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.
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.
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.
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.”
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 22 August 1954 when an F-86H Sabre fighter bomber that he was flying crashed near Edwards Air Force Base. Although McConnell had ejected, he was too low and his parachute was unopened. The cause of the accident was determined to be a missing bolt in the flight controls.
© 2020, Bryan R. Swopes