Tag Archives: North American Aviation F-86 Sabre

30 August 1952

The left wing attachment points of this Northrop F-89C-30-NO Scorpion, 51-5781, failded during a fly-by at the Inaternational Aviation Exposition, Detroit, Michigan, 30 August 1952. (U.S. Air Force)
The left wing of this Northrop F-89C-30-NO Scorpion, 51-5781, failed during a fly-by at the International Aviation Exposition, Detroit, Michigan, 30 August 1952. (Wikipedia)

30 August 1952: At 4:40 p.m., a tragic accident occurred during a fly-by of two new United States Air Force Northrop F-89C Scorpion all weather interceptors at the International Aviation Exposition at Detroit, Michigan.

Two F-89Cs of the 27th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 4711th Defense Wing, based at Griffis Air Force Base, Rome, New York, made a low-altitude, high speed pass in full view of 51,000 spectators, including General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, then serving his second term as Chief of Staff, United States Air Force. Suddenly, the left wing of the lead interceptor separated. The tail also broke away and the fighter crashed and exploded. In the resulting fire, the Scorpion’s 20 millimeter cannon shells exploded.

Photograph by B.J. Mullof from The Detroit Free Press, Sunday, 31 August 1952, Vol.122, No. 118, Page 1, Columns 1–3.

Major Donald E. Adams, a fighter ace who had won the Silver Star in Korea just months earlier, was killed, along with Captain Edward F. Kelly, Jr., the radar intercept officer. Five people on the ground were injured by falling wreckage.

The second F-89 was flown by Major John Recher and Captain Thomas Myslicki. They landed immediately at Selfridge Air Force Base.

This was not the first wing failure in an F-89C, nor the last. The Air Force grounded the Scorpions and ordered Northrop to return the airplanes to the factory or to modification centers using the company’s pilots. Northrop engineers began an intensive investigation to discover the cause of these catastrophic failures.

When designing the airplane engineers tried to use materials that provided the greatest strength at the lightest weight. A new aluminum alloy had been used for the wing attachment fittings. This material had properties that weren’t understood at the time, but when subjected to certain types of dynamic loads, it could fatigue and become brittle rapidly. It was also very sensitive to surface imperfections, such as scratches or machining marks, that could rapidly propagate fatigue fractures.

Northrop F-89C-30-NO Scorpion 51-5785, sister ship of Major Adams’ interceptor.

A second problem was that, under certain conditions, the Scorpion’s wings could enter a sequence of rapidly increasing oscillations, actually twisting the wing. This occurred so quickly that a pilot was not likely to see it happening. The twisting motion focused on the wing attachment points, and resulted in a catastrophic failure.

Northrop redesigned the wing to reduce the oscillation, and replaced the aluminum attachment fittings with new ones made of forged steel.

The F-89 was returned to service and became a very reliable airplane.

Pilot and radar intercept officer of a Northrop F-89C Scorpion. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

Major Adams’ Scorpion, Northrop F-89C-30-NO 51-5781, was a two-place, twin-engine, all weather interceptor, designed as a replacement for the World War II-era Northrop P-61 Black Widow night fighter. It was 53 feet, 5 inches (16.281 meters) long with a wingspan of 56 feet (17.069 meters) and overall height of 17 feet, 6 inches (5.334 meters). Its empty weight was 24,570 pounds (11,145 kilograms) and maximum gross weight was 37,348 pounds (16,941 kilograms).

The F-89C was powered by two Allison J35-A-33 afterburning turbojet engines. The J35 was a single-spool, axial-flow turbojet with an 11-stage compressor section, 8 combustion chambers and single-stage turbine. The J35-A-33 was rated at 5,400 pounds of thrust (24.02 kilonewtons) and 7,400 pounds (32.92 kilonewtons) with afterburner.

It had a maximum speed of 650 miles per hour (1,046 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 562 miles per hour (905 kilometers per hour) at 40,000 feet (12,192 meters). The service ceiling was 50,500 feet (15,392 meters) and maximum range was 905 miles (1,457 kilometers).

An Air Force master sergeant loading 20mm cannon shells for an F-89’s six 20 mm guns. (LIFE Magazine)

The interceptor was armed with six 20 mm M24 cannon in the nose, and could carry sixteen 5-inch rockets or 3,200 pounds (1,451.5 kilograms) of bombs on hardpoints under its wings.

Northrop Corporation built 1,050 F-89 Scorpions. 164 were F-89Cs. Variants produced after this deleted the six cannon in the nose and used aerial rockets instead. Scorpions served the Air Force and Air National Guard in the air defense role until 1969.

Major Donald E. Adams, United States Air Force. (Imperial War Museum)

Donald Earl Adams was born 23 February 1921 at Canton, New York. He was the first of two sons of Alonzo Deys Adams, a wallpaper and paint salesman, and Mae C. Hurd Adams.

Adams attended Western State Teachers College, Kalamazoo, Michigan. He was a member of the baseball, boxing and wrestling teams.

After graduating from college, Adams enlisted as a private, Enlisted Reserve Corps, at Rochester, New York, 10 October 1942. He was 6 feet, 0 inches (1.83 meters) tall and weighed 155 pounds (70 kilograms). Private Adams was appointed an Aviation Cadet, 18 November 1942.

Miss Mary Ann Lewark, 1942

On 13 February 1943, at Montgomery, Alabama, Adams married Miss Mary Ann Lewark, the 21-year-old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Glenn W. Lewark, and a graduate of Western Michigan College at Kalamazoo. They would have three children, Donald, Nancy and Steven.

On completion of flight training, Cadet Adams was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, Army of the United States (A.U.S.), 30 August 1943.

Lieutenant Adams was assigned as a flight instructor until July 1944, when he underwent operational training as a P-51 Mustang fighter pilot.

Second Lieutenant Adams joined the 343rd Fighter Squadron, 55th Fighter Group, at RAF Wormingford (Air Force Station 131), Hertfordshire, in February 1945. He was assigned a North American Aviation P-51D-15-NA Mustang, 44-15372, with squadron markings CY R. He named his fighter Sweet Mary, after his wife. Adams is credited with destroying a Messerschmitt Bf 109 and Me 410 and damaging a second Bf 109, in strafing attacks on the afternoon of 9 April 1945, and a second Bf 109 damaged, 17 April 1945. He was promoted to First Lieutenant, A.U.S., 2 May 1945.

1st Lieutenant Donald Earl Adams, 343rd Fighter Squadron, 55th Fighter Group, 1945. (Imperial War Museum)

On 24 August 1946, Lieutenant Adams was appointed a second lieutenant, Field Artillery, with date of rank to 30 August 1943, his original commissioning date. In November 1946, Lieutenant Adams was assigned to the 307th Fighter Squadron, 31st Fighter Group, on occupation duty at Kitzigen Army Airfield in Bavaria. The 307th was one of the first units to be equipped with the Lockheed P-80A Shooting Star jet fighter. On 1 May 1947, Lieutenant Adams was transferred to the Air Corps.

Returning to the United States in June 1947, Lieutenant Adams was assigned to the 62nd Fighter Squadron, 56th Fighter Group, at Selfridge Air Force Base, near Mount Clemens, Michigan. The squadron flew P-80s and F-86 Sabres.

In October 1951, Major Adams joined the 16th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, 51st Fighter-Interceptor Group, at Suwon Air Base (K-13), Republic of South Korea, flying the North American Aviation F-86 Sabre.

Silver Star

On 3 May 1952, Adams was leading a flight of six Sabres. He and his flight attacked a group of twenty Chinese MiG 15s. During the battle, he shot down the enemy flight leader and then the deputy flight leader and damaged three more enemy fighters, completely breaking up the enemy flight. He was awarded the Silver Star.

While flying the the 16th, Major Adams was credited with destroying 6½ enemy aircraft in aerial combat, and damaging another 3½. On his twentieth mission, he had just shot down a MiG 15 when he was attacked by four more. The enemy fighters chased Adams out over the Yellow Sea before he could break away. By this time, he was 250 miles (402 kilometers) from base with fuel remaining for just 100 miles (161 kilometers). He said, “I climbed to 45,000 feet [13,716 meters], shut of the engine and glided 150 miles [241 kilometers] before starting up again.”

Adams flew 100 combat missions during the Korean War. He returned to the United States 16 June 1952, and in July, was assigned to the 27th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, 4711th Defense Wing, Air Defense Command, at Griffis Air Force Base.

In addition to the Silver Star, Major Adams had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with one silver and two bronze oak leaf clusters (seven awards), the Presidential Unit Citation with one oak leaf cluster (two awards), the American Campaign Medal, European African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with three service stars, World War II Victory Medal, Army of Occupation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal with three service stars (three campaigns), the Air Force Longevity Service Award with one oak leaf cluster (ten years service), the Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation, the United Nations Service Medal for Korea, and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.

Major Donald Earl Adams, United States Air Force, is buried at the Clinton Grove Cemetery, Mount Clemens, Michigan.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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26 April 1948

est Pilot George Welch flying the prototype North American Aviation XP-86 Sabre, 45-59597. (U.S. Air Force)
Test Pilot George Welch flying the prototype North American Aviation XP-86 Sabre, 45-59597. (U.S. Air Force)

26 April 1948: At Muroc Field (now known as Edwards Air Force Base), in the high desert of southern California, North American Aviation test pilot George Welch put the prototype XP-86 Sabre, 45-59597, into a 40° dive and broke the Sound Barrier. It is only the second U.S. aircraft to fly supersonic. The first was the Bell X-1, piloted by Chuck Yeager, only a few months earlier.

Or, maybe not.

In his book, Aces Wild: The Race For Mach 1, fellow North American Aviation test pilot Albert W. Blackburn makes the case that George Welch had taken the prototype XP-86 Sabre supersonic on its first flight, 1 October 1947, and that he had done so three times before Chuck Yeager first broke the Sound Barrier with the Bell X-1 rocketplane, 14 October 1947. Blackburn described two runs through the NACA radar theodolite with speeds of Mach 1.02 and 1.04 on 13 November 1947.

Mr. Blackburn speculates—convincingly, in my opinion—that Secretary of the Air Force W. Stuart Symington, Jr., ordered that Welch’s excursions beyond Mach 1 were to remain secret. However, during a radio interview, British test pilot Wing Commander Roland Prosper (“Bee”) Beamont CBE, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar, stated that he had flown through the Sound Barrier in the number two XP-86 Sabre prototype (45-59598). Once that news became public, the Air Force released a statement that George Welch had flown beyond Mach 1 earlier, but gave the date as 26 April 1948.

Test pilot George S. Welch, wearing his distinctive orange helmet, in the cockpit of the prototype XP-86. This photograph was taken 14 October 1947. (U.S. Air Force)
Test pilot George S. Welch, wearing his distinctive orange helmet, in the cockpit of the prototype XP-86. This photograph was taken 14 October 1947. (U.S. Air Force)

It wasn’t long after the first flight of the XP-86 on October 1, 1947, that Welch dropped into Horkey’s [Edward J. Horkey, an aerodynamicist at North American Aviation] office at the Inglewood plant. He wanted to talk about his recent flight and some “funny” readings in the airspeed indicator. He had made a straight-out climb to more than 35,000 feet. Then, turning back toward Muroc Dry Lake, he began a full-power, fairly steep descent.

“I started at about 290 knots,” Welch was explaining to Horkey. “In no time I’m at 350. I’m still going down, and I’m still accelerating but the airspeed indicator seems stuck like there’s some kind of obstruction in the pitot tube. I push over a little steeper and by this time I’m through 30,000 feet. All of a sudden, the airspeed indicator flips to 410 knots. The aircraft feels fine, no funny noises, no vibration. Wanted to roll off to the left, but no big deal. Still, I leveled out at about 25,000 and came back on the power. The airspeed flicked back to 390. What do you think?”

“. . . You may be running into some Mach effects. . . .”

— Aces Wild: The Race For Mach 1, by Al Blackburn, Scholarly Resources Inc., Wilmington, Delaware, 1999, at Pages 147–148.

The “funny” reading of the airspeed indicator became known as the “Mach jump.” George Welch was the first to describe it.

The Sabre became a legendary jet fighter during the Korean War. 9,860 were built by North American, as well as by licensees in Canada, Australia and Japan.

George Welch had been recommended for the Medal of Honor for his actions as a P-40 Warhawk fighter pilot in Hawaii, December 7, 1941. He was killed while testing an F-100A Super Sabre, 12 October 1954.

Test pilot George S. Welch with a North American Aviation F-86 Sabre. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Test pilot George S. Welch with a North American Aviation F-86 Sabre. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 January 1930

ALDRIN, Edwin Eugene, Jr., Apollo 11. (NASA)
Astronaut Edwin Eugene Aldrin, Jr., Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 11. (NASA)

20 January 1930: Colonel Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr., Sc.D., United States Air Force (Retired), was born at Glen Ridge, New Jersey.

After high school, Aldrin turned down a full scholarship to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) and instead went to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, graduating in 1951 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mechanical Engineering. He accepted a commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force and, after pilot training, served as a fighter pilot during the Korean War. Aldrin flew the North American Aviation F-86 Sabre with the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing. He shot down two enemy MiG 15 fighters for which he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Still images from the gun camera film show an enemy pilot bailing out of a Mikoyan-Gurevice MiG 15 shot down by Lieutenant Edwin E. (“Buzz”) Aldrin, U.S. Air Force, 5 miles south of the Yalu River, 14 May 1953. (U.S. Air Force)
1st Lieutenant Buzz Aldrin, 51st Fighter Interceptor Squadron, in teh cocpit of a North American Aviation F-86A Sabre, after shooting down an enemy MiG 15 fighter. (U.S. Air Force via Jet Pilot Overseas)
Lieutenant Buzz Aldrin, 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing, in the cockpit of a North American Aviation F-86E Sabre after shooting down an enemy Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 15 fighter during the Korean War. (U.S. Air Force via Jet Pilot Overseas)

After returning to the United States, Buzz Aldrin was a flight instructor at Bryan AFB, Texas, and then a gunnery instructor at Nellis AFB, Nevada. Aldrin served at the U.S. Air Force Academy before joining the 22nd Fighter Squadron at Bitberg Air Base, Germany, flying the North American Aviation F-100 Super Sabre.

Buzz aldrin in teh cockpit of a Lockheed T-33A Shooting Star at Bryan Air Force Base, Texas.
Instructor Buzz Aldrin in the cockpit of a Lockheed T-33A Shooting Star at Bryan Air Force Base, Texas. (Image from http://buzzaldrin.com/the-man/gallery/ )

Edwin E. Aldrin earned his Doctorate in Science in Astronautics (Sc.D.) from M.I.T. by devising orbital navigation techniques. His thesis on Manned Orbital Rendezvous, earned Buzz Aldrin another nickname: “Dr. Rendezvous.” He was accepted by NASA as an astronaut for the Gemini Program, and with Jim Lovell, orbited the Earth for four days aboard Gemini 12. Aldrin performed the first successful “space walk.” He then went on to the Apollo Program.

Along with Neil Alden Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon, 20 July 1969.

Astronaut Edwin Eugene Aldrin, Jr. on the surface of The Moon, 20 July 1969. (Neil A. Armstrong/NASA)

Returning to operational service with the Air Force, Colonel Aldrin was assigned as Commandant of the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

Colonel Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr., United States Air Force.
Colonel Edwin Eugene Aldrin, Jr., United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

In Return To Earth, (Random House, Inc., New York, 1973) Buzz Aldrin wrote about the depression he suffered: After you’ve been to the Moon, what else is there?

Buzz Aldrin has written several books and he continues to advocate manned space exploration.

HAPPY 87th BIRTHDAY, Colonel!

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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13 December 1951

Major George Andrew Davis, Jr., United states Air Force, 334th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing, Korea, 1951. (U.S. Air Force)
Major George Andrew Davis, Jr., United States Air Force, Commanding Officer, 334th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing, Korea, 1951. (U.S. Air Force)

13 December 1951: Major George Andrew Davis, Jr., United States Air Force, commanding officer of the 334th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing, flying a North American F-86E-10-NA Sabre, serial number 51-2752, led his unit on two “MiG Sweeps.”

Film from the gun camera of Major Davis’ F-86E Sabre 51-2752 shows a MiG 15 smoking after being hit, 13 December 1951. (U.S. Air Force)
Film from the gun camera of Major Davis’ F-86E Sabre 51-2752 shows a MiG 15 smoking after being hit, 13 December 1951. (U.S. Air Force)

During the mid-day fighter sweep, the 334th encountered Mikoyan Gurevich MiG 15 fighters of the 18th GIAP, 303rd IAD,  Voyenno-Vozdushnye Sily (the Soviet Air Force), and an air battle ensued. Major Davis was credited with shooting down two of the Russian fighters. The pilot of one of the MiGs, I.A. Gorsky, was killed. The identity and fate of the second Soviet pilot is not known.

During a second sweep in mid-afternoon, George Davis and the 334th again encountered enemy MiG 15s of the 40th Regiment, 14th Division, of the Peoples Liberation Army Air Force (Chinese Air Force). At 3:52 p.m. (1352) Davis shot down one of the Chinese MiG 15s. One minute later, he shot down another, his fourth aerial victory for the day.

These frames of film from the gun camera of Davis’ F-86 Sabre show a MiG 15 trailing smoke after being hit by the Sabre’s six .50-caliber machine guns. Chinese sources confirmed the loss of two MiG 15s, but again, the identities of the pilots and whether or not they survived is not known.

This North American Aviation F-86E-10-NA Sabre, 51-2849, seen here in flight over Edwards Air Force base, california, is the same type fighter that was flown by Major George Davis, 13 December 1951. (U.S. Air Force)
This North American Aviation F-86E-10-NA Sabre, 51-2849, seen here in flight near Edwards Air Force Base, California, is the same type fighter that was flown by Major George A. Davis, Jr., 13 December 1951. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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30 November 1951

Major George A. Davis, Jr., commanding officer, 334th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing, 5th Air Force, Kimpo Air Base, Korea, 1952. The airplane behind Davis is North American Aviation F-86A-5-NA Sabre 49-1272. It is on display at the Fresno Air Terminal, Fresno, California. (U.S. Air Force)
Major George A. Davis, Jr., commanding officer, 334th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing, 5th Air Force, Kimpo Air Base, Korea, 1952. The airplane behind Davis is North American Aviation F-86A-5-NA Sabre 49-1272. It is on display at the Fresno Air Terminal, Fresno, California. (U.S. Air Force)

30 November 1951: Major George Andrew Davis, Jr., commanding the 334th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing, based at Kimpo Air Base, South Korea, led a patrol of eight North American Aviation F-86 Sabre fighters near the Yalu River, dividing Korea from China. This area was known as “MiG Alley” because of the large numbers of Russian-built Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 fighters which were based on the Chinese side of the river.

F-86 Sabres on the ramp at K-14 (Kimpo Air Base), Korea, 1952. The aircraft closest to the camera is North American Aviation F-86F-NA 52-4448. (U.S. Air Force)
F-86 Sabres on the ramp at K-13 (Suwon Air Base), Korea. The aircraft closest to the camera is North American Aviation F-86F-30-NA 52-4448. (Photograph by Lieutenant Kermit E. Keeley, 36th Fighter Bomber Squadron, U.S. Air Force)

At about 4:00 p.m., the American pilots saw a group of nine Russian Tupolev Tu-2 twin-engine medium bombers, escorted by 16 Lavochkin La-11 fighters. The bombers were on a mission to attack Taewa-do Island.

Tupolev Tu-2 medium bomber. NATO reporting name "Bat". Major George Davis shot down three of these and a MiG-15, 30 November 1951.
Tupolev Tu-2 medium bomber. NATO reporting name “Bat.” Major George Davis shot down three of these and a MiG-15, 30 November 1951.

Davis led his fighters in an attack, making four firing passes on the bombers. He shot down three of the Tu-2s, when one of his pilots, Captain Raymond O. Barton, called for help. Barton’s Sabre, F-86A-5-NA 49-292, was under attack by 24 MiG-15s which had arrived to reinforce the bombing mission. He later described the battle:

“. . . I broke left again and was going to make another pass when I checked my ‘six o’clock’ to clear for my wingman. All of the sudden the SOB started shooting at me, and only then did I realize that I had attracted far more than one MiG. I turned into them. . . I called for help, and the only response I got was from my roommate, Major George Davis. I’ll never forget his reply. ‘I don’t have enough fuel left either but I’m on the way.’  All the MiGs except one had left the area. I had a huge hole where my left fuel cap had been, but I was still flying. When George reached me, he asked me to make a couple of identifying turn reversals. I reluctantly did and he shot that SOB right off my butt.

F-86 Sabre Aces of the 4th Fighter Wing, by Warren Thompson, Osprey Publishing Ltd., Oxford, 2006, Chapter 2 at Page 32.

Distinguished Service Cross

Major Davis escorted Captain Barton back to their base, landing with just five gallons of fuel remaining in his tanks.

For his actions Major George A. Davis, Jr. was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Having shot down four enemy aircraft during one fighter patrol, Davis’ score of aerial victories during his short time in Korea rose to six, making him an ace for the Korean War. Davis had previously shot down seven enemy airplanes during World War II with his Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. Davis was the first American pilot to become an ace in two wars.

George Davis would soon be credited with another eight victories, making him the leading American ace up to that time. He was killed in action 10 February 1952 in an air battle for which he would be awarded the Medal of Honor.

A 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, 21 September 1953. It was examined and test flown by Air Force test pilot Major Charles E. Yeager. The United States offered to return the airplane, but the offer was ignored. In 1957, the MiG-15 was placed 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).

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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