• The Passing of the Night

A while back I posted Pardo's Push, about an F-4 pilot in Vietnam who pushed his buddy to safety after he suffered a dual flame out over enemy territory. But Joe Pardo wasn't the first pilot to successfully do that. From Air Force Magazine, May 1998.

Brig. Gen. Robinson Risner's heroism during seven and a half years of imprisonment and torture in North Vietnam is legendary. Less known is the fact that he was a jet ace in Korea with eight confirmed victories. Very few people are aware of an incredible feat of flying he performed over North Korea in an attempt to save the life of another pilot. That courageous act is dismissed with a couple of sentences inhis book The Passing of the Night.

Risner's career as a fighter pilot began in Panama, where he whiled away the World War II years. When peace came, he joined the Oklahoma Air Guard. His squadron was called to active duty during Korea and began transitioning from P-51s to F-80s but with no immediate prospects of getting into the war.

With the bare required minimum of 100 hours of jet time, Risner volunteered for combat duty as a photorecce pilot, arriving in Korea on May 10, 1952. Three weeks later, he wangled his way into the famous 4th Fighter Wing at Kimpo and into F-86s, the world's best fighter at that time. On Sept. 21, the fast-learning Captain Risner became our 20th jet ace.

A few weeks later while escorting fighter bombers in an attack on a chemical plant along the Yalu River, Risner tangled with what he describes as the finest fighter pilot he ever encountered. From 30,000 feet to the deck they went, with Risner scoring several solid hits, then across the Yalu into forbidden territory and down the runway of a Chinese airfield where the damaged MiG-15 crashed. All the while, Robbie's wingman, Lt. Joe Logan, stayed with the fight, protecting his leader.

"He was not in very good shape," according to Risner, "but he was a great pilot - and he was fighting like a cornered rat! He chopped the throttle and threw his speed brakes out. I coasted up, afraid that I'd overshoot him. I did a roll over the top of him, and when I came down on the other side, I was right on his wing tip. We were both at Idle with our speed brakes out, just coasting. He looked over at me, raised his hand, and shook his fist. I thought 'This is like a movie. This can't be happening!' He had on a leather helmet and I could see the stitching in it.'"

The MiG then swung around and led Risner right into Tak Tung Kau air base, 35 miles inside China. He zoomed down the airstrip, making 300 knots. Risner waited until the right moment and then hammered him, blasting off part of the wing; the MiG hit the ground and blew apart. It was Risner's sixth kill.

As Risner and his wingman, Lt. Joe Logan, were leaving the Chinese airfield, the flak caught Joe's fuel tank. Jet fuel and hydraulic fluid spewed out from the wounded Sabre. Robinson instantly decided to try an unprecedented and untried manuever; he would push the crippled fighter with his, about 60 miles to the UN rescue base on the island of Cho Do.

Risner told Logan to shut down his engine, now almost out of fuel. Then he gently inserted the upper lip of his air intake into the tailpipe of Logan's F-86. "It stayed sort of locked there as long as we both maintained stable flight, but the turbulence created by Joe's aircraft made stable flight for me very difficult. There was a point at which I was between the updraft and the downdraft. A change of a few inches ejected me either up or down," Risner, now retired and living in Austin, Texas, recalls.

Each time Risner re-established contact between the battered nose of his F-86 and Logan's aircraft was a potential disaster that was made even more likely by the film of hydraulic fluid and jet fuel that covered his windscreen and obscured his vision. It was, one imagines, something like pushing a car at 80 miles an hour down a corduroy road in a heavy fog.

Miraculously, Risner nudged Joe Logan's F-86 all the way to Cho Do, maintaining an airspeed of 190 knots and enough altitude to stay out of range of automatic weapons. Near Cho Do, Lt. Logan bailed out, after radioing to Risner, "I'll see you at the base tonight."

Risner stayed in radio contact with the rescue helicopter. Joe, a strong swimmer, landed close to shore, and the chopper tried to blow him in with the rotors. Tragically though, Joe Logan didn't make it; he became tangled in his parachute lines and drowned.

After Korea, Robbie Risner's Air Force career continued to be marked by acts of physical and moral courage, culminating in his leadership of American POWs during those long years in Hanoi's prisons.

The standards of valor, loyalty, and dedication he set for himself, and met superbly throughout his years in uniform, have established a goal to be sought by generations of airmen yet to come.


  1. The airmanship story you shared was almost unbelivable but it was true.
    While he wouldn't remember, I met General Risner a number of years ago when he spoke at our church . The guy was not a only a great stick but a great American-one of our present day true heros. During a visit to the USAFA I took note that his statue was one of a small number displayed in the "Air Garden". A tribute similar to the statues of Patton; Eisenhower and McCarthur at the Military Academy.

  2. I recently was watching the Military Chanel where I became aware of this wonderful act of heroism. Gen. Risner was on the screen sharing this experience but one thing he said at the end was there were two rescue craft that had come to the aid of the downed pilot, but they seemed to be arguing over the radio as to whose turn it was to pick up the pilot. Gen. Risner was not pleased with that and attributed that lost time to the drowning of Joe Logan. Is this true?

  3. I never heard that version, but if anyone would know Risner should. Here's another account:

    "One of the nearby rescue helicopters attempted to use their propeller wash to urge the descending parachute farther out to sea. The ejection seat hit the water, and the two rescue crews waited for him to bob up so they could snag him. And they waited. Upon deciding that it had been too long, a team of rescuers were lowered into the water. They found that despite Captain Risner’s extraordinary effort, two trained rescue teams near at hand, and Logan’s own reputation as a skilled swimmer, he’d somehow became entangled in his parachute’s cables, and couldn’t reach the surface in time."