memories great fighter pilots

FLIGHT LIEUTENANT JOHN KING, RAF

by Charles Keil

Shortly before the end of World War II, in February, 1945, at the age of eleven, I was a pupil at St Bartholomew's Grammar School, an all-boys school in the county of Berkshire, England.

Only a few weeks into my first term, having broken the rules by talking to a fellow pupil during morning assembly, I was sent to the prefect for summary punishment. In those days, the prefects (senior boys appointed by the staff to discipline the younger brethren) in English grammar schools had enormous power over other pupils.

I stood trembling before the 18 year old senior prefect, John E.Y. King. He was my judge, jury and executioner. My "trial" lasted at least five seconds, and he found me (justifiably) guilty. I was required to bend over a desk while he beat me on the backside with a gym shoe. It was not excessively painful, but my pride suffered most.

John King left St Bartholomew's in April 1945 to embark on a short course at St Catherine's College, Cambridge, where he joined the University Air Squadron. At the end of the university course, he graduated with a "Distinguished First" for academic studies and was selected the best University Air Squadron cadet.

In early 1946, he entered the Royal Air Force College at Cranwell (the RAF's academy for career officers). He was soon promoted to Flight Cadet Sergeant and later to Flight Cadet Under Officer. When he graduated on 7 April 1948, he was first in Order of Merit, was awarded the Sword of Honour for being the best all-round cadet, the King's Medal (George VI was still on the throne at that time) for the highest aggregate grades in all subjects. He was also recognized for the highest marks in aeronautical science, engineering, and service subjects, and received the Imperial War Studies Prize and the Royal United Services Institute Award. At the Cranwell graduation parade, he was parade commander. It is unlikely that any other cadet graduating from the RAF College Cranwell, before or since, ever won so many high awards. In 1949, on the occasion of the first Royal Naval Air Service and Royal Flying Corps (WW1) reunion, he was nominated to represent the Royal Air Force of the day as Guest of Honour.

Not surprisingly, St Bartholomew's was keen to associate itself with his success and I, now 15-years old, sat in awe of King when he appeared in his RAF uniform, complete with pilot's wings, at the school's annual prize-giving ceremony in 1948. I was more than a little impressed by John King's incredible success, and aspired to be an RAF tighter pilot.

In 1951, I too, left the school to join the RAF for pilot training. After flying the Harvard (USAF T-6) with the RCAF in Ontario, I went on to deHavilland Vampire jet fighters in the UK before being posted, in late 1953, to No 26 Fighter Squadron at RAF Oldenburg in Germany. Throughout most of my two years with No 26 Squadron I flew the wonderful Canadair-built Sabre Mk 4 (F-86E).

At RAF Oldenburg, I took my turn in 1954 to keep the squadron diary - a mix of operational and social events with photographs where appropriate. I found past entries fascinating and was surprised to find a 1950 picture of squadron pilots all lined up in the nude at a beach on the North Friesian island of Sylt, to which the squadron deployed periodically for air-to-air gunnery over the North Sea. And there, unmistakably, in the middle of the picture, was John King. It was after leaving Cranwell and completing conversion training in 1948 that John had been posted to No 26 Squadron, where he was promoted to Flight lieutenant and spent three years. I had followed in his footsteps to No 26 Squadron.

Returning to John King, he was briefly hack in the UK during 1949-50 for an air-to-ground attack course which he finished with the highest marks ever obtained there; and he became an instructor. In 1951, he was posted to the RAF's Central Fighter Establishment with special interest in night fighters. In January 1953, he was chosen to train with the USAF on F-86 Sabres, before serving in the Korean War.

in Korea, John flew with the 25th Fighter Squadron, 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing, from Suwon (K-13). On 3 June 1953, he participated in a fly-by to mark the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The next day, 4 .June, he set out on his eighteenth operational mission - from which, sadly, he never returned.

At the time of his death, in 1953, I was undergoing jet conversion training at RAF Merry-field in the UK, and was unaware of his demise. Much later, at RAF Oldenburg, two of the No 26 Squadron F-86 pilots who had flown Sabres with the USAF in Korea (Spud Murphy and Andy Devine) confirmed that they had known John King and that he had simply disappeared on a mission.

Fast forward now - 50 years - to 2003. A letter of mine, published in The times newspaper, led me to put a brief request on the web site of the F-86 Sabre Pilots Association inviting any former Sabre pilot who knew anything about John King to contact me.

On 2nd January 2004, the following e-mail arrived on my computer screen from Bob Lysgaard, 2717 Billy Casper Drive, Las Vegas, Nevada:

"John King was my roommate in "A' Flight. We were assigned to the 25th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, 51st FIW, USAF at Suwon in Korea in February 1953. What a great guy! John King came from the RAF as an all-weather pilot. On this mission I was flying No 4 through an awful thunderstorm over North Korea, north of the DMZ. John was No 3 and suddenly hauled back on his stick. I tried hard but could not keep up with him and that erratic maneuver. He did not respond to any radio transmissions and I was lucky to return with the formation to K-13, Suwon. No one could contact him from the formation or from the base. Ihe (accident) investigation considered severe vertigo, oxygen failure or a heart attack. Personally, I never considered the wildest rumor, which was possible defection to North Korea or Vladivostok in Russia." At the time of his death, in 1953, I was undergoing jet conversion training at RAF Merry-field in the UK, and was unaware of his demise. Much later, at RAF Oldenburg, two of the No 26 Squadron F-86 pilots who had flown Sabres with the USAF in Korea (Spud Murphy and Andy Devine) confirmed that they had known John King and that he had simply disappeared on a mission.

Fast forward now - 50 years - to 2003. A letter of mine, published in The times newspaper, led me to put a brief request on the web site of the F-86 Sabre Pilots Association inviting any former Sabre pilot who knew anything about John King to contact me.

On 2nd January 2004, the following e-mail arrived on my computer screen from Bob Lysgaard, 2717 Billy Casper Drive, Las Vegas, Nevada:

"John King was my roommate in "A' Flight. We were assigned to the 25th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, 51st FIW, USAF at Suwon in Korea in February 1953. What a great guy! John King came from the RAF as an all-weather pilot. On this mission I was flying No 4 through an awful thunderstorm over North Korea, north of the DM7. John was No 3 and suddenly hauled back on his stick. I tried hard but could not keep up with him and that erratic maneuver. He did not respond to any radio transmissions and I was lucky to return with the formation to K-13, Suwon. No one could contact him from the formation or from the base. 'Ihe (accident) investigation considered severe vertigo, oxygen failure or a heart attack. Personally, I never considered the wildest rumor, which was possible defection to North Korea or Vladivostok in Russia." At the time of his death, in 1953, I was undergoing jet conversion training at RAF Merry-field in the UK, and was unaware of his demise. Much later, at RAF Oldenburg, two of the No 26 Squadron F-86 pilots who had flown Sabres with the USAF in Korea (Spud Murphy and Andy Devine) confirmed that they had known John King and that he had simply disappeared on a mission.

Fast forward now - 50 years - to 2003. A letter of mine, published in The times newspaper, led me to put a brief request on the web site of the F-86 Sabre Pilots Association inviting any former Sabre pilot who knew anything about John King to contact me.

On 2nd January 2004, the following e-mail arrived on my computer screen from Bob Lysgaard, 2717 Billy Casper Drive, Las Vegas, Nevada:

"John King was my roommate in "A' Flight. We were assigned to the 25th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, 51st FIW, USAF at Suwon in Korea in February 1953. What a great guy! John King came from the RAF as an all-weather pilot. On this mission I was flying No 4 through an awful thunderstorm over North Korea, north of the DM7. John was No 3 and suddenly hauled back on his stick. I tried hard but could not keep up with him and that erratic maneuver. He did not respond to any radio transmissions and I was lucky to return with the formation to K-13, Suwon. No one could contact him from the formation or from the base. 'Ihe (accident) investigation considered severe vertigo, oxygen failure or a heart attack. Personally, I never considered the wildest rumor, which was possible defection to North Korea or Vladivostok in Russia." At the time of his death, in 1953, I was undergoing jet conversion training at RAF Merry-field in the UK, and was unaware of his demise. Much later, at RAF Oldenburg, two of the No 26 Squadron F-86 pilots who had flown Sabres with the USAF in Korea (Spud Murphy and Andy Devine) confirmed that they had known John King and that he had simply disappeared on a mission.

Fast forward now - 50 years - to 2003. A letter of mine, published in The times newspaper, led me to put a brief request on the web site of the F-86 Sabre Pilots Association inviting any former Sabre pilot who knew anything about John King to contact me.

On 2nd January 2004, the following e-mail arrived on my computer screen from Bob Lysgaard, 2717 Billy Casper Drive, Las Vegas, Nevada:

"John King was my roommate in "A' Flight. We were assigned to the 25th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, 51st FIW, USAF at Suwon in Korea in February 1953. What a great guy! John King came from the RAF as an all-weather pilot. On this mission I was flying No 4 through an awful thunderstorm over North Korea, north of the DM7. John was No 3 and suddenly hauled back on his stick. I tried hard but could not keep up with him and that erratic maneuver. He did not respond to any radio transmissions and I was lucky to return with the formation to K-13, Suwon. No one could contact him from the formation or from the base. 'Ihe (accident) investigation considered severe vertigo, oxygen failure or a heart attack. Personally, I never considered the wildest rumor, which was possible defection to North Korea or Vladivostok in Russia." At the time of his death, in 1953, I was undergoing jet conversion training at RAF Merry-field in the UK, and was unaware of his demise. Much later, at RAF Oldenburg, two of the No 26 Squadron F-86 pilots who had flown Sabres with the USAF in Korea (Spud Murphy and Andy Devine) confirmed that they had known John King and that he had simply disappeared on a mission.

Fast forward now - 50 years - to 2003. A letter of mine, published in The times newspaper, led me to put a brief request on the web site of the F-86 Sabre Pilots Association inviting any former Sabre pilot who knew anything about John King to contact me.

On 2nd January 2004, the following e-mail arrived on my computer screen from Bob Lysgaard, 2717 Billy Casper Drive, Las Vegas, Nevada:

"John King was my roommate in "A' Flight. We were assigned to the 25th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, 51st FIW, USAF at Suwon in Korea in February 1953. What a great guy! John King came from the RAF as an all-weather pilot. On this mission I was flying No 4 through an awful thunderstorm over North Korea, north of the DM7. John was No 3 and suddenly hauled back on his stick. I tried hard but could not keep up with him and that erratic maneuver. He did not respond to any radio transmissions and I was lucky to return with the formation to K-13, Suwon. No one could contact him from the formation or from the base. 'Ihe (accident) investigation considered severe vertigo, oxygen failure or a heart attack. Personally, I never considered the wildest rumor, which was possible defection to North Korea or Vladivostok in Russia."

As a Las Vegas dentist, I had the opportunity to talk with Halal Fisher. He shot down 10 Mig-15s in Korea before getting shot down himself deep in China. Hal was held as a prisoner of war for three years. Naturally, the Russians also interrogated him. He did learn enough Russian to read a book that claimed that John King had been shot down by a Russian pilot. This I do not believe because John King's aircraft remains were recovered along with his dog tags from a mountain nearer the DIZ in North Korea. The area is south of the range of Russian fighter aircraft and near where we encountered that terrible thunderstorm.

I shall never forget John King. He, John Lovell, and jacko Maintland were wonderful compatriots from the United Kingdom during the Korean War of 1953."

So, 59 years after my first `encounter' as a schoolboy with John King, the circle has been closed. I am grateful to have been in contact with Bob Lysgaard: the last man to see John King alive. In my own short RAF flying career, I never remotely approached John's illustrious achievements and it is a cause of great sadness that such a brilliant young officer and pilot did not live to satisfy his full potential. But it is a matter of some small satisfaction that we did both share not only a common school and RAF Squadron but also the opportunity to `dance the skies' in the inimitable F-86 Sabre.

No portion of this article may be used or reprinted without permission from the President of the F-86 Sabre Pilots Association or the editor of Sabre Jet Classics magazine.


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