October 6, 1951
F-86A-5-NA #49-1319, flown by Captain Gill Garrett on his 97th mission—three shy of his tour’s end—
when he met Polkovnik (Colonel) Yevgeniy G. Pepelyaev, commander of the 196th IAP (Istrevitelnye Avia Polk, Fighter Aviation Regiment) of the 324th IAD (Istrevitenye Avia Divizya, Fighter Aviation Division).
Garrett was Pepelyaev’s fifth victory. He went on to score approximately 20 kills.

A single 37mm cannon shell exploded behind the Sabre’s cockpit, damaging both the engine and ejection seat. Unable to eject, Garrett bellied in on a sand bank in the Chonchongi River, 8 miles west of Pyongyong. He was rescued by a US Air Force helicopter. FU-319, however, was recovered by the Soviets.

As Pepelyaev recalled, “This aircraft was equipped with an anti-g suit, which presented a considerable interest for our aviation industry. However, when a ‘Sabre’ was shot down and the pilot ejected, all that remained with the pilot was the suit itself and a pipe, which connected the suit to a system controlling pressure in the suit. The pressure control system—the most important part of the whole thing—was installed inside the aircraft and, of course, was destroyed along with the plane. In order to get the functioning pressure control system we had to get a working aircraft.” FU-319 was shipped to Russia for examination, and served as a basis for all future Russian g-suit development.

In October ’51 MiG-15s shot down so many B-29 bombers that the USAF, like the RAF in WWII, had to resort to night bombing.
MiG-15 gun-camera film taken by Capt. Ivan Suckhov on 12th April 1951. See also this view. Click photos to enlarge.

ctober 1951 was a black month for the UN in Korea. The see-saw ground war had stalemated across the 38th Parallel, but in the air the kill ratio of F-86 Sabres to MiG-15s—famously claimed as 10:1 by war’s end—was running more like to 2:1 against. Some 75 Sabres of the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing were all that stood between over 500 MiGs and complete air superiority. Then Major George A. Davis, Jr. took command of the wing’s 334th Fighter Interceptor Squadron. He would soon make fighter pilot history.

Read their story in AVIATION HISTORY magazine

200 Miles to MiG Alley

After the initial North Korean assault drove the UN forces down to the Pusan Perimeter, Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s landing at Inchon drove the Communists back to the Yalu River, and Chinese intervention drove the UN back along the 38th Parallel, only air units were able to strike the North Korean industrial zones in the country’s northwest.

The Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star and Republic F-84 Thunderjet, both straight-wing “second generation” fighter designs, handled escort duty for the WWII-era Boeing B-29 bombers on their way to hit Pyongyang, the Suiho Dam, and China-Korea Friendship Bridge. Despite some successes (on 8 November 1950, Lt. Russell J. Brown, flying an F-80, claimed a victory over a MiG-15—the first American claim for a jet-versus-jet aerial kill—though Soviet records indicate the MiG survived), they were outclassed by swept-wing jets.

For their part, MiG pilots (Korean, Chinese and Russian), limited by the model’s short range, stayed close to their bases (primarily Antung, just over the border), and were guided to their targets by ground control. They were under orders never to fly south of the Wosan-Pyongyang line, or over the ocean. Their usual tactic was to await approaching Sabres at high altiude on the Chinese side of the border. When the Sabres (making wide circles in their combat air patrols) turned away, the MiGs would plunge to the attack. Their basic tactical unit was a group of six planes: three pairs of leaders and wingmen. Any pilot in trouble would try to dive away for safety north of the Yalu, beyond which UN pilots were technically forbidden to cross.

The effect was to create a narrowly defined battle zone in extreme northwest Korea: Mig Alley.

Select Korean War air bases.
(There were numerous others not of concern to this topic.)
Antung (modern Dandong) was the primary MiG base.
Cho’do Island was a UN forward radar station, unable to operate Sabres.
Shaded area approximates “MiG Alley”
Zoom for better differentiation of close-located UN bases.

Sabre vs. MiG-15

The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15—a combination of Nazi swept-wing design and license-built British jet technology—had the advantage in ceiling, speed and firepower over the F-86 Sabre, and came as a nasty shock to USAF pilots over Korea.

The difference was partly addressed with the introduction of the new F-86E, using a more powerful J47-GE-13 turbojet with an extra 600lb of thrust, A-1CM gunsight-AN/APG-30 rangefinding radar, hydraulic controls and “all-flying” tail. Though somewhat more difficult to fly than the A model, the E model was much more agile. The Communists, however, soon countered with the new MiG-15bis with a VK-1 turbojet giving it a top speed to match the Sabre E.

To acquire an intact MiG for combat testing, the United States offered $100,000 and political asylum to any Communist pilot who would defect with one (Operation “Moolah”). Not until after the war (21 September 1953) did North Korean Lt. No Kum-Sok land at Kimpo Air Base, claiming to be unaware of the reward.

Maj. Charles “Chuck” Yeager puts the captured MiG-15 through its paces, including a little dicing with an F-86.

A Whole New Kind of Air War

Coming close on the heels of WWII, air warfare had nevertheless changed drastically. Pilots had traded not only props for jets, but flight jackets for G-suits and leather helmets for plastic/resin “brain buckets.” Combat took place at half again the speed and twice the altitude.

The new conditions required an entirely new wardrobe.


• K-1 flight suit
• A-2 leather jacket
• AN-6510 parachute
• ANH-15 flight helmet with
AN-BH-1 earphone elements & B-8 goggles.


• A-1 large cold weather boots with straps
• L-1A cold weather flight suit
• B-15C cold weather jacket
• A-11C high altitude pants
• B-5 life preserver
• B-10 parachute
• P-1A large flight helmet with MS-22001 mask
Note USAF-issue 1950 flight map of North Korea.

The transition to jets was possibly tougher for “old birds” than for new pilots trained in jets from the start. But whatever the veterans had lost in eyesight and reflexes over the years, they more than made up for, with experience and guile.

Photos & research courtesy of Heritage Flightgear Displays

Lt. Col. George A. Davis Jr.
334th FS, 4th FIW, K-14 AFB, Kimpo, Korea, 1952

“Davis is a very mild-appearing guy, but when he straps on a fighter he’s all tiger—a hell of a sharp pilot and gunner, and he must have the eyes of an eagle.”
Lt. Douglas K. Evans, 334th FS, 4th FIW, Korea, 1952

Incredibly, over Korea “One-Burst” Davis only flew 58 missions, but never officially scored less than a double kill, averaging one every three missions. When he died he was the American Ace of Aces in Korea. His 14 kills were enough to eventually make him the fourth highest-scoring ace of the war, one of only 31 US pilots credited with more than 20 victories.

“To the Rescue - Major George Davis - 4th Fighter Wing - 1951”
Buy the print.

Gunfight over Cho’Do Island

November 30th, 1951

At the beginning of November the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) had bombed the South Korean command post, food and ammo dump on Cho’Do Island. They launched a repeat on Nov. 30th. Nine Tupolev Tu-2s of the 24th Regiment took off at 15:19 Seoul time, but due to a timing error their MiG-15 escorts were late and the formation was protected only by 16 Lavochkin La-11s. Unknown to them, American intelligence had learned of the raid. At 15:32 the 334th, 335th and 336th FIS scrambled 31 F-86A/E Sabres. Davis was flying “Miss Behaving,” an F-86A Sabre, BuNo 49-1184. (Its normal pilot was Capt. Don Torres.) With wingman 2nd Lt. Merlyn Hroch, he overflew the enemy formation at 10,000 feet, then turned and plunged onto their tails.

Raked across the wings, his first Tupolev fell out of formation. (Claimed as a kill, it actually made it back to base.) Davis’s second victim exploded. His violent maneuvers had shaken off even Hroch when Davis went, all alone, to the rescue of Capt. Raymond Barton and scored his history-making third kill of the day.

“Miss Behaving” was shot down on Dec. 4 by Russian MiG-15 pilot Pavel Nikulin (176th GIAP/324th IAD).

Riding the Curve

Though boasting twice the range of the MiG-15 (1,525 mi vs. 771 mi), the F-86s fed from underwing fuel tanks on their flights north to MiG Alley. Before the Americans engaged the enemy the tanks had to be jettisoned to improve maneuverability, and in the heat of battle the Sabres quickly ran their internal tanks toward empty. From 30,000 feet, however, the streamlined F-86 could glide 70 miles. 4th FIW pilots learned to use the last of their fuel to launch themselves to maximum altitude, then coast all the way down to base—what they called “riding the ballistic curve.” Still, so many Sabres ran out of fuel on the way back from MiG Alley to dead-stick landings at Kimpo that there was a running joke about renaming the outfit the “4th Glider Group.”

Colonel Harrison Reed Thyng
4th Fighter Wing CO, January 21st 1952

“From Longstreet at Gettysburg to von Paulus at Stalingrad to Walker in Korea, history is replete with stories of brave military leaders who would risk their lives in combat on a daily basis but would not risk their careers bucking their own superiors. In a stunning gesture defying the established order, Thyng did both.”
Walter Boyne

Flying Spitfires in the 31st Fighter Group—the “Early Birds,” the first American fighter unit in the European Theater—Harrison Thyng led the first American fighter raids out of England. He was also one of the few US pilots credited with a French victory: a Vichy Dewoitine D.520 shot down on his first mission over North Africa. Later he flew the long-range P-47N over Okinawa and as escort on the Nagasaki A-bomb mission, and was unofficially credited with victories over pilots of five nations: France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and North Korea. (It’s very possible he also downed pilots of Soviet Russia and Communist China.)

A fighter commander first, fighter pilot second, Col. Thyng laid his career on the line in the winter of 1951-52, when a dearth of parts—especially long-range drop tanks—had the 4th FIW down to 55% effectiveness, telling General Hoyt Vandenberg at the Pentagon: “I can no longer be responsible for air superiority in northwest Korea.” In four days Thyng got his parts.

The 4th & 51st

The need in Korea was not just more Sabre parts, but more Sabres. The 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing was the only Sabre-equipped unit on the peninsula through most of 1951, but by the end of the year was outnumbered nearly ten to one.

The 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing had come into the war in 1950, flying the F-80 Shooting Star. Col Francis S. “Gabby” Gabreski, deputy commander of the 4th FIW, had prior experience in converting from the F-80 to the F-86 (as commander of his old WWII unit, the 56th Fighter Group). He was a natural to take over the 51st. He insisted on taking a few picked men to assist in the transition, including Maj. William T. Whisner. With their help, the 51st—located at K-13, Suwon, made an on-the-fly transition to the new fighter even as they continued flying missions with the F-80, for which they won a unit citation.

Gabreski described K-13 as much like K-14, “a muddy smudge of an airbase that obviously had been scratched out of the ground in a hurry.... The base’s biggest drawback was that it was twenty miles farther south than K-14, so we had that much farther to go each way on missions to the Yalu.”

Air Force propaganda film with good footage of Gabreski as wing commander, but also “day in the life” story of Sabre pilots in Korea.

Maj. William Whisner
25th FIS, 51st FIW, Korea, 1952

“I thought better of crossing into Red China under those conditions, and broke off the attack. Bill, however, stayed behind the MiG
and followed him across
the [Yalu] river.”

Lt. Col. Francis “Gabby” Gabreski
C.O., 51st FIW, Korea, 1952

Whisner came to Korea as one of the top 20 USAAF aces in the ETO, with 15½ victories. These included four in one mission on January 1, 1945, for which he won a second Distinguished Service Cross, making him one of only 14 USAAF men so honored in World War II. As the seventh jet ace of the Korean War and the first in the 51st Wing, Whisner was awarded a third DSC, one of only two the only Air Force pilots to earn that distinction (the other being his WWII commanding officer, Col. John C. Meyer) and the only one to be both an ace in two wars and a three-time winner of the DSC. In 1953, Whisner won the 1,900-mile Bendix Trophy Race, flying an F-86F Sabre from Edwards Air Force Base in California to Dayton, Ohio, in a record time of 3 hours 5 minutes and 45 seconds, at an average speed of 603.5mph.

On July 21, 1989, Col. William Whisner died at age 65 of a yellow jacket sting.

Booming Antung

Veteran WWII aces were accustomed to pursuing the enemy wherever he could be found, his own airbases notwithstanding. They were naturally adverse to the concept of a “no-fly” zone imposed by politicians thousands of miles away, especially over China when Chinese troops were already on the ground all the way down to the 38th Parallel. As a consequence, Antung—just a few miles over the border from North Korea—received frequent visits from Sabres.

Gabreski, Whisner and a few select pilots in the 51st flew unauthorized missions codenamed “Maple Specials,” incursions into Manchurian airspace, always with the excuse that they were in hot pursuit of MiGs. It’s said Gabreski went so far as to chase one through the flak at Antung, shoot it down right over the runway and, adding insult to injury, do a victory roll over the airbase. Col. Harrison Thyng similarly sent his wingman, RAF exchange Flt. Lt. (later Air Marshal Sir) John M. “Paddy” Nicholls, down to “boom” the runway at Antung—fly an extreme low-level, near-supersonic pass—just to pick a fight. As soon as a MiG took off, Thyng ran it down and blew it all over the airfield. According to Nicholls, he and Thyng “blasted back across Antung, throttles wide open, dodging the flak.” These missions in the no-go zone were often left off the books, with the kills unclaimed and the gun-camera evidence burned; even years later Gabreski made no mention of his exploit in his autobiography.

Col. Francis “Gabby” Gabreski
51st FIW, K-13 AFB, Suwon, Korea, 1952

“[I] began to wonder if I still had what it took to fly combat. I was thirty-two years old now, and my eyesight might not be as sharp as it was in Europe. Had my reflexes slowed? Would I still have the old fire in my belly that made me want to climb right up their tails before opening fire? Only time would tell.”
Lt. Col. Francis “Gabby” Gabreski
C.O., 51st FIW, Korea, 1952

Col. Francis “Gabby” Gabreski had flown a P-36 Hawk at Pearl Harbor, Spitfires in an RAF Polish squadron, and P-47 Thunderbolts with the 56th Fighter Group to become one of the top-scoring aces in the European Theater, with 28 victories before he crash-landed and was captured. He so distrusted the F-86’s unreliable gun sight that he preferred a piece of chewing gum stuck to his windshield. His “Chewing Gum Sight Theory” worked quite well at the close ranges he preferred.

“Hunting Party” by Robert Watts
Buy the print.

Who Shot Down George Davis?

Since 1952 the shoot-down of Maj. George Davis has become almost as controversial as those of Baron Manfred von Richtofen or Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto. For many years it was commonly believed that Chinese pilot Zhang Jihui made the kill over Taechon, North Korea. However, Zhang was himself shot down moments later, along with his wingman Zhiyu Shan (who was killed). No gun-camera footage survived the battle, but numerous Chinese ground troops witnessed the kill. Chinese authorities credited the claim to Zhang, who was named Combat Hero, 1st Class, and after the war rose to command of the 27th Aviation Division in 1964 and the 1st Aviation Corps in 1970, and in 1973 became Deputy Commander of the PLAAF.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Russian sources disputed Zhang’s claim, declaring that 1st Lieutenant Mikhail Akimovich Averin of the 148th GIAP/97th IAD was the MiG pilot who shot down Davis, after Davis shot down Zhang and Zhiyu. However, the Chinese lost only three MiGs that day, meaning Davis could not have shot down two.

The Soviets and Chinese dispute the claim to this day. The truth will probably never be known. For an exhaustive analysis of Davis’ last dogfight, visit acepilots.com.

Lt. Col. George A. Davis, posthumous winner of the Medal of Honor

Zhang Jihui (12th Regiment, 4th Division, PLAAF) usually claimed as victor over George Davis

Head Honchos

Col. Yevgeny Pepelyaev recounts his experiences as a covert combat pilot over Korea.
Excerpt only. Watch entire episode on YouTube.

“Who is flying these MiGs?” wondered 4th FIW Lt. Doug Evans in the fall of 1951, when UN air forces were being savaged by Communist pilots. “Well, we can guess. Among the probable pilots, the Chinese Commies have not yet had the span of time to accumulate any real proficiency, nor have the North Koreans.” These were thought to be flying the daily “MiG trains” of up to 200 jets at 50,000 feet or higher, beyond the ceiling of American jet pilots, who referred to them, a little derisively, as “students.” But somebody was shooting down Sabres.

“From time to time,” noted 51st Wing ace Lt. Col. George L. Jones (6_ kills), “…you met a MiG-15 pilot that possessed exceptional skills. We referred to them as ‘honchos,” and being masters of air tactics, they were very dangerous to go up against.”

“When we run into guys who know what they’re doing and can really handle the MiG,” noted Evans, “we know they’ve got fighter time under their belts and didn't just check out yesterday.” USAF fighter pilots suspected what neither Washington nor Moscow, for fear of widening the war, would admit: these enemy pilots were not Koreans or Chinese, but Russians. At the time they were thought to be simply a few “advisors.” Since the fall of the USSR and subsequent release of Communist records, we now know that entire Soviet air regiments rotated through Manchuria, where they flew and fought as complete units. MiG Alley was a training ground for pilots from all over the Communist bloc—even an East German squadron, which may have included ex-Luftwaffe pilots. This policy of rotating units, however, may ultimately have proven detrimental, as each newly arrived unit had to learn Sabre tactics afresh.

And contrary to US claims of American air superiority, they were terribly successful. Many of the Soviets, like the Americans, had learned air combat the hard way—in their Great Patriotic War—and against WWII-era aircraft like the B-29 they were terribly effective. Against Sabres, less so. Exact scores are difficult to ascertain. MiG gun camera film was notoriously poor and cash incentives inspired false claims, so that if a UN plane appeared to have been so much shot at, it was recorded as a kill.

At least three Soviet pilots—Captains Grigorii I. Ges, Sergei M. Kramarenko, and Grigorii U. Ohay—probably beat George Davis to the status of first two-war prop/jet ace. Ges, thought to have scored five victories in WWII, shot down his fifth over Korea, an F-51 Mustang, on June 20th, 1951; he got at least three, perhaps five more. Okhay had six to eight victories on the Eastern Front, and eleven over Korea; Kramarenko is credited with as many as 14 German kills (though perhaps as few as one), and 13 against the UN. All three were named Heroes of the Soviet Union. And they weren’t even the Russian top guns over Korea. Although neither had WWII scores, Maj. Nikolai Sutyagin is credited with 21 or 22 kills, and Col. Yevgeny Pepelyaev with anywhere from 19 to 23 (but more likely just 12 to 15), over Korea. Pepelyaev admitted, “I am absolutely certain of only six of my kills, and I saw just two of those actually crash.” Nevertheless, it’s thought Soviet pilots over Korea accounted for well over 1000 UN aircraft, and over 50 became aces.

Maj. James P. Hagerstrom
67th FBS / 18th FBG, Osan, Korea 1952

“I’ve got to do this thing. I’m gonna do it, and if you don’t want to go with me, that’s fine, I’ll understand. We are going to go up there and give it one good try south of the Yalu, and if we don’t scare anything up, I’m going after them today.”
Maj. James P. Hagerstrom, March 27th 1953

In WWII Hagerstrom flew a P-40 Warhawk in the Southwest Pacific for the 8th Fighter Squadron, 49th Fighter Group. On Jan. 23rd, 1944, as flight leader, he was escorting B-24 Liberators on a raid to Wewak, New Guinea when the formation was jumped by a mixed bag of Japanese fighters. Hagerstrom returned to base credited with three Mitsubishi A6M3 “Hamp” fighters and one Kawasaki Ki-61 “Tony.”

Between the wars Hagerstrom raced a P-51 in the 1948 Cleveland Air Races. When the Korean War came up, he made it his personal goal to become a two-war ace. In the air he wore specially made glasses to give him 20/10 vision, and a custom flight suit of white silk for maximum insulation. He converted his flight charts to metric and flew at metered altitudes, the better to catch MiGs on their own level. He ran in so close on his first kill, on Nov. 21, that when it exploded he returned to K-14 with a piece of it in his Sabre’s wing.

Transferred to the 18th Figher Bomber Wing, Hagerstrom was the only pilot in that unit to make “ace.” He flew a further 30 combat missions for the 7th Air Force in Vietnam. After the war he, his wife and their eight children sailed the Pacific in a home-made boat, and Hagerstrom set up a law practice in the Carolinas Islands.

Through the Teeth of the Comb

February 25th, 1953

Hagerstrom had two kills to his credit when he and wingman Maj. Harry Evans took on a flight of MiGs over a tributary of the Yalu River. When one of the MiGs dived away, Hagerstrom followed him in a high-speed plunge into Chinese airspace. Hagerstrom stuck on his target’s tail, gradually closing the distance but not getting in gun range until he was 150 miles across the border, over Mukden, China (modern Shenyang). In a low-level chase above the rooftops and between the city’s smoke stacks, Hagerstrom finally managed to close the deal. He and Evans turned south, climbed to 52,000 feet, cut their throttles and coasted home to Osan. Hagerstrom’s Sabre ran out of fuel just as he parked it in its revetment; Evans’ ran out while still on the runway.

Lt. Col. Vermont Garrison
C.O., 335th FIS / 4th FIW, Kimpo, Korea 1953

“…[Garrison] was one of the war’s most aggressive Sabre pilots, and also one of the best.”
2nd Lt. William Schrimsher, Korea 1953

Known in his WWII days as “The Kentucky Marksman,” Vermont Garrison became an ace over Europe at the relatively late age of 23, flying P-47 Thunderbolts and P-51 Mustangs. He was shot down by flak over occupied France in 1944 and spent the rest of the war as a POW. He became a double ace in Korea at the age of 37, and flew F-4 Phantoms over Vietnam at 51, his nickname changed to “The Gray Eagle.” 8th TFW commander Col. Robin Olds, who narrowly missed joining the Magnificent Seven, said of Garrison, “Of the many hundreds I’ve served with, Garry was one of the greatest—as pilot, as gentleman, as officer, and as friend.”

Garrison was one of only four pilots to score a MiG kill with a “Gunval” F-86F...

F-86 Gunval: The Sabre with cannon

Air Force footage of F-86 “Gunval” tests (Silent)

With six .50-caliber machineguns, the Sabre was lightly armed, even by WWII standards. An estimated two-thirds of sturdy MiGs damaged by machine-gun fire made it home. Col. Benjamin O. Davis, Chief of the Fighter Branch, Directorate of Operations, set up a weapons evaluation program to test 20mm cannon in Sabres.

The T-160 cannon was a development of the WWII German Mauser MG 213: gas operated, electrically fired, belt fed, with a revolving cylinder cycling at 1400 explosive rounds per minute, offering higher muzzle velocity, flatter trajectory and greater range. Ten F-86F-2 Sabres were fitted with four of the 170 lb., 6-foot-long guns in completely redesigned gun bays, with totally new blast panels and the guns spaced further apart vertically. Though they could carry only 100 rounds each, good for about 5 seconds of firing, they functioned reliably in tests from 10,000 to 25,000 feet, and seven were shipped to the 335th FIS/4th FIW at Kimpo for a 16-week combat field trial in January 1953.

To keep the combat tests secret, Gunval Sabres often mixed with normal F-86Fs on missions, camouflaged with a painted-on third gunport on each side. The flat-shooting, heavy-hitting 20mm proved quite effective against MiGs, but nearly as effective against F-86s. In the very first aerial combats, upon firing the Gunval Sabres flamed out immediately. It was found that their nose intakes were sucking gun gas -- no problem at the relatively low testing altitudes, but a huge issue in the high, oxygen-starved air where combat over Korea usually took place. The recessed gun troughs were modified to deflect the gasses away from the jet intake.

Gunval Sabres flew a total of 282 combat missions, fired on 41 MiGs, destroyed six, probably got three more, and damaged 13. The T-160 went into production as the M-39, which armed the F-86H and many of the subsequent Century Series supersonic fighters.

Gunval Over Suiho Dam

March 26th, 1953

As commanding officer of the 335th FIS at the beginning of 1953 (and with one kill already to his credit), then-Major Garrison had opportunity to fly the Gunval F-86F in combat. On March 26th, over the Suiho Reservoir on the Yalu River, he was leading a flight of four Sabres when he spotted six MiGs crossing from Manchuria. His chosen target dived away but was unable to evade. At low level the T-160 cannons operated as advertised. Garrison’s initial burst crippled the MiG; only one more was needed to send it down. (It is unconfirmed whether or not the Communist pilot got out.) Garrison was one of only four pilots to score a confirmed kill in a Gunval Sabre.

Maj. John F. Bolt
51st Fighter Wing, July 1953

“During the last war, the Corsairs would have to make running passes at the Japanese Zeroes, being careful never to really tangle with them because the Zeroes could turn on a dime. In Korea the MiGs make the passes and we make the turns, especially at the higher altitudes.”
Maj. John Bolt

Maj. John F. Bolt learned air combat tactics over the Solomons—and scored 6 kills—as a member of Maj. Gregory “Pappy” Boyington’s famed Black Sheep squadron. He learned jet tactics from top US ace Capt. Joseph McConnell.

Two of a Kind

McConnell & Bolt intercept MiG-15s crossing the Yalu. North Korea, 1953

From November 1952 Bolt flew F9F Panthers for Marine fighter squadron VMF-115, mostly fighter-bomber missions against point targets. Chafing to get back into air-to-air combat, instead of taking R&R in Japan he visited the 4th FIW at Kimpo. Then-C.O. Col. Royal Baker turned down his request to fly with the Air Force, but over at Suwon the 51st’s Operations Officer, Lt. Col. George Ruddell, was an old friend who permitted Bolt to take a “check ride” and even join a few combat missions under the wing of Lt. Joseph McConnell.

At the end of Bolt’s tour with the Marines, Ruddell put in a request that any transfer pilots should have at least 100 hours in the F-86. At 120 hours, Bolt was one of the few to qualify, and the Corps signed him over to the USAF.

Bolt flew in then-Capt. McConnell’s flight. By all accounts the two formed a solid friendship, and Bolt later attributed his success in the Sabre to McConnell’s tutelage. However, Bolt was unable to score any victories while McConnell was around. When McConnell rotated home (with 16 victories, the top American ace of the war; he died in August 1954 when a missing bolt caused his F-86H-1-NA to crash on a test flight), Bolt took over as Flight Leader, vowing to shoot down the next MiG he saw.

More by author Don Hollway:

HTML Comment Box is loading comments...