Tag Archives: 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing

8 November 1950

This painting by famed aviation artist Keith Ferris depicts 1st Lieutenant Russell Brown’s Lockheed F-80C Shooting Star as he shot down an enemy Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 15 over Korea, 8 November 1950. (Keith Ferris)

8 November 1950: First Lieutenant Russell J. Brown, United States Air Force, 16th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing, is credited with shooting down a Russian-built Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 15 jet fighter near the Yalu River while flying a Lockheed F-80C-10-LO Shooting Star. This may have been the very first time that a jet fighter had been shot down by another jet fighter.

Sources vary, reporting the serial number of Lieutenant Brown’s fighter as 49-713 or 49-717.

A contemporary newspaper quoted Brown:

1st Lieutenant Russell J. Brown. (Air Force Times)

Brown gave a colorful description of the fight in history’s first jet-versus-jet battle last week. He said:

“We had just completed a strafing run on Sinuiju antiaircraft positions and were climbing when we got word that enemy jets were in the area.

“Then we saw them across the Yalu, doing acrobatics.

“Suddenly they came over at about 400 miles an hour. We were doing about 300. They broke formation right in front of us at about 18,000 or 20,000 feet. They were good looking planes—shiny and brand, spanking new.”

INS, Tokyo, November 13

Soviet records reported no MiG 15s lost on 8 November. Senior Lieutenant Kharitonov, 72nd Guards Fighter Aviation Unit, reported being attacked by an F-80 under circumstances that suggest this was the engagement reported by Lieutenant Brown, however Kharitonov succeeded in evading the American fighter after diving away and jettisoning his external fuel tanks.

A Soviet MiG 15 pilot, Lieutenant Khominich, also of the 72nd Guards, claimed shooting down an American F-80 on 1 November, but U.S. records indicate that this fighter had been destroyed by anti-aircraft fire.

What is clear is that air combat had entered the jet age, and that the Soviet Union was not only supplying its swept wing MiG 15 to North Korea and China, but that Soviet Air Force pilots were actively engaged in the war in Korea.

Russian technicians service a MiG-15bis o fteh 351st IAP at Antung Air Base, China, mid-1952. (Unattributed)
Russian technicians service a MiG 15bis of the 351st IAP at Antung Air Base, China, mid-1952. (Unattributed)

The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 15 is a single-seat, single engine turbojet-powered fighter interceptor, designed to attack heavy bombers. Designed for high sub-sonic speed, the leading edges of the wings and tail surfaces were swept to 35°. The wings were very thin to minimize aerodynamic drag.

The fighter was 10.102 meters (33 feet, 1.7 inches) long, with a wingspan of 10.085 meters (33 feet, 1 inch). Its empty weight was 3,253 kilograms (7,170 pounds) and takeoff weight was 4,963 kilograms (10,938 pounds).

The Rolls-Royce Nene I and Nene II jet engines had been used in the three MiG 15 prototypes. The British engines were reverse-engineered by Vladimir Yakovlevich Klimov and manufactured at Factory No. 45 in Moscow as the Klimov VK-1. The VK-1 used a single-stage axial-flow compressor, 9 combustion chambers and a single-stage axial-flow turbine. It produced a maximum 26.5 kilonewtons of thrust (5,957 pounds of thrust). The VK-1 was 2.600 meters (8 feet, 6.4 inches) long, 1.300 meters (4 feet, 3.2 inches) in diameter, and weighed 872 kilograms (1,922 pounds).

The MiG 15 had a maximum speed of 1,031 kilometers per hour (557 knots) at 5,000 meters (16,400 feet) and 1,050 kilometers per hour (567 knots) at Sea Level.

Armament consisted of one Nudelman N-37 37 mm cannon and two  Nudelman-Rikhter NR-23 23 mm cannon.

MIG 15 Red 2057A Chinese Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 15bis in a hangar at Kimpo Air Base, South Korea. A defecting North Korean pilot, Lieutenant No Kum-Sok flew it to Kimpo 1953. It was examined and test flown. This MiG 15 is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force).
MIG 15 Red 2057. A North Korean Peoples’ Air Force Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 15bis in a hangar at Kimpo Air Base, Republic of South Korea. A defecting North Korean pilot, Lieutenant No Kum-Sok, flew it to Kimpo on 21 September 1953. It was taken to Okinawa, examined and test flown by U.S.A.F. test pilots, including Major Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager. This MiG 15 is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force).

The Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star was the United States’ first operational jet fighter. It was redesignated F-80 in 1948. It was a single-seat, single-engine airplane, designed by a team of engineers led by Clarence L. (“Kelly”) Johnson. The prototype XP-80A, 44-83020, nicknamed Lulu-Belle, was first flown by test pilot Tony LeVier at Muroc Army Air Field (now known as Edwards Air Force Base) 8 January 1944. The P-80A entered production in 1945. Improved versions, the P-80B and P-80C (F-80C) followed.

A Lockheed F-80C Shooting Star on display at the Air Force Armaments Museum, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. The fighter is marked as F-80C-10-LO 49-713, 16th Fighter Squadron, 51st Fighter Interceptor Group, Kimpo, Korea, 1950.
Lockheed F-80C-10-LO Shooting Star 49-432 on display at the Air Force Armaments Museum, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. The fighter is marked as F-80C-10-LO 49-713, assigned to the 16th Fighter Squadron, 51st Fighter Interceptor Group, Kimpo, Korea, 1950.

The F-80C was 34 feet, 5 inches (10.490 meters) long with a wingspan of 38 feet, 9 inches (11.811 meters) and an overall height of 11 feet, 3 inches (3.429 meters). It weighed 8,420 pounds empty (3,819 kilograms) and had a maximum takeoff weight of 16,856 pounds (7,645 kilograms).

The F-80C was powered by either a General Electric J33-GE-11, Allison J33-A-23 or J33-A-35 turbojet engine. The J33 was a development of an earlier Frank Whittle-designed turbojet. It used a single-stage centrifugal-flow compressor, eleven combustion chambers and a single-stage axial-flow turbine section. The J33-A-35 had a Normal Power rating of 3,900 pounds of thrust (17.348 kilonewtons) at 11,000 r.p.m., at Sea Level, and 4,600 pounds (20.462 kilonewtons) at 11,500 r.p.m., for Takeoff.  It was 107 inches (2.718  meters) long, 50.5 inches (1.283 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,820 pounds (826 kilograms).

The F-80C had a maximum speed of 594 miles per hour (956 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 543 miles per hour (874 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). The service ceiling was 46,800 feet (14,265 meters). The maximum range was 1,380 miles (2,221 kilometers).

The F-80C Shooting Star was armed with six Browning AN-M3 .50-caliber aircraft machine guns mounted in the nose.

A Lockheed F-80C Shooting Star of the 16th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing, makes a JATO-assisted takeoff from an airfield in the Republic of South Korea, circa 1950. (U.S. Air Force)

Lockheed F-80C-10-LO Shooting Star 49-713, flown by Albert C. Ware, Jr., was lost 10 miles north of Tsuiki Air Base, Japan, 23 March 1951.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

18 May 1953

Captain Joseph C. McConnell, Jr., U.S. Air Force, Suwon Air Base, Korea, 18 May 1953. (U.S. Air Force)
McConnell’s Beautious Butch II at Suwon Air Base (K13), Korea. (U.S. Air Force)

18 May 1953: On his last day of combat, Captain Joseph C. McConnell, Jr., a fighter pilot with the 39th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, 51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing, United States Air Force, flew two sorties in which he shot down three enemy Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 fighters, bringing his total to 16 aerial victories. He was credited with damaging 5 more enemy aircraft. McConnell was the leading American ace of the Korean War. He had scored all of his victories between 14 January and 18 May, 1953.

For his actions on this date, Captain McConnell was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross:

The President of the United States of America, under the provisions of the Act of Congress approved July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Captain Joseph McConnell, Jr., United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy of the United Nations while serving as a Pilot with the 39th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, 51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing, FIFTH Air Force, in action against enemy forces in the Republic of Korea on 18 May 1953. Leading two F-86s on an air superiority mission over North Korea, he sighted a formation of twenty-eight MIG-15 type aircraft. Determined to accomplish his mission and with complete disregard for the numerical odds against him, he immediately attacked. Although under fire himself, he pressed his attack to such extent that he completely disorganized the enemy formation, destroying one of the MIGs and damaging another. Several enemy aircraft were then firing at him but, seeing that the other Sabre in his flight was also being fired upon, he completely ignored enemy cannon fire directed at himself and destroyed the MIG that was pursuing his wingman. These victories, in spite of counterattacks by such superior numbers, completely unnerved the enemy to the extent that they withdrew across the Yalu before further attacks could be made. Through his courage, keen flying ability and devotion to duty, Captain McConnell reflected great credit upon himself, the Far East Air Forces, and the United States Air Force.

Captain Joseph Christopher McConnell, Jr., U.S. Air Force.

During his combat tour in Korea, McConnell flew at least three North American Aviation F-86 Sabre jet fighters: an F-86E and two F-86Fs. He named the airplanes Beauteous Butch, after his wife’s nickname.

On 12 April 1953, after his eighth kill, he was himself shot down by another MiG-15. He ejected from his second Sabre, F-86F-15-NA 51-12971, and parachuted into the Yellow Sea where he was rescued by a Sikorsky H-19A Chickasaw helicopter from the 581st Air Resupply and Communications Wing, based at the island of Chŏ-do.

His last airplane, F-86F-1-NA 51-2910, was painted with 16 red stars and Beauteous Butch II following the last mission. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Silver Star.

Captain Joseph C. McConnell, Jr., and Captain Harold Fischer, a double ace, with McConnell's second Sabre, F-86F-15-NA 51-12971, Korea, 1953. (U.S. Air Force).
Captain Joseph C. McConnell, Jr., and Captain Harold E. Fischer, Jr., a double ace, leading McConnell at the time of this photograph, with Joe McConnell’s second Sabre, F-86F-15-NA 51-12971, “Beautious Butch.” This fighter was shot down 12 April 1953. (U.S. Air Force).

Of air combat, Captain McConnell said, “It’s the teamwork out here that counts. The lone wolf stuff is out. Your life always depends on your wingman and his life on you. I may get credit for a MiG, but it’s the team that does it, not myself alone.

Joseph Christopher McConnell, Jr., was born 30 January 1922 at Dover, New Hampshire. He was the second child of Joseph Christopher McConnell, a barber, and Phyllis Winifred Brooks McConnell. Mrs. McConnell died in 1931.

After graduating from high school, Joseph McConnell enlisted in the Medical Corps, United States Army, at Concord, New Hampshire, 15 October 1940. He had enlisted for the Philippine Department. Private McConnell was assigned to Fort Devens, Massachusetts, for training. McConnell was 5 feet, 9 inches (1.75 meters) tall and weighed 134 pounds (6o.8 kilograms).

In 1941, McConnell married Miss Pearl Edna Brown at Fitchburg, Massachusetts. They would have three children, Patricia Ann, Kathleen Frances, and Joseph Christopher McConnell III. McConnell called his wife “Butch.” He explained the not-so-flattering nickname by saying that she was, “the butcher of his heart.”

In 1943, McConnell was selected as an aviation cadet, and was trained as a navigator. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant, 18 September 1944.

A Consolidated B-24H Liberator of the 448th Bombardment Group, circa 1945.

Lieutenant McConnell was assigned to the 448th Bombardment Group (Heavy), based at RAF Seething (Army Air Force Station 146) near Norwich, Norfolk, England. The 448th was equipped with B-24 Liberator bombers. McConnell flew as navigator on 60 combat missions.

Following World War II, Lieutenant McConnell remained in the Army Air Force. In 1946, he was assigned to pilot training. He graduated from flight training at Williams Air Force Base, Arizona, and received his pilot’s wings 25 February 1948.

Lieutenant McConnell deployed to the Republic of South Korea in September 1952, and was assigned to the 51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing.

“Beauteous Butch” (Mrs. McConnell) and Captain Joseph C. McConnell, Jr., circa 1953.

Captain McConnell returned to the United States 24 May 1954. After meeting with President Eisenhower in Washngton, D.C., he was assigned to the 435th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, based at George Air Force Base, Victorville, California. The squadron was equipped with the F-86 Sabre. (The former air base is now the Southern California Logistics Airport, VCV.)

The community of Apple Valley, about 8 miles (13 kilometers) southeast of George AFB, donated a two-bedroom house and an acre of land (0.4 hectare) to Captain McConnell and his family, as a sign of its appreciation. The house was constructed in 45 hours. ¹

In the summer of 1954, Captain McConnell was temporarily assigned to Edwards Air Force Base, 35 miles northwest of George, to evaluate the new North American Aviation F-86H Sabre fighter bomber.

Similar to the F-86H-1-NA Sabre flown by Captain McConnell, this is a North American Aviation F-86H-10-NH, 53-1298. (U.S. Air Force)

On 25 August 1954, McConnell was flying F-86H-1-NA 52-1981, the fifth production airplane, performing an aerobatic function check. About 20 minutes into the test flight, McConnell radioed to Edwards that he was experiencing flight control problems, and had to use elevator trim adjustments to control the Sabre’s pitch attitude. He reported that he planned to make an emergency landing on the dry lake bed.

Witnesses reported seeing McConnell eject from the F-86H at about 500 feet (152 meters) above the surface. His parachute did not open. Captain McConnell was killed. The fighter bomber flew on for about one-half mile (0.8 kilometers) before it crashed at approximately 1:00 p.m., local time.

Investigators found that two bolts in the horizontal stabilizer control system had not been properly fastened and had fallen out.

Joseph Christopher McConnell, Jr., was just 31 years old. His remains were interred at the Victor Valley Memorial Park, Victorville, California.

Captain McConnell in teh cockpit of Beauteous Butch II after his final combat mission, 18 May 1953. The airplane is McConnell's third Sabre, F-86F-1-NA 51-2910. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain McConnell in the cockpit of Beauteous Butch II after his final combat mission, 18 May 1953. The airplane is McConnell’s third Sabre, F-86F-1-NA 51-2910. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ The McConnell “appreciation house” is located at 20822 N. Outer Highway 18, Apple Valley, California. The 1,980 square foot (184 square meters) 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom, house, in derelict condition, sold for $47,000 on 16 July 2016, less than 20% of what its value should have been.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

12 April 1953

Captain Joseph C. McConnell, Jr., and Captain Harold Fischer, a double ace, with McConnell's second Sabre, F-86F-15-NA 51-12971, Korea, 1953. (U.S. Air Force).
Captain Joseph C. McConnell, Jr., and Captain Harold Fischer with McConnell’s North American Aviation F-86F-15-NA Sabre, 51-12971, Beautious Butch, Korea, 1953. McConnell (left) is wearing a Mark IV exposure suit. (U.S. Air Force).

12 April 1953: An air battle between Soviet Air Force MiG-15 fighters and American F-86 Sabres took place in the skies over North Korea. Captain Joseph C. McConnell, Jr., leading a flight of fighters of the 39th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing, based at K-13, near Suwon, Republic of South Korea. He was flying his usual airplane, North American Aviation F-86F-15-NA Sabre 51-12971, which he had named Beautious Butch, in honor of his wife, Pearl “Butch” Brown McConnell.

Семён Алексеевич Федорец
Семён Алексеевич Федорец, Военно-воздушные силы

Captain McConnell saw an American F-86 being attacked by a Russian MiG-15 and went in pursuit.

Captain Semyon Alekseyevich Fedorets, commanding the 913th IAP (Istrebitel’nyy Aviatsionnyy Polk, Fighter Aviation Regiment), 32nd IAD (Istrebitel’naya Aviatsionnyy Diveeziya, Fighter Aviation Division), based at Antung Air Base, China, was leading a flight of MiG-15s. Captain Fedorets was also flying his usual fighter, a camouflaged MiG-15bis, serial number 2315393 (393 Red).

Fedorets saw McConnell.

Captain Fedorets had just shot down F-86A-5-NA 49-1297, flown by 2nd Lieutenant Norman E. Green, 335th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 4th Fighter Interceptor Group, his fifth combat victory of the Korean War. Green safely ejected and was rescued from the Yellow Sea by an Air Rescue Service SA-16 Albatross flying boat.

Captain Fedorets closed on McConnell from behind and below. McConnell’s wingman saw the MiG and called “Break!”—a single word that told McConnell that he was in immediate danger and to take evasive action. But the call came to late. Fedorets fired at McConnell with his MiG-15’s three autocannon (a single Nudelman N-37 37 mm gun and two Nudelman-Rikhter NR-23 23 mm guns). He saw a hit which opened up a hole in the Sabre’s right wing root of about one square meter.

McConnell rolled right and Fedorets lost sight of the damaged F-86, and assumed that it had gone down. But McConnell completed a barrel roll and came up behind Fedorets. McConnell opened fire with the Sabre’s six Browning AN-M3 .50-caliber (12.7 × 99 NATO) machine guns. Fedorets’ fighter was on fire and fuel was leaking into the cockpit. Leveling the airplane at an altitude of about 11,000 meters (36,090 feet), Fedorets bailed out.

Planform and left profile of Captain Fedoret's MiG-15bis, 393 Red.
Planform and left profile of Captain Fedoret’s MiG-15bis, 2315393, 393 Red. (http://airaces.narod.ru/korea/fedorec.htm)

McConnell’s Sabre was also severely damaged. Its engine was producing limited power and his radio was shot out. With the right wing so badly damaged, it was unlikely that he could make it to a safe landing field. Heading out over the Yellow Sea, Joe McConnell ejected and Beautious Butch went down into the sea. 1st Lieutenant Harold Chitwood, leading the second element of McConnell’s flight, called for rescue and watched McConnell’s parachute descending. He saw a Sikorsky H-19, flying over the water below, make a course change and head directly to McConnell.

Sikorsky H-19A of the 581st Air Resupply and Communications Wing, Cho-do Island, Korea, circa 1952. (U.S. Air Force)
Sikorsky H-19A Chickasaw of the 581st Air Resupply and Communications Wing, Chŏ-do Island, Korea, circa 1953. (U.S. Air Force)

2nd Lieutenant Robert F. Sullivan, 581st Air Resupply and Communications Wing, based on the island of Chŏ-do, saw the parachute descending right in front of his Sikorsky H-19A Chickasaw helicopter. Hovering over the downed pilot, a rescue hoist was used to recover McConnell, who was in the water only about two minutes. He later remarked, “I barely got wet.”

3rd ARG SH-19B hoists CAPT Joseph C. McConnell, Jr., USAF, from waters of the Yellow Sea, 12 April 1953. (U.S. Air Force)
This photograph of an Air Rescue Service Sikorsky SH-19B hoisting a man from the water is often cited as the rescue of Captain Joseph C. McConnell, Jr. (U.S. Air Force)

The 581st ACRW was a special operations detachment operating from Chŏ-do island, but often participated in rescue operations with the 3rd Air Rescue Group. Early in the unit’s deployment the H-19As had been painted as Air Rescue Service helicopters, however the the 3rd ARG commanding officer ordered those markings removed.

Joe McConnell’s F-86 was Semyon Fedorets’ sixth aerial victory of the war. Fedoret’s MiG-15 was McConnell’s eighth victory. Both pilots returned to combat, with McConnell shooting down another eight enemy airplanes, making him the leading U.S. Air Force fighter ace of the Korean War. Captain Fedorets had been injured during the engagement, but after a month’s recuperation, he also returned to combat. In July 1953 he shot down two more F-86 Sabres, and was then rotated out of combat.

(Because the gun camera film was lost when 393 Red went down, Captain Fedorets was officially credited with only one enemy aircraft shot down on 12 April 1953. He is credited with 7 air-to-air victories.)

Fedorets was promoted to the rank of major and was made a Hero of the Soviet Union for his actions during World War II and the Korean War. Colonel Semyon Alekseyevich Fedorets died in 2003 at the age of 81 years.

Captain Joseph C. McConnell, Jr., was killed 6 August 1953 when an F-86H Sabre fighter bomber that he was flying crashed near Edwards Air Force Base. The cause of the accident was determined to be a missing bolt in the flight controls.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

28 January 1919–31 January 2002

Major Francis Stanley Gabreski, United States Army Air Forces
Major Francis Stanley Gabreski, United States Army Air Corps (U.S. Air Force)

28 January 1919: Colonel Francis Stanley (“Gabby”) Gabreski, United States Air Force, was born at Oil City, Pennsylvania. He was the second child of Stanley Gabryszewski, a railroad car repairer, and Jozefa Kapica Gabryszewsky, both immigrants from Poland. He attended Oil City High School, graduating in 1938.

Francis Gabreski, 1940. (The Dome)

After two years of study at the University of Notre Dame, where he was a member of the Cracow Club, Francis S. Gabreski enlisted as a Flying Cadet in the United States Army Air Corps, 28 July 1940, at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was 5 feet, 8 inches (172.7 centimeters) tall and weighed 146 pounds (66.2 kilograms). Gabreski was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, Air Corps Reserve, 14 March 1941.

Lieutenant Gabreski was a fighter pilot assigned to the 45th Pursuit Squadron, 15th Pursuit Group, at Wheeler Army Airfield, Territory of Hawaii, flying Curtiss P-36 Hawks and P-40 Warhawks, when the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked there on 7 December 1941.

On 1 March 1942, he was promoted to First Lieutenant, Air Corps, Army of the United States, and to Captain, 16 October 1942. He was sent to Britain with the 56th Fighter Group.

Because of his Polish lineage and his fluency in the language, Gabreski requested assignment to a Polish fighter squadron fighting with the Royal Air Force. His request was approved and he was assigned to No. 315 Squadron, based at RAF Northolt, London, England, where he flew the Supermarine Spitfire Mk.IX. One of those Spitfires, Spitfire Mk.IXc BS410, is currently under restoration at the Biggin Hill Herritage Hangar.

Francis S. Gabreski in the cockpit of his Supermarine Spitfire F. Mk.IX, PK E, BS410, with No. 315 Squadron, Royal Air Force.
Captain Francis S. Gabreski, U.S. Army Air Corps, in the cockpit of his Supermarine Spitfire Mk.IX, PK E, BS410, with No. 315 Squadron, Royal Air Force, at RAF Northolt, England, 1943. (Royal Air Force)

As American involvement in the European Theater increased, “Gabby” returned to the 61st Fighter Squadron, 56th Fighter Group, and flew the Republic P-47C Thunderbolt. He was promoted to the rank of Major, 19 July 1943.

Major Gabreski took command of the 61st, 13 April 1944. He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, 23 January 1944.

By July 1944, he had shot down 28 enemy fighters in aerial combat and destroyed another three on the ground, making him the leading American fighter ace up to that time.

Major Gabreski’s Republic P-47D-25-RE Thunderbolt, 42-26418, RAF Boxted, Essex, England, 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Gabreski’s Republic P-47D-25-RE Thunderbolt, 42-26418, RAF Boxted, Essex, England, 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Francis S. Gabreski, commanding 61st Fighter Squadron, 56th Fighter Group, in the cockpit of his Republic P-47D-25-RE Thunderbolt, 42-26418, at RAF Boxted, 1944. The marks indicate 31 enemy aircraft destroyed. (Imperial War Museum)

Having completed his combat tour and waiting transport to the United States, on 20 July 1944 Gabreski decided to take “just one more” combat mission. As he made a low strafing run across an enemy airfield near Bassenheim, Germany, the tips of his propeller blades hit the ground, causing a severe vibration. He put his Thunderbolt down on its belly, climbed out and ran to avoid being captured. He was caught after evading the enemy for five days, and was held as a Prisoner of War at Stalag Luft I until April 1945.

Two German officers stand on the wing of Colonel Gabreski's Republic P-47D-25-RE Thunderboalt, 42-26418, after his belly landing near Bassenheim, Germany, 20 July 1944. (Luftwaffe)
Two German officers stand on the wing of Major Gabreski’s Republic P-47D-25-RE Thunderbolt, 42-26418, after his belly landing near Bassenheim, Germany, 20 July 1944. (Luftwaffe)
Colonel Gabreski's P-47D-25-RE Thunderbolt, 42-26418, near bassenheim, Germany. (Luftwaffe)
Major Gabreski’s P-47D-25-RE Thunderbolt, 42-26418, near Bassenheim, Germany. (Luftwaffe)
Lieutenant Colonel and Mrs. Francis S. Gabreski, 11 June 1945.(andrezejburlewicz.blog)

Gabreski was promoted to the rank of Colonel, Army of the United States, 24 October 1945. He was released from active duty in September 1946. He then joined the Air National Guard with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, 6 December 1946.

During the the Korean War, Lieutenant Colonel Gabreski served with the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing and commanded the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing. He is credited with shooting down 6.5 MiG 15 fighters with North American Aviation F-86A and F-86E Sabres. (The “.5” represents credit for one enemy airplane destroyed shared with another pilot.) He flew 100 combat missions over Korea.

After a staff assignment, Gabreski attended the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Montgomery, Alabama. He was then assigned as Deputy Chief of Staff, 9th Air Force.

He went on to command two tactical fighter wings, the 354th and the 18th, flying North American Aviation F-100 Super Sabres.

Colonel Gabreski’s final fighter command was the 52nd Fighter Wing (Air Defense) based at Suffolk County Airport, New York, which was equipped with the McDonnell F-101 Voodoo interceptor.

Colonel Gabreski retired from the Air Force 1 November 1967 after 27 years of service and 37.5 enemy aircraft destroyed. At the time of his retirement, he had flown more combat missions than any other U.S. Air Force fighter pilot.

Colonel Gabreski with a North American F-100 Super Sabre, Okinawa, 1962. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Gabreski with a North American F-100 Super Sabre, Okinawa, ca. 1962. (U.S. Air Force)

Gabby Gabreski married Miss Catherine Mary (“Kay”) Cochran, 11 June 1945. They would have nine children. Two of their sons graduated from the United States Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, Colorado, and became U.S. Air Force pilots. His daughter-in-law, Lieutenant General Terry L. Gabreski, USAF, was the highest-ranking woman in the United States Air Force at the time of her retirement. Mrs Gabreski died in a car accident in 1993.

Colonel Gabreski was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions in combat on 26 November 1943, when he shot down two enemy Messerschmitt Bf 110 fighters. His other decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star with oak leaf cluster (two awards), Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross with two silver and bronze oak leaf clusters (thirteen awards), Bronze Star, Air Medal with one silver and one bronze oak leaf cluster (seven awards), and Prisoner of War Medal. He was awarded the Royal Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross, France’s Légion d’honneur and Croix de Guerre with Palm, Poland’s Krzyż Walecznych and the Belgian Croix de Guerre with Palm.

In 1991, Suffolk County Airport, New York, was renamed Francis S. Gabreski Airport in his honor.

Colonel Gabreski died  31 January 2002 at the age of 83 years. He is buried at Calverton National Cemetery, Long Island, New York.

Lieutenant Colonel Francis Stanley Gabreski, United States Air Force, 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing, standing in the cockpit of his North American Aviation F-86E Sabre, Korea, ca. 1952. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Colonel Francis Stanley Gabreski, United States Air Force, 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing, standing in the cockpit of his North American Aviation F-86E Sabre, Korea, ca. 1952. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather