ROCAF RECCES II

RF-101A-25-MC. This aircraft on display 1987 at Chung Cheng Aviation Museum, Taipei, Taiwan.

The second Voodoo loss occurred on December 18, 1964, when an RF-101A Voodoo was shot down by a Shenyang J-6 over Wenzhou in Zhejiang Province. The pilot, Captain Hsieh was taken captive by fishermen after baling out over the ocean. He was released from captivity in July 1985.

On March 18, 1965, RF-101 Voodoo 5656 was shot down near Shantou in Guangdong Province by MiG-19 pilot Gao Chang Ji. The Voodoo pilot, Chang Yupao was killed.

RB-57D 53-3981 of the ROCAF. Taiwan received two RB-57Ds, one of which was shot down by a Surface-to-Air Missile on October 7, 1959.

High Altitude Recce

During 1955, the USAF conducted Operation Heart Throb in Europe and Asia. The operation involved three specially modified Martin RB- 57A Canberras in each sector undertaking clandestine photo reconnaissance missions over the Soviet Union and its Eastern bloc allies in the west and over China and the Soviet Union in the east. Following the end of Operation Heart Throb in the Far East, two of the RB-57A Canberras were transferred to the ROCAF. Two USAF Heart Throb pilots, Captains Louis Picciano and Bob Hines were detached to Okinawa to train the pilots who would fly the `57s. When the training was complete they moved to Taiwan as advisors.

The aircraft arrived in Taiwan in September 1957 and were assigned to the 4th Composite Squadron. The arrival of the RB-57As gave the ROCAF a strategic reconnaissance capability. The aircraft could fly higher and further than the fighter reconnaissance RF-86s and RF-84s. The specially modified RB-57As were to operate at between 50,000 and 62,000ft. For this reason the pilots were obliged to wear special pressure suits. At any height above 50,000ft cabin decompression means death. The activation of the pressure suit would sustain life until the pilot could get down to a safe altitude.

Most of the other modifications served to lighten the aircraft and make it suitable for very high-altitude performance. All navigation equipment and armour was removed. The rotating bomb door and associated hydraulics and racks were removed and the bomb bay was skinned over. An optical viewfinder was installed and pilot intervalometer controls for the cameras, and for setting shutter speeds and time between picture exposures, thus producing the necessary picture overlap for the photo interpreters. Navigation was to be through pilotage aided by the viewfinder which looked through the nose, making positioning the aircraft on course and over targets easier.

RB-57A missions were conducted in the utmost secrecy. For a typical mission the initial draft plan would come from the USAF. The ROCAF could then evaluate the plan and suggest modifications. The flight planning would then be made by the pilot who was to fly the mission and the pilot of the back-up aircraft. RB-57A flights were conducted in daylight and take-off would be in the early morning. In common with their predecessors in Heart Throb, pre-flight preparation included fitting of the pressure suit and the pilot doing his pre-breathing of 100% oxygen. The purpose of this was to purge the blood of nitrogen; the presence of which at the very high altitudes the RB-57 was to fly could have been fatal. Meanwhile, the ground crew would be getting the aircraft and camera systems ready and another pilot would check the aircraft.

With a ceiling of 62,000ft, it was felt that the chances of interception were slight. Although the arrival of the MiG-17 in the Far East had effectively closed down Heart Throb operations, the threat was not felt to be sufficiently great as to hamper the ROCAF RB-57A overflights. The first three overflights were flown on December 6 and 15, 1957, and January 7, 1958. Unfortunately the fourth mission, on February 18 ended in disaster.

Captain Chao was flying aircraft 5642 over the Shan Tung peninsula when he was attacked by two Chinese navy Shenyang J-5s flown by Hu Chung-Sheng and Shu Ji-Cheng. The J-5s were the Chinese licence-built variants of the Russian MiG-17. This aircraft was equipped with search radar and had a ceiling of 55,000ft – the capabilities of the PLAAF had been grossly underestimated! Chao’s RB-57A was blown from the sky and crashed into the Yellow Sea. Chao was killed.

It was apparent that the RB-57A was of no further use as a strategic reconnaissance aircraft. The second Canberra (5641) was grounded and later returned to the US where it was modified to an RB-57D.

The need to fly high-altitude strategic missions over mainland China did not end with the demise of the RB-57A flights however. In July 1958, three pilots were sent to the Laughlin AFB in the US to train on the RB-57D with the 4025th SRS, 4080th SRW. The pilots were the three survivors of those originally involved in the training for the RB-57A. These pilots returned to Tao Yuan AB in October 1958, in time to receive the two RB-57Ds ferried from Laughlin. The aircraft were from the first batch produced and were the single-seat photo reconnaissance variant, which had two camera stations in the front fuselage. The first station contained two K-38 split vertical cameras; and the second contained two KC-1 oblique cameras. They were designed for daylight, fair weather operations.

The first RB-57D mission took off on January 6, 1959 piloted by Lt Colonel Lu. It was necessary to achieve 60,000ft before entering Chinese airspace. It was impossible for the aircraft to be intercepted at that height, though not too high for Surface-to-Air missiles (SAM). Fortunately, China did not have SAM capacity in mid-1959 and the first flight, piloted by Lt Colonel Lu, was a success.

Between January and October 6, 1959, 21 RB-57D overflights were conducted and a good deal of useful intelligence was gathered. For example, a flight over the Peking (Beijing) area on June 14 revealed that the Chinese had MiG-19s in the form of the licence-built Shenyang J-6. Some sources suggest that the J-6s may have been scrambled to intercept the RB-57D, but, of course, could not attain the height. On October 2 a Canberra overflew the industrial complex in the Shen Yang area where the licence-built MiGs were being manufactured and, once again, attempts to intercept were made but were not successful.

Meanwhile, during these months the Communists were installing their surface to air missile batteries. These were supplied by the Soviet Union, who conducted the training of the PLAAF operators. It is extraordinary that, with 21 surveillance flights flown by the RB-57Ds, there was no photographic evidence that suggested the Chinese possessed Surface-to-Air missile batteries and that some of these were mobile. The SA-75 Dvina SAMs were deployed around Peking and combat-ready by the end of September 1959. It came as a rude awakening to the ROCAF when, on October 7, RB-57D 5643 was brought down in the area of Peking by a SAM. The pilot, 1st Lt Wang was killed when his aircraft crashed south east of the capital. His aircraft had been picked up on radar when it had entered Chinese air space and the SAM batteries had been waiting for him.

The RB-57D flights were subsequently abandoned. An aircraft with a much higher operating ceiling was required if ever they were to be resumed.

Lockheed U-2R of the ROCAF. This aircraft is possibly 3925 (US Serial 68-10329) which later served with the 9th SRW, USAF, after upgrade to U-2S. Note the very small ROCAF roundel on the rear fuselage side and the lack of any other markings apart from the tail number.

The `Dragon Lady’

The Lockheed U-2 was no stranger to the region. During the Taiwan Straits crisis of 1958, U-2s belonging to the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detachment C, based at Cubi Point Naval Air Station in the Philippines, had flown missions over the Chinese mainland to ascertain the extent of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA)’s military buildup in the coastal areas. In 1958 the USAF proposed supplying the ROCAF with their own U-2s to be flown by ROCAF pilots. Pilot training began in March 1959. The programme was not supported by the CIA who feared that it would jeopardise the secrecy of their operations. However, the shooting down of Gary Powers’ U-2 in May 1960 and the subsequent publicity negated any such argument and the project received Presidential approval in August 1960. The ROCAF overflight programme was codenamed Project Tackle and the CIA were involved as `advisors.’ Two U-2s would be supplied by the US, and any losses would be replaced.

The pair of U-2s were assigned to Detachment H at Tao Yuan AB, arriving in Taiwan on December 14, 1960. The ROCAF created the 35th Squadron to which Detachment H was assigned. The 35th became known as the `Black Cat’ Squadron. Owing to further delays and indecision at US Government level, the first overflight by a U-2 of 35 Squadron did not take place until January 12, 1962. This mission was flown by Huai Chen over the missile testing range at Shuangchengzi. During 1962 a total of 19 overflight missions were flown. One of the busiest pilots was Mike Hua. In 1962 he flew six missions.

In his story published in Air Power History in the spring of 2002 he writes: “The missions covered the vast interior of the Chinese mainland, where almost no aerial photographs had ever been taken. The Hycon 73B model camera mounted on the U-2 could take seven oblique and vertical high resolution photos sequentially from horizon to horizon. Each mission brought back an aerial photo map of roughly 100 miles wide and 2,600 miles long, which revealed, not only the precise location of a target, but also the activities on the ground.

In addition to the camera, wide band ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) System 3 and System 6 receivers on board recorded a large number of new electromagnetic emissions in and above VHF frequencies, including radar signals excited by the U-2.”

The intelligence gathered by the ROCAF U-2 flights was invaluable but the missions were dictated by Washington and, in the early years, the film and data were processed by the CIA in Japan and some information shared with Taiwan.

Of course, the Chinese were aware of the U-2 missions. Most of the flights were tailed by MiGs, but obviously at a lower altitude. There was, after all, the possibility that the U-2 would experience some problem which would force it to fly lower and then it would be an easy target for the fighters. On September 9, 1962, Huai Chen took off on his fourth mission. He was to photograph the PLA military buildup in the Jiangxi region in U-2C 378. His aircraft was shot down by an SA-2 Surface-to-Air missile in the vicinity of Nanchang and he was killed in the crash. His was to be the first of six operational losses incurred by the ROCAF U-2 pilots over the six years to 1969.

Following Chen’s fatal mission a Radar Warning Receiver (RWR) was fitted to the U-2s at Tao Yuan. Mike Hua flew the first overflight mission in the replacement U-2 to test the RWR:

“I was fully aware of the risk involved in this mission,” he said in the Spring 2002 issue of Air Power History. “On December 6 I took off at 0615 from Tao Yuan and flew directly toward the northeast provinces. After completing the photo reconnaissance over PRC, I flew to North Korea to cover targets there. I flew south, almost reaching the 38th parallel, when the System 12 (RWR receiver) started to show an indication. The light strobe pointed to six o’ clock, showing that I was headed away from the radar site. I did not take any evasive manoeuvres.”

ROCAF U-2 overflights of the Chinese People’s Republic continued until March 1968. The threat from the SAMs was too great to be ignored. During this time there were six operational and six training losses. These aircraft losses were made good by the US and, as a consequence, the ROCAF received upgraded U-2s during the period they operated the aircraft; the final variant being the U-2R. However, the U-2s were still employed by the ROCAF for coastal flights using their powerful oblique cameras to photograph deep into PRC territory until May 1974 when the two U-2s were returned to the USA.

There were no further overflights of mainland China by ROCAF, although, undoubtedly, the USA continued such surveillance flights with the A-12 and the SR-71.

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