Close Call With 20 MIGs as F-106s Fly EC-121 Escort during USS Pueblo Incident 94th FIS Deployed to Osan AB, Korea
By Bruce Gordon, F-106 Pilot, 94 FIS Aug 4, 2013 [Now published in his book ‘The Spirit of Attack: Fighter Pilot Stories’ 2014]
The USS Pueblo incident occurred on Jan 23, 1968. On June 4, 1969 the North Koreans shot down an EC-121 ELINT aircraft, killing 31 Americans. The USA had few options other than to go to war with North Korea, which would cost a lot more lives. The EC-121 shoot-down is reported on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1969_EC121_shootdown_incident. We decided that we would not back down from the North Korean threat, but would instead provide fighter escorts and fight if the North Koreans threatened our EC-121s again. On June 4, 1969, the 94th FIS deployed from Selfridge AFB to Osan, Korea. One of our missions was to escort the EC-121 aircraft. I flew a number of escort missions with the EC-121s. One of them nearly got our F-106's into a fight with 20 North Korean MIGs. I was considering telling that story at our September reunion in Dayton. There are five stories that I want to tell, and this is one of them -- I'm the speaker for dinner on Sept 12th, but I can't cover all 5 stories in one evening! Here is my story as I wrote it down many years ago; you may send it on to our members if you wish: Korean Mission The truce which ended the Korean War was often violated. In 1968 alone, 17 U.S. and South Korean military personnel were killed and 294 were injured in 181 incidents. On Jan 23, 1968 the North Koreans had seized the Pueblo, a US Navy electronic intelligence (ELINT) ship and imprisoned the crew for a long time. On April 15, 1969 they sent jet fighters that shot down a US ELINT propeller-driven EC-121, killing 31 Americans. Both the ship and plane had been in international waters, where any nation has a right to go. These were current events when the 94th FIS deployed with F-106s to Korea on June 4, 1969. Military personnel overseas have “Rules of Engagement” which usually say that you can only shoot in selfdefense, after the enemy has fired upon you and showed “hostile intent”. Because of the Pueblo and EC-121 incidents, our Rules of Engagement had been modified to state that the North Koreans had already demonstrated hostile intent. We could fire upon them without waiting for them to shoot first. The USA had decided to continue ELINT flights off the coast of North Korea, but now we provided the slow ELINT with a fighter escort. At first we had eight fighters, but reduced it to four fighters. Escort patrol was a long mission; we would refuel in air before starting the patrol. We flew a barrier combat air patrol (BARCAP) about 20 miles off the North Korean coast, and the ELINT aircraft would circle about thirty miles from the coast. Half-way through patrol we would come back to the tanker for more fuel, then resume patrol.
This mission started normally. Our four FF-106’s 106’s took off from Osan and flew to the east coast of South Korea, where we refueled from a KC KC-135 135 tanker. We then turned north to our BARCAP position off the east coast of North Korea, over intern international ational waters, sweeping the area with our radar to be sure no fighters sneaked through. The ELINT aircraft was somewhere farther out to sea. We flew BARCAP for an hour or so, and then turned south to get another load of fuel from the tanker. I was flying in #3 position in the four four-ship ship flight, with #4 on my wing. #1 and #2 got their fuel from the tanker, and I hooked up to refuel. “MiGS TAKING OFF FROM WONSON”; our radar station sent a warning that the North Korean fighter base near us was active. I got m myy fuel, pulled off tanker into a waiting position while #4 slid into position, connected to the tanker, and began to take fuel. “MiGS ORBITING WONSON” came an additional warning. “HOW MANY?” we asked. “ABOUT TWENTY” came the reply. Twenty MiGS against only four F-106’s 106’s -- the odds were interesting -- our fighter training didn’t cover what to do when seriously outnumbered! A few minutes passed. “MiGS TURNING OUT TOWARDS ELINT AIRCRAFT!” ... “#4’s OFF TANKER”. “TANKER TURNING SOUTH”. Our last fighter had his fuel, just as the MiGs were coming after our unarmed ELINT aircraft. The unarmed tanker didn’t want to be anywhere near the twenty MiGs! Our four fighters turned sharply north and increased to attack speed. I swung into fighting position, my wingman in into to position on my right wing. The distance between us and the twenty MiGs was decreasing rapidly. They apparently had misjudged their timing -- instead of us being low on fuel and south with the tanker, we were full of fuel and closing to attack. The wor words ds of the “Rules of Engagement” were in my mind: “the North Koreans have already demonstrated hostile intent”. Our four fighters armed our missiles -- we were attacking! “MiGS TURNING BACK TOWARD LAND”. The North Koreans apparently realized that they had m missed issed their opportunity to kill the unarmed ELINT aircraft, and they didn’t want to fight. We turned back to our BARCAP area and resumed patrol. My flight suit was dripping with nervous sweat, but the incident was over.
Details of the 1969 Korean enco encounter unter of 4 FF-106s 106s and 20 MIGS In retrospect, nobody asked "Are we clear to fire?" !Our flight lead should have asked that question. !Even though the Rules of Engagement said we could fire, it would be nice to have a command decision before we killed North Koreans. !The downside of asking was that the controller would probably say "stand by" while he asked someone up the chain of command. !With seconds ticking away before engagement, we couldn't afford someone to tell us to "stand by"! We had spread into ou ourr "Six "Six-Pack" Pack" attack formation, where we spread across 10,000 feet altitude and a mile or two horizontally. !In that position, each of us was free to attack on our own, using our own radar, without having to keep too close to the other planes. ! We each cou could ld see only one of the others in our 4 4--ship ship flight, due to distance. !That also meant that enemy fighters approaching us would probably see only one FF-106 106 and have no idea where the other three were! Their response to our attack would be uncoordinated.
We were attacking at 43,000 feet at .95 Mach. !That meant that the MIGs would probably be slightly below us - the F-106 was the only fighter which could cruise at 43,000 feet. !By staying at .95 Mach, anyone trying to attack us from behind would have to be supersonic, probably Mach 1.2, which was the absolute fastest that a MIG-19 could go, and they couldn't do that in a turn. !They only had infrared missiles and cannon - which meant that they had to fire from the stern - but our speed made a stern attack almost impossible. A bit of aerodynamics -- the F-106 at .95 can make hard, high-G turns! However, once you go supersonic, the shock wave moves aft and moves the center of pressure aft. ! The center of gravity remains in the same spot, so moving the center of pressure aft means that the aircraft becomes nose-heavy. !A nose-heavy aircraft cannot turn as sharply. !At Mach 1.2 the air data computer system would transfer fuel aft to the "T" tanks, the farthest aft fuel tanks, to try to move the center of gravity aft and give us more maneuverability. !This fuel transfer system gave us better maneuverability supersonic -- it might even make us more maneuverable than the supersonic MIG-19 - only combat would prove that! !Anyway, no fighter at the time could turn as fast supersonic as it could if it was just subsonic. !We flew at .95 Mach where we were difficult to attack from the stern, but had excellent maneuverability in a subsonic turn and could very quickly accelerate to a supersonic attack. !Above .95 Mach, the transonic range, the instruments would hold, then suddenly jump to about Mach 1.05 -- sort of like a jump to warp speed in Star Wars! The MIGs were about 40 miles away -- there were about 20 of them -- and we were closing on them at about 1,500 miles per hour. !We had less than two minutes before firing. !We would pick them up at about 20 miles. !Each of us was on his own â€“ we could each get a "kill" on the first head-on pass. !The MIGs, with poor radar and missiles that required a stern launch against a tailpipe, would rely on eyeballs â€“ good for about 5 miles. ! My plan was to select radar missiles (the forward missile bay), pick a target, fire on the front (about half the closing speed that I'd use to destroy the Bomarc) and keep flying right through the MIG formation! !They would probably try to turn to follow me, but that would take time and slow them down. !I could easily outrun them, anyway. ! Once I came out the far side of the MIG formation, I would probably go about 20 miles before turning around. !I would be out of visual range, so none of them could see me. !I would re-evaluate the situation on radar and possibly re-engage, going this time for a stern shot with my infrared missiles. !Again, my radar gave me a great advantage. !I would expect their formation to be a mess of individual aircraft, and I might pick one that I could attack from the stern by surprise. !I could easily accelerate to above Mach 1.5 and go through their formation fast. !None of them could keep up with me if they saw me. ! If all that worked as I planned, I might get two MIGs and live to tell about it! !We couldn't stop 20 MIGs from getting the ELINT aircraft, but the four of us could make them pay a very high price... !After they lost a few planes and tried to fight us, they might forget that their original intent was to get the ELINT aircraft. !As it was, their commanders thought better of it, and they turned around and went home. !We resumed our BARCAP (Barrier Combat Air Patrol) mission. !No shots were fired -- but I certainly remember it! This incident showed the superiority of the F-106 over the MIG-19s, which were the best that North Korea had. !MIG-19s shot down a number of F-4's in Vietnam because the MIG-19 could turn tighter than the F-4 at lower altitudes and subsonic speeds --- Bruce Gordon [Aug 4, 2013]