The Liberty Gazette
April 4, 2017Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Mike: The pilot pushes his ship at a deafening speed into a steep climb to keep his adversary, a small silver-grey speck, in sight and to anticipate his next move. In a rolling tumble they scream toward the earth, each trying to gain the advantage. Crossing above low hills both aircraft nearly bottom out in a dry riverbed, losing lift because of the abrupt maneuvers, barely missing a bridge. They cross a Communist air base 35 miles inside China. The pilot of “Ohio Mike”, an F-86, gets the MiG fighter jet in his sights. The race between hangars is on and he shoots down the MiG causing it to crash into airplanes parked on the field.
Rocketing skyward James “Robbie” Risner discovers another problem. His wingman’s F-86 has been struck by anti-aircraft fire over the Chinese base and is now loosing fuel rapidly. Bailing out over North Korea would be bad, but the consequences of doing so over China would be dire.
Ordering Lt. Joseph Logan to shut down his engine, Risner takes up a position behind him, moves forward and inserts the nose of his jet into the tailpipe of the stricken airplane, pushing it toward the China Sea. He needs to reach the U.S. Air Force occupied island of Cho Do off the coast of North Korea where rescuers can reach the pilot once he bails out near the island.
Jet fuel and leaking hydraulic fluid from Logan’s fighter cover Risner’s glass canopy, eclipsing his view. He tries to keep nose-to-tail contact with the crippled jet but because of turbulence the jets separate many times. Airflow blocked by the forward jet’s body causes Risner’s jet engine to starve for air, nearly quitting several times.
Approaching the island and rescue aircraft, the two jets separate for the last time. Lt. Logan signs off with a final radio call, “I’ll see you at the base tonight,” jettisons his canopy and blasts out of the top of his aircraft. Risner watches as the ejection seat falls away and his wingman’s parachute blooms over the blue waters. He turns for home, Kimpo Air Base near Seoul, low on fuel. Eventually his engine flames out; the jet becomes a glider. He’s close enough that his training and experience allow him to use the airplane’s altitude and forward energy to glide safely to the U.S. base runway for a “dead stick landing”.
Lt. Logan’s fate, however, is tragic. After surviving being shot up over China, barely making it out to the small island at sea and bailing out, he got tangled up in his parachute lines when he landed in the water and drowned before help could arrive.
Brigadier General Risner’s military career spanned decades, from World War II to Vietnam and beyond. Pushing his wingman’s fighter out to sea is the first recorded instance of such a feat.
Risner’s leadership shone again during the seven years, four months, and 27 days as a POW in the Hanoi Hilton from 1965 to 1973, three of those years in solitary confinement as punishment for holding religious services in his room. Even while separated from the others he was a leader of the resistance movement using a “tap-code” messaging system in the North Vietnamese prison. Strong faith and character that saw him through that day over the Chinese air base, pushing a damaged airplane to safety, remained the driving forces the rest his life.