Tag Archives: Browning Aircraft Machine Gun Caliber .50 AN-M3

15 September 1948

Major Richard L. Johnson, United States Air Force.
Major Richard Lowe Johnson, United States Air Force. (Unattributed)
Major Richard L. Johnson with the record-setting North American Aviation F-86A Sabre.
Major Richard L. Johnson with the record-setting North American Aviation F-86A Sabre. (Unattributed)

15 September 1948: Major Richard L. Johnson, U.S. Air Force, Air Materiel Command, set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course,¹ flying the sixth production North American Aviation F-86A-1-NA Sabre, serial number 47-611, at Muroc Air Force Base, California (renamed Edwards AFB in 1949).

The air temperature was 70° F. (21° C.) with very little wind. Making four consecutive passes at an altitude of 75–125 feet (23 to 38 meters), the Sabre averaged 1,079.84 kilometers per hour (670.98 miles per hour) — 0.889 Mach. The slowest pass was 669.830 miles per hour and the fastest was 672.762 miles per hour (1,077.987 and 1,082.705 kilometers per hour, respectively) — 0.8875–0.8914 Mach.

This was Major Lowe’s second attempt for the speed record. At the National Air Races in Cleveland, Ohio, on 5 September, official timers clocked the wrong airplane, and then on a repeat pass, a timing camera jammed. During that attempt, Major Johnson flew under a light airplane which had wandered onto the course, missing it by about ten feet (3 meters).

Major Richard L Johnson, USAF with F-86A-1-NA 47-611 and others at Muroc AFB, 15 September 1948. Note the gun port doors on this early production aircraft. They opened in 1/20 second as the trigger was pressed. Proper adjustment was complex and they were soon eliminated. (Image from F-86 SABRE, by Maurice Allward, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1978, Chapter 3 at Page 24.)
Major Richard L. Johnson, USAF with F-86A-1-NA Sabre 47-611 and others at Muroc AFB, 15 September 1948. Note the gun port doors on this early production aircraft. They opened in 1/20 second as the trigger was pressed. Proper adjustment was complex and they were soon eliminated. (Image from F-86 Sabre, by Maurice Allward, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1978, Chapter 3 at Page 24.)
The De la Vaulx Medal.

Major Johnson was awarded the De la Vaulx Medal by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.

North American Aviation claimed that any F-86 coming off the assembly line could beat this world record speed. This record stood until 1952 when it was broken by an F-86D Sabre.

The Associated Press reported:

Air Force Tells Of New Speed

     NEW YORK(AP) — The Air Force announced Saturday a new world speed record of 670.981 miles an hour, made with a fully armed standard jet fighter, the North American F-86.

     The mark was set Wednesday. It is 20 miles an hour faster than the record set in August, 1947, by a Navy research plane, the Douglas D-558.

     It was the first world speed mark in history for a production model aircraft ready to fight.

     The pilot was Maj. Richard L. Johnson, slender quiet-spoken test flier for the Air Material Command at Wright-Patterson Airbase near Dayton Ohio. He flew the course at Muroc Lake, Calif., where the record was raised three times last year.

     Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg, Air Force chief of staff, announced the new mark at Mitchel Field, Long Island, where he participated in one of the numerous shows being held in observance of the first anniversary of the Air Force.

Eugene Register-Guard, Saturday, 18 September 1948, Page 1, Column 7.

Major Johnson had made a previous speed record attempt flying a different Sabre, but due to a technical problem with the timing equipment, that attempt was disqualified.

47-605 was the first production F-86A-1-NA Sabre. (U.S. Air Force)
F-86A-1-NA 47-605 was the first production Sabre. It first flew on 20 May 1948. (U.S. Air Force)

47-611 was from the first production block of thirty-three F-86A-1-NA Sabres (originally designated P-86A) and was built at North American Aviation’s Inglewood, California, plant. Its NAA serial number was 151-38438. The airplane was withdrawn from service 16 November 1955 and assigned as a ground trainer for the California Air National Guard at Van Nuys, California.

The F-86A was a single-seat, single-engine, swept-wing day fighter, powered by a turbojet engine. The airplane’s design team was headed by Edgar Schmued, who was also responsible for North American’s legendary P-51 Mustang of World War II.

The F-86A had the same dimensions as the prototype XP-86 which had first flown almost two years earlier. The F-86A was 37 feet, 6.6 inches (11.445 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 1.4 inches (11.313 meters) and overall height of 14 feet, 8.9 inches (4.493 meters). It had an empty weight of 10,093 pounds (4,578 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight was 15,876 pounds (7,201 kilograms).

North American Aviation F-86A-1-NA Sabre 47-605, the first production aircraft. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation F-86A-1-NA Sabre 47-605, the first production aircraft. (U.S. Air Force)

The F-86 wings’ leading edges were swept to 35° and included leading edge slats, which automatically extended at low speed to provide an increase in lift.

The F-86A was initially powered by a General Electric TG-190A (J47-GE-1) turbojet engine. This was a major improvement over the Chevrolet-built J35-C-3 that had powered the prototype, and it produced almost 25% greater thrust. The J47-GE-1 was rated at 4,850 pounds of thrust (21.57 kilonewtons), or 5,820 pounds (25.89 kilonewtons) with water injection. The J47 was an axial-flow turbojet with a 12-stage compressor, eight combustion chambers, and single-stage turbine. The engine was 12 feet, 0.0 inches (3.658 meters) long, 3 feet, 3.0 inches (0.991 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,475 pounds (1,123 kilograms).

Early in F-86A production, the engine was standardized with the J47-GE-13, which was rated at 5,200 pounds of thrust (23.13 kilonewtons) and 6,000 pounds (26.69 kilonewtons) “wet.” The -13 had the same exterior dimensions as the -1 engine, but weighed 50 pounds (23 kilograms) more.

North American Aviation F-86-A-NA Sabre 47-630. (North American Aviation, Inc./Chicago Tribune)
North American Aviation F-86A-1-NA Sabre 47-630. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

The F-86A had a maximum speed of 679 miles per hour (1,093 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and 601 miles per hour (967 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). The service ceiling as 48,000 feet (14,630 meters) and it could climb to 40,000 feet (12,192 meters) in 10 minutes, 24 seconds. It had a range of 1,200 miles (1,931 kilometers).

This photograph of a Canadair CL-13 Sabre, a license-built F-86E, shows the firepower of the six .50-caliber machine guns placed close together in the airplane's nose. The smoke trails show the spin of the bullets caused by the gun barrels' rifling. (Royal Canadian Air Force)
This photograph of a Canadair CL-13 Sabre (a license-built F-86E) test-firing its guns shows the firepower of the six .50-caliber machine guns placed close together in the airplane’s nose. The smoke trails show the spin of the bullets caused by the gun barrels’ rifling. The total rate of fire is approximately 7,200 rounds per minute. (Royal Canadian Air Force)

Designed as a day fighter, the F-86 Sabre was armed with six air-cooled Browning AN-M3 .50-caliber aircraft machine guns with 267 rounds of ammunition per gun. These guns had a rate of fire of 1,200 rounds per minute. The F-86A-1-NA had electrically-actuated doors covering the gun ports to maintain the aerodynamically clean surface. Because of their complexity, these doors were deleted beginning with the F-86A-5-NA aircraft.

The fighter could also carry bombs or rockets.

In this photograph, the record-settining North American Aviation F-86A Sabre, 47-611, is seen suspended from a crane while it conducts armament tests. It has just launched a 5-inch High Velocity Aerial Rocket. (U.S. Air Force)

Richard Lowe Johnson ² was born at Cooperstown, North Dakota, 21 September 1917. He was the eighth of nine children of Swedish immigrants, John N. Johnson, a farmer, and Elna Kristina Helgesten Johnson, a seamstress.

Richard Johnson, 1940. (The Beaver)

Dick Johnson attended Oregon State College at Corvallis, Oregon, as a member of the Class of 1943. He was a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (ΣΑΕ) fraternity.

Dick Johnson was a pitcher for the college baseball team, and later, played for the Boston Red Sox “farm” (minor league) system.

On 18 June 1942, Johnson enlisted as a private in the Air Corps, United States Army. On 5 November, he was appointed an aviation cadet and assigned to flight training.

Aviation Cadet Johnson married Miss Juanita Blanche Carter, 17 April 1943, at Ocala, Florida. The civil ceremony was officiated by Judge D. R. Smith.

After completing  flight training, on 1 October 1943, Richard L. Johnson was commissioned as a second lieutenant, Army of the United States (A.U.S.).

Lieutenant Johnson was assigned to the 66th Fighter Squadron, 57th Fighter Group, Twelfth Air Force, in North Africa, Corsica, and Italy, flying the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. He was promoted to first lieutenant, A.U.S., 9 August 1944, and just over three months later, 26 November 1944, to the rank of captain, A.U.S. On 14 May 1945, Captain Johnson was promoted to the rank of major, A.U.S. (Major Johnson was assigned a permanent rank of first lieutenant, Air Corps, United States Army, on 5 July 1946, with a date of rank retroactive to 21 September 1945.)

Republic P-47D-25-RE Thunderbolt 42-26421, assigned to the 66th Fighter Squadron, 57th Fighter group, Twelfth Air Force. This airplane was purchased by the employees of Republic Aviation. (American Air Museum in Britain UPL 25505)

During World War II, Major Johnson flew 180 combat missions with the 66th Fighter Squadron. He is officially credited with one air-to-air victory, 1 July 1944. Johnson was awarded the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters (3 awards), and the Air Medal with twelve oak leaf clusters (thirteen awards).

In 1946, was assigned to the Air Materiel Command Engineering Test Pilot School at the Army Air Forces Technical Base, Dayton, Ohio (Wright-Patterson Air Force Base). He was the second U.S. Air Force pilot to be publicly acknowledged for breaking the “sound barrier.”

A few weeks after arriving at Dayton, Major Johnson met Miss Alvina Conway Huester, the daughter of an officer in the U.S. Navy. Dick Johnson and his wife Juanita were divorced 8 January 1947, and he married Miss Huester in a ceremony in Henry County, Indiana, 10 January 1947. They would have three children, Kristie, Lisa and Richard.

During the Korean War, Major Johnson was sent to the war zone to supervise field installations of improvements to the F-86 Sabre. He was “caught” flying “unauthorized” combat missions and was sent home.

Lieutenant Colonel Johnson resigned from the Air Force in 1953 to become the Chief Test Pilot for the Convair Division of General Dynamics. He made the first flights of the YF-102 on 24 October 1953, the F-106A Delta Dart, 26 December 1956. He made the first flight of the F-111 on 21 December 1964.

Chief Test Pilot Dick Johnson in the cockpit of a Convair B-58A Hustler, a Mach 2 strategic bomber. (Courtesy if Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

in 1955, Johnson was one of the six founding members of the Society of Experimental test Pilots.

Dick Johnson was Chief Engineering Test Pilot for the General Dynamics F-111 “Aardvark.” In 1967, the Society of Experimental Test Pilots awarded Johnson its Iven C. Kincheloe Award for his work on the F-111 program. In 1977, Dick Johnson, now the Director of Flight and Quality Assurance at General Dynamics, retired.

In 1998, Dick Johnson was inducted into the Aerospace Walk of Honor at Lancaster, California. His commemorative monument is located in front of the Lancaster Public Library on W. Lancaster Boulevard, just West of Cedar Avenue. ³

Lieutenant Colonel Richard Lowe Johnson, United States Air Force, (Retired), died 9 November 2002 at Fort Worth, Texas. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, on 7 January 2003.

Richard L. Johnson waves from the cockpit of the record-setting North American Aviation F-86A-1-NA Sabre, 47-611.

¹ FAI Record File Number 9866

² Several sources spell Johnson’s middle name as “Loe.”

³ Various Internet sources repeat the statement that “Richard Johnson has been honored with. . . the Thompson Trophy, Mackay Trophy, Flying Tiger Trophy, Federation Aeronautique Internationale Gold Medal and Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement. . . .” TDiA has checked the lists of awardees of each of the appropriate organizations and has not found any support for the statement.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 August 1951

Colonel Fred J. Ascani, United States Air Force
Colonel Fred J. Ascani, United States Air Force

17 August 1951: In order to demonstrate the capabilities of the United States Air Force’s new day fighter, Colonel Fred J. Ascani, Vice Commander, Air Force Flight Test Center, Edwards Air Force Base, California, had been assigned to take two new North American Aviation F-86E Sabres from the production line at El Segundo, California, to the National Air Races at Detroit, Michigan. He was to attempt a new world speed record.

Colonel Ascani selected F-86E-10-NA 51-2721 and 51-2724. They received bright orange paint to the forward fuselage and the top of the vertical fin. Bold numbers 2 and 4 were painted on their sides.

North American Aviation F-86E-10-NA Sabre 51-2721. (FAI)
Colonel Fred J. Ascani with the Thompson Trophy, 1951. (AP)

Flying Number 2, F-86E 51-2721, Fred Ascani flew a 100-kilometer closed circuit at an average speed of 1,023.04 kilometers per hour (635.69 miles per hour), and set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 100 Kilometers.¹

For his accomplishment, Colonel Ascani was awarded both the Thompson Trophy and the MacKay Trophy.

The North American Aviation F-86 was a single-seat, single-engine day fighter designed by Edgar Schmued and the same team at North American that designed the World War II P-51 Mustang fighter. The Sabre was the first fighter to incorporate swept wings, which improved flight at high subsonic speed by reducing aerodynamic drag and delaying the onset of compressibility effects. The leading edges of the wings and tail surfaces were swept 35° based on captured German technical data and extensive wind tunnel testing.

North American Aviation F-86E-10-NA Sabre 51-2721. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation F-86E-10-NA Sabre 51-2721. (U.S. Air Force)

The F-86E Sabre was an improved F-86A. The most significant change was the incorporation of an “all flying tailplane” in which the entire horizontal tail moved to control the airplane’s pitch. The tailplane pivoted around its rear spar, allowing the leading edge to move up or down 8°. The elevators were mechanically linked to the tailplane and their movement was proportional to the tailplane’s movement. Control was hydraulic, and this provided improved handling at high speeds where compressibility could “freeze” control surfaces. There were systems improvements as well, with “artificial feel” to the hydraulic controls to improve feedback to the pilot and prevent over-controlling. Beginning with Block 10 aircraft, the “V”-shaped windscreen of the earlier models was replaced with an optically flat laminated glass windshield.

Fred Ascani in the cockpit of F-86E
Fred Ascani in the cockpit of North American Aviation F-86E-10-NA Sabre 51-2724. (U.S. Air Force)

The F-86E was 37 feet, 6.5 inches (11.443 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 1.4 inches (11.313 meters) and overall height of 14 feet, 1 inch (4.293 meters). Its empty weight was 10,555 pounds (4,787.7 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight was 16,436 pounds (7,455.2 kilograms).

The F-86E was powered by a General Electric J47-GE-13 turbojet engine. The J47 was an axial-flow turbojet with a 12-stage compressor and single stage turbine. The J47-GE-13 was rated at 5,200 pounds of thrust and 6,000 pounds (“wet”). The engine was 12 feet, 0.0 inches (3.658 meters) long, 3 feet, 3.0 inches (0.991 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,525 pounds ( kilograms).

The F-86E Sabre had a maximum speed of 679 miles per hour (1,092.7 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 601 miles per hour (967.2 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). Its service ceiling was 47,200 feet (14,386.7 meters).

The F-86E carried 437 gallons (1,654.2 liters) of fuel internally and could carry two 200-gallon (757.1 liter) drop tanks under the wings. Maximum range was 1,022 miles (1,645 kilometers).

The F-86A, E and F Sabres were armed with six Browning AN-M3 .50-caliber aircraft machine guns with 1,602 rounds of ammunition.

6,233 F-86 Sabres were built by North American at Inglewood, California and Columbus Ohio. Another 521 were assembled by Fiat and Mitsubishi. 1,815 CL-13 Sabres were built by Canadair, and 115 CA-26 and CA-27 Sabres by Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation in Australia. Total production for all types and manufacturers was 8,684. North American Aviation built 336 F-86Es and 60 more were built by Canadair (F-86E-6-CAN).

In order to emphasize that Colonel Ascani’s record-setting Sabre was a standard production airplane, it was immediately sent into combat with the 25th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing, at Suwon Air Base, Korea. There, it was christened THIS’LL KILL YA. On 3 May 1953, 51-2721 was damaged during a landing accident at Kimpo Air Base, but it was repaired and returned to service.

The FAI World Speed Record holder, North American Aviation F-86E-10-NA Sabre 51-2721, at Suwon Air Base, Korea, circa 1952.
A group of Allied pilots stand with the FAI World Speed Record holder, North American Aviation F-86E-10-NA Sabre 51-2721, at Suwon Air Base, Korea, circa 1952. Its pilot, Lieutenant Jack L. Price, has named it THIS’LL KILL YA.

¹ FAI Record File Number 10429

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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3 June 1946

Lieutenant Howard A. Johnson, USAAF, with Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star 44-85123. (FAI)
Lieutenant Henry A. Johnson, USAAF, with Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star 44-85123. (FAI)

3 June 1946: Lieutenant Henry A. Johnson, U.S. Army Air Force, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 1,000 Kilometers Without Payload flying a Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star, serial number 44-85123, at Dayton, Ohio. The average speed was 745.08 kilometers per hour (462.97 miles per hour). The elapsed time was 1 hour, 20 minutes, 31 seconds.¹

This airplane had earlier set a transcontinental speed record when Colonel William H. Councill flew it from Daugherty Field, Long Beach, California to La Guardia Field, New York, in 4 hours, 13 minutes, 26 seconds on 26 January 1946. It would go on to win the Thompson Trophy Race J Division, 2 September 1946, when Major Gustav E. Lundquist flew it to an average speed of 515.853 miles per hour (830.185 kilometers per hour) over the 180-kilometer course.

Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star 44-85123, World Speed Record Holder. (FAI)
Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star 44-85123, World Speed Record Holder. (FAI)

The Lockheed P-80-1-LO was the United States’ first operational jet fighter. 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 AFB) 8 January 1944.

The P-80A was 34 feet, 6 inches (10.516 meters) long with a wingspan of 38 feet, 10.5 inches (11.849 meters) and an overall height of 11 feet, 4 inches (3.454 meters). It weighed 7,920 pounds empty (3,593 kilograms) and had a maximum takeoff weight of 14,000 pounds (6,350 kilograms).

Early production P-80As were powered by either an Allison J33-A-9 or a General Electric J33-GE-11 turbojet engine. The J33 was a licensed version of the Rolls-Royce Derwent. It was a single-shaft turbojet with a 1-stage centrifugal compressor section and a 1-stage axial-flow turbine. The -9 and -11 engines were rated at 3,825 pounds of thrust (17.014 kilonewtons) at 11,500 r.p.m. They were 8 feet, 6.9 inches (2.614 meters) long, 4 feet, 2.5 inches (1.283 meters) in diameter and weighed 1,775 pounds (805 kilograms).

The P-80A-1 had a maximum speed of 510 miles per hour (821 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, 520 miles per hour (837 kilometers per hour) at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters), and 495 miles per hour (797 kilometers per hour) at 40,000 feet (12,192 meters). The service ceiling was 45,000 feet (13,716 meters).

Several hundred of the early production P-80 Shooting stars had all of their surface seams filled, and the airplanes were primed and painted. Although this process added 60 pounds (27 kilograms) to the empty weight, the decrease in drag allowed a 10 mile per hour (16 kilometers per hour) increase in top speed. The painted surface was difficult to maintain in the field and the process was discontinued.

The P-80A Shooting Star was armed with six Browning AN-M3 .50-caliber  aircraft machine guns mounted in the nose, with 300 rounds of ammunition per gun.

44-85123 is undergoing restoration at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

Lockheed test pilots Anthony W. ("Tony") LeVier and David L. Ferguson stand in front of P-80A 44-85123 and an F-117A Nighthawk at the Lockheed Skunk Works, Palmdale, California, 17 June 1993. (Denny Lombard, Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed test pilots Anthony W. (“Tony”) LeVier and David L. Ferguson stand in front of P-80A 44-85123 and an F-117A Nighthawk at the Lockheed Skunk Works, Palmdale, California, 17 June 1993. (Denny Lombard, Lockheed Martin)

¹ FAI Record File Number 10973

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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16 April 1949

Prototype Lockheed YF-94 48-356, first flight, 16 April 1949. (U.S. Air Force)
Prototype Lockheed YF-94 48-356, first flight, 16 April 1949. (U.S. Air Force)
Anthony M. "Tony" LeVier.
Anthony M. “Tony” LeVier.

16 April 1949: At Van Nuys Airport, California, test pilot Tony LeVier and flight test engineer Glenn Fulkerson made the first flight of the Lockheed YF-94 prototype, serial number 48-356. The aircraft was the first jet-powered all-weather interceptor in service with the United States Air Force and was the first production aircraft powered by an afterburning engine.

Two prototypes were built at Lockheed Plant B-9, located on the east side of Van Nuys Airport. Two TF-80C-1-LO (later redesignated T-33A) Shooting Star two-place trainers, 48-356 and 48-373, were modified with the installation of air intercept radar, an electronic fire control system, radar gun sight, four Browning AN-M3 .50-caliber (12.7 × 99 NATO) aircraft machine guns and a more powerful Allison J33-A-33 turbojet engine with water-alcohol injection and afterburner. The rear cockpit was equipped as a radar intercept officer’s station.

Right side profile of the Lockheed YF-94A Starfire prototype, 48-356, during its first flight, 16 April 1949. (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)
Right side profile of the Lockheed YF-94 prototype, 48-356, during its first flight, 16 April 1949. (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

It was initially thought that the project would be a very simple, straightforward modification. However, the increased weight of guns and electronics required the installation of a more powerful engine than used in the T-33A. The new engine required that the aft fuselage be lengthened and deepened. Still, early models used approximately 80% of the parts for the F-80C fighter and T-33A trainer. The Air Force ordered the aircraft as the F-94A. Improvements resulted in an F-94B version, but the definitive model was the all-rocket-armed F-94C Starfire.

The Allison J33-A-33 was a single-shaft turbojet engine with a single-stage centrifugal-flow compressor, 14 combustion chambers and, a single-stage axial flow turbine. The engine was rated at 4,600 pounds of thrust (20.46 kilonewtons) and 6,000 pounds (26.69 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The J33-A-33 was 17 feet, 11.0 inches (5.461 meters) long, 4 feet, 1.3 inches (1.252 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,390 pounds (1,084 kilograms).

Originally a P-80C Shooting Star single-place fighter, 48-356 had been modified at Lockheed Plant B-9 in Van Nuys to become the prototype TF-80C two-place jet trainer (the designation was soon changed to T-33A), which first flew 22 March 1948. It was then modified as the prototype YF-94. 48-356 was later modified as the prototype F-94B. It is in the collection of the Air Force Flight Test Museum, Edwards Air Force Base, and is in storage awaiting restoration.

Underside of the prototype Lockheed YF-94A Starfire, 49-356, during its first flight, 16 April 1949. (San Diego air & Space Museum Archives)
Underside of the prototype Lockheed YF-94, 49-356, during its first flight, 16 April 1949. (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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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

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