Monday, March 31, 2014

Pilot, Warrior, Hero

Brigadier General James Robinson "Robbie" Risner
January 16, 1925 – October 22, 2013
At his passing, Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark A. Welsh III observed: "Brig. Gen. James Robinson "Robbie" Risner was part of that legendary group who served in three wars, built an Air Force, and gave us an enduring example of courage and mission success...Today’s Airmen know we stand on the shoulders of giants. One of ‘em is 9 feet tall…and headed west in full afterburner." - Wikipedia
While researching a recent post (Pardo's Push) I read of a similar incident during the Korean War.
On September 15, Risner's 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 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. Jet fuel and hydraulic fluid spewed out from the damaged Sabre onto Risner's canopy, obscuring his vision, and turbulence kept separating the two jets. Risner was able to re-establish contact and guide the powerless plane out over the sea until fluids threatened to stall his own engine. Near Cho Do, Logan bailed out after calling to Risner, "I'll see you at the base tonight." Although Logan came down close to shore and was a strong swimmer, he became entangled in his parachute shrouds and drowned. Risner shut down his own engine in an attempt to save fuel, but eventually his engine flamed out and he glided to a deadstick landing at Kimpo. Wikipedia
Though the story did not end well, Major Risner did not abandon his wingman. I'm sure Colonel Pardo would approve. (Another account here.)

Risner's Push

Captain James Robinson 'Robbie' Risner of 336th FS, 4th FIW, Kimpo, Korea, 1953.

Captain Risner's jet had Bugs Bunny painted on the side.

On the morning of September 16, 1965, on an Iron Hand sortie, Risner scheduled himself for the mission as the "hunter" element of a Hunter-Killer Team searching for a SAM site in the vicinity of Tuong Loc, 80 miles south of Hanoi and 10 miles northeast of the Thanh Hoa Bridge. Risner's aircraft was at very low altitude flying at approximately 600 mph, approaching a site that was likely a decoy luring aircraft into a concentration of AAA. Heavy ground fire struck Risner's F-105 in its air intakes when he popped up over a hill to make his attack. Again he attempted to fly to the Gulf of Tonkin, but ejected when the aircraft, on fire, pitched up out of control. He was captured by North Vietnamese while still trying to extricate himself from his parachute. He was on his 55th combat mission at the time.

Risner spent more than three years in solitary confinement. Even so, as the officer of rank with the responsibility of maintaining order, from 1965 to 1973 he helped lead American resistance in the North Vietnamese prison complex through the use of improvised messaging techniques ("tap code"), endearing himself to fellow prisoners with his faith and optimism. It was largely thanks to the leadership of Risner and his Navy counterpart, Commander (later Vice Admiral) James Stockdale, that the POWs organized themselves to present maximum resistance. While held prisoner in Hỏa Lò, Risner served first as Senior Ranking Officer and later as Vice Commander of the provisional 4th Allied Prisoner of War Wing. He was a POW for seven years, four months, and 27 days. - Wikipedia
67th Tactical Fighter Squadron Republic F-105D-25-RE Thunderchief 61-0217 1965.
Shot down by AAA over Route Pack 4 on 16 September 1965.
Lieutenant Colonel Robinson Risner ejected and became a POW.

I have to mention here that when I was assigned to the 18th Tactical Fighter Wing at Kadena, we had a squadron of F-4Cs. That squadron was the 67th Tactical Fighter Squadron which Brigadier General Risner had served in. A proud squadron which today flies the F-15 Eagle.

I have another book to add to my reading list.

Brigadier General Robbie Risner

Good article here in Air Force Magazine.

He was quite a man.


  1. The definition of a Fighter Pilot.
    His response to a question by a Russian Mig Ace on whether they'd fought in Korea.

    "No way," Risner said. "You wouldn’t be here."

  2. Again, "fighter pilot" Risner never made it past O-7. You'd think someone with his record would have to be a REALLY BAD staff officer to not make it to at least O-9. Think he was? Riggght......


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