Lt. Col. John Brill: Korean & Cold War Fighter Pilot
Writer / Kara Reibel . Photographer / Brian Brosmer
“You know you’re getting old when planes you’ve flown are in the USAF museum at Wright Patt,” says Korean and Cold War fighter pilot Lt. Col. John Brill. “In fact, between my brother, my dad and I, we’ve flown 25 planes in the museum at Dayton.”
Brill’s dad was a WWI fighter pilot who died in a war plane accident in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1940 when John was 10 years old. His father was part of the Reserves at that time. Their family moved to Indianapolis after his dad passed.
“My dad flew an SE-5 in WWI, a Thomas Moore Scout and a SPAD,” shares John. “He also flew a Jenney, which was well known during WWI. He used to barnstorm in northern Indiana and took people for rides for $10 back in the 1920s, which was a lot of money back then.”
John graduated from Howe Military Academy in 1948, the same year his brother, Jay Richard Brill, graduated from West Point. Jay went to pilot training and earned his wings a year later. Jay worked with the Gemini Space Program, got a master’s at Purdue University and worked with gas turbines and rockets. His last position was as the A10 Program Director at Wright Patterson USAF Base where he retired as a Brigadier General. He spent his career with the USAF. He passed away in 1992.
“Jay loved the A10 program,” shares John. “He got to work with the big guns and big bombs. When the Army needed support, an A10 was called in to help them out.”
After John graduated from Howe, he attended Purdue University, then joined the USAF serving active duty from 1952-1956. His unit was combat ready in the F-86L during Korea, then the truce was signed with Korea. Brill was then assigned to Air Defense Command out of Cape Cod. “We were armed with 48 Mighty Mouse rockets,” says Brill.
Brill flew an F-86F, commonly called a Sabre Jet, and a Lockehhed F-94C Starfire. This jet in the photograph has been moved to the USAF Museum in Dayton. Brill has flown this very plane with the tail number identified in his flight logbook.
At Otis AFB on Cape Cod, Brill was one of 2,000 pilots who ran intercept to scare the Russians during the Cold War. Brill explains that airliners coming into our airspace had to report at the Air Defense identification zone. These airliners had to be within five minutes of ETA and traveling within 20 miles of their true course line, or an alert button was pressed, and the intercepts were sent up to identify the jetliners. He was part of what was known as “Fighter Interceptor Squadrons.”
After serving active duty for five years, Brill went back to Purdue and graduated with an industrial economics degree. He also served with the National Guard, serving a total of 23 years in the USAF.
Brill supports the Share Space Foundation, a not-for-profit started by Buzz Aldrin, which promotes space tourism for the masses. The launch event was hosted by John Travolta at Kennedy Space Center on July 18, 2015.
Now retired, Brill gives a lot of talks “about the dumb things I did,” he jokes. One of his stories is about the time he took his wife up in a jet fighter. “It was 1956, and my wife Carolyn was probably the second female ever to go up. I took her to 40,000 feet over Boston in an F-94C,” shares Brill. “Jackie Cochran was the first female. She ran WASPs during WWII, but I couldn’t own up to this experience until 50 years later when I wouldn’t get into trouble.”
“Brill traveled with our school’s European War History trip in 2014, which went from the beaches of Normandy to Berlin,” says Kathryn Lerch, World History teacher at Park Tudor. “Although he is a Cold War era fighter pilot, he shared a lot of his recollections of time spent in Europe and especially his visit to Berlin when the Wall went up in 1961.”
John and his wife have three children and six grandchildren. They live on Morse Reservoir where John would regularly land his amphibious plane. “I’m sure it was against the rules, but no one ever said anything,” he says.