Once a Fighter Pilot...

The new book by Author and Historian Warren A. Trest, a biography of United States Air Force General and Fighter Ace Charles "Chick" Cleveland.


"We set up at 35,000 or so, and there were high clouds around, it was kind of hazy, and the sun was off to our left. Of course the wingman's duty is to check six. You're defense. Your leader's supposed to be offense. I kept looking around and saying to myself, there's no MiGs down here at the Chongchon, and I look back and there's a MiG-15 in a 90-degree bank pulling into the firing position, and too close for comfort."

"I called, 'Red Lead we've got MiGs on our tail. Break left.' I was on the right wing. We broke hard left, and the MiG was just a second late. He started shooting, and these red golf balls came whizzing past just under my tail pipe. I felt sure I was going to be hit."

The F-86As which the wing flew at that time were lighter than the "E" and "F" models, and with "a very narrow stall margin between the time you first felt the buffet until the aircraft stalled … you couldn't go very far into the buffet." He was "in it pretty deep" trying to get to the inside of the turn, and the "red golf balls" were still coming, and he pulled just a little bit more, and the aircraft stalled. "It just snapped out and went into a spin right there in the middle of combat."

"I was embarrassed. I was furious. I was saying to myself, 'if you don't get out of this spin, you will be a prisoner of war, and you never even fired your guns in anger.' I was able to get my thought processes together and went through the spin recovery procedure, which is first controls with the spin, and then stick full forward, rudders neutral, throttle at idle, then full rudder against the spin and pray."

"Sure enough I pulled out of the spin and put the throttle back up. I thought, 'I'm going home with my tail between my legs.' As I started to gain speed and climb, I didn't expect to see another airplane in the sky, but as I looked further out I saw my lead. He had done exactly the same thing. We could see the humor in the situation when we got home."

"The joke at the bar that night was that 'all the Chinese pilots are shaking their heads and saying, those crazy American pilots, they verrry disciplined.'"

"We didn't know it at the time, but the great majority of MiG pilots were Russians."