Air Force. Vandalov, Pakhomkin, and Tarshinov
had all been directly shot down in the fight.
Belyakov, the flight leader, had been badly shot
up by Williams and crash landed as soon as he
was over Soviet territory, and killed in the crash.
Royce Williams was the top-scoring carrier-based
Naval Aviator of the “forgotten war” and the
top-scoring Naval Aviator in a Navy jet (Guy
Bordelon scored five in an F4U-5N Corsair and
Marine Major John Bolt scored six flying an F-86
with the Air Force). His score of four in one fight
is a performance unequaled since.
Williams’ success that day was all the more
A born shooter
Williams himself was an excellent shot, growing up in western Minnesota and shooting small
game from a young age. He was 16 when the
Second World War broke out. Eighteen in 1944,
he was able to join the Navy through the V- 5 program, and graduated with his Wings of Gold from
Pensacola just at the end of the war. His gunnery
scores in training drew comment, and he was
sent on to fighter training at Opa Locka. Following completion of his training, 20-year-old Ensign
Williams then joined VBF-81, flying F6F- 5 Hellcats from the newly commissioned USS Princeton
It WaS Clear to all ConCerned In thoSe InCIdentS that the Panther
WaS thoroughly out-Performed by the SovIet fIghter, and that
only SuPerIor PIlot SkIll had gIven the navy thoSe vICtorIeS.
incredible given that Naval Aviators weren’t
much involved in aerial combat at that point in
the war. The Panther had been victorious the first
time it came up against the MiG- 15 on Novem-
ber 9, 1950, when LCDR William “Bill” Amen
of VF-111 “Sundowners” flying an F9F-2B, shot
down a MiG- 15. Two more had been downed
on November 18, 1950, two years to the day
prior to Williams’ fight. It was clear to all con-
cerned in those incidents that the Panther was
thoroughly out-performed by the Soviet fighter,
and that only superior pilot skill had given the
Navy those victories. The F9F- 5 had more power
than the F9F-2, but was heavier, cancelling out
any performance gain in maneuverability. As a
result, the Navy had stayed well away from “MiG
Alley” during operations in the succeeding two
years; the strikes against Hoeryong
were the first time the Navy had
ventured within range of the MiGs.
As Williams recalled, “We did little
in the way of tactics and not much
(CV- 37). With a short side trip to VBF-98 at NAS
Los Alamitos flying F4Us, Williams was aboard
“Sweet P” on a tour to Saipan and on to China in
1947, after VBF-81 became VF-121 with transition
to the F8F-1 Bearcat. Those were the lean years
for Naval Aviation, and the youngster logged only
33 traps in a six-month cruise while the air group
logged many hours in touch football and ready-
Cougar: The Swept-Wing Panther
When you talk U. S. Navy jets, you have to talk F9Fs. Grumman’s original
fleet-model F9F-2 Panther remained the standard configuration
through the “dash five,” which served beyond the end of the Korean War
in 1953. But jet fighter development accelerated during the decade, as
the U. S. Air Force and foreign nations—notably Soviet Russia—already
had fielded swept-wing types in combat.
Naval aviation faced a crisis: continue operating straight-wing jets like
the F9F-2 to 5 and McDonnell’s F2H Banshee, or take the leap into the
swept-wing era. The latter was necessary to remain competitive but it
also posed major risks. In the days before angled deck carriers, higher
landing speeds for swept-wing aircraft inevitably meant more losses.
A survivor of the era, astronaut Wally Schirra, said, “You either had an
arrested landing or a major accident.”
But the Navy already had made its decision. In 1951, Grumman signed a
contract for the swept-wing F9F- 6, and test pilot Fred Rowley flew it six
months later. The Cougar proved a long-lived cat.
Rated at 560 knots, the first Cougars arrived in VF- 32 in late 1952,
(Photo courtesy of Google Images)
affording tailhookers a 60-kt edge over dash two Panthers. Additionally,
F9F-8Bs with a strike capability were flown by some attack squadrons.
Meanwhile, the Blue Angels adopted the Cougar in 1953.
The last fleet Cougars were F9F-8P photo birds, retired in 1960.
Two-seat trainer variants appeared in 1956 and, redesignated TF-9Js,
they became Marine FACs in South Vietnam. Cougars departed Training
Command in 1974, ending 22 years of service. — Barrett Tillman