I Was There: Bring Down the Spyplane
MIG-17 vs. Lockheed U-2.
- By Bob Bergin
- Air & Space magazine, May 2012
Courtesy Bob Bergin
(Page 3 of 6)
The intruder could also elude the ground controller. When we turned on our airborne radar, the PV2 would detect it, and immediately dive away. Then he would drop metal foil, and that would disrupt the ground control radar, and cause the controller to lose him.
The PLAAF pilots really risked their lives flying during these night flights, chasing the intruders. We were often flying just 50 meters [164 feet] above ground level. I still remember one P2V I chased. It was April 13, 1964, a day of shame for me that I will never forget. A P2V entered China at the mouth of the Yangtze, and flew west along the river. It kept very low, sometimes just 100 meters [328 feet] above the hilltops.
I was at our airbase at Nanjing and was ordered to take off to intercept the enemy. I was flying a MiG-17 PF with radar. Senior PLAAF officers were visiting the airfield at the time, and the PLAAF Chief of Staff was in the control tower when I took off. Because the area around Nanjing is where we expected enemy intruders, it was where we regularly did our training. I knew the area well, and seemed the ideal place to shoot down an enemy aircraft.
I took off, turned on the radar, and entered the clouds. The base of the clouds was just 100 meters [328 feet] above the ground. I turned off my navigation lights, and leveled off the aircraft at 600 meters [1,968 feet]. I could see nothing. After a few minutes, the GCI controller ordered me to fly at the height of 450 meters [1,476 feet] and I descended. It was difficult to get into position. I was flying at a speed of 400 kilometers an hour [248 miles per hour]; the intruder’s speed was 280 [174 mph].
I followed the P2V along the Yangtze River, to the coastal area in Quanzhou. The clouds were down to an altitude of 75 meters [250 feet]. Soon I was at an altitude of 400 meters [1,312 feet], and the P2V was just 50 meters [164 feet] higher that I was. We stayed in the clouds and I had to depend on my instincts. When I thought I was in a good position, I turned on the aiming antenna. He immediately knew I was there, and dove away.
Did you see the target aircraft at all?
I never saw the enemy aircraft. It was at night and we were always in the clouds. I think I was quite a good pilot in those years, but I could still not bring down a P2V. When I landed, the PLAAF commander-in-chief and the chief of staff were waiting for me. I told them I greatly regretted what I failed to do that night. I had failed my country and our leader. The chief of staff said I had done my best, but I felt I owed a big debt.
How long did you do that kind of night flying?
The mission against the Taiwanese intruders lasted a long time—until we came to a kind of tacit agreement with Taiwan that turned into a truce. The Taiwan government did not send recon airplanes over the mainland, and we did not bomb the islands near Taiwan. I flew these missions from 1961 to 1968. In 1968, I started to fly the MiG-19. The MiG-19 was also used to go after the PV2.
Was the MiG-19 any more successful than the MiG-17?
The MiG-19 was bigger and faster. It was more difficult, and even dangerous to fly at night. China’s development of this aircraft had been going on since 1958. In 1959, I led a squadron of MiG-19s over Tiananmen Square on our National Day. It was the tenth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic, and a great honor for me.
During this period of the night intruders, the PLAAF tried several experiments. One was using the World War II-era Tupolev Tu-2 light bomber as a night fighter.
I have no knowledge of that.
Then there was the Tupolev Tu-4, the Russian copy of the American World War II B-29 bomber that could stay in the air a long time.