Of MiGs, Mem­o­ra­bilia, Costly Mis­takes, and Sneaky Sabres


You want di­ver­sity? We’ve got di­ver­sity. Even though I’m sup­pos­edly the one who put this is­sue to­gether, truth is, it kind of just “hap­pened.” We started talk­ing about an old fly­ing hel­met one of us had found at an an­tique store. Then Jim Busha men­tioned an in­cred­i­ble in­ter­view he’d just had with an RF-86 pi­lot (we didn’t even know the type had ex­isted) who reg­u­larly sneaked into Manchuria to take pho­tos of Russian in­stal­la­tions. At the same time, I ran into some killer MiG-21 eye candy shot by John Dibbs. Not a lot of plan­ning in­volved. All we had to do is toss one of Mark Carl­son’s pieces into the mix and we had an is­sue list.

About the mem­o­ra­bilia ar­ti­cle, I’d be ly­ing if I didn’t say that the sub­ject is one of my fa­vorites. Skip to the back page of this is­sue and read Tail­view and you’ll see why I’m high on neat old air­plane stuff. The kinds of aerial ar­ti­facts we’re talk­ing about don’t have to make sense. As Sam Tip­ton (a char­ac­ter in his own right) says in “Good­ies from the At­tic,” there are so many aero trea­sures to be found and so lit­tle time.

Who cares if they make sense?

And speak­ing about vin­tage ar­ti­facts, Fred Johnsen weaves the long, long saga of the MiG-21 around some of John Dibbs’s pho­tos, mak­ing us all mar­vel at the 1953 de­sign’s amaz­ing longevity. Fred’s story ti­tle, “Peren­nial Bad Guy: The MiG-21,” says it all. Of course, the def­i­ni­tion of “bad guy” depends on which side you’re on.

Jim Busha stum­bled across Col. LaV­erne Grif­fin, USAF, Re­tired, and ab­so­lutely couldn’t wait to help him tell his sto­ries. This is be­cause Grif­fin flew some of the first se­ri­ous re­con flights over Rus­sia and he wasn’t fly­ing a U-2. Nope, he was fly­ing a spe­cially mod­i­fied ver­sion of the F-86. No guns (phony gun ports were painted on the nose), ex­tra tanks, and a large-for­mat cam­era and he was on his way deep into Manchuria. The film he brought back recorded sev­eral firsts, in­clud­ing our first look at Rus­sia’s lat­est: the MiG-17.

In a sad and very damn­ing tale of ques­tion­able lead­er­ship, “Which Way Did They Go?” Mark Carl­son re­veals why, at the Bat­tle of Mid­way, Hor­net’s tor­pedo pi­lots made the at­tack and all but one died, yet not a sin­gle one of its SBD dive-bombers was to be seen. Tor­pedo 8 gave their all, but Bomb­ing 8 and Fight­ing 8 never made it to the ac­tion and many ran out of gas try­ing to re­turn. A sad and lit­tle-known tale.

Have a good one! We cer­tain have.

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