on the light side



It wasn't a secret weapon but for a minute during the war in Korea, several 8th Fighter Bomber Group F-80 Shooting Star pilots thought they were under attack by flying saucers.

During the flight home from a Summer 1952 strike at enemy rail lines in MiG Alley, the F-80 pilots suddenly ran into a veritable rain of round silvery objects.

"When I saw those damn things dropping around me I thought the Commies had started hanging artillery on skyhooks!", said Lt Richard Lynn. "Then I looked up and saw a bunch of F-86 Sabrejets tangling with a whole sky full of MiGs. The Sabres had dropped their tanks to get more speed. There were more tanks coming down than there was flak coming up!"

(Editor: During 1952, the F-86s were going north in flights consisting of an entire squadron, at least 16 aircraft - that's 32 drop tanks. And usually more than one squadron was involved! Plus the MiG-15 bis could carry underwing tanks and many did.)

None of the Shooting Stars was hit by the tanks, and the F-80 pilots were very thankful that the Sabres were keeping the MiGs off their necks. The MiGs weren't real happy though as they lost 4 airplanes that day - and it wasn't to `flying saucers'!



For nearly a month, UN fighter pilots in Korea were catching glimpses of a `new Russian jet" in the skies over Korea. I finally got a crack at this `funny looking bird" in early 1952. Lt. Jim Carey, 4th FIG, found himself on the tail of this `funny looking bird. "It looked like a MiG-15, except that the wings were high up on the fuselage, where the MiG-15 was a mid-wing aircraft. I gave him a few bursts and caught him in the right wing. Then other MiGs started coming at me from all sides and I had to get out of there. The MiGs seemed to be trying to protect the new boy."

The next day, a bunch of our guys spotted a formation of the new planes, but the Reds refused to fight and ran back across the Yalu River. 5th Air Force's first hunch was that the Russians were trying an advanced MiG-15, possibly the much rumored MiG-17. Later the 5th AF brass guessed that it was either an older, experimental MiG model that never went into mass production; or no MiG at all and they tentatively dubbed it a "type 15". Lt. Carey was KIA a few days after this encounter on 24 March 1952. And mt records indicate that the "type 15" was actually a Lavochkin LA-15.

Somewhere in my video tapes I have a 15 second blurp of gun camera film showing an LA-15 being shot at from behind. I noticed that it wasn't a MiG-15 because of the high location of the wings on the fuselage. That and the radio antenna mast was directly behind the canopy instead of angled from the right side as on the MiG-15.

I also read in a Czech magazine that noted - "A USSR VVS unit of LA-15 jet fighters was directed to go to North Korea. The unit's airmen started training flights at an improvised airfield to get acquainted with the sector of operations. Almost immediately, the LA-15 main drawback became apparent - insufficient stability on landing under bad conditions. Within a short period of time four aircraft crashed. It was clear that the LA-15 did not pass the combat tests, and remaining aircraft were sent back to the USSR. Within a short period of time, production of the LA-15 was closed down."

Following this note I contacted Diego Zampini about the possibility. Yes, he's the same guy that wants to discredit Sabre pilots victory claims. But he's also a wealth of knowledge about the Soviet side of the air war in Korea. His response:

"I already knew about Lt. Carey's claim of shooting at what he identified as a LA-15. It was one of the first things I asked Mr. Igor Seidov, one of the more important Russian historians. However, his answer did not bring any more light on the subject. Mr. Seidov said, "I have no documents about the use of the LA-15 in Korea, despite the stubborn rumors that they were there."

I contacted another Russian historian on the Korean War, Mr. Mikhail Zhirokov. He responded that he had met a Mr. B. Krenin and that Mr. Krenin had told him that indeed, he had flown the LA-15 in Korea. However, Krenin could not provide any photos or other evidence of his claim. Zhirokov has made a number of attempts at locating any evidence that the LA-15 was deployed to Manchuria in official Soviet document archives.

So what we have is gun camera footage showing a Russian jet fighter with high fuselage wings being shot at by an American Sabre in the skies over Korea; as opposed to official Russian archives showing that no such airplane was there. Interesting, don't you think? Does anyone else have any knowledge or gun camera film of an encounter with a "strange looking bird"?

No portion of this article may be used or reprinted without permission from the President of the F-86 Sabre Pilots Association or the editor of Sabre Jet Classics magazine.

Return to Classics Page