Academic journal article Air Power History

The Black Cat Squadron

Academic journal article Air Power History

The Black Cat Squadron

Article excerpt

The government of the Republic of China (ROC) left mainland China in 1949 for Taiwan. Since then the Chinese Communists threatened the ROC in Taiwan and the offshore islands. This threat increased after the Korean War ceasefire. At the same time, former President Chiang Kaishek never gave up hope of returning to the mainland to liberate his compatriots. In the 1950s, the ROC Air Force frequently conducted photo reconnaissance flights over the coastal areas opposite the Taiwan Strait with aircraft provided by the United States.

When the Lockheed U-2 became operational in 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower favored recruiting foreign nationals to pilot the aircraft. (1) ROCAF pilots were considered the best candidates to execute these missions over Communist China, but the ROC U-2 pilot selection did not begin until 1959.

In November 1956, six Nationalist Chinese pilots arrived at Lackland Air Force Base (AFB), Texas, to learn English, followed by RB--57A flight training at Wendover AFB, Utah. Two RB--57As were sent to Taoyuan Air Base (AB), Taiwan, and a special joint ROCAF/USAF squadron was organized. Overflight missions began on December 6, 1957, but were stopped two months later when an RB--57A, piloted by Kunhua "Charles" Chao, was shot down over Shantung province. He could not fly high enough to evade an attack by MiG--19s. Afterwards the rest of the pilots returned to the U.S. for additional training on the improved RB--57D.

When the Chinese Communists (ChiComs) unleashed a massive bombardment of the offshore island of Quemoy in August 1958, Chinese fighters from both sides engaged in air battles; thirty-one MiG--17s and one F--86 were lost. The U.S. 7th Fleet dispatched ships to provide logistics support to ROC. The Taiwan Strait was on the verge of all-out war. Because ROC reconnaissance pilots were still training at Laughlin AFB, American U-2 pilots had to fly over the mainland from Okinawa. It was probably at this moment that the U.S. began to seriously consider recruiting ROC pilots to fly the U--2.

I was the operations officer of an F--86 squadron stationed at Pingtung AB. A telephone call from the wing commander's office one afternoon in March 1959, ordered me to report immediately to ROCAF headquarters in Taipei. I caught a night train to Taipei and reported to headquarters the next morning. The office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence also summoned eleven other pilots from various squadrons. We flew to Okinawa that afternoon for physical examinations, including a test in the high altitude chamber, pressurized to 40,000 feet.

Major Joe Jackson, the deputy commander of 4028th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron (SRS), came to Taiwan and brought six of us: Shihchu "Gimo" Yang, Taiyu "Tiger" Wang, Yaohua Chih, Huai Chen, Chungkuei Hsu and me, to Laughlin AFB. The following week the ground school started. To our surprise, the subjects taught were navigational aids, air traffic control, and some very basic celestial navigation. Up until this moment, we thought that we were in the U.S. for flight training to serve as backup for the other group of ROCAF RB--57D pilots trained here. We never knew there was a reconnaissance aircraft other than the RB--57D. Why had the instructors never mentioned this aircraft?

A few weeks later, we received partial pressure suits at Carswell AFB, near Fort Worth, Texas, and then went through a low-pressure chamber at an altitude of 80,000 feet. The officer there told us that without a pressurized suit a man's blood would boil and he would die instantly at above 65,000 feet. The test confused me even more, since RB--57D could never fly that high.

I remember that I had once scrambled from Pingtung AB to intercept an unidentified object over mainland China coming toward Quemoy in September 1958. Ground control interception (GCI) guided us to the intercept point, but we could not find any enemy aircraft. Finally, GCI directed us to abort the mission because the object's altitude was around 70,000 feet and interpreted it as a balloon. …

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