Fighter Squadrons Branch

Warries and Stories

The Korean Episode

A publication by Col King

You can download the full publication in PDF format using this link (13MB), and we ask for a donation to Legacy (suggest $5-10) using the details below.

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Bank Transfer:

77 Squadron Association
BSB: 082 847
Account No: 14 390 4277
Reference: Legacy
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The Secretary
No. 77 Squadron Association
PO Box 467

An extract from Col's publication

MiG Alley
RAAF – 77 Squadron Meteor Operations – North Korea, 1951 Ron Guthrie became the unwilling
creator of a number of world records. He became the first RAAF pilot to escape from a jet fighter
in combat – using the ejection seat. This was one of the highest ejections ever experienced – just
below 39,000 feet. The speed of ejection was Mach .84 and his descent, taking almost 30 minutes
were two other world records. His parachute was holed by enemy rifle fire as he neared the ground
– but this was common, and certainly not a ‘record’ occurrence.

Silver trails of vapor in the placid morning sky define the passage of eight Meteor jet fighters along
a patrol line adjacent to the Yalu River. This infamous segment of North Korean airspace, so
frequently the playground of predatory Russian fighters, has earned the title of MiG Alley. In two
flights of four, the RAAF fighters, well-spaced in battle formation, cruise at a steady 39,000 feet.
Each pilot's head swivels as he seeks to cover his companions against intruders. The peaceful Korean
sky endures its torment from the strident Banshee wailing of sixteen Derwent jet engines while the
contrasting quiet of the cockpits is broken only by occasional business-like commands from the
leader. Ron Guthrie begins his account.
Suddenly I am startled by white-hot tracers streaming over and under my left wing like glowing pingpong
balls. I throw my Meteor into a hard left-hand turn and press the mike button to call a 'break' to
the others in my flight. Too late! I have been hit behind the cockpit and my radio is useless. I am only
talking to myself as I call 'Anzac Item, break left tracers!' Now, two Russian MiG-15 jet fighters
shoot past my nose and I instinctively turn back sharply to the right hoping to get one of them in my
sights. Through the illuminated graticule of the gun-sight, I can see a red star on a silver fuselage
and the pilot's head in the cockpit. I quickly adjust the gun-sight control to correct for a retreating
target as my finger curls over the trigger of my four 20mm cannons. The guns rattle. I am gratified
and excited as pieces fly off the enemy aircraft which now rolls to the inverted position and dives out
of sight.
At this instant I feel as though a load of bricks has fallen onto the rear end of my aircraft, which now
shakes convulsively. Explosive shells from another MiG have destroyed my Meteor's tail. My aircraft,
at this stage merely an uncontrollable mass of 'MiG meat,' begins to snap roll repeatedly. In shock, I
prepare to make my first exit in a Martin Baker ejection-seat, at this great height and over enemy
territory! I realize my guns are still firing and release the trigger. The vibrating instrument panel
catches my attention and two facts remain in my memory. The clock is reading six minutes past ten
and the Mach meter, my gage of speed, registers 0.84. As the speed of the dive increases beyond
eighty-four per cent of the speed of sound the aircraft shudders in compressibility. It continues to roll.

Ron urgently grasped and pulled the canopy jettison handle. In an instant, a gigantic roar announced
that his private cocoon had become part of the frigid swirling air mass into which he was about to
plunge. Taking a two-handed grip on the ejection-seat loop handle above his head, he waited for the
aircraft to finish its roll and on reaching the upright position pulled firmly on the control in order to
fire himself out of the cockpit. Nothing happened! Distressing thoughts added their burden to the
alarming cacophony of the 600 miles per hour air blast as he awaited the completion of another
rotation. Surely the ejection-seat firing mechanism was not going to malfunction in this moment of
desperate need. He repeated the process and was shocked as the mechanism failed once again! Then
he discovered that his arms were being obstructed in their downward motion by the pistol holster
under his right elbow and a Red Cross pack on his left side. Obviously this had to explain the
dilemma. The third time around, with arms spread wide he made a final frantic effort. With altimeter
needles unwinding below 39,000 feet a startling explosion gave Ron an immense thrust out of the
cockpit. The experience seemed momentary as he now lost consciousness.
My awareness returns some seconds later but I have a light-headed feeling that this is not really
happening. Perhaps it is lack of oxygen or maybe it is shock, however it all seems quite unreal, as in
a half-dream. I tumble and sway until eventually the ejection-seat's little drogue parachute in full
deployment steadies the descent. I can't breathe! This situation is quickly fixed by re-positioning the
goggles away from my mouth and lifting the oxygen mask from where it has slipped to my throat. I
am relieved to feel the portable oxygen puffing onto my face.

The sensation was odd as he just sat there strapped to the ejection-seat, feeling quite stationary and
quite detached, secured to his mechanical throne in space with no apparent means of support and no
indications of motion. He was in a New World that was only half-real. The complete lack of noise
was quite uncanny in its contrast with the clamor which had so recently conditioned his senses. Gone
were the sounds of combat, followed so rapidly by the ejection-seat explosion intermingled with the
overwhelming roar of a 600 mph slipstream. Ron's personal segment of Korean sky, so recently a
noisy battleground, was now a quiet and peaceful arena bereft of aircraft.