Tag Archives: Air Strikes on North Korea


Major Henry “Schadow” Schantz was an F-22 Raptor test and demonstration pilot prior to the sequester that grounded his Raptor Flight Demonstration Team. His F-22 Demonstrations thrilled air show crowds before congress pulled the plug on the funding. He was a classic fighter pilot, a stick and throttle man skilled at aerobatics and the lethal dance of aerial combat. He was also a virtuoso with the weapons systems of the F-22 Raptor.

Schantz was TDY (temporary duty) as a weapons and air combat instructor with the Air National Guard F-22 drivers at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska when the Korean Crisis began. He, along with the rest of the 477th Fighter Group, flew their Raptors over 3,600 miles to Japan wearing four big 600-gallon under wing fuel tanks on BRU-47/A external pylons. Once they landed at Yokota AFB west of Tokyo in Fussa, maintenance crews removed the tanks and pylons, restoring the Raptors’ low observability and uncluttered appearance. Then crews loaded the “Air Superiority” package on board. The Raptors became clean and naked on the outside for maximum stealth and performance. They carried a lethal internal load-out of six AIM-120C air-to-air missiles and two advanced AIM-9X all-aspect, infra-red air-to-air missiles. They also packed a holster of gun powder and lead in the form of 480 rounds of 20mm incendiary and armor-piercing cannon shells for their M-61 Vulcan cannons that spit shells at a withering 6,600 rounds per minute.

North Korea has a large air force for a country of its size. While most of it is relatively antiquated what it lacks in sophistication is compensated for by size. The primary concern over the North Korean battlespace was their MiG-29 Fulcrums. Maj. Schantz was sent to Guam to take care of those Fulcrums.

The Fulcrum is a worthy opponent with incredible thrust to weight from its burly, twin Klimov (formerly Tumansky) RD-33 turbofans that can belch 37,000 pounds of wet thrust. It uses an impressive Phazotron RLPK-29 radar sensor and fire control system with the ability to track ten targets simultaneously. In good conditions its radar can track other fighters up to 70 miles from the front quadrant of the aircraft, larger targets, like an American B-52, even farther. The bulbous IRST or “Infra-Red Search and Track” ball on its nose was an effective close range, stealthy sensor. Fulcrum drivers wore a unique helmet mounted sight that provided limited off-angle target acquisition. The MiG-29 is a robust fighter, with heavy covers that flop down over its intakes when taxing to prevent objects from being sucked into the intakes when operating from unimproved fields like a dirt airstrip or a roadway in time of war. It can be started with small explosive cartridges to rotate its turbines and does not need an APU cart. Even the landing gear looks like something from an off-road vehicle compared to squat legs of the F-22 that look decidedly delicate and ungainly on the ground.


Schadow Schantz and his wingman were back in the air only twelve hours after landing in Japan. As the sun rose the next day the pair were briefed and took off on a CAP (Combat Air Patrol) mission over North Korea. Climbing out of Yokota the pair immediately formated into a wide line-abreast to make maximum use of their net-centric AN/APG-77 Active Electronically Scanned Array radars. Since the F-22 is a low-observable or “stealth” aircraft the APG-77 radar is also stealthy, with a rapid interrogating, narrow beam scanning capability that makes it difficult to back track. Schadow’s tactics made best use of the F-22’s capabilities; find targets before they found him and engage them before they knew what hit them.

The APG-77 quickly picked up what looked like a beehive of North Korean air activity. Friendly air activity was marked by identification friend or foe (IFF) transponders on Schadow’s data screen in the F-22 cockpit. Targeting computers prioritized contacts and assessed range to target. When Schadow closed to within 80 miles of the first lock-up the computer gave him the option: TARGET:FIRE. He touched a button and the doors on the side of the Raptor flipped open like a gunslinger sweeping back his trench coat to draw. The launch rails expelled one AIM-120 AMRAAM and its engine lit as it tracked off, nearly straight, accelerating to Mach 4 on the way to target one. Only seconds after the first AIM-120 launch Schadow got another launch indication and selected “FIRE”. His first missile was still on the way to its target when the second left its launch rail. Less than one minute later four targets had been designated, prioritized and launched against with AIM-120’s. Schadow’s rate of closure had him to within 40 miles of the outer ring of contacts. He had Sidewinders and cannon shells left, and plenty of targets.

His sensors and local AWACs aircraft indicated that, miraculously, all four AIM-120’s had found home. In less than two minutes Schadow bagged two MiG-19’s, one prized MiG-29 and a lumbering tactical transport aircraft that was unlucky enough to stumble into the target designation screen of Schadow’s Raptor. He hadn’t even moved his control stick and he was one kill from becoming the first or second ace of the New Korean war. The first man to bag the next confirmed kill would have that distinction.

Schantz increased altitude and power, advancing his throttles to “supercruise” range and breaking the sound barrier without any afterburner. It only took gentle pressure on the stick to initiate an efficient climb attitude. With the sensor suite slewed to his remaining weapons package he needed to get close enough for an infra-red target acquisition to use his two AIM-9X’s. The ghost grey F-22 vaulted upward on its louvered, vectored thrust tail. It shot through a low, widely dispersed wispy cloud deck at 35,000 feet and kept arching upward as fast as a rifle bullet. Tearing through 40,000 feet Schantz saw his displays dance and blink with targets. None had detected him yet. His MFD’s signaled target “acqs” for his AIM-9X’s  and he began a wide, arching turn while leveling out at 50,000 feet, then he pushed forward and levitated against his seat harness as he went negative G beginning his dive to engage a pair of MiG-29’s below.

Schantz locked-up the first MiG-29 with a good tone and launched one Sidewinder. The range was closing fast and he worked quickly to gain another solution on the second MiG. Flares popping out from the first MiG and what must have been a gut-wrenching, speed-sapping high-G turn by the MiG signaled that the battle had been joined. Schadow Schantz made the transition from long-range sniper to street fighter.  The second MiG rolled left and broke, popping a trail of glowing flares while he let his turn out to not bleed off too much speed. In response Schantz traded altitude for airspeed for another two seconds, overshot, knew his first Sidewinder had somehow missed, cranked a full roll right reversing left after the second MiG. His cockpit lit with missile warning lights as the first MiG snapped off an R-27R missile, a dangerous and maneuverable dog-fighting missile.

The sky was full of contacts now. Schantz’s wingman was similarly engaged about 10 miles north, alternately bringing the fight to, and trying to evade another pair of MiGs. As other U.S. and North Korean aircraft entered the battlespace a series of “furball” dogfights began, with heat seeking missiles and now, the occasional ripping sound of air-to-air cannon fire filling the sky from 2,000 feet up to 35,000 feet. The greatest aerial battle of the modern era and the biggest since WWII had just begun.

Schantz’s automated countermeasures suite launched flares and anti-radar countermeasures as he realized he was a little hot and executed a pull-up to scissors to gain position on the second MiG. He instantly got a good tone and launched, the wide aspect Sidewinder seemingly defying physics as it dove into an impossible arc following the second MiG. Schantz realized the threat of the first MiG, the one he missed, at the same time his missile launch indicators lit up. The first ’29 had gotten in position for a good launch and Schantz was in trouble.

During the annual Red Flag fighter combat simulation exercise in Alaska, 2011, a number of Luftwaffe Typhoon pilots discovered that, if you get the F-22 into a low and slow engagement, it is no longer the clear winner. When dissimilar aircraft crossed sabers with the Raptor in a close-range dogfight the Raptor was just another jet with guns and missiles. It was no longer invisible, wasn’t much faster, couldn’t really turn much tighter and didn’t have a weapons advantage. It became just another fighter plane. In those circumstances, it became a contest between pilots. A dogfight.

An R-27R  missile is a deadly and maneuverable adversary. It can pull incredible G and is more maneuverable than any of the aircraft it is targeting. The one thing it lacks is a brain. And airshow experience.

Maj. Schantz was accustomed to flying his airshow flight demonstrations inside what is called the “aerobatic box”, a small cubic section of air space authorized for aerobatic competitions and demonstrations. As a result he had an extra repertoire of maneuvers not commonly needed in air combat school. One maneuver he used to reposition his aircraft and keep the demonstration in front of the crowd line. It was a variation of the famous Pugachev’s Cobra, a maneuver long since dismissed as strictly an airshow stunt with no tactical value. Basically, a Cobra maneuver laid on its side, this maneuver accomplished the critical tactic of “beaming” to defeat an air-to-air missile, or turning the aircraft violently to put the missile at your 3 or 9 o’clock. It also sucked airspeed, forcing the F-22 well below its “Vs” or stall speed. Depending on how fast (or slow) Schantz’s F-22 was going when he entered the maneuver the result would be that his aircraft would simply drop out of the sky.

Schantz knew his sophisticated fly-by-wire flight control system would protest such a maneuver, but he knew how to “cheat” the raptor by skidding it in the air, a sideways cobra, speed bleeding below Vs and his aircraft falling vertically out of the sky. The manipulation of pedals and stick was in utter contradiction to the software that managed the flight controls, but inertia and physics won out. and so did Schadow’s barnstorming skills. As the missile sheeted toward him with frightening speed his aircraft seemed to roll on its side, stop dead, and drop out of the sky like a broken toy. The missile over shot.


This stunt hit the reset button on the engagement. Schantz was now without airspeed and losing altitude, two things an aviator can never get enough of. In utter contradiction to what any non-aviator would do, he centered his stick, pressed it forward and added power. Altitude: 3,200 ft. AGL. Airspeed came up rapidly, 1,900 ft. AGL. Enough air was moving over his control surfaces that the plane began to fly again. Airspeed 180 knots, altitude 1,200 ft. AGL. It took more than a measure of nerve to watch the ground coming at him- and do nothing. 235 knots, 800 feet above the very hard ground. Alarms blaring. The F-22 is 62 feet long. Schadow couldn’t remember where that was measured from on the aircraft. He hoped it was the nose. 600 feet. He gently edged the stick back and felt the reassuring weight of G force as his G-suit inflated and the nose started to walk upward over the terrain to the horizon. By 250 feet the aircraft was nearly level, by 150 feet it had assumed horizontal flight and was at 250 knots and accelerating. Schantz juiced the throttle and pulled back, grabbing one quick look at his tactical situation display. A target was approaching from his 5 O’clock, about 1,500 feet above. He poured on the speed as the Raptor stood on its tail, got missile tone and fired his last AIM-9X. It missed.

Over the top Schantz pulled back hard, rolled inverted, got tally ho on the MiG-29 he just barely missed and pulled his stick back. The MiG must have been low on fuel since it appeared to be running. The “GUN” piper came up, an LED circle that predicted the path of his cannon shells. Schantz touched the trigger. There was a brief ripping sound and an unexpected belch of trailing smoke as the cannon spun up and loosed a line of 20mm shells.  The MiG flew right through them.

Nothing seemed to happen at first but then a brief tongue of flame exited the right engine and the aircraft rolled right. It occurred to Schadow that the MiG-29 is not a “fly by wire” aircraft and relies on a more primitive mechanical and hydraulic flight control linkage. More primitive, and more vulnerable to cannon shells punching holes in the aircraft. The MiG continued its right roll, settling into a dead engine, then began to pitch up to high alpha, a deadly combination from which there was no recovery at this altitude with a dead engine. The pilot did the smart thing and grabbed the handles. His K-36 ejection seat blasted upward, deploying a pair of stabilizing drogues, and he separated from the seat, his parachute beginning to deploy. The crippled, bullet riddled MiG skidded sideways in the air and dropped, a decidedly inelegant death for such a graceful plane.

Schantz saw the Korean pilot under his parachute, descending toward open fields. He looked like he tolerated the ejection well, his arms up and trying to steer the parachute. He flew one wide slow circle around the pilot. The chivalry of airmen transcended the horror of war. Schantz rocked his wings and the surprised Korean pilot watched in surprise as the Raptor stood on its tail again and accelerated vertically.

That was five.

USAF Major Henry Schantz, call sign “Schadow”, became the first combat pilot to score five confirmed kills, all in one sortie, in the new Korean Conflict making him the first ace of the war. That same day two more Raptor pilots would join the elite fraternity. Later that week a Marine pilot in an F-18 and two USAF F-16 pilots would also score their fifth aerial victories and become aces. In North Korea it seemed to be raining MiGs.


Bob Jenkins owned three Taco Bell franchises in the Dubuque, Iowa area. One of them was the largest grossing restaurant in that district. Despite his success as an entrepreneur Jenkins was oddly tech adverse, which is why it surprised him when his wife Trudy bought him a Garmin GPS for his car last Christmas. It took him a month to put the thing in his car, and nearly an hour of sitting in the front seat to work through the “Quick Start” guide. Then, after initializing the unit, he drove around his subdivision at 15 MPH watching his position change on the moving map display. Since then he was hooked.

This morning, when he started the car, he found it frustrating that the GPS actually showed his car’s current position as over 30 miles away somewhere near Waukegan. How long was the warranty on this damn thing? Jenkins backed his Ford down the driveway somewhat smug in his disdain for technology and turned on the radio. His favorite preset was NPR. The President was holding a press conference. Jenkins drove four houses down the block on the way to his office. Then he stopped quite suddenly and pulled over.

“Jesus fucking Christ just don’t look up.” Captain Ron Davis, USAF, knew two things: He would die tonight and his entire existence was focused on getting his weapons on target before he did. Molten projectiles of red-hot lead crisscrossed in front of his canopy as his F-16C hurtled down the valley at 150 feet AGL and over 400 knots indicated. The ride was bumpy. His oxygen mask didn’t seem to fit right anymore. He realized it was because he was sweating so much it slid slightly on his face.

He passed his initial point almost immediately and was on the run-in to his primary target, a North Korean command and control bunker just north of the artillery positions that could pound Seoul to the south. The bunker was largely subterranean, meaning his initial strike with two 1000-pound bombs would not be entirely effective, but might buy some time. It was expensive time though and would likely cost an F-16 and its pilot. In the callous accounting of war this target was worth the price. Intelligence indicated this bunker transferred targeting data to forward line rocket and artillery batteries to correct fire after initial bomb damage assessment reports. The facility relied heavily on GPS data for targeting. For some reason that data now seemed to be indicating erratic positions for secondary targets, almost as though the stationary targets were moving. The North Koreans quickly shifted back to manual map templates for fire control of the second salvo of rocket and artillery strikes. The delay in doing so was only a few minutes, and that was all the first wave of American strike aircraft needed.

Capt. Davis’ weapons’ release computer slewed to the target and traced a line on his HUD to the best release point. He would execute a tactical pull-up to release altitude, roll inverted at the top of the hump, pull the side stick back to bring the nose back down, roll wings level and pickle the weapons. Then he would hit the ‘burners, dive for the deck and attempt to egress the target area if his F-16 hadn’t been hit by automatic anti-aircraft fire or one of the surface to air missiles that seemed to trace the black night every few seconds. The attack would take about nine seconds, the longest and probably last nine seconds of his life.  Davis reached the pitch-up to release point and hauled hard on the side stick, which didn’t really move much but sensed the pilot’s hand pressure on the stick to determine the control responses of the aircraft. His G-suit inflated as the crush of gravity pinned him into his semi-reclined ACES 2 ejection seat. The Viper began a precise climb as ground defense radars lit up with his sudden appearance. In only seconds an SA-2 Guideline surface to air missile left its launch rail and arced into the sky. The Guideline was an old missile that had plagued American pilots during the Vietnam conflict.  The primary tactic to defeat the Guideline, or “flying telephone pole” was to rapidly dive below it. In about three more seconds Davis could do that. In the mean time the chafe and flare dispensers were set to automatic and ejected a flurry of foil-like radar reflective countermeasure strips and a bright fan of white-hot magnesium flares to confuse any infra-red guided anti-aircraft or air-to-air missiles. At the top of the climb Davis snapped the Viper upside down and hauled back, then almost instantly half rolled to wings level. He picked up the target in his HUD and made small adjustments to be sure the “piper” was lined up right, then he hit his release switch and the aircraft shuddered slightly as two tons of high explosives fell from under his wings. His cockpit illuminated briefly from the exhaust plume of the SA-2 missile passing overhead. Another instant passed and the missile detonated, barely overshooting Major Davis’ Viper and missing him only slightly. He advanced the throttles to the afterburner range and the plane dived back down to relative safety. In another couple of seconds he exited the end of the canyon and hauled hard right, remember a statistic from weapons school that said over half of strike pilots pulled off target to the left, a fact that anti-aircraft crews knew too. Against all odds he had survived this first desperate, critical strike.

Inside the North Korean artillery fire control bunker the equipment remained largely intact. The crew serving it, much less so. The receiving end of any air strike is a gruesome scene, and despite being built into a rock mountain and largely concealed this bunker had sustained significant damage and even more significant casualties. The first of Major Davis’ 1000-pound bombs hit the primary opening to the bunker facility. Blast doors were closed but a resultant overpressure produced a concussive shock wave that, near the corners of the room, fractured skulls and snapped bones from the wave of energy. Instruments near the walls were damaged. The second bomb hit the top of the bunker, built to survive such an impact. The energy transmitted through the rock severed some communications links but more oddly, ruptured plumbing pipes that carried fresh water and sewerage into and out of the bunker. Water and filth sprayed into the bunker from the roof, shorting out more electronics and most lighting systems. Some small fires started, triggering an automatic fire extinguishing system. While the bunker remained entirely intact everyone inside was at least disoriented, some dead and most wounded. In short, their effectiveness had been compromised. Davis’ strike appeared ineffective from outside the bunker, but it would be several hours before the facility could regain command and control of its artillery and missile batteries.

Warfare is often a series of efforts to buy time, and Davis’ airstrike along with others going on simultaneously along the border area had just bought critical time. During that time heavy bombers would be within range to strike with their air launched cruise missiles. Then the battle would truly be joined.