In an effort to help him reach Kimpo, Robbie Risner attempted to push 1st Lt. Joseph Logan’s F-86 by having him shut down his engine and inserting the nose of his own Sabre into the tailpipe of Logan’s.
“Pardo’s push” of Mar. 10, 1967 was preceded by a similar event.
Robbie Risner’s heroism during seven and a half years of imprisonment and torture in North Vietnam is legendary. Less known is the fact that he was a jet ace in Korea with eight confirmed victories.
On Sep. 15, 1952 Risner’s F-86 Sabre flight escorted F-84 Thunderjet fighter-bombers attacking a chemical plant on the Yalu River near the East China Sea. During their defense of the bombers, Risner’s flight overflew the MiG base at Antung Airfield, China. Fighting one MiG at nearly supersonic speeds at ground level, Risner pursued it down a dry riverbed and across low hills to an airfield 35 miles (56 km) inside China. Scoring numerous hits on the MiG, shooting off its canopy, and setting it on fire, Risner chased it between hangars of the Communist airbase, where he shot it down into parked fighters.
On the return flight, Risner’s wingman, 1st Lt. Joseph Logan, was struck in his fuel tanks by anti-aircraft fire over Antung. In an effort to help him reach Kimpo, Risner attempted to push Logan’s aircraft by having him shut down his engine and inserting the nose of his own jet into the tailpipe of Logan’s, an unprecedented and untried maneuver. The object of the maneuver was to push Logan’s aircraft to the island of Cho Do off the North Korean coast, where the Air Force maintained a helicopter rescue detachment.
“A typical fighter pilot,” said Risner in a beautiful article by John L. Frisbee appeared in Air Force Magazine, “thinks less about risk than about his objective.”
Risner told Logan to shut down his engine, now almost out of fuel. Then he gently inserted the upper lip of his air intake into the tailpipe of Logan’s F-86. “It stayed sort of locked there as long as we both maintained stable flight, but the turbulence created by Joe’s aircraft made stable flight for me very difficult. There was a point at which I was between the updraft and the downdraft. A change of a few inches ejected me either up or down,” Risner recalled.
Each time Risner re-established contact between the battered nose of his F-86 and Logan’s aircraft was a potential disaster that was made even more likely by the film of hydraulic fluid and jet fuel that covered his windscreen and obscured his vision. It was, one imagines, something like pushing a car at 80 miles an hour down a corduroy road in a heavy fog.
Miraculously, Risner nudged Joe Logan’s F-86 all the way to Cho Do, maintaining an airspeed of 190 knots and enough altitude to stay out of range of automatic weapons. Near the island, Logan bailed out, landing in the water near shore. Ironically, Risner’s heroic effort ended in tragedy. Although Logan was a strong swimmer, he became tangled in his chute lines and drowned before rescuers could reach him. But the measure of a heroic act lies not in success. It lies in the doing.
After Korea, Robbie Risner’s Air Force career continued to be marked by acts of physical and moral courage, culminating in his leadership of American POWs during those long years in Hanoi’s prisons.
The standards of valor, loyalty, and dedication he set for himself, and met superbly throughout his years in uniform, have established a goal to be sought by generations of airmen yet to come.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force and DCS