds - and a quick pat on the back! Lt. Bob Burkhart gave me the blindfold cockpit check

Burkhart then gave me the pat on the back and I started the engine, flew a 45 minute local flight, made a single 'touch and go', and then landed. I was now considered "checked out" and my next flight was a dicing mission to Anting Airfield. After flying the RF-80, the RF 86A was kind of like moving from a Chevy to a Cadillac

On a typical 'across-the-river' mission, we would take off, climb to about 20,000, and head directly north toward Antung. The RF-86 pilot was always first off the Kimpo runway as we were slower than the escorts. It was a wonderful feeling to look in the mirror and watch the escort Sabres, between 4 and 24 F-86s, run their engines Up TO full throttle and see the smoke roll up from their exhausts prior TO the takeoff roll.

When the mission was a dicing run to Antung or Ta-Tung-Kou, standing orders were to never cross the Yalu River into Manchuria. And we were continually briefed on this policy, which was violated almost every day by some Allied pilot. On the other hand we were also always tasked to get GOOD photos -which was impossible without crossing the Yalu.

On one of these missions, MiG activity was expected to be minimal, so I only had a few ship escort with Capt. Ralph Banks as Flight Lead. We proceeded north to the Yalu, where I broke off, dove down and crossed the Yalu before beginning my dicing run on Antung. The weather was extremely hazy with poor visibility and I never saw the twenty-four strip alert MiGs being scrambled. As I turned west to cover Ta Tung-Kou Airfield on the way out, I was almost rammed by the first of the MiGs being scrambled from Antung. My only choice was to turn into and under the MiGs as they were climbing out. My escort saw this at about the same time that the first two MiGs latched onto me and began firing.

As I looked in the rear view mirror, I could clearly see the MiGs firing, and behind them were another pair of airplanes. But these birds had low wings - Sabres! I pulled hard on the stick and just went anywhere. This 'evasive maneuver' took me deeper into Manchuria, but at this point I really didn't care.

Fortunately for me, the F-86 pilots were better shots than the MiG driven and Ralph Banks shot both MiGs off my tail. Meanwhile, the rest of the squadron was at altitude nearby and dove into the fray. Of the twenty-four MiGs that were scrambled, twenty-one were shot down or heavily damaged. Colonel Harrison Thyng, Commander of the 4th Fighter Group, made Ace on that mission. We understood the Chinese commander was relieved.

As soon as I worked my way back across the Yale. I released the escort and continued on the deck back to Kimpo, making sure no MiGs had followed. When I got back to Kimpo, most of the escort Sabres had already landed and were filling out their mission reports. The guys in the 4th put me in for a Distinguished Flying Cross, which was upgraded to a Silver Star at 67th Wing Headquarters. They pinned the medal on me at Willy Air Patch after I'd finished my 103 missions over North Korea.


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