B. J. Buckhout: More about Charlie
This is in reference to Eugene F. Barber’s article on Nov. 11, in which he writes about his experiences in Korea, specifically his comments on Bed Check Charlie. I was assigned to the 68th All Weather.
Fighter Squadron in 1951, flying the F-82 Twin Mustang all weather night fighter stationed at Itazuki Japan. We flew into Korea and operated out ofK-13, located in Suwan, a short distance from Seoul.
We stayed in tents, sleeping in our flight suits, snuggled in our “fart sacks” (sleeping bags) until it was our turn to fly a mission.
Our mission was weather observation, attacking targets of opportunity, and providing CAP (Continuous Aerial Patrol). We operated during the day when the weather was keeping the day fighters from flying, and at night. After we spent our ordinance and reported weather conditions north to the Yalu River, we assumed the CAP, under “dentist” control, flying at 15,000 feet. We intercepted inbound targets, providing identifying type, any identification markings, and any other features.
In order for us to do that, we had to lower our speed, lower our gear, and turn on the landing lights to illuminate the target. Fortunately every single “target” turned out to be friendlies returning from their mission. We had to be a very good target, due to our attitude and position.
This brings me to “Bed Check Charlie,” flying at very low altitude in a open cockpit biplane, similar to our Stearman. We alternated our CAP mission with the Marines, flying the single engine Corsair. Their mission lasted for four hours. Charlie could be flying over our military installations any time after dark, usually after midnight. As Mr. Barber stated, Bed Check Charlie was named as our troops were mostly sleeping.
The back seat was occupied by a single person, who was known to throw out hand grenades or anything that could cause damage. He would usually fly at altitudes 50 feet or less. I had numerous attempts to shoot old Charlie. Each time we got a “lock on” on our radar, slowed down to about 160 mph just above stalling speed and flew alongside, we could see the rear seat guy, shooting at us with his “burp gun,” and by the time we swung around he was close to the ground, out of radar sight.
On one occasion it was my turn to take over CAP duties, the Marine pilot I was relieving stated he was going to get that SOB as he had been able to make several passes, only to have Charlie drop out of sight. I asked the Marine “his state of fuel”, he replied low, he wanted to make one more pass. He did, and because of his low fuel he headed to K-14, the nearest Air Base. He informed me that he “made it,” running out of fuel on final, just making the strip.
On one occasion I was directed to the vicinity of K-14 where the 4th Fighter Squadron, flying F-86s was located. K-14 flight line was lit up with bright lights, mechanics preparing for the next day, F-86s parked wing tip to wingtip, when suddenly the sky lit up. Charlie was able to penetrate the defenses, dropped hand grenades, setting fire destroying six F-86 aircraft. Reports were that Bed Check Charlie had been destroyed by ground fire. Charlie was well known, how many we had no idea, but they certainly were well known.
B. J. Buckhout, Col. USAF Ret.
Lake Havasu City