I Was There: Bring Down the Spyplane- page 7 | Military Aviation | Air & Space Magazine
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Han Decai (among many others) would find that only a missile could down the high-altitude spyplane. (Courtesy Bob Bergin)

I Was There: Bring Down the Spyplane

MIG-17 vs. Lockheed U-2

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(Continued from page 6)

Taiwan may have gained intelligence from these reconnaissance efforts, but as time went on, the value of that was probably offset by U.S. concern about the growing strength of the PLAAF and the increased effectiveness of China’s air defenses—all of which were fostered by Taiwan’s intruder flights.

Earlier on, during the Taiwan Straits crisis in the summer of 1958, there were air battles between Taiwan’s F-86s and the People’s Liberation Army Air Force MiGs. I read that Taiwanese pilots claimed 30 MiG kills against only two F-86 losses.

That’s bull----. I did not participate in those actions, but as far as I know, both sides suffered losses. As I remember it, we usually kept our flights over the mainland, and the Taiwanese pilots kept out over the sea. The two sides tried to stay away from each other, and there really was not much direct combat.

As I recall, we engaged in an air battle with the Taiwanese only once. The result was essentially a draw: We lost two aircraft, and they lost two and a half—the half because one of their aircraft was damaged.

During another crisis in about 1962, a Taiwanese RF-101 Voodoo on a low level photo recon mission was shot down. I heard a story that as the RF-101 disintegrated, its two engines continued to fly off into the night.

I don’t know that story, but I remember that we brought down an RF-101 near Guangzhou. It was an air-to-air kill—and it was a miracle that a MiG-17 could bring down an F-101. The F-101 was supersonic; the MiG-17 was subsonic. The aircraft that shot down the Voodoo was actually a Model 56, the Chinese version of the MiG-17.

The MiG-17 that intercepted the F-101 was coming in from the side as the F-101 approached. The MiG pilot aimed well to the front of the F-101 and let the enemy fly into the cannon shells. Later, when we had the MiG-19, shooting down a F-101 would not have been such a big deal. I think we shot down a second F-101, but I don’t recall the details.

How close did the Model 56 have to get to the F-101?

The Model 56 had the same armament as the MiG-17, 23 mm cannon. The effective range was within 600 meters [1,968 feet].

There was always a competition between the PLAAF and the Taiwanese air force. But in terms of combat, we engaged less and less as time went on. We did not intrude into Taiwan’s airspace, and as our defenses got better, the Taiwanese pilots did not dare intrude into mainland China’s airspace.

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