20 May 1948: The first production North American Aviation, Inc., P-86A-1-NA, 47-605, made its first flight.
The P-86A-1-NA was very similar to the three XP-86 prototypes. As an operational fighter, its empty weight increased 347 pounds to 10,077 pounds. The Chevrolet J35-C-3 and Allison J35-A-5 engines were replaced with a more powerful General Electric J47-GE-1. The fighter’s maximum speed increased 74 miles per hour to 673 miles per hour at Sea Level.
The P-86 was unlike any airplane before it. (The designation was changed to F-86 the following month.) It was the first airplane produced with a swept wing. After analyzing World War II test data for the Messerschmitt Me 262, North American’s engineers designed a wing with a 35° degree sweepback to its leading edge. The wing sweep allowed high speed shock waves to form without stalling the entire wing. The wing tapered toward the tips, and its thickness also decreased from the root to the tip. In order to create a very strong but very thin wing, it was built with a two-layered aluminum skin, instead of ribs and spars, with each layer separated by “hat” sections. The thickness of the skin panels also tapered to decrease weight.
The wing incorporated leading edge “slats” which were airfoil sections that automatically extended below 290 knots, smoothing the air flow over the wing’s upper surface and creating more lift at slow speeds. Above that speed, aerodynamic forces closed the slats, decreasing drag and allowing for higher speeds. Effectively, the wing could change its shape in flight.
Like the XP-86, the P-86A 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, 8.9 inches (4.493 meters). The empty weight was 10,077 pounds (4,571 kilograms), gross weight, 14,050 pounds (6,373 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight was 15,876 pounds (7,201 kilograms).
The J47-GE-1 was an axial-flow turbojet with a 12-stage compressor, 8 combustion chambers, and single stage turbine. It had a normal power rating of 4,320 pounds of thrust (19.216 kilonewtons) at 7,370 r.p.m.; and military power, 5,200 pounds (23.131 kilonewtons) at 7,950 r.p.m. (30-minute limit).
The P-86A had an initial rate of climb 7,470 feet per minute (37.95 meters per second) and could reach 40,000 feet (12,192 meters) in 10 minutes, 24 seconds. Its service ceiling was 48,000 feet (14,630 meters).
The Sabre was armed with six Browning AN-M3 .50-caliber aircraft machine guns placed in the nose, with three on either side of the engine intake. These were lighter and had a higher rate of fire than the World War II AN-M2 machine guns. Ammunition containers had a capacity of 300 rounds, but normally they carried 267 rounds per gun. Early aircraft had small doors covering each gun port. They opened in 0.05 seconds but were difficult to keep properly adjusted, so they were soon deleted.
The airplane could also be armed with two bombs and up to sixteen 5-inch (12.7 centimeter) High Velocity Aerial Rockets (HVAR) on underwing hardpoints.
North American Aviation built thirty-three P-86A-1-NAs. The U.S. Air Force ordered 190 F-86Bs, but these were cancelled in favor of the F-86A-5-NA.
The F-86A became operational with the 1st Fighter Group at March Air Force Base, near Riverside, California. In February 1949, a contest was held within the group to select a name for the new fighter. “Sabre” was chosen.
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.
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.
18 December 1972: On the first night of Operation Linebacker II, Staff Sergeant Samuel Olin Turner, United States Air Force, the gunner aboard Boeing B-52D-35-BW Stratofortress 56-676 (call sign “Brown 3”), saw a supersonic Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 21 interceptor approaching the bomber from below and behind, with a second interceptor following at a distance.
As the Mach 2 fighter made a firing pass, Turner directed the four Browning AN-M3 .50-caliber machine guns of the bomber’s tail turret at the enemy fighter and opened fire. In a single 6–8 second burst, he expended 694 rounds of ammunition. He saw “a gigantic explosion to the rear of the aircraft.”
Master Sergeant Louis E. LeBlanc, the gunner on another B-52, “Brown 2,” had also seen the MiG 21 and confirmed Turner’s kill.
Staff Sergeant Turner was the first B-52 gunner to be officially credited with shooting down an enemy fighter, and the first aerial gunner to shoot down an enemy aircraft since the Korean War. He was awarded the Silver Star.
The citation reads,
“Staff Sergent Samuel O. Turner distinguished himself by gallantry in connections with military operations against an opposing armed force as a B-52 Fire Control Operator near Hanoi, North Vietnam, on 18 December 1972. On this mission, Sergeant Turner’s aircraft was attacked by numerous enemy fighters. During these attacks he skillfully operated his gunnery radar equipment to train his guns on the attackers and destroyed one of them. By his courage in the face of hazardous combat conditions and outstanding professional skill, he successfully defended his aircraft and its crew and enabled it to complete its mission and return safely to base. By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Sergeant Turner has reflected great credit upon himself and to the United States Air Force.”
Samuel Olin Turner was born at Atlanta, Georgia, 15 August 1942. He was the son of William Edgar Turner and Beatrice Honnicutt Turner. Sam Turner attended Russell High School at East Point, Georgia, then studied at David Lipscomb College, Nashville, Tennessee.
Turner enlisted in the United States Air Force, 13 January 1970, and was trained as a gunner on Boeing B-52s. He served in Southeast Asia for two years. In 1977, Technical Sergeant Turner transitioned to the B-52H Stratofortress, which was equipped with a remotely-operated M61A1 20 mm six-barreled rotary cannon.
Senior Master Sergeant Samuel O. Turner was released from the U.S. Air Force 31 January 1982. In addition to the Silver Star, during his military career Turner had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and a number of Air Medals. He died at Stockbridge, Georgia, 9 April 1985, at the age of 42 years.
The Samuel O. Turner Airman Leadership School at Ellsworth Air Force Base, near Rapid City, South Dakota, is named in his honor.
56-676 was the last Boeing B-52D Stratofortress in service. It is on display at Fairchild Air Force Base, Spokane, Washington.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
47-611 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).
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.