View Full Version : A Scream of Eagles-it's still the Pilot, not the Plane

08-06-2005, 12:03 PM
A bit over ten years ago, I came across a book titled €˜Scream of Eagles€ by
Robert K. Wilcox, about the founding and establishment of the Top Gun fighter
School. It was a hell of a good read, particularly in light of the fact that I
had met a number of the men mentioned in the book, shared jokes with them and
questioned them extensively about air fighting. I started re-reading it this
week, and was struck by how well it applies to our hobby/addiction. I recommend it highly.

The following is an excerpt from the first chapter. It€s set in 1958. ENS Dan
Pederson, who would eventually create and command the Top Gun School, is flying
a Douglas F-4D Skyray when he spots the contrails that signify a mock dogfight
over the California High Desert. It€s a bit lengthy for a post, but it is a terrific illustration of the truth of Yeager€s Maxim: It€s the pilot, not the plane.

€œPederson was now approaching the high desert and could see clearly the two hasslers he€d spotted earlier. One was an F-8 Crusader, one of the newest, fastest planes in the Navy at that time. Silver and sleek, with a round-
mouthed airscoop under its nose, swept-back, eagle-like wings draped from the top of its fuselage, the F-8 was the Navy€s last €˜gunfighter.€ Although it would later be fitted with rockets and missiles, it now carried only 20mm cannons. The Crusader was the first operational carrier plane able to exceed 1000 miles per hour, approaching a sensational Mach 2. But the Crusader was
getting beat!

What was outmaneuvering the jet, the surprised ensign realized, was an old F-86 Sabre jet. The Sabre was a classic dogfighter; small, maneuverable; the scourge of €˜MiG Alley,€ the best jet fighter plane, pound for pound, in the
skies of Asia, during the Korean War. In the last seven months of the Korean conflict, it had chalked up a terrific 17-to-1 kill ratio against the MiG€"seventeen MiGs shot down for every US plane lost. But the plane was no longer operational in the regular services. It was considered outdated, not part of the new missile-interceptor force. This one, he could see from its markings, was an Air National Guard bird, probably from Van Nuys, where he knew there was a Guard fighter unit. Guard pilots, usually former Air Force, might have
blazed a trail of glory over the Yalu River in Korea, but now they were just €˜weekend warriors,€ pot-bellied, gray-bearded old men who took the old jets up once a month to keep themselves and the airframes from rusting. Or so that was their image among the younger, active pilots. This Sabre was eating the F-8
alive. The F-8s were fleet €˜air superiority€ fighters, the €˜hottest€ of the new jets. There was a big rivalry between the F-8s and the other squadrons.

When the F-8 had had enough, Pederson, figuring he could gain some points, jumped the Sabre himself. There€s a certain etiquette to observe in such fights: after coming alongside of and getting the F-86€s attention, the two
raced off in opposite directions, like pistol duelers, only putting miles instead of feet between themselves. Then, like knights of old, they turned and charged each other, hell-bent-for-leather, flat-out, head-on at each other€s
noses. They call it €˜making passes.€ Then comes the jockeying for position. The object is to get on the other€s tail, and into a €˜valid firing envelope.€ In order to maneuver into such a position, the planes turn in to each other, each trying to gain the advantage. When a pilot turns, his airspeed goes down€"
he usually loses energy and altitude. Inevitably, in a good-turning fight, speeds get slower and slower. The advantage of high speed in a straightaway gives way to quickness and maneuverability while turning. A smart fighter uses his advantage. This is what the F-86 pilot did.

While the Skyray was faster, the Sabre€s turning radius, or arc, was smaller, which meant it could turn within a smaller space. When Pederson tried to brute-force his smaller adversary, literally scare him into a bad move with a locomotive charge, the F-86 pilot coolly held his ground, then executed a maneuver Pederson had never seen. It flipped the aircraft 360 degrees underneath Pederson and turned it into Pederson€s wake quicker than the
startled ensign could turn the Skyray into his.

This didn€t automatically give the F-86 a tail shot, because Pederson quickly turned again. But every time Pederson turned, the Sabre turned too€"and quicker, in a tighter arc. The distance between them, the distance that would
finally give the Sabre the theoretical killing shot, was closing. €œTwo or three turns, and he was all over me,€ recalls Pederson. €œI was saddled. I couldn€t shake him.€

Pederson decided to go up, use the Skyray€s afterburner to climb and gain some
maneuverability. Hopefully, the climb would also cause the Sabre to lose sight of the Skyray in the high sun. It€s hard to keep track of somebody above you. And when a pilot loses sight of his adversary, he€s in big trouble.

But the Sabre didn€t fall for it€"just as he did not fall for it from the earlier F-8 Crusader. €œHe€d seen all these things.€ Like a fox, he just hung below, keeping Pederson in sight. When Pederson came back down€"and you always have to come back down€"he drove right to a spot behind Pederson€s wing and stayed there. It was smart fighting. He just didn€t fall into the trap Pederson was setting. He knew the F-86€s strengths, and he stuck with them.

€œHe kept working the inside arc,€ Pederson recalls. €œYou eventually have to run, or he gets you.€

The young ensign finally pulled up and leveled his wings in concession. He was beaten€"there was nothing else he could do. He€d underestimated his adversary.

Later, the pilot of the F-86 called Pederson. The Major had over 3000 hours in the Sabre, 2000 of which were in Korea. He was ace. He knew the F-86 inside and out, and he knew the Skyray. €œHe pulled my chain something fierce, telling me what I€d done wrong, and how he exploited it. He was an aerodynamist, and I
was brute strength and awkwardness. I was eager and aggressive, but I didn€t really know the first thing about fighting my airplane. I hadn€t seen anybody that good yet.€

It was his first realization of the difference in aircraft and pilots; what different planes could and couldn€t do, and how pilot knowledge and skill€"not the airplane€"were really the crucial factors in victory. According to its
manufacturer, the Skyray was the best turning machine in the sky. But the pilot he was talking to had made mincemeat out of that claim.

Pederson realized he€d better learn a great deal more about his airplane, what it really can and can€t do€"the things they weren€t teaching in flight school. He realized that he€d been stupid to jump in like that without knowing the first thing about who and what he was fighting. €œThose contrails looked
inviting, like honey to the flies. But you€ve got to be prepared for the best. You can€t be guaranteed the guy€s going to be (as pluckable as) a grape.€

It was the germ of perhaps the most important flying lesson of Pederson€s career: experiment with your airplane. Find the ends of its envelope. Learn all you can about your potential adversary. And practice, practice,



08-06-2005, 12:13 PM
So who was the Sabre pilot???

08-06-2005, 12:17 PM
Yes indeed! Nice article!

08-06-2005, 12:19 PM
The book doesn't say, Pederson didn't remember his name (he looked a bit coy when I brought it up), but there were 39 USAF Korean War aces, plus a number of WWII aces/near aces who flew Sabres in Korea and scored some more kills. The list of potential candidates is finite.



08-06-2005, 12:29 PM
Ok, interesting!...

08-06-2005, 01:12 PM
Great post, very nice read mate. http://forums.ubi.com/images/smilies/25.gif

08-06-2005, 11:16 PM
Agreed. Quoting Barrie Davis of the 325th...the New P51 trainees would have to first go through a mock dogfight with a war weary P40 . An innovative pilot could in a p40 could easily outfly a P51 at low altitudes, using its strengths etc. "there is more to flying than having the best airplane."

08-07-2005, 04:26 AM
The kill ratio is even more impressive if take a look at basic parameters of F-86 and MiG-15, not to mention MiG-15bis: Sabres were worse at almost everything.

Fights pretty much similar to ones in the article in terms of differencies between mashines used happened in Vietnam: MiG-17 vs. F-105. Result in total was 7:27. Guess for which? http://forums.ubi.com/groupee_common/emoticons/icon_biggrin.gif

08-07-2005, 11:05 AM
Kocur, that's a bit of a non sequitor; F-105s were used as high performance low-level tactical bombers in a similar mold as the later F-111. For instance, they both had internal bomb bays as a result of the original US Government specifications in the requests for proposal, along with the M-61 Vulcan cannon originally envisaged as their primary air to air armament.

The 'fighter' role of the F-105 over Vietnam was no more than secondary at best, and a quick read of Going Downtown or Thud Ridge might give you a clearer idea of how badly the 'strategists' in LBJ's White House basement hamstrung the military professionals on the scene.



08-07-2005, 11:14 AM
I think the initial post says as much about aircraft design as it does pilot skill. Some planes are better dogfighters than others, relatively speaking.

08-07-2005, 11:21 AM
Ha! http://forums.ubi.com/groupee_common/emoticons/icon_smile.gif

F-105's killed 27 MiG-17, plus one more in cooperation with F-4D
MiG-17's managed to kill 7 Thuds!

May sound surprising. It usually was like that: MiG-17's sneaked behind F-105's heavily loaded with bombs. Either they werent spotted soon enough (7) or they were, at least before achieving serious hits on F-105. The rest was dropping bombs away, afterburner, outclimbing, and shooting M61A in dive (27 http://forums.ubi.com/groupee_common/emoticons/icon_biggrin.gif).

My point is to support idea that pilot matters more than a plane. It might have seemed that it works only one way, like in F-86 (agile) vs Crusader or Skyray (less agile but faster), but as my example shows it works in both direction.

And more: inexperienced pilot (how much of fighter training had pilots of Thuds, tactical bombers?) in faster, less agile plane has better chances if only remains disciplined not to try to turn.

08-07-2005, 07:42 PM
I don't know about you, but I'm not eager to trade 7 of my close buddies for only 27 MiG 17s.

Three to one was well below Air Force expectations (and at least one Thud came home with an Atoll stuck in its tailpipe; coulda been 27:8) post Korea.



PS-Where's the usual ninny bellowing about American overclaiming?

08-08-2005, 08:10 AM
I had no such intention, Im sorry if I hurt you feelings.

27 kills for a tactical bomber even if killed were obsolete fighters, for 7 losses in surprise attack, Im willing to call a technically speaking success.
Technical issues are all Im talking about.

08-08-2005, 08:27 AM
sure, no doubt the its the pilot, not the plane...BUT, only in real life, and only with ac that are reasonably close in performance

08-08-2005, 01:31 PM
I have to agree with this statement.It does seem to hold true to the game in most respects,too.

I have just recently (within the past couple months or so) switched to flying the P-47 and 109.I used to fly the Hurri and I-16.While I wouldn't say I suck in the Jug or 109,I have yet to achieve the incredible success I enjoyed when flying my Hurri or Mosca/Rata.

This leads me to believe that experience and extensive knowledge of what it is one flyes lends itself more to success than what it is your plane can "supposedly" do.

08-08-2005, 01:39 PM
Great Read