by Bob Rawlings

I graduated from pilot training (Class 52-F) in 1952 at Bryan Air Force Base in Texas. I next went to Nellis Air Force Base for fighter gunnery training in the F-86A. What a wonderful experience it was for me as a 22 year old to be flying the most sophisticated fighter aircraft of the time! My most memorable experience at Nellis as a student pilot was flying a mock intercept mission one day and having Jimmy Jabara and Iven Kincheloe (Korean War aces, then Instructors) as our leaders in two four-man flights. We really made the F-86A do every-thing it was capable of, and then more! As I remember it, I was just happy to land in one piece that day!

From Nellis, it was on to Korea in late December 1952. I arrived In Suwon where I found myself attached to the 80th Fighter-Bomber Squadron with the 8th FIghter-Bomber Wing. I remember being initially disappointed as the 80th was the only squadron in Korea still flying F-80s. My disappointment was shortlived however when I found that the 80th was flying many more combat missions than the 35th and 36th Squadrons. They were busy with training missions after having recently converted from F80s to F-86s. Fortunately, I was able to fly 34 combat missions in the old F-80 Shooting Star during the period of January to April 1953. All these missions were air-to-ground, and many were in support of ground operations along the demilitarized zone. Targets were often bridges, rail yards, and tank and artillery implacements. Ordnance included 500 and 1,000 pound bombs, rockets and napalm. My most noteworthy action during this time occurred on April24 when I flew five combat missions in one 24 hour period. It was amazing how well our ground crews could turn our aircraft around for repeated missions. I remember Bob Buhrow and Art Violette were able to fly six combat missions on this day for a record which might still stand!

Our F-86Fs arrived on May I for our squadron, and the last F-80s to fly in combat were retired. I flew 58 additional combat missions in the F-86F. What a joy to get back in the F-86! When our 24 brand new F-86Fs arrived, each had logged only ten hours or so of flight time. Just enough trial flight time at North American, then a boat ride to Japan and a flight to Korea! We were like kids with new toys! The '86F proved to be an effective fighter-bomber with the ability to get into and away from a target with much more speed than the F-80. Our element of surprise was a big advantage. The F-8F was also a very stable gun platform. The F-86Fs aerodynamics with full ordnance did not seem inhibited, and the "F" model became a real workhorse for air-to-ground work.

My most memorable mission flying the F-86F came on June 13, 1953. It was my 53rd combat mission, and by now I was a flight leader. Reporting to the flight line that morning, full of confidence and cockiness I guess, I noticed the name "Stone" had been filled In as the Number Four man in my flight. Not knowing anyone in my squadron named Stone. I figured it must be a "new" head. Upon inquiring, I was told that Brigadier General Stone, the base commander, had signed on for the flight that morning! What had been confidence soon turned into nervousness and anxlety. What was a 22 year old doing leading a Genral into combat??! Our target for that day was the railroad marshalling yards in the Wonsan Valley. I had never been there before, and I was told by our intelligence section that it was heavily defended with anti-aircraft batteries. My concern was more with the General's safety than about my ability. At our preflight briefing, General Stone was full of questions, as he had flown infrequently, and seemed rather unsure of himself

. Our flight at 15,000 feet to the target area was uneventful. We were carrying two 500 pound bombs under each wing, and we were prepared to dive in a trail formation and then reform at 10,000 feet for our flight home. While I was busily engaged in identif'ying the target and talking with a T-6 spotter plane, I was amazed at the amount of ack-ack fire randomly put up at us as we circled our target. Characteristically, the first Sabre into a target usually surprises the defenders so that their return fire is often quite a distance behind the divebombing plane. As the second man comes in, the return fire is closer but still behind the plane, and so on until the fourth man comes in. By this time the ack-ack begins to zero in, and it becomes a hairy ride for the fourth plane. So it was again that day. I attracted a tremendous amount of fire as our first man in, but the bursts of smoke were well behind my flight path. As I pulled off the target at about 500 feet and started to climb, zig-zagging all the way, I could see a pattern of intense groundfire. The second and third Sabres were being closely targeted, but they toggled their bombs away and climbed up safely. General Stone seemed to wait a little too long before starting his dive. When he did, he encountered as much ack-ack fire as I have ever seen. I was now up to 4,000 feet, and I remember saying to myself, "Please let him make it. "Fortunately he made it down and off the target safely, and he rejoined our flight for the trip home. The third and fourth planes took some superficial hits In the process. I was immensely relieved. I will never forget the look on the General's face as he expressed his happiness to me with getting back in one piece. I felt great when he sald we had all done a good job.

With 92 combat missions and the end of hostilities In Korea by July 1953, I was allowed R&R in Japan. I later spent two and a half years as an instructor in F-86s at Nellis. Our job during this post-war era in 1954 and 1955 was to train NATO pilots to fly the F-86F. They then went back to their countries and retrained others.

The F-86F was the fastest jet to fly at the time, and it was also one of the safest and most forgiving. I can honestly say that my time as a young 22 year old flying the F-86F Sabre was the most satisfying period in my life.

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.

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