Dayton Daily News


A series of special pages focusing on the significant machines, events and people of powered flight’s first 100 years

North American F-86 Sabre
atomic age, a conflict whose ultimate goal would by political necessity be one of containment of the Communist intrusion rather than total conquest of the invading enemy. Total conquest of the air, however, seemed at first to belong to the United Nations forces – comprised primarily of WWII vintage fighters and bombers. The balance shifted when the Chinese brought in the technologically and numerically superior Soviet-produced MiG-15. The Americans quickly countered with their latest fighter - the North American F-86 – making Korea the first war of the jet age. The design and development of both the MiG (Mikoyan-Guryevich) and the F-86 relied heavily on captured German aeronautical engineering that had produced the world’s first jet fighter – the sweptwing Messerschmitt Me 262 – but differed in several important aspects. The MiG was designed as an interceptor to thwart a perceived threat of hordes of high-altitude American bombers sweeping over Soviet airspace, while the Sabre’s mission was primarily that of an air-superiority fighter. The F-86 pilots soon discovered that the MiGs, designed to fly at around 51,000 ft. with a rate of climb of 9,000 ft. per minute, could not only operate at altitudes the Sabres could not reach but could get there much quicker than the Sabres could pursue. Additionally, by virtue of geography and supply there were always more MiGs in any given situation than there were Sabres. The Sabre, however, more than matched this seeming superiority of numbers and technology. It


1903 ~ 2003

Written and designed by Ted Pitts For more information contact View this and other pages in the Great Planes series at

“No guts, no glory. If you are going to shoot him down, you have representative of the United Nations and under the leadership of to get in there and mix it up with him.” President Harry Truman, acted primarily alone in a “police action” to ~ General Frederick C. “Boots” Blesse, USAF oust the North Koreans. Truman sent in (and later removed) General The Cold War warmed considerably in June 1950 when Soviet Douglas MacArthur, the Marines and the North American F-86 Sabre to Union-backed North Korean forces swept across the 38th Parallel spearhead the United Nations force. By October, MacArthur’s troops – the arbitrarily-designated dividing line the United States had landed at Inchon, retaken the South Korean capital of Seoul and and Soviets had agreed upon at the conclusion of World driven the invaders back across the 38th parallel to the Yalu River War II when they split control of the formerly Japanese- along the border with Communist-Chinese controlled Manchuria. The situation altered significantly when the Chinese entered the held Korean peninsula. Most of South Korea quickly fell to the invading army, with only a small portion conflict and drove the UN army back into South Korea. With the United of territory around Pusan still holding out against States cognizant of both the “domino effect” of unopposed Communist the North Korean advance. The United acquisition in Asia and the hard reality of the possibility of global nuclear escalation, the Korean War became the first war defined by the States, as the

er Riv Yalu

Flying tail: The F-86E and subsequent models were equipped with the North American "all-flying tail." The system added full-power operated controls for better maneuverability at high speeds.

North Korea

38th Parallel




South Korea

F-86 Specs&Stats
Model shown is an F-86F-30. Some details omitted for visual clarity. Manufacturer: North American Wingspan: 37 ft. 1 in. Length: 37 ft. 6 in. Height: 14 ft. 8 in. Armament: six .50-cal. machine guns and eight 5 in. rockets or 2,000 lbs. of bombs Engine: General Electric J-47 of 5,200 lbs. thrust Cost: $178,000 Maximum speed: 685 mph. Cruising speed: 540 mph. Range: 1,200 miles Service Ceiling: 49,000 ft. Armament: The F-86 sported six .50 caliber Browning M3 machine guns versus the three cannons (two 23mm and one 37mm) on the MiG-15. Engine: General Electric J-47 produced 5,200 lbs. thrust and filled the entire fuselage. The tail section of the Sabre was removed to allow servicing of the engine. Swept-wing technology: Guided by the aerodynamic design of captured German documents after WWII, North American engineers adopted a fully swept-back wing and added leadingedge slats to compensate for low-speed instability. Drop tanks of several designs allowed the F-86 to stay in the air for longer periods. A flat rather than circular design, stabilizing fins and antisway braces made the combat tanks suitable for speeds approaching Mach 1.

demonstrated itself to be more maneuverable in combat, in part through advanced tail stabilizer technology developed pursuing the speed of sound in the Bell X-planes in the late ‘40s, but, more importantly, by virtue of the attitude and ability of the pilots that flew the planes: “. . . most Communist pilots were good at following instructions, but showed little initiative or aggression . . . the American pilots displayed an outstanding hunger for battle – many had plotted and schemed for months or years to arrange a transfer . . . to the Korean front line.” The air war in “MiG Alley” over the Yalu River produced 40 UN aces – 39 were Sabre pilots – the typical profile: a 30-something WWII veteran like Francis “Gabby” Gabreski, Joseph McConnell, James Jabara or Frederick “Boots” Blesse. By the time the cease-fire was signed in 1953, as many as 792 MiGs had been destroyed in aerial combat compared to only 78 Sabres downed by MiGs – a success ratio of 10 to 1 in favor of the F-86 pilots.

Aces in Korea (F-86 unless noted)
Name (USAF, unless noted) Capt. Joseph M. McConnell Maj. James Jabara Capt. Manuel J. "Pete" Fernandez Maj. George A. Davis Col. Royal N. Baker Lt. Col. Vermont Garrison Maj. Frederick C. "Boots" Blesse Capt. Harold E. Fischer Col. James K. Johnson Capt. Lonnie R. Moore Capt. Ralph S. Parr Capt. Cecil G. Foster 1st Lt. James F. Low Maj. James P. Hagerstrom Maj. Robinson Risner Lt. Col. George I. Ruddell 1st Lt. Henry Buttelman Capt. Clifford D. Jolley Capt. Leonard W. Lilley Col. Francis S. "Gabby" Gabreski Korea 16.0 15.0 14.5 14.0 13.0 10.0 10.0 10.0 10.0 10.0 10.0 9.0 9.0 8.5 8.0 8.0 7.0 7.0 7.0 6.5 WWII 1.5 7.0 3.5 7.3 1.0 6.0 28.0 Unit 51st FIW 4th FIW 4th FIW 4th FIW 4th FIW 4th FIW 4th FIW 51st FIW 4th FIW 4th FIW 4th FIW 51st FIW 4th FIW 67th FBS 4th FIW 51st FIW 51st FIW 4th FIW 4th FIW 51st FIW Name (USAF, unless noted) Maj. Donald E. Adams Lt. Col. George L. Jones Maj. Winton W. Marshall Maj. John Bolt (USMC) 1st Lt. James H. Kasler Capt. Robert J. Love Maj. William T. Whisner Col. Harrison R. Thyng Col. Robert P. Baldwin Capt. Richard S. Becker Maj. Stephen L. Bettinger Lt. Guy Bordelon (USN -F4U-5N) Maj. Richard D. Creighton Capt. Clyde A. Curtin Capt. Ralph D. "Hoot" Gibson Capt. Iven C. Kincheloe Capt. Robert T. Latshaw Capt. Robert H. Moore Capt. Dolphin D. Overton Maj. William Westcott Korea 6.5 6.5 6.5 6.0 6.0 6.0 5.5 5.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 WWII 4.0 6.0 15.5 5.0 Unit 51st FIW 4th FIW 4th FIW 51st FIW 4th FIW 4th FIW 51st FIW 4th FIW 51st FIW 4th FIW 4th FIW VC-3 4th FIW 4th FIW 4th FIW 51st FIW 4th FIW 4th FIW 51st FIW 51st FIW

Joseph M. McConnell
The list of famous Korean War pilots includes icons Guss Grissom, John Glenn, Buzz Aldrin, and Ted Williams, but the top ace of the war was Capt. Joseph M. McConnell, who tallied 16 victories before his commanding officer, fearful that his top pilot’s luck had run out, ordered him “back home to the U.S.A. before you hear the period at the end of this sentence." While on patrol on his final day in combat, McConnell’s wingman radioed sighting 30 MiGs; McConnell's reply: "Yeah, and we've got 'em all to ourselves."

The first jet aircraft screamed into the skies above Marienehe airfield in Germany on Aug. 27, 1939, four days before the start of WWII. Backed by aircraft manufacturer Ernst Heinkel and the German Air Ministry, Hans von Ohain was able to power the Heinkel He 178 with an engine that utilized a gas turbine to scoop air as it moved along, compress the air and combine it with fuel, ignite the fuel and propel the plane forward as the jet of hot gas was propelled out the back of the engine. Simultaneous to Ohain’s achievement was the work done by Frank Whittle of the Royal Air Force, who, unlike Ohain, labored in the face of scarce financing and official disinterest.

How a turbojet engine works
Rotating blades in engine draw air in Air is compressed in engine

High speed stream of exhaust gas hits air behind engine so fast that it thrusts plane forward like a balloon deflating

George Andrew Davis, Jr.
From the Congressional Medal of Honor citation concentrated on him, he elected to reduce his speed and sought out still a third MIGawarded to Maj. George Andrew Davis, Jr.:
. . . . With selfless disregard for the numerical superiority of the enemy, Maj. Davis . . . dove at the MIG formation. While speeding through the formation from the rear he singled out a MIG-15 and destroyed it . . . Although he was now under continuous fire from the enemy fighters to his rear, Maj. Davis sustained his attack. He fired at another MIG-15 which, bursting into smoke and flames, went into a vertical dive. Rather than maintain his superior speed and evade the enemy fire being 15. During this latest attack his aircraft sustained a direct hit, went out of control, then crashed into a mountain 30 miles south of the Yalu River. Maj. Davis' bold attack completely disrupted the enemy formation, permitting the friendly fighterbombers to successfully complete their interdiction mission. Maj. Davis, by his indomitable fighting spirit, heroic aggressiveness, and superb courage in engaging the enemy against formidable odds exemplified valor at its highest.

The MiG-15
The MiG-15 like the one shown above was shrouded in mystery until a defecting North Korean pilot delivered one to the United States Air Force in 1953 (and received a bounty of $100,000). Famed test pilots Tom Collins and Chuck Yeager flew to Okinawa to test the Soviet-built fighter and found it to be nothing spectacular, a “pretty good fighting machine” but lacking the sophistication and safety of American technology. Yeager concluded that “the Koreans probably lost more pilots spinning in than from American guns.” The plane that Yeager tested in 1953 is on display at the United States Air Force Museum.

Fuel is sprayed into compressed air and constantly ignited

Turbine and compressor are driven by the hot gases

Sources: Flight, 100 Years of Aviation by R.G. Grant (Dorling Kindersley Ltd., 2002); Walk Around F-86 Sabre by Larry Davis (Squadron/Signal, 2000); Lincoln Library of Essential Information (Frontier Press, 1967); Great Quotations on Flight by Dave English (McGraw-Hill, 1998); The Century by Peter Jennings & Todd Brewster (Doubleday, 1998); Web sites: North American History,; United States Air Force Museum,