One of the most interesting Panther stories was the legend of ‘The Blue Tail Fly’ and the fate of experienced F9F-5 pilot Lt(jg) Richard ‘Stretch’ Clinite of VF-153.
The most successful first generation jet fighter flown by the US Navy, the F9F Panther‘s contributions during the Korean War were initially overlooked. Operating from aircraft carriers off the Korean coast with Task Force 77, F9Fs helped stop the North Korean invasion within two weeks of the communists crossing the 38th Parallel on Jun. 25, 1950.
Panthers, escorting carrier-based AD Skyraiders and F4U Corsairs, penetrated as far north as Pyongyang and the Yalu River, where they bombed and strafed targets that the North Koreans thought were out of range. A total of 32 Panther squadron deployments in the US Navy and Marine Corps during the Korean War, along with several special detachments that operated the F9F-2/5P unarmed photo-reconnaissance versions, make the Panther one of the most frequently and gainfully employed aircraft of the conflict.
As told by Warren Thompson in his book F9F Panther Units of the Korean War, one of the most interesting Panther stories was the legend of ‘The Blue Tail Fly’ and the fate of experienced F9F-5 pilot Lt(jg) Richard ‘Stretch’ Clinite of VF-153. Panther parts were extremely scarce during the latter stages of the Korean conflict, so VF-153’s maintenance personnel had to get creative when the number of serviceable aircraft in the unit began to drop alarmingly due to attrition. They duly took the salvageable parts from two Panthers and came up with an interesting creation that would become known as ‘The Blue Tail Fly’.
In early May 1953 Clinite had been flying a Dash-5′ in an experimental natural metal finish when it was hit hard by flak. The Panther’s tail was badly damaged, although he was able to return to USS Princeton (CV-37) aircraft carrier. At first it appeared that the aircraft would have to be grounded until a major overhaul could be accomplished in port. In the meantime another VF-153 pilot, Ens W A Wilds, brought back a standard F9F-5 with its forward fuselage badly holed by flak. It was then that the maintenance crew displayed its ingenuity. The undamaged parts of the two aircraft were combined during an all-night work session, allowing Clinite to be presented with a new hybrid Panther. The story of ‘The Blue Tail Fly’ ended after its 12th mission (on May 12) with Clinite in the cockpit when the aircraft was ordered back to the USA for rebuilding.
The next day Clinite took off for a mission in another F9F. Near Wonsan he encountered heavy flak that damaged his aircraft so badly that he had to bail out into the sea. A rescue helicopter was quickly on the scene, but strong gusts of wind whipped up the surface of the water and prevented Clinite from collapsing his parachute. The helicopter crew attempted to hoist the downed pilot to safety, but this proved to be an impossible task because the high winds kept billowing the parachute out. Although Clinite was eventually rescued by the destroyer USS Samuel N Moore (DD-747), it was too late. He had already drowned, and attempts to revive him failed. This tragic story was probably repeated numerous times during the war at sea.
F9F Panther Units of the Korean War is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.
Photo credit: U.S. Navy