Notable Panther Pilots: Ted Williams & Royce Williams
Ted Williams, the famous Hall of Fame baseball great was also an accomplished fighter pilot in WW II and Korea. Ted missed out flying combat missions during WW II, because his flying and gunnery skills were so good that he was kept as an instructor for much of the War. During advanced training at Pensacola, Florida Ted would accurately shoot the sleeve targets to shreds while shooting out of wing-overs, zooms, and barrel rolls. He broke the all time record for hits at the school.
Following Pensacola, Ted was sent to Jacksonville for advanced gunnery training. This is the payoff test for potential combat pilots. Ted set all the records for reflexes, coordination, and visual reaction time. As a result of his stunning success he was made an instructor at Bronson field to put Marine aviation cadets through their final paces.
By 1945 Ted got his wish and was finally transferred to a combat wing, but weeks later the War was over. He was discharged from the military in December of 1945. Seven years later, in December of 1952, Ted was recalled to active duty as a Marine Corps fighter pilot. The Boston Red Sox slugger who wore No. 9 as a major leaguer, would now be assigned to an F-9 Panther jet as a pilot. Ted flew a total of 39 combat missions in Korea. He was selected by his commander John Glenn (later the astronaut, senator, and septuagenonaut) to fly as Glenn’s wingman.
While flying an air strike on a troop encampment near Kyomipo, Williams F-9 was hit by hostile ground fire. Ted commented later… the funny thing was I didn’t feel anything… I knew I was hit when the stick started shaking like mad in my hands. Then everything went out, my radio, my landing gear, everything. The red warning lights were on all over the plane. The F-9 Panther had a centrifugal flow engine and normally caught fire when hit. The tail would literally blow off most stricken aircraft. The standard orders were to eject from any Panther with a fire in the rear of the plane. Ted’s aircraft was indeed on fire, and was trailing smoke and flames. Glenn and the other pilots on the mission were yelling over their radios for Williams to get out. However, with his radio out Williams could not hear their warnings, and he could not see the condition of the rear of his aircraft. Glenn and another Panther flown by Larry Hawkins came up alongside Williams and lead him to the nearest friendly airfield. Fighting to hold the plane together, Ted brought his Panther in at more than 200-MPH for a crash landing on the Marsden-matted strip. With no landing gear, dive brakes, or functioning flaps the flaming Panther jet skidded down the runway for more than 3000 feet. Williams got out of the aircraft only moments before it was totally engulfed in flames. Ted Williams survived his tour of duty in Korea and returned to major league baseball. He is one of the greatest hitters of all time.
Task Force 77 (including four Carriers) arrived off the coast of Chonjin, North Korea, in the cover of night and bad weather in November of 1952. This was farther north than usual and very close to Soviet air space. The purpose of the mission was to launch air strikes against manufacturing centers in the area of the Yalu River.
Lt. Royce Williams was an F9F-5 Panther pilot with VF-781 Pacemakers on board the USS Oriskany. The pilots were carefully briefed regarding the proximity to Soviet air space. Williams flew a dawn strike against an industrial complex at Hoeryoung. Upon recovery to the Oriskany, Williams learned that the morning attacks had stirred up Soviet air activity in the Vladivostok area. All follow-on strikes were put on hold until the Soviet activity could be assessed.
Around noon Williams suited-up for a combat air patrol flight consisting of four Panthers. Taking off in a light snow storm under a low overcast, the four Panthers climbed to 12,000 feet. Combat Information Center (CIC) radioed the jets to inform them of bogies in their area. As they broke through the cloud cover they could see contrails from seven Migs about thirty miles north, and at much higher altitude. The division lead reported a fuel pump warning light and remained with his wingman at 15,000 feet, while Williams and his wingman climber higher. As the Migs passed directly over Williams he could see them clearly and counted a total of seven. The Migs reversed course and headed north at about 50,000 feet. When they were about thirty miles distant they split into two flights, turned in opposite directions, as to bracket the Panthers, and began descending. Williams lost contact with the bogies as they dropped below contrail altitude.
A few minutes later Williams spotted four Migs closing fast from the 10 o’clock position in a loose trail formation. All four were firing. Williams manuevered a rising hard left turn and came in right behind the last Mig in the formation. He fired a burst and the Mig began smoking, dropped its left wing and started to descend. Reporting the hit to CIC, the controller advised do not engage. Williams reported back, I am engaged! The CIC reported back, Go get em! Williams wingman had followed the first Mig down. Minutes later Williams spotted a Mig coming in fast from the 5 o’clock position. He pulled a hard right and kicked a hard reverse, putting the Mig in his sight as it overshot. Although the Mig was pulling away fast, Williams put a burst into him which disintegrated the jet. The turning duel continued for many more minutes, and another Mig began smoking. Williams Panther was eventually hit and he lost his hydraulic system and many of the aircraft controls. Diving for cloud cover, another Mig had settled in behind to finish off the Panther. Fortunately for Williams, his wingman had rejoined the fight despite having jammed guns. He successfully bluffed the Mig on Williams tail to disengage. Williams was able to nurse his badly damaged Panther back to the Oriskany where he had to make a landing at excessive speed.