Jeopardy! category: WAR NOVELS (9-10-2015)
$1200 clue: In James Salter’s “The Hunters”, set during this war, USAF pilots face off against MiGs above the Yalu River
The gist: That time Americans and Russians shot at each other. “The Hunters” is the story of Cleve Connell, an Air Force pilot nearing the end of his career while stationed in Japan, until he gets assigned to an elite fighter wing in the Korean War. Bored with his waning time as an active pilot, he is eager to get back into action, and is excited when he encounters his first MiG fighters, Soviet-made jet aircraft that were flown by North Korean, Chinese, and (without being acknowledged by the USSR) Soviet pilots. In particular, Cleve becomes obsessed with “Casey Jones,” the nickname the American pilots give to an enemy ace who flies a distinctively black-striped MiG. His obsession and ambition inevitably brings him into conflict with his peers, which leads to both victories and disasters.
The term “MiG,” especially when used in discussions of the Korean War, usually refers to the MiG-15, which was based on German WWII research and incorporation swept-back wings and a Rolls-Royce derived engine. The craft’s swept wings greatly reduced its drag at transonic speeds – speeds just below and at the sound, letting the MiG quickly outclass the straight-winged fighters that the American and UN forces were flying at the beginning of the Korean War. In response, American engineers designed the swept-winged F-86 Sabre, which took advantage of similar design features. In December 1950, the first large-scale air combat between squadrons of swept-wing transonic fighters took place in Korea. While the MiG had heavier weapons, better turn radius, and a faster maximum speed, the Sabre’s superior handling allowed the U.S. and its allies to establish air superiority in the region.
The clue: The two hints in this clue, if you aren’t familiar with the novel, are “Yalu River,” which forms part of the border between China and North Korea, and, of course, MiG, well-known as a Soviet aircraft and therefore strongly implying Soviet involvement. However, MiGs (the MiG-17 model) also flew against American fighters in the Vietnam War, so that would be a fine guess too, if that’s all you had to go on. But don’t guess.
In Jeopardy!: Since “mig” is in some very common words (like “might,” for example), a search in the J!Archive isn’t very useful. “MiG-15” returns just three clues, this one, a rather confusing clue that looks for “jet engine” as the correct response, and one asking what type of plane Russell Brown, an American pilot, shot down in the early stages of the Korean War. “MiG Soviet” returns nine clues, usually mentioning Russia or the Soviet Union and asking for a type of plane. Unfortunately, that’s all I’m able to do for this one.