Flying Officer Phillip Zupp Receives the US Air Medal

Owen Zupp - Monday, July 09, 2018

Flying Officer Phillip Zupp Awarded the US Air Medal. 



66 years after my father, an Australian fighter pilot, was involved in an action over Korea, he was officially awarded the US Air Medal in a moving ceremony at the Australian War Memorial. It was an appropriate location as the Memorial is also home to the Gloster Meteor in which dad flew his first combat mission. 

The presentation was part of the US Embassy's 4th of July celebration and also a commemoration of 100 years of 'mateship'. Australians and Americans first served together at the Battle of Hamel in 1918. In a further twist of fate, dad's uncle fell at the Battle of Hamel a century ago.

The family is both humbled and honoured and would like to thank the United States Air Force for this recognition and Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin AC for his efforts in seeing the 77 squadron fighter pilot recognised for his actions over Korea in 1952.

Here are some images from an incredible evening.

Phillip Zupp. Video Trailer.

Owen Zupp - Tuesday, July 03, 2018



Phillip Zupp. 'Without Precedent' 



Happy Birthday 'Without Precedent'.

Owen Zupp - Sunday, July 01, 2018


It's hard to believe, but it's been two years since the launch of my father's story, 'Without Precedent'.

In that time, so much has happened. His story has not only been seen on the shelves of major bookstores and the Australian War Memorial, but it has reached thousands of readers around the world as both a print and eBook. There has even been film interest. It has been a best-seller on Amazon and I have made several presentations to all ages, to share the story of the quiet Queensland kid, Phillip Zupp, who went on to become a commando in New Guinea and a 201-mission fighter pilot in Korea.

I cannot thank you all enough for the support this book has received and the many people I have met along the way.

It may be Without Precedent's second birthday, but the story is not over yet. Stay tuned.



Phillip Zupp. 201 Missions Over Korea.

Owen Zupp - Friday, June 15, 2018

Phillip Zupp

On December 1st, 1952, the day after Phillip Zupp arrived on the Korean Peninsula, twelve Gloster F.8 Meteors of the Royal Australian Air Force’s 77 Interceptor Fighter (IF) Squadron were on the receiving end of an aerial ambush. Mikoyan-Gurevich Mig-15 “Fagots”, in the hands of Soviet pilots, attacked from above and in superior numbers, resulting in three Australians being lost in the ensuing melee.

It was a sobering welcome to the squadron for the new pilot, yet in the ensuing seven months he would learn his trade as a fighter pilot and go on to fly 201 missions in his own right.


Prelude to War.

Phil Zupp’s childhood did not suggest that he would ever take to the skies, no matter how strong that dream might have been. Surrounded by cattle dying from drought and economies crashing in the Great Depression, his education was cut short as he sought to contribute to his families meagre farming income by cleaning out furnaces at the local foundry. In World War Two he trained as a RAAF navigator, but subsequently transferred to the Army when he became surplus to air crew requirements. There he saw service in the jungles of New Guinea as a commando before serving in one of the first contingents at Hiroshima, Japan as part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF).

Returning to Australia, he became a ‘cane-cutter’, harvesting sugar cane by hand. It was hard, filthy work, but it paid very well. On re-enlisting in the RAAF to train as a mechanic in 1948, he used the savings from his previous labouring to learn to fly privately. Despite of his poor level of formal education, the next year he was accepted for pilot training on the evidence of his performance as a trainee mechanic and the recommendation of a senior officer. For Phil Zupp, the planets had finally aligned.

Surviving the initial culling stages at RAAF Point Cook, he became part of No. 4 Pilot’s Course. As with so many military pilots across the Commonwealth, his initial training was in the de Havilland DH-82 Tiger Moth, the same type that he trained on in the civilian world. The next step was the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) Wirraway, an aircraft very similar to the venerable North American Harvard.

As Phil and his course mates readied to fly the Wirraway for the first time, North Korea invaded the South just before sunrise on the 25th of June 1950. Australia’s 77 Squadron had been serving as part of the BCOF in Japan when the war broke and were literally ready to depart for Australia, celebrating the occasion with a ‘shipwreck’ party at their base in Iwakuni when their plans were changed. On July 2nd, the squadron flew its first mission, equipped with North American P-51D Mustangs.

The ramifications for Phil and his fellow trainees were obvious. The RAAF was now at war and short of pilots, due to the scaling back in resources following World War Two. Over the ensuing months, Phil moved onto the twin-engined Airspeed Oxford before graduating as a Sergeant Pilot in February of 1951.

His next aircraft was the Mustang. In the absence of a dual seat trainer, the handling notes were studied thoroughly and drills in the aircraft were learned to a standard where they could be executed blindfolded. Exposure to the poor visibility beyond the Mustang’s long nose and higher approach speeds was gained by flying the Wirraway from the back seat and landing flapless.

Having satisfactorily flown the Mustang and been trained in fighter tactics and ground attack with 3 Squadron, the transition to jet aircraft came via the de Havilland F30 Vampire. At the time, there were no two-seat Vampires available, so a similar combination of Pilots Notes, briefings and supervised engine starts preceded Phil’s first flight in a nosewheel aircraft, a pressurised cockpit and powered by a jet powerplant – a flight flown ‘solo’. And he was well aware that if it all went wrong, there was no ejection seat fitted to the early model Vampire either.

Shipping out to Japan in late 1951, the conversion to the Gloster Meteor took place at Iwakuni and consisted of 10 hours of conversion training that included the relative luxury of 2 hours in a dual-seat T.7 Meteor with an instructor. Still, the Meteor jet was only the second twin-engined aircraft he was endorsed on after the Airspeed Oxford with its wooden propellers.

Phil’s next flight in the Meteor was to set course for Korea. 


Phillip Zupp

Down to Earth.

The losses of December 1st had a significant impact on the role of 77 Squadron. Recognising that the British jet did not lend itself to aerial combat at altitude with the more nimble, swept wing Mig-15, the squadron was relegated to an air-defence role. However, the arrival of a new Commanding Officer, Wing Commander Ron Susans DSO DFC, saw the Australian squadron re-tasked into a role of ground attack and it was a role that it would excel in.

From the outset, the Meteor was far better suited to the demands of ground attack. The durability of the British jet was to hold it in good stead against the ever-present ground fire. The missions were flown, or bottomed out, at extremely low level and instances of contacting the ventral tank with mother earth are documented. It was also a relatively stable gun platform, although some pilots found it to ‘snake’ on occasions.

The Meteor’s Achilles Heel was the exposed, belly-mounted ventral tank. The additional 175 Gallons was critical for the range-limited fighter, but could also prove a ‘ticking bomb’. The ignition of its volatile contents was responsible for the loss of a number of aircraft and pilots.

Offensively, the Meteor was armed with 4 x 20mm nose-mounted Hispano cannons and up to sixteen x 60lb rockets beneath its wings. Strikes were made against trains, trucks, bridges, buildings and anything else that contributed to the enemy’s infrastructure.

The operating environment in Korea was in stark contrast to that of Australia. The terrain was characterised by jagged ranges and deep valleys and the depths of the Korean winter blanketed the landscape in snow, making navigation a challenge. The cold also brought with it several additional hazards.

Ground crews’ hands could freeze on tools if they were grasped with a bare hand and the Meteor’s nose-mounted cine camera’s lens would become obscured by ice. The Meteor’s ejection seat carried a bladder of emergency water which left pilots on pre-dawn standby sitting on an ice-block – a problem slightly relieved by layers of newspaper. Scrap wood was of a premium as it could be used as fuel in each tent’s central pot-belly heater as well as lining on the walls against the elements. By night, an old Russian Polikarpov Po-2 biplane, or ‘Bed Check Charlie’, would drop small bombs to inflict minimal damage beyond disturbed sleep patterns.

The runway and taxiways at K-14 Kimpo were constructed of Pierced Steel Planking (PSP) and could become slippery in icy conditions. Airframe icing was kept partially at bay by each aircraft taxiing very close behind the other to use the preceding jet’s efflux to heat the leading edges of the wing. A technique that failed the leading aircraft. To this frozen backdrop, Phil taxied out on his first mission, close behind Wal Rivers DFC, an experienced pilot on his second tour having previously flown Mustangs. Phil was flying Meteor A77-368, the same aircraft is now on display at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.)

The purpose of the first sortie was planned as a familiarisation flight to acquaint Phil with the terrain, roads and towns to the north of K-14 and the ‘bomb line’. However, instead of an orientation flight, the order was given without notice to ‘scramble’ to intercept inbound unidentified aircraft.

In the next instant, a flock of tumbling sparrows seemed to fly past Phil’s cockpit. He wondered what business the tiny birds had being at such an altitude, when the realisation dawned upon him. They weren’t birds, they were the 20mm shell casings being ejected from the leading Meteor as he tested his cannons. He felt both stupid and sick. He had tucked right into the shells path and they could have easily brought him down. The mission went without further incident and like most sorties, it was forty minutes in duration.

Phillip Zupp

First Combat.

Phil’s first ground attack mission was typical of 77 Squadron operations at the time. A mission would begin the night before when US intelligence would identify targets for the next day and send a ‘Frag Order’ through to 77 Squadron. The pilots would gather for a briefing from the squadron’s Intelligence Officer who would nominate the target, expected anti-aircraft fire and the optimum direction of attack and the planned route of escape. The current ‘bomb line’ and Main Supply Route (MSR) were highlighted as were emergency details, US-held islands and search and rescue bases. 

On this occasion, the target was buildings near Chinnampo to the south of the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, and on the northern shore of the Taedong River. The four pilots had been briefed to remain clear of Haeju as they made their way to the target as the port city was a known hot spot for anti-aircraft fire.

A large building sat on the edge of the frozen harbour and was easily identifiable from altitude.  The Meteors descended to 5,000 feet to commence the attack with the four aircraft slipping, one behind the other, into a ‘line astern’ formation. Wing Commander Susans rolled into a 30-degree dive and the other Meteors followed close behind, although varying their direction to avoid the ant-aircraft guns that were now inevitably tracking them.

The dive angle had to be held steady for 10 to 20 seconds to allow the gunsight computer to assess the correct graticule position. Passing through 1500 feet, the pilots would depress the button on the top of the control column to release their rockets from their rails. Within seconds the rockets were erupting in flames and raining devastation on the building below.

As the air filled with smoke and fragments, the Meteor pilots pulled their jets into a climbing turn with their throttles advanced to full power. The heavier, faster Meteor did not pull out of a dive like the Mustang they had trained on and this inertia had accounted for the loss of pilots on operations. In the absence of G-suits, the increased force of gravity was kept at bay by tensed guts as blacking out was a real threat as was flying through the debris rising from the target.

Clear of the target and at a safe altitude, Susans called for each member of ‘Godfrey Flight’ to check in on the radio. It was the standard means of taking a ‘head count’ that took place after every mission before they reformed into the ‘finger four’ and set course for Kimpo.

201 Missions.

The ensuing months were hectic and Phil did not always return unscathed. Often his Meteor was damaged by ground fire, an inevitable consequence of his preference to be the last aircraft over the target – or ‘Tail End Charlie’. The method in Phil’s perceived madness was that he had the ability to see where the preceding aircraft’s rockets or tracers were striking the ground and this could be an indication of the conditions, such as a tailwind if the shots were landing long.

Possibly his closest call came on February 6th, 1952, a month in which the squadron flew a combined total of more than 1,000 missions. Searching for a downed pilot in the Sibyon-Ni area, Phil thought he had caught a glimpse of a pilot’s red ‘marker scarf’ on the snow. As he wrenched the Meteor around, vapour streaming from its wingtips, he struggled to recapture the red object he’d seen.

His next memory was the deafening roar as his cockpit seemingly exploded around him. With the canopy in pieces, the freezing airflow rushed by at 300 knots. He heaved back on the control column as his Meteor’s ventral tank was now perilously close to the ground. Struggling to gain his orientation, he reached to straighten the askew oxygen mask and shattered goggles, his face now stinging from embedded Perspex and shrapnel. He would later recall, “There seemed an inordinate amount of blood. It was over me, the cockpit and the “clocks”.

He pointed the Meteor south and swept past Kaesong as he set course for Kimpo. Inbound he advised the Controller that he had been hit and, as the result of further enquiry, stated he had injuries to the head. An Aussie drawl came across the frequency, “Don’t worry Zuppie, that’s your hardest part.”

After landing without event, he reported to the medical staff and completed his de-brief. There was no further sign was the pilot who would ultimately see out the remainder of the war in captivity. The next day Phil was flying again and participated in two missions.

Phillip Zupp

Heading Home.

Korea is often called the ‘Forgotten War’, lost somewhere between the enormity of World War Two and the controversy of Vietnam. During its service, 77 Squadron RAAF lost more than 40 pilots at a ratio of about one-in-four that served.

In his time in Korea, Sergeant Phillip Zupp was Mentioned-in-Dispatches and awarded the US Air Medal. Unknown to him, he was also the first Australian to be awarded the US Purple Heart for his actions on February 6th. The right to wear the decoration was apparently denied and its saga only surfaced in the 1990s when the Presidential Citation and other documents came to light. 

A pilot never knew when his final mission was to take place. In July of 1952, Phil knew that his time must be drawing near, but he also wanted to make the ‘200 mission’ mark, which was substantial for a single tour. Despite the miserable weather in the area, he achieved his goal and on June 11th flew his 201st mission, an armed reconnaissance along the main supply route which left five buildings and two trucks reduced to burning rubble.

As he began to unstrap his helmet back at Kimpo, he saw the acting-Commanding Officer Squadron Leader Bill Bennett DFC walking towards his Meteor with a smile on his face. Phil had his helmet off, but was still strapped in his seat as Bill climbed up the side of the Meteor and leaned into the cockpit. He placed his hand on Phil’s shoulder and uttered simply, “Good job son. You’re going home.”

ANZAC Day's Hidden Heroes by Owen Zupp

Owen Zupp - Saturday, April 22, 2017





As ANZAC Day approaches once again, I cannot help but think of the different world we live in today. My memories of this solemn day drift back nearly half a century and are of cold, dark mornings and ‘old’ men in coats, ties and hats. Bag pipes warming up in the background and my breath condensing into a mini-fog before my very eyes.

My father would stand solemnly, his medals in a drawer at home and only the dark brown “Returned from Active Service” badge on his lapel offered any insight into his two wars. In contrast, my mother always wore her medals. Regardless of how it was demonstrated, there was always reflection and a sense of pride.

Those who did not return were always remembered in our home in fading, yet framed, photos. Family, friends and even a fiancé who had made the ultimate sacrifice. As a lad, my parents would visit their widows and mothers and I would trail along, not always understanding the significance of those visits until I later foraged through a photo album and found an image, or a clipping, or an obituary. They were my first ANZAC experiences.

Today the clippings are not so frequent. Our men and women that serve in the front lines are rarely on the front page. And if they are, their faces are blurred or their name tag is blacked out. They are almost our hidden heroes.

The modern world and its blinking, instantaneous internet has taken our warriors and potentially made them, and even their families, targets. Targets for those who would commit evil and even trolls who wish to provoke and raise their profiles, typing in the darkened confines and safety of their closet.



When my father was flying missions in Korea, my mother may have excitedly seen his face in a newsreel in the cinema or read of a mission or an award in the newspaper. Each time, it would proudly state, “Phillip Zupp of Toowoomba, Queensland”. Today we may catch a glimpse of Flying Officer X with his dark, tinted visor fully lowered on his helmet, or an anonymous pilot walking around his aircraft. No names, no clues.

I realise it is a different time and a different world, but I still lament that those in our services on active duty cannot be recognised for their sacrifice in the way that they once were. Unless of course, that sacrifice is of the ultimate variety and their homecoming is marked by draped flags and lowered heads.

Perhaps more than ever, it is important that we value ANZAC Day and recognise our veterans of modern conflicts. For this may be the only time that we get the opportunity to see their faces and thank them for their service. And yes, it may be too little and too late, but we should still make a genuine effort to recognise them and stand them alongside those who stepped ashore in those early hours on April 25th more than a century ago.

To my family, my friends and to those I never knew. Thank you for your service.





'Without Precedent' has Landed.

Owen Zupp - Wednesday, July 06, 2016
Phillip Zupp's life as a fighter pilot and commando, recounted in 'Without Precedent'.


An ordinary man. An extraordinary life.

Get your copy of 'Without Precedent' here...


‘Without Precedent’ recounts the life of commando and fighter pilot, Phillip Zupp.


One man who served in two very different wars. From humble rural beginnings, surrounded by drought and The Great Depression, he forged an incredible life with little more than courage and tenacity. During World War Two, he saw combat on the ground in New Guinea before patrolling the devastation of Hiroshima and Tokyo as part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces. In Korea, Phillip flew 201 combat sorties amid intense ground fire and the enemy’s ever-threatening MiG fighters.

Peace brought a career that spanned the globe and the skies above it. All the while, the intriguing story of the search for a downed airman, a damaged jet and the controversy surrounding the award of first Australian Purple Heart lay dormant. Until now.‚Äč

'Without Precedent' is now available on Amazon, iTunes or at a bookstore near you.

A Father's Death.

Owen Zupp - Wednesday, April 13, 2016





More than once I have described writing Dad’s story as a journey. As with any journey, there can be those moments when one sails effortlessly across the stillest of lakes and those days when the ascent of the steepest hill seems too great to conquer. That is the process of writing at its very heart and it is both a joy and a curse.

Through writing this book I have indeed come to know my father as a man as much as a Dad. For me, the book has revealed that his greatest complexity was his simple, straightforward outlook in the chaos that often surrounded him. In interviews with combat veterans I heard him described as “quiet”, “shy”, “nonchalant”, “unflappable” and as “never taking a backward step”.

There were so many proud moments of discovery, but there were difficult ones too. The confronting nature of the brutality of war and the discovery of horrific events that his comrades had held onto for half a century and now they shared them with me. These words were at times difficult to find, but they weren’t the worst of times.

Revisiting my father’s short, sharp battle with cancer has at times taken me to a place I did not want to revisit. Deeply buried details had to be revived to do his story justice and paint possibly his greatest act of bravery against a far superior enemy. Recalling how he suffered in silence and feared more for our future than his own mortality impacts me even more now that I am a father. And his final hours. The darkness. The breathing. The final fight and then the silence and then end of his pain.

At times I have had to walk away, my thoughts swirling and my emotions endeavouring to break the surface. In time, order returns, but after 25 years the pain is still very real and that is something that I had not foreseen. Throughout this manuscript I have recounted Dad’s incredible journey, but only now do I realise that in doing so I have revisited aspects of my own. Writing should be genuine and about passion. I just never thought that such a simple act could hurt so much.

Rest in Peace, Dad.  

Who Was My Father? By Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Monday, April 04, 2016



Who was my father?

When I began writing his story some years ago, I did so with a degree of trepidation. I felt as if I was rifling through his sock drawer and wondered what I may find, both good and bad.

To me, he was Dad. A quiet gentleman from the old school that never swore in front of my mother and always opened the door for her. He wore a hat that he ‘tipped’ on meeting ladies and when he ventured out his shoes were always immaculately clean. He loved to build things out of wood, maintain his own car religiously and demolish targets at the rifle range. Rhythmic thumps could be heard coming from his shed as he pounded the punching bag that swung from the exposed beams.

Yet for all of his solitary activities and quiet demeanour, he was the most enthusiastic of fathers. With no childhood of his own, he was the first to kick the ball, ride the bike or jump the skateboard. He would always enthral us with his childhood tales and patiently work through a problem with homework. His sense of humour was a constant thread that bordered on mischievous at times. That was my Dad. But there was another man.

As I interviewed those that he had fought beside and pored over page upon page of official records and log books, I came to know another man. Still quiet and still solitary, but with an unmistakeable fire in his belly. It was a fire that drove him to cast off the shackles of the Great Depression and the oppression of drought and dying cattle. It was a determination to fight and later to fly, despite the odds being continually stacked against him. It was a combination of courage and luck that saw him survive two wars while many good men fell beside him.

At times the revelations were not pretty for those of us raised in an era of privilege and peace. Ruthlessness in our time is a turn of phrase, in his, it was the cold hard line between life and death. This quiet gentleman that I knew had killed and I came to know this fact in detail. He had killed with ferocity, effectiveness and very little subsequent contemplation. Such a world was black and white and he liked that. It only ever became grey if you thought about it too deeply and seemingly, he did not.

And for all the adversity and the horror, he married a wife, bought a house and raised three children as the most dedicated of fathers. One would not say ‘loving’ if acts of affection define the sentiment, but I’m quite sure that love was actually the underlying force. And duty, and respect, and honour. His later life blended into the suburbs without a hint of where he had been or what he had done.

So as I delved deeper into the sock drawer, I was confronted by the man I had always known. There were no lurking skeletons. There were secrets, but they were astounding truths buried by his modesty. However, there had indeed been low points and he was far from perfect. As a young air force pilot he was solid rather than exemplary, always in the middle of the pack. Ultimately, he rose to gain the respect of many through grit rather than flair.

In writing his story I have come to know more than my Dad, I have come to know the man that he was before I ever took breath. Young, vital, angry and aggressive in an age when this defined survival. Tempered by time, the fighter became a father and I am so very fortunate that he did. Now it is my time to tell his story to the world, for I know that he was far too modest to ever utter a word.

Rest in Peace, Dad.


Purchase Owen's Books

Recent Posts


planes pilot blog pilot airshow flight jabiru P2902 Air Medal solo flight. australia WW2 Korean War airline safer flying aviation careers flight training airlines Phillip Zupp speaking Malaysia Airlines aviation the pilot's blog Solo Flight Australia. Battle of Britain popular aviation blog student pilot Air France 447 flying instructor Airbus A380 RAF RAAF PC-21 Bush Pilot The Practical Pilot pilot training owen zupp author aircraft P-51 Mustang WW1 aeroplane airplane 50 More Tales of Flight comfort zone Vietnam War buying an aeroplane podcast airbus solo flight flight school solo flight australia Sully the Movie pilot suicide aviator aircraft accident plane crash R-DX Sully aviation jobs aviation speaker Kim Jong-un writer's block Queenstown best aviation blog 77 Squadron buying an airplane writer most popular aviation blog Hurricane September 11 how to become an author QANTAS Airbus A380 flying flying training ANZAC pilot careers Airbus A320 aviation author pilot jobs warbird owen zupp The Pilots Blog flying blog aviation best seller US Air Medal Pearl Harbor aviation story 737 Dunkirk UAV anzac day author Without Precedent September 11th Pilatus PC-21 Around Australia flight airliner missing cost of flying how to land an airplane landing an airplane speaker QANTAS QANTAS A380 Boeing Australian Aviation magazine aviation blog australian aviation careers in aviation Australian Army Jabiru Aircraft flying school aerospace turning forty choosing a flying school aviation journalist learning to fly airliner terrorism RAAF aviation writer Amazon Kindle Daily Deal learn to fly 50 tales of flight MH370 Ansett aviation book Down to Earth 9/11 how to land an aeroplane airbus A350 XWB aeroplane blog aviaton author 787


    © Owen Zupp. All rights Reserved.                                             Admin . Privacy . Disclaimer                                            Website by Shot to Pieces . Powered by Blackroom