by Paul Kattu

This is a story about killing MiGs on 'the other side of the river'. The motivation to cross the Yalu looking for a fight wasn't to keep the MiGs from "being there the next day". It was simply to put another 'W' in the win column - a victory. Fighter pilots somehow are able to divest themselves of the horror of war, becoming totally immersed in achieving credibility through their skills with an airplane. There is no thought of taking an enemy pilot's life. If you shoot him down. once, let him rise to challenge you again. Chances are you will win again. The exact same rationale is offered concern any so-called threat of the Migs being there the next day. Let them be there, the more the merrier. So some of the guys flew across the river in 'hot pursuit'. Maybe, and maybe not! Either way, they were playing out the role of a well trained, very aggressive fighter pilot. Even me.

There are Two Chinese airfields on 'the other side' of the Yalu River. The airspace above them was, of course, off limits during the Korean War. In 'hot pursuit" many Sabres strayed across this line of demarcation. I was involved in one such incident. My first encounter with the MiGs was within a few miles of Sinuiju. They had just taken off, turned south across the Suiho Reservoir, punched off their tanks, and begun their climb to altitude. We hit them from out of the sun, catching them completely by surprise. My claim for a kill was downgraded because the film showed inconclusive results, and the other members of the flight were also unable to add confirmation. That was mission number one -almost across the river, but not quite. A long time later, in the same locale, another engagement took place.

7 September 1952, towards the end of my tour, I was leading Tiger Flight, Bill Powers was #3, the element leader. Two younger pilots were flying wing. We were in a fluid four formation at about 40,000 feet, swinging westward on what would have been our last look at Antung and Sumiju before returning to K-13, Suwon By The Sea. My #4 had already called 'Bingo', signifying that his tanks had about 700 lbs left, enough to fly the return route of 250 miles and still have a couple hundred pounds left for the traffic pattern. Fully intending to RTB, I scanned the airfield across the Yalu one last time.

From the east, six MiG-15s flying in trail formation were approaching Among at about 1500 feet I called, "Tiger 2 & 4, head on back: Bill, follow me." We chopped the throttles to idle and rapidly descended toward the airfield. My tactics became evident as I watched the MiGs approach the pitch. They were of varied paint schemes, as though they had been on an operational test and evaluation of the different colors. The MiG leader was bright polished aluminum, #2 was camouflaged like a lizard, #3 was robin's egg blue. #4 and 5 were olive green, while #6 was a dark forest green. MiG #6 seemed like a good choice. He not only was the easiest to keep in sight - dark green against the light brown hue of the rice fields - but he would be the last to pitch out. As an element, we closed within firing range just as #6 lowered his gear and began turning for final. I opened fire and continued to close to point blank range, with an overtake of probably a couple hundred knots. MiG #6 went out of control just as Bill called ' "Break right!", and at the same instant I heard, then saw the 37mm cannon of mother MiG pounding at my 6 o'clock! Porn! Pom! form! His range was no more than 30 feet. But somehow the guy missed me clean. I broke hard, narrowly missing the lizard (#2 MiG) as he touched down, then I flew but a scant few feet over the top of the silver leader.

Across the taxiway and down the ramp toward a revetment complex full of MiGs I roared, looking almost level into the eyes of a ground crewman who was riding a tug towing a MiG minus its aft section. "You OK, Bill?", I asked. "Roger that, 'cept low on fuel." "Me too. Let's get out of here." "Rog."

Bill and I had become separated during the excitement and had to proceed home singly. To have attempted a rendezvous in that hostile airspace was out of the question not to mention the need to conserve every last drop of JP-4 for the landing. Bill put down at K-14 on fumes.

As I accelerated across the rice paddies on the west side of Antung, heading for the sanctuary of the Yellow Sea, two MiGs rolled in from a perch position as though to initiate a pursuit curve. When they made their reversal, bringing them into lethal range, the MiG leader suddenly (and unexpectedly to me) broke off their attack, They chandelled back toward the MiG field, probably also low on fuel.

My fuel tank registered something over 200 pounds, maybe closer to 300. I was on the deck doing about 450 knots, and approaching the mud flats at the Yalu River estuary. A bailout over water seemed imminent, especially if I was attacked by more MiGs. My throttle was cobbed as I turned south along the coast, and "Gloria Beth" (the name of my F-86) clawed for altitude. No tanks, no arnmo, not much gas left. Only a 150 pound jock with a parachute, helmet, .45 automatic and a hunting knife - hardly more than 'Gloria Betb's' gross weight EMPTY!

Cold air, a favorable wind, and a humming J47 took us to over 20,000 feet as we passed Cheju-Do. The fuel gauge registered empty. I stop-cocked the throttle, decelerated to 180 knots, and began a descent, hoping to glide across the DMZ, then eject into friendly hands. The clean and very light Sabre did more than that. She coasted to K-14 at 8,000 feet, more than enough to continue on to my home plate at K-13.

At 1000 feet and about a mile out, I airstarted the engine, which provided both warm air to clear the fogged up windscreen, and a solid 3000 psi to power the flight controls. Cleared by the tower for an emergency, straight in landing, I lowered the gear and flaps and touched down. On the roll-out, the engine began surging and I shut it down. Ground crews towed "Gloria Beth" and me back to the 16th Squadron revetment area.

The MiG kill was confirmed by sightings from other pilots who reported a crashed MiG just short of the east end of the Antungmain runway, It was obvious to me, that I too would have bought the farm in the same spot had it not been for Bill's timely call to "Break right". We therefore, shared the victory. I got the MIG, but Bill earned his share by saving my life.

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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