21 May 1955: At 05:59:45 Pacific Standard Time (13:59:45 UTC) 1st Lieutenant John M. (“Jack”) Conroy, U.S. Air Force, a World War II B-17 pilot and former Prisoner of War, took off from the California Air National Guard Base at the San Fernando Valley Airport (re-named Van Nuys Airport in 1957). His airplane was a specially-prepared North American Aviation F-86A-5-NA Sabre, USAF serial number 49-1046. His Destination? Van Nuys, California—by way of Mitchel Field, Long Island, New York. His plan was to return to the ANG base in “The Valley” before sunset.
Several weeks of planning and preparation were involved in “Operation Boomerang”. Five refueling stops would be required and Air National Guard personnel across the United States would handle that. A deviation from peacetime standards would allow the Sabre to be refueled with the engine running to minimize time spent on the ground. (The F-86 was not capable of inflight refueling.) The six-year-old F-86A was polished to ensure that all rivet heads were smooth, seams in the fuselage and wing skin panels were adjusted for precise fit, then were sealed. The gun ports for the six .50-caliber Browning machine guns in the fighter’s nose were filled then covered with doped fabric and painted. This was to reduce aerodynamic drag as much as possible. The General Electric J47-GE-13 turbojet was overhauled, then tested and adjusted for maximum efficiency.
Arrangements for official timing of the West to East and Back Again speed run were paid for by North American Aviation, Inc., whose personnel also provided technical support to the Air National Guard.
Jack Conroy’s F-86A was nicknamed California Boomerang, and had a map of the United States and a boomerang painted on the fuselage. The Sabre remained in its overall natural aluminum finish but had green stripes on the fuselage, vertical fin and wings.
After takeoff, Lieutenant Conroy climbed to approximately 40,000 feet (12,192 meters) and headed to his first refueling stop at Denver, Colorado. He landed at 7:48 a.m. PST and the Sabre was refueled and off again in just 6 minutes. From Denver he continued eastward to Springfield, Illinois, arriving at 9:32 a.m. PST. Refueling there took 5 minutes. The next stop was Mitchel Field, Long Island, New York. He touched down at 11:19 a.m., PST and remained on the ground for 39 minutes.
Conroy departed Mitchel Field on the westbound leg at 11:58 a.m. PST and arrived at Lockburne Air Force Base, Ohio at 12:58 p.m., PST. This refueling stop required 7 minutes. Next on the flight plan was Tulsa, Oklahoma. The airplane landed there at 2:26 p.m. PST, and was refueled and airborne again in 6 minutes. The last refueling took place at Albuquerque, New Mexico. Lieutenant Conroy landed at 3:58 p.m., PST. After another 7 minute stopover, California Boomerang took off on the final leg of the round-trip journey, finally landing back at Van Nuys, California at 5:26:18 p.m., PST.
John Conroy’s Coast-to-Coast-to-Coast “dawn to dusk” flight covered 5,058 miles (8,140.1 kilometers). The total elapsed time was 11 hours, 26 minutes, 33 seconds. His average speed was 445 miles per hour (716.2 kilometers per hour). Weather across the country caused some delays as Jack Conroy had to make instrument approaches to three of the airports.
California Boomerang, North American Aviation F-86A-5-NA Sabre 49-1046, is on display as a “gate guard” at the entrance to the Channel Islands Air National Guard Station, adjacent to Naval Base Ventura County, Point Mugu, California.
20 May 1967: Colonel Robin Olds, USAF, commanding officer of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing based at Ubon Rachitani Royal Thai Air Force Base, and Weapons System Officer 1st Lieutenant Stephen B. Croker, destroyed two Vietnam People’s Air Force MiG-17 fighters with AIM-7 Sparrow radar-guided and AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking air-to-air missiles while flying McDonnell F-4C-24-MC Phantom II, serial number 64-0829, named SCAT XXVII.
An official U.S. Air Force history publication describes the air battle:
Two other MiG-17s became the victims of Col. Robin Olds and his pilot, 1st. Lt. Stephen B. Croker. [Note: at this point in time, the WSOs of USAF F-4Cs were a fully-rated pilots.—TDiA]These were aerial victories three and four for Olds, making him the leading MiG-killer at that time in Southeast Asia. An ace from World War II, the 8th TFW commander was battle-tested and experienced. Olds termed the events of 20 May “quite a remarkable air battle.” According to his account:
“F-105s were bombing along the northeast railroad; we were in escort position, coming in from the Gulf of Tonkin. We just cleared the last of the low hills lying north of Haiphong, in an east-west direction, when about 10 or 12 MiG-17s came in low from the left and, I believe, from the right. They tried to attack the F-105s before they got to the target.
“We engaged MiG-17s at approximately 15 miles short of the target. The ensuing battle was an exact replica of the dogfights in World War II.
“Our flights of F-4s piled into the MiGs like a sledge hammer, and for about a minute and a half or two minutes that was the most confused, vicious dogfight I have ever been in. There were eight F-4Cs, twelve MiG-17s, and one odd flight of F-105s on their way out from the target, who flashed through the battle area.
“Quite frankly, there was not only danger from the guns of the MiGs, but the ever-present danger of a collision to contend with. We went round and round that day with the battles lasting 12 to 14 minutes, which is a long time. This particular day we found that the MiGs went into a defensive battle down low, about 500 to 1,000 feet. In the middle of this circle, there were two or three MiGs circling about a hundred feet—sort of in figure-eight patterns. The MiGs were in small groups of two, three, and sometimes four in a very wide circle. Each time we went in to engage one of these groups, a group from the opposite side would go full power, pull across the circle, and be in firing position on our tails almost before we could get into firing position with our missiles. This was very distressing, to say the least.
“The first MiG I lined up was in a gentle left turn, range about 7,000 feet. My pilot achieved a boresight lock-on, went full system, narrow gate, interlocks in. One of the two Sparrows fired in ripple guided true and exploded near the MiG. My pilot saw the MiG erupt in flame and go down to the left.
“We attacked again, trying to break up that defensive wheel. Finally, once again, fuel considerations necessitated departure. As I left the area by myself, I saw that lone MiG still circling and so I ran out about ten miles and said that even if I ran out of fuel, he is going to know he was in a fight. I got down on the deck, about 50 feet, and headed right for him. I don’t think he saw me for quite a while. But when he did, he went mad, twisting, turning, dodging and trying to get away. I kept my speed down so I wouldn’t overrun him and I stayed behind him. I knew he was either going to hit that ridge up ahead or pop over the ridge to save himself. The minute he popped over I was going to get him with a Sidewinder.
“I fired one AIM-9 which did not track and the MiG pulled up over the ridge, turned left and gave me a dead astern shot. I obtained a good growl. I fired from about 25 to 50 feet off the grass and he was clear of the ridge by only another 50 to 100 feet when the Sidewinder caught him.
“The missile tracked and exploded 5 to 10 feet to the right side of the aft fuselage. The MiG spewed pieces and broke hard left and down from about 200 feet. I overshot and lost sight of him.
“I was quite out of fuel and all out of missiles and pretty deep in enemy territory all by myself, so it was high time to leave. We learned quite a bit from this fight. We learned you don’t pile into these fellows with eight airplanes all at once. You are only a detriment to yourself.”
— Aces and Aerial Victories: The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia 1965–1973, by R. Frank Futrell, William H. Greenhalgh, Carl Grubb, Gerard E. Hasselwander, Robert F. Jakob and Charles A. Ravenstein, Office of Air Force History, Headquarters USAF, 1976, Chapter II at Pages 59–60.
19 May 1918: Major Gervais Raoul Victor Lufbery, 94th Aero Squadron, American Expeditionary Force, a leading Allied fighter pilot of World War I, was killed in action at Maron, Meurthe-et-Moselle, France.
Flying a Nieuport 28 C.1, he engaged by a Rumpler two-place observation plane of Reihenbildzug Nr. 3, a photographic reconniassance unit, flown by Gefreiter Kirschbaum and Leutnant Schieibe. Lufbery’s fighter was hit by gunfire from the Rumpler. The Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte airplane was later shot down and its crew captured.
Lufbery’s Nieuport rolled inverted, and he fell from the airplane. He was killed on impact.
Raoul Lufbery is considered to have been the first American “ace,” although all sixteen of his officially-credited aerial victories took place while in the service of France.
Gervais Raoul Victor Lufbery was a dual American and French citizen, born 14 March 1885 at Chamalières, Puy-de-Dôme, France. He was the fourth child of Edward Lufbery, an American chemist, and Anne Joséphine Vessière Lufbery. Mme Lufbery died when he was about one year old. His father left Gervais in the care of his maternal grandmother, Madeline Vessière Greniere, and returned to the United States. Gervais grew up in France.
In 1907, at the age of 22, Lufbery traveled to America to visit family members in Connecticut. After traveling around the country and working in various occupations, Lufbery enlisted in the United States Army. He was assigned from the recruit depot Fort McDowell, Angel Island, San Francisco, to Company F, 20th Infantry Regiment, at the newly establish Fort Shafter, Territory of Hawaii, 13 December 1908. From 1 April 1909, Lufbery was stationed with Co. M, at the Presidio of Monterey in California. In 1910, he was sent to the Quartel de Espana, Manila, Philippine Islands.
After completing his term of service with the United States Army, in 1914 Lufbery enlisted in the Légion Étrangère (the French Foreign Legion). He was initially assigned as an aircraft mechanic, but was soon trained as a pilot. In 1916, Sergent Lufbery was assigned to a newly-formed unit, N-124,¹ Escadrille Lafayette of the Aéronautique Militaire (the French Air Service) which was made up primarily of volunteers from America. (The United States did not enter the War until 6 April 1917.)
Lufbery shot down his first enemy airplane 30 July 1916, and his fifth, 12 October 1916.
Sergent Lufbery was awarded the Médaille Militaire 11 September 1916. He was promoted to Adjutant, a non-commissioned officer rank. Adjutant Lufbery was awarded his first Croix de Guerre avec palme 26 September 1916, and his second, 28 October 1916. He was appointed a Chevalier de la légion d’honneur 10 March 1917. Lufbery was promoted to the commissioned rank of Sous lieutenant des Troupes Aeronautiques. Additional awards of the Croix de Guerre followed on 15 May, 15 June, 13 October, 29 October, 9 November 1917, and 11 January 1918.
Between 30 July 1916 and 2 December 1917, while serving with the Aéronautique Militaire, Lufbery shot down sixteen enemy airplanes (officially credited).
Sous lieutenant Lufbery was transferred to the 94th Aero Squadron, American Expeditionary Force, and was commissioned a major in the Aviation Section, Signal Officers’ Reserve Corps, United States Army.
Following his death, Major Lufbery was awarded the Purple Heart, and Britain’s Military Medal. His remains are interred at the Lafayette Memorial du Parc de Garches, Paris, France.
The Nieuport 28 C.1 ² was a single-place, single-engine, single-bay biplane fighter built by Société Anonyme des Éstablissements Nieuport for the French military. It was rejected, however, in favor of the SPAD S.XIII C.1. The new United States’ Air Service was in great need of fighters. There were none available of American manufacture, and because the new SPAD was in great demand, 297 Nieuport 28s were acquired by the American Expeditionary Force and assigned to the 94th and 95th Aero Squadrons.
The Nieuport 28 C.1 was 6.30 meters (20 feet, 8 inches) long with an upper wingspan of 8.160 meters (26 feet, 9¼ inches), lower wingspan of 7.79 meters ( 25 feet, 6-2/3 inches) and height of 2.30 meters (7 feet, 6½ inches). The upper wing had a chord of 1.30 meters (4 feet, 3.2 inches), and the lower, which was staggered behind the upper, had a chord of 1.00 meters (3 feet, 3.4). The upper wing had very slight dihedral, while the lower wing had none. Its empty weight was 399 kilograms (880 pounds) and loaded weight was 626 kilograms (1,380 pounds).
The Nieuport 28 C.1 was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 15.892 liter (969.786-cubic-inch-displacement) Gnome Monosoupape 9 Type N nine-cylinder rotary engine with a compression ratio of 5.45:1. The Monosoupape had a single overhead exhaust valve actuated by a pushrod and rocker arm. As the pistons reached the bottom of their exhaust strokes, a series of intake ports near the bottom of the cylinder were uncovered. The intake charge was drawn from the engine crankcase. The Type N produced 160 horsepower at 1,300 r.p.m. and turned a two-bladed fixed-pitch wooden propeller with a diameter of 2.50 meters (8 feet, 2.4 inches). The engine weighed 330 pounds (150 kilograms).
The Nieuport 28 had a top speed of 198 kilometers per hour (123 miles per hour) at 2,000 meters (6,562 feet) and 1,380 r.p.m., a range of 290 kilometers (180 miles) and a service ceiling of 5,300 meters (17,388 feet). Duration at full power was 1 hour, 45 minutes.
Two .303-caliber Vickers machine guns were mounted on the cowling, firing forward through the propeller arc.
¹ The “N” indicates that Escadrille 124 was equipped with Nieuport fighters. When the squadron transitioned to SPADs, the desigantion changed to SPA 124.
² “C.1” was the French designation for a single-place chasseur, their World War I term for what we now consider to be a fighter.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
4 May 1967: Colonel Robin Olds, United States Air Force, commanding the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing based at Ubon RTAFB, shot down his second enemy airplane during the Vietnam War.
Colonel Olds had flown Lockheed P-38 Lightning and North American P-51 Mustang fighters during World War II. He is officially credited with shooting down 12 enemy airplanes over Europe and destroying 11.5 on the ground. On 2 January 1967, he had destroyed a MiG-21 near Hanoi, North Vietnam, while flying a McDonnell F-4C Phantom II. He was the first U.S. Air Force fighter ace to shoot down enemy aircraft during both World War II and the Vietnam War.
A description of the air battle follows:
On 4 May, the 8th TFW provided two flights of Phantoms for MiGCAP for five F-105 flights of the 355th TFW which were on a strike mission. Col. Olds, 8th Wing commander, led the rear flight, flying with 1st Lt. William D. Lafever. The other F-4 flight was sandwiched midway in the strike force. MiG warnings crackled on Olds’ radio just before his wingman sighted two MiG-21s at 11 o’clock, attacking the last of the Thunderchief flights. Colonel Olds’ account picks up the encounter at this point:
“The MiGs were at my 10 o’clock position and closing on Drill [the F-105 flight] from their 7:30 position. I broke the rear flight into the MiGs, called the F-105s to break, and maneuvered to obtain a missile firing position on one of the MiG-21s. I obtained a boresight lock-on, interlocks in, went full system, kept the pipper on the MiG, and fired two AIM-7s in a ripple. One AIM-7 went ballistic. The other guided but passed behind the MiG and did not detonate. Knowing I was too close for further AIM-7 firing, I maneuvered to obtain AIM-9 firing parameters. The MiG-21 was maneuvering violently and firing position was difficult to achieve. I snapped two AIM-9s at the MiG and did not observe either missile. The MiG then reversed and presented the best parameter yet. I achieved a loud growl, tracked, and fired one AIM-9. From the moment of launch it was obvious that the missile was locked on. It guided straight for the MiG and exploded about 5–10 feet beneath his tailpipe.
“The MiG then went into a series of frantic turns, some of them so violent that the aircraft snap-rolled in the opposite direction. Fire was coming from the tailpipe, but I was not sure whether it was normal afterburner or damage-induced. I fired the remaining AIM-9 at one point, but the shot was down toward the ground and did not discriminate. I followed the MiG as he turned southeast and headed for Phuc Yen. The aircraft ceased maneuvering and went in a straight slant for the airfield. I stayed 2,500 feet behind him and observed brilliant white fire streaming from the left side of his fuselage. It looked like magnesium burning with particles flaking off. I had to break off to the right as I neared Phuc Yen runway at about 2,000 feet, due to heavy, accurate, 85-mm barrage. I lost sight of the MiG at that point. Our number 3 saw the MiG continue in a straight gentle dive and impact approximately 100 yards south of the runway.”
Colonel Olds then took his flight to the target area and covered the last of the 355th TFW strike aircraft as they came off the target. Leading his flight to Hoa Lac airfield and dodging two SAMs on the way, he found five MiG-17s over that airfield.
“We went around with them at altitudes ranging from 1,500 to 6,000 feet, right over the aerodrome,” Olds reported. The F-4s ran low on fuel before any real engagements occurred, however, and were forced to break off the encounter.
— Aces and Aerial Victories: The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia 1965–1973, by R. Frank Futrell, William H. Greenhalgh, Carl Grubb, Gerard E. Hasselwander, Robert F. Jakob and Charles A. Ravenstein, Office of Air Force History, Headquarters USAF, 1976, Chapter II at Pages 51–53.
During this mission, Colonel Olds and Lieutenant Lefever flew McDonnell F-4C-21-MC Phantom II serial number 63-7668.