The Fighter Pilot Who Almost Shot Himself Down

Posted by on Jul 26, 2010 | No Comments

We’ve all shot ourselves in the foot. My own two feet are covered with the scars of many self inflicted wounds. But one of my friends topped that when he almost shot down his own fighter plane in 1951.

John Robertson started the Korean War flying the P-51 Mustang and later transitioned to the F-80 Shooting Star. One day he was on patrol when he noticed several enemy trucks in a dry river bed. His aircraft had recently been equipped with these new fangled unguided rockets so he thought he’d try them out.

F-80s Over Korea

He came in low and fired off two rockets. They dropped off his wings and fell several feet before igniting and heading up toward–but not quite exactly at–the trucks. Because he was so low they hit the rocky river bed in front of him, short of the enemy. As he was pulling up a shower of rocks and other debris peppered his F-80, causing serious damage. Through a combination of skill and luck he limped back to base where he had to explain that the damage to the aircraft was not from a fierce dog fight, but was in fact self inflicted. I imagine that if he’d to bail out, his squadron mates might have forced him to paint a small American flag on the nose of his F-80 to denote a “kill.”

Fortunately John survived that mission and many others and returned home to the USA. I got to know him and enjoy his friendship about thirty years after that incident when we served together in Civil Air Patrol, a civilian auxiliary of the United States Air Force. During a training camp at McChord Air Force Base near Tacoma, Washington he told me the story of almost shooting himself down. Although he was a good friend and mentor, I didn’t hesitate to tell his tale to the editor of the camp newspaper who published a shorter version.

He passed away not many years after that. I imagine that when he arrived at the pearly gates Saint Peter looked up and said, “Hey, you almost showed up here about 30 years ago. Now that would have been a good story.”

John, I’m glad you survived that mission and many others in defense of freedom and made it home so that I could experience your friendship. But I’m also glad that to date, I’ve only shot myself in the foot.


  1. Connie Mace
    July 27, 2010

    Truly Dennis, you have the most amazing stories!

  2. T. Sayler
    February 29, 2012

    I never heard this story, from Lorraine or anyone else! Thanks for sharing! He was a great guy.

    • Dennis
      March 1, 2012

      He hadn’t even told his oldest Son, John F about it. He was a great guy. When I wrote it up I went back to the encampment newsletter to get details.

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