Tag Archives: Korean People’s Air Force

15 April 1969, 0447 Zulu

United States Navy Lockheed EC-121M Warning Star, Bu. No. 135749, circa 1969. (U.S. Navy)

15 April 1969: This was a national holiday in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), celebrating the 57th birthday of Kim Il-Sung, who had been the political leader of the communist country since 1948.

Deep Sea 129 was a United States Navy Lockheed EC-121M Warning Star, Bu. No. 135749, an electronic intelligence variant of the commercial Lockheed Model L-1049A Super Constellation. The airplane was assigned to Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron One (VQ-1), based at NAS Atsugi on the island of Honshu, Japan.

LCDR James Howard Overstreet USN

The Warning Star took off from NAS Atsugi at 0700 local time (2200Z¹) for a planned 8½-hour BEGGER SHADOW electronic intelligence (ELINT) mission. From Atsugi, it was to fly to a point off Chongjin, a coastal city near the DPRK/Manchuria border, fly 2½ elliptical orbits, 120 nautical miles (222 kilometers) long and parallel to the North Korean coast. Deep Sea 129 was to approach no closer than 50 nautical miles (93 kilometers) of the coastline. It would then proceed to Osan Air Base, Pyeongtaek, Republic of Korea (South Korea).

Deep Sea 129 was under the command of Lieutenant Commander James Howard Overstreet, U.S.N. There were 31 men on board, consisting of the flight crew, signals intelligence  and electronics countermeasures technicians and foreign language linguists.

On 28 March 1969, the Korean People’s Air Force (KPAF) moved two Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21PFM (NATO: Fishbed-F) interceptors from Puk’ang-ni Airfield to the MiG-17 training base at Hoemun-Ni Airfield on the eastern coast of North Korea. This was an unusual move and suggested that something was being planned.

Korean People’s Air Force Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21PFM (Fishbed-F) interceptors armed with AA-2 Atoll missiles. (Oryx Blog)

As Deep Sea 129 approached the northern end of its planned elliptical track at 1330 local (0430Z), both MiG-21s launched from Hoemun-Ni to intercept. The first MiG set up a defensive patrol 65 nautical miles (75 statute miles, or 120 kilometers) west of the EC-121, while the second flew eastward and attacked it approximately 80 miles (92 statute miles, 148 kilometers) east of the North Korean coastline. The radar returns of the MiG-21 and the EC-121 merged at 0447Z, the probable time of the shoot down.

The Warning Star went down in the Sea of Japan. All 31 persons on board were killed.

Warning Star shoot down. (Central Intelligence Agency)

Just two minutes earlier, at 0445Z, Brigadier General Arthur W. Holderness, commanding the 314th Air Division, United States Air Force, ordered two Convair F-102A Delta Dagger interceptors to proceed from Osan to a point along the planned flight path of the EC-121, locate it, and rescue it from harassment or attack. The interceptors took off at 0504Z, too late to save Deep Sea 129.

An HC-130 took off from Tachikawa Air Base, Japan, at 0644 to begin search operations. It was accompanied by a combat air patrol (CAP) of Convair F-106A Delta Dart interceptors. U.S. Navy warships USS Dale (DLG-19) and USS Henry W. Tucker (DD-785) departed the naval base at Sasebo, Japan, to assist in the search and rescue effort. Also assisting were two Soviet Foxtrot-class submarines, their submarine tender, and three destroyers.

The Soviet destroyer Hull Number 429 recovered a 20-man life raft, three leather jackets, a parachute, two exposure suits and many aircraft parts. These were transferred to Tucker.

Debris recovered indicated that the EC-121 had suffered major structural damage from the detonation of a fragmenting warhead of one, possibly two, AA-2 Atoll missiles.

On 17 April, the bodies of two crewmen, Lt. (j.g.) Joseph R. Ribar and AT1 Richard E. Sweeney, were recovered from the Sea of Japan. They were transported to Japan aboard Tucker.

The United States sent Task Force 71 into the Sea of Japan to defend aircraft flying in international airspace. The task force consisted of 3 attack aircraft carriers, and anti-submarine aircraft carrier, a battleship, two guided missile heavy cruisers, three guided missile destroyer leaders, two guided missile destroyers, a heavy cruiser, ten destroyers and one frigate.

United States Navy Lockheed EC-121M Warning Star Bu. No. 135749 in pre-1969 paint scheme. (U.S. Navy)

The Lockheed EC-121M Warning Star (WV-2Q before 1962) was a military electronic intelligence gathering aircraft, based on the commercial Lockheed L-1049A Super Constellation. Originally ordered as the PO-2W, the type was redesignated WV-2 prior to delivery. The WV-2s were primarily used as radar early warning aircraft for the Pacific and Atlantic Barriers. Bu. No. 135749 was one of thirteen WV-2s which were converted to WV-2Qs. They were redesignated EC-121M in 1962.

The original XC-69 Constellation prototype was used by Lockheed to test a number of configurations, including prototyping the L-1049 Super Constellation. In this photograph, it is testing the aerodynamics of the radome designs for the PO-1W Warning Star. (Lockheed Martin)

The EC-121 had distinctive dorsal and ventral radomes. The airplane was 116 feet, 2 inches (35.408 meters) long, with a wingspan of 126 feet, 2 inches ( 38.456 meters), and height of 24 feet, 9 inches (7.544 meters). It had an empty weight of 83,671pounds (37,953 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 156,500 pounds (70,987 kilograms). According to a declassified 1989 National Security Agency document, (DOCID: 4047116) the EC-121M carried nearly 6 tons of electronic intelligence equipment.

Lockheed EC-121 Warning Star three-view illustration with dimensions. (U.S. Navy)

The EC-121M Warning Star was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged 3,347.662-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division R-3350-91 (923TC18DA2) turbocompound engines with a compression ratio of 6.7:1. The turbocompound engine used captured exhaust gases to drive three Power Recovery Turbines. These PRTs were coupled to the engine’s crankshaft. This system added approximately 450 horsepower to the engine’s total power output. The R-3350-91 had a Normal Power rating of 2,600 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., and Maximum Power rating of 3,250 horsepower at 2,900 r.p.m., for Take Off. 115/145-octane aviation gasoline was required. The engines turned three-bladed propellers through a 0.4375:1 propeller gear reduction. The R-3350-91 was 56.59 inches (1.437 meters) in diameter, 89.53 inches (2.274 meters) long, and weighed 3,690 pounds (1,674 kilograms).

The EC-121M had a cruise speed of 208 knots (239 miles per hour/385 kilometers per hour), and maximum speed of 292 knots (336 miles per hour/541 kilometers per hour) at 19,500 feet (5,944 meters). Its service ceiling was 21,900 feet (6,675 meters), and it had a maximum range of 3,850 nautical miles (4,431 statute miles/7,130 kilometers).

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21PFM, 47 Red. (Comtourist)

The Микоян и Гуревич МиГ-21ПФМ or 미코 야구 구레 비치 미그 -21PFM (Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21PFM) was an export version of the Soviet Union’s short-range supersonic interceptor. An identifying feature is the very wide chord of its vertical fin. Also, the one-piece, forward-opening canopy of previous variants is replaced by a two-piece canopy that opens to the right. The MiG-21PFM is 40 feet, 4 inches (12.294 meters) long, with a wingspan of 23 feet, 6 inches (7.163 meters), and height of 13 feet, 6 inches (4.115 meters). Its gross weight is 20,010 (pounds (9,076 kilograms).

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21PFM, 47 Red. (AlvanBeem/Wikimedia Commons)

The MiG-21PFM was powered by a single Tumansky R-11F2S-300 engine. It is a dual-spool axial-flow turbojet with afterburner, with a 6-stage compressor section (3 low- and 3 high-pressure stages) and a 2-stage turbine (1 high- and 1 low-pressure stage). The engine is rated at 8,650 pounds of thrust (38.48 kilonewtons), and 11,900 pounds (52.93 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The R-11F2S-300 is 0.906 meters (2 feet, 11.7 inches) in diameter, 4.600 meters (15 feet, 1.1 inches) long, and weighs 1,124 kilograms (2,478 pounds).

The MiG-21PFM has a cruise speed of 550 miles per hour (885 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 1,386 miles per hour (2,231 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling is 62,000 feet (18,898 meters) and its range is 1,035 miles (1,666 kilometers).

The primary armament consists of up to four Vympel R-3S infrared-homing, or Kalininingrad RS-2US radar-guided, air-to-air missiles; or Zvezda Kh-66 radar-guided air-to-surface missiles. It could also carry a gun pod containing a Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-23 two-barrel 23 × 115 mm autocannon with 200 rounds of ammunition on a centerline hardpoint. Alternatively, it could carry up to 1,000 kilograms of bombs.

Vympel R-3S air-to-air missile (AA-2 Atoll) at the Steven F. Udvar Hazy Center, National Air and Space Museum. (Dane Penland/NASM)

The Vympel R-3S was a short range, infrared-homing, air-to-air missile. It is also known as the K-13, and was identified as the AA-2 Atoll by NATO forces. The missile was reverse-engineered by the Turopov Design Bureau, Tushino, Russia, from a Raytheon AIM-9B Sidewinder which had been captured by the People’s Republic of China during the 1958 Taiwan Straits Crisis.

The R-3S is 2.838 meters (9.311 feet) long, 0.127 meters (0.417 feet) in diameter, with a maximum fin span of 0.528 meters (1.732 feet). The missile weighs 75.3 kilograms (166.0 pounds), and is armed with a 11.3 kilogram (24.9 pounds) high explosive fragmentation warhead. A solid propellant rocket engine can accelerate it to a maximum speed of 550 meters per second (1,230 miles per hour). The effective range is 2 kilometers (1.2 miles), with a maximum range of 7 kilometers (4.3 miles).

The pilot of a Korean People’s Air Force Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21PFM interceptor, 4.15 Red, returns from a mission. An Internet source suggests that the numerals “4.15” represent the birthday of Kim Il-Sung. (Korean People’s Air Force)

¹ The letter Z following the four-digit time notation stands for “Zulu Time,” a U.S. military term meaning the time at the Zero Meridian (also known as the Prime Meridian, 0° longitude). It is the same as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) or Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

10 March 1967

Republic F-105D-31-RE Thunderchief 62-4284 was a triple MiG killer. Captain Max C. Brestel shot down two MiG-17 fighters with this airplane, 10 March 1967. Captain Gene I. Basel also shot down a MiG-17 while flying this fighter bomber, 27 October 1967.
Republic F-105D-31-RE Thunderchief 62-4284 was a triple MiG killer. Captain Max C. Brestel shot down two MiG-17 fighters with this airplane, 10 March 1967. Captain Gene I. Basel also shot down a MiG-17 while flying this fighter bomber, 27 October 1967. (U.S. Air Force)

10 March 1967: Captain Max C. Brestel, United States Air Force, a pilot assigned to the 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing at Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base, was flying a Republic F-105D-31-RE Thunderchief fighter-bomber, serial number 62-4284. His call sign was “Kangaroo 03.” During an attack on the Thai Nguyen Steel Mill, the single most heavily-defended target in North Vietnam, Captain Brestel engaged and shot down two enemy MiG-17 fighters.

This was the first time during the Vietnam War that an American pilot shot down two enemy airplanes during the same mission. The following description is from an official U.S. Air Force history:

Brestel’s aerial victories became the first USAF double kill of the conflict. At the time, he was flying the third Thunderchief in a flight of four and was tasked with suppressing flak in and around the Thai Nguyen steel mill and supporting other F-105 strike forces. Brestel relates how his two victories came about:

“We proceeded to the target via the Red River to a point north of the target, where we turned south. Numerous SAM and MiG warnings had been transmitted. Also, the 388th Wing, which had preceded us on the target, had encountered MiGs.

“As the flight pulled up to gain altitude for delivering our ordnance, I sighted two MiG-21s making a pass at Col. Gast [Lt. Col. Philip C. Gast, the flight leader] from his 4 o’clock position. I was in lead’s 8:30 o’clock position. I broke toward the MiGs and passed across his tail. They broke off the attack and I continued on my dive delivery. Flak was normal for the area. We delivered our ordnance as planned.”

As the flight pulled out at an altitude of approximately 3,000 to 4,000 feet, Gast called MiGs at 2 o’clock low. ‘Let’s go get them,’ he urged. ‘I’m with you,’ Brestel acknowledged as he spotted the flight of four MiG-17s in staggered trail heading north at approximately 1,500 feet. Behind them was another flight of four. Brestel’s narrative continues:

“I observed all MiGs light their afterburners. Colonel Gast began firing at one of the first two MiGs. I observed the second two begin to fire at Colonel Gast. I called a break and closed within 300–500 feet of the number four MiG. I fired an approximate 2½ second burst at him as he was in a right turn. I observed hits in the wing and fuselage. The MiG reversed into a left turn. I fired another 2½ second burst into him, observing hits in the left wing, fuselage and canopy, and a fire in the left wing root. The aircraft rolled over and hit the ground under my left wing. I then closed 300 feet on the number three MiG, which was firing at Colonel Gast. He was in a right turn and again I fired a 2½ second burst, observing hits in wing, fuselage, etc. He also reversed to the left and I fired another 2½ second burst, observing more hits and pieces flying off the aircraft. The aircraft appeared to flip back up over my canopy and disappeared behind me. we broke off the engagement at this time after approximately 1½ to 2 minutes of combat. A SAM was fired at us and more flak as we exited the area.

“I know I destroyed the first MiG, as I saw him crash. I did not see the pilot bail out and doubt if he was alive, since hits were observed in the cockpit and the canopy broke up. My wingman, Lt. Weskamp [1st Lt. Robert L. Weskamp] also observed the MiG hit the ground.

“I feel I also destroyed the second MiG, as the range was the same and hits were observed in the same areas, i.e., fuselage, wings, etc. Also, his last maneuver could not be considered normal. The aircraft appeared to be in a violent pitch-up or tumble and out of control… However, because he pitched up over and behind me, I did not see him strike the ground.”

Brestel was given credit for destroying both MiGs.

— Aces and Aerial Victories: The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia 1965–1973, by R. Frank Futrell, William H. Greenhalgh, Carl Grubb, Gerard E. Hasselwander, Robert F. Jakob and Charles A. Ravenstein, Office of Air Force History, Headquarters USAF, 1976, Chapter II at Pages 44 and 45.

This former Egyptian Air Force Mikoyan-Gurevivch MiG-17F in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force is painted in the colors of the Vietnam Peoples' Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
This former Egyptian Air Force Mikoyan-Gurevivch MiG-17F in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force is painted in the colors of the Vietnam Peoples’ Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

Vietnamese sources identified one of the downed MiG-17 fighters as being of Z Group, Korean People’s Air Force, flown by Kim Quang Wook, who was killed.

The F-105 was the largest single-seat, single-engine combat aircraft in history. It was designed as a Mach 2+ tactical nuclear strike aircraft and fighter-bomber. The fuselage of the F-105B incorporated the “area rule” which gave the Thunderchief its characteristic “wasp waist” shape.

The F-105D Thunderchief is 64 feet, 5.3 inches (19.642 meters) long with a wingspan of 34 feet, 11.2 inches (10.648 meters) and overall height of 19 feet, 8.4 inches (6.005 meters). The total wing area was 385 square feet (35.8 square meters). Its wings were swept 45° at 25% chord. The angle of incidence was 0° and there was no twist. The wings had 3° 30′ anhedral. The F-105D-31 has an empty weight of 26,855 pounds (12,181 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 52,838 pounds (23,967 kilograms).

The Thunderchief was powered by one Pratt & Whitney J75-P-19W engine. The J75 is a two-spool axial-flow afterburning turbojet with water injection. It has a 15-stage compressor section (8 low- and and 7 high-pressure stages) and 3-stage turbine section (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages.) The J75-P-19W is rated at 14,300 pounds of thrust (63.61 kilonewtons), continuous power; 16,100 pounds (71.62 kilonewtons), Military Power (30-minute limit); and Maximum Power rating of 24,500 pounds (108.98 kilonewtons) with afterburner (15-minute limit). The engine could produce 26,500 pounds of thrust (117.88 kilonewtons) with water injection, for takeoff. The J75-P-19W is 21 feet, 7.3 inches (6.586 meters) long, 3 feet, 7.0 inches (1.092 meters) in diameter, and weighs 5,960 pounds (2,703 kilograms).

The maximum speed of the F-105D was 726 knots (835 miles per hour/1,345 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level (Mach 1.09) and 1,192 knots (1,372 miles per hour (2,208 kilometers per hour) at 36,089 feet (11,000 meters) (Mach 2.08). The combat ceiling was 51,000 feet (15,545 meters). The F-105D’s combat radius varied with the type of mission from 277 to 776 nautical miles (319–893 statute miles/513–1,437 kilometers). The maximum ferry range was 1,917 nautical miles (2,206 statute miles/3,550 kilometers).

The F-105D was armed with one 20 mm M61A1 Vulcan rotary cannon and 1,028 rounds of ammunition. It has an internal bomb bay and can carry bombs, missiles or fuel tanks on under wing and centerline hardpoints. The maximum bomb load consisted of 16 750-pound (340 kilogram) bombs. For tactical nuclear strikes, the F-105D could carry one B57 or three B61 nuclear bombs.

The F-105 Thunderchief was a supersonic tactical fighter bomber rather than an air superiority fighter. Still, during the Vietnam War, F-105s shot down 27 enemy MiG fighters. 24 of those were shot down with the Thunderchief’s Vulcan cannon.

Two Air Force sergeants load belts of linked 20-millimeter cannon shells for the F-105's M61 six-barreled Gatling gun. (U.S. Air Force)
Two Air Force sergeants load belts of linked 20-millimeter cannon shells for the F-105’s M61 six-barreled Gatling gun. (U.S. Air Force)

Republic Aviation Corporation built 833 F-105 Thunderchief fighter bombers at its Farmingdale, New York factory. 610 of those were single-seat F-105Ds. Of the 833 F-105s, 395 were lost during the Vietnam War. 334 were shot down, mostly by antiaircraft guns or missiles, and 17 by enemy fighters. Another 61 were lost due to accidents. The 40% combat loss is indicative of the extreme danger of the missions these airplanes were engaged in.

62-4284 is the only F-105 Thunderchief officially credited with shooting down three enemy fighters during the Vietnam War. Flown by Captain Gene I. Basel, also of the 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 62-4284 was “Bison 02” on an attack against the Canal de Rapides Bridge, 27 October 1967. Captain Basel shot down a MiG-17 with the Thunderchief’s 20 mm cannon. The VPAF pilot ejected.

Having survived the Vietnam War, 62-4284 crashed during a peacetime training mission, 4 miles south west of Clayton, Oklahoma, 12 March 1976. The pilot, Captain Larry L. Kline, 465th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Hill Air Force Base, Utah, was killed.

Republic F-105D-31-RE Thunderchief 62-4347, 333d TFS, Takhli RTAFB, circa 1966. This is the same type aircraft as 62-4284. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2021, Bryan R. Swopes