THE 18TH FIGHTER-BOMBER GORUP'S
F-86F CONVERSION IN KOREA

By Howare R. "Ebe" Ebersole

In August 1952, I was assigned to the 18th Fighter-Bomber Group, and I went to the 12th Fighter-Bomber Squadron as a replacement pilot flying the F-51 Mustang. As a Captain, my total flight time was about 1800 hours of which approximately 135 were in jets in F-84s and "C"s. I also flew over 500 hours in B-24s, incIudint 16 missions over Europe with the 8th Air Force during WW II. But by 1952, I was a bonafide, practicing, fully converted fighter pilot with over 1,000 hours of single engine time who wanted no part ever again of bomber flying!

The 18th was composed of three fighter-bomber squadrons which all flew F-5l Ds. They were the South African Air Force's (SAAF) No. 2 Squadron, the "Springboks" (antelopes); the 12th, the "Fightin' Foxey Few"; and the 67th, the "Fightin' Cocks". No.2 Squadron had a springbok silhouette painted on the sides of its Mustangs, the 12th had yellow propeller spinners with shark's teeth on their noses, a la Fying Tigers, and the 67th had red spinners with a rooster logo. Earlier in 1952, the 3~h Squadron had transferred from the 18th to the 51st Interceptor Wing to fly F~6s. In late September, 1 was sent to the 51st Wing's 39th Squadron at Suwon on temporary duty to checkout in the F-86. I was to fly "about 10" missions and then return to the 12th as an instructor pilot to help with the transition to the F-8. By this time I had flown five combat missions in the F-51.

My flight commander with the 39th was Captain Paul Jones. Later I was flown to Tsuiki, Japan to attend an F-86 FTD or MTD (Field or Mobile Training Detachment). There! learned about the F-866's systems: hydraulic, electrical, armament, oxygen, flight controls, the J47 engine - the whole airplane. The Air Training Command's mobile units did a superior job preparing our pilots for a new aircraft.

While at Tsuiki, I spent a few evenings in a place called the "Sabre Dance".There I learned about a drink call the "Spin, Crash, and Burn" which was aptly narned!

Tsuiki was a rear echelon repair and maintenance base for F-866s in Korea. As such, we often went from the classroom to the hangar to lookat the "guts" of a Sabre, and as an inquisitive ejgineer type, I not only enjoyed the the experience but also felt I learned much more this way about the aircraft I was about to fly.

When the 4th or 51st Wings' pilots returned an F-86 for repair or maintenance, they often sent a T-33 to take the pilot back, but somtimes the ferry pilot stayed over for a little "unofficial R&R". One day a T-33 arrived from Suwon and almost returned with an empty back seat. Thus I returned to the 51st on September 28, 1952. My Form 5 flight records show three flights on three consecutive days for transition, and my first combat mission in an F-86 was on my fourth flight in the bird on October 3,1952.

Reflecting on the event, It seemed that manning the cockpit with as much experience as possible was an objective. Harold Fischer (who later became a double ace) and I trained together, but he had already flown a fighter-bomber tour in F-80s with more than one hundred missions. He then spent enough time in Japan to argue for his return to Korea, and he was eager to get into the more glamorous (and fun) side of flying fighters. Fighter-bomber flying was, and is, dirty; dangerous work by comparison. I felt he had earned the privilege to fly our very best fighter. Later events proved this to be true.

My October 3rd mission was a "Line Easy" flight that qualified for a comhat mission, but we did little more than practice a spread formation some distance north of the bomb line, but not far enough to get into trouble. Our flight leader was Joe Butler and I was his wing man. "Swede" Johnson led the element and Hal Fischer flew his wing. The 51st was an aggressive group, and Joe Butler was no exception. On his 98th mission, he shot a MiG-15 down and damaged another. One possible reason why we did not go too far north on that mission was that I had an oxygen an prsurization problem I reported during climhout, and Joe did not want me to chance the "bends".

I did not fly again until the 11th of October, and then I quickly racked up 11 more missions by the 19th, flying twice daily on three occasions. Then someone got wise and sent me back to the 18th! Iwould have loved to stay with the 51st for a number of reasons. Upon arrival, I was reacquainted with four old buddies from the Michigan Air National Guard. We had flown '51s and '84s together as far back as 1948, and we were recalled to active duty in January 1951 and sent to Luke Field, Arizona where we were instructors in fighter-bombers. By mid-1952, we were all sent to Korea; not necessarily together, but there we were. Howard Irish, Cal Davey, Les Erickson, Asa Whitehead and I made up the Michigan Air Guard Contingent at Suwon in October 1952.

The F-86 was a great ship compared with the F-84Bs and "C"s I had flown. I loved it and still do. My instructions from the 18th were to get ten missions in the '86, but I modified that when I talked with the 51st and said, "at least 10", and thus I managed to snivel afew extra rides before the honeymoon was over. So back I went to the Spam Cans ( 5ls) where I resumed dangerous living.

By the end of December. I had 25 more missions in the F-51. At this time the 18th tranferred its Mustangs. Some went to the South Korean Air Force, and the rest were ferried to Itazuke, Japan.

A day or two after Christmas, I moved to K-55 near Osan-Ni. By New Year's Eve, I was in a new mahogany panelled barracks with Major Jim Hagerstrom and a Catholic chaplain. The three of us, alone in a big, empty barracks, saw 1953 in. Jim came from the 4th Fighter Wing to lead our F-86 training program, and I was his assistant. Jim was a teeto talling, clean living and dedicated MiG-15 killer.

Early in January, we received several T-33s for transition training. We next set up the 18th Fighter-Bomber's "CLOBBER COLLEGE". Colonel Frank Perego was our wing commander, Colonel Maurice "Matty" Martin was our group commander, and our training honcho was Jim Hagerstrom. We had four or five instructor pilots on a temporary hasis from the 4th and 51st: Bill Champion and Clyde Curtin (who became the 38th jet ace) from the 4th, and Bill Palmer and Pat Bule from the 51st. After a few weeks, Champion and Curtin returned to the 4th and were replaced by Tom Horan and Ira Porter. Palmer returned to the 51st, but Pat Buie was transferred to the 67th Squadron.

My flight instruction was mostly with the SAAF and 12th Squadron pilots. Our instructors were in a separate barracks. Jim Hagerstrom had a wristwatch alarm clock. He would wake me at 0530 and then go back to sleep! I would awaken the instructors on the a.m. schedule, check the aircraft schedule, eat breakfast and go fly. >p> It was mighty dark and incredibly cold on the flight line at that hour during January and February 1953. The airmen who supported our operation deserved more recognition and medals than many of us who flew the machines. Line Sergeants Nye and Flynn, and many other NCOs' and airmen's names now forgotten but certainly appreciated, were heroes in my estmation. Sgt. Willie Green - what a guy!

Our training syllabus was this: Eight transition flights (TU-33 and F~6 combined),
Eight formation flights (close formation with some combat "spread"),
Five camera gunnery flights (we flew against each other),
Eight combat formation flights (mostly tactics and maneuvers),
Two instrument flights (one in the T-33 and one in an '86 with a safety-chase),
One navigation flight, and
Two Yalu sweeps (an opportunity to go after MiGs).

We trained inT33s during January and part of February. During that period, my Form 5 shows just over 30 hours of instructor time. On February 15th, we were ordered to take flu shots. I flew three flights on February 16th but was then medically grounded for five days with the flu. I then flew one training flight as an instructor, broke a sinus, and I was grounded again until March 3rd.

The 18th flew its first F-86 combat mission on February 22. The flight was comprised of the group commander and his three squadron commanders. Our leaders went first. This showed the caliber of men we had with Colonel Martin, Majors Evans and Hagerstrom, and SAAF Commandant Gerneke. They flew a Yalu sweep but had no contact with the MiGs.

On February 25, Major Hagerstrom had another Yalu sweep and shot down a MiG-15. Our training was quite realistic when considering that a Yalu sweep was the final lesson in the program!

As I mentioned earlier, most of my flight instruction was with the SAAF pilots. The SAAF government bought a few hours of dual T-33 time so that each F-51 pilot had some jet experience before flying the F-86.

BLACK MONDAY

On Monday, March 2, 1953, many of our F51 pilots who were anticipating combat in F-86s were told they were to be transferred. If they had 75 or more missions, they could rotate to the States. Others were to fly T-6s as Forward Mr Controllers (FACs). Some went to the South Korean Air Force as F-51 "advisors". In the 12th Squadron, we kept our four flight commanders and two ex-'51 pilots in each flight. That Monday night there was considerable rowdiness; and several rounds of .45 caliber ammo were fired through the barracks roofs (to my knowledge, no one was hurt). By Tuesday morning, all were gone. They were unhappy troops indeed.

On Wednesday, March 4, the 12th Squadron received 16 Nellis Air Force Base trained, fresh from the USA, F-86 pilots. All were Second Lieutenants. They filled our squadron's table of organization for the allotted number of pilots. Now we could get on with the war.

Major Harry Evans was the 12th Squadron's commander, and I became the operations offecer. Our flight commanders were:

A Flight: First Lieutenant Robert A "Bat" Masterson
B Flight: First Lieutenant Russell C. "Van" Van Hellen
C Flight: Captain Howard P. "Paul" Mann
D flight: Captain Michael "Mike" Encinias
In the 67th Squadron, Major Jim Hagerstrom was the commander, and Captain Ralph "Costy" Costenbader was the operations officer.

In No.2 Squadron, RoIf Gerneke was the Commandant, and Major Stanley Wells was the operations officer.

More F-86s arrived, and on March 12,1 resumed combat flying with mission #43. Colonel "Marty" Martin led our flight with SAAF Captain Ed Pienaar on his wing, and I led the element with SAAF Commandant Roif Gerneke as my wingman. We flew two Yalu sweeps, and then the SAAF pilots were on their own. "Marty" Martin got a "probable kill" on the 13th. Roif and I tangled with several MiGs, but we only had two "adrenaline pump overspeeds" to show for it. Jim Hagerstrom got 11/2 MiGs, and his wingman, Captain Dunlap, got half of a MiG. He finished off one that Jim had "winged".

Incidentally, as the SAAF Commandant, their number one man, RoIf Gerneke could have flown the element's lead position. He far outranked me. He deferred because of my "jet experience", I guess. He was not only agood leader, but also agreat wingman. Otherwise, I might not be here.

On March 14, we flew our first "all 12th Squadron" mission, or #46 for me. Major Harry "The Hoss" Evans led the flight, "Van" Van Hellen was on his wing, I led the element, and Mike Encinias was my wingman. Our squadron commander, the operations officer and two flight leaders went on that "first all 12th" mission. Again, leadership by example as we went off on a Yalu sweep.

When it came time to punch off our drop tanks, Van's would not release, and when Mike's came off, one rotated up and knocked his pitot boom off. No airspeed indication! That happened often, but some pilots just did not pay any attention to it and flew on anyway, and I know Mike wanted to stay. But we needed to hunt and fight in pairs, so Harry sent Van and Mike home, and then he and I went MiG hunting. Harry was an aggressive pilot, a gung-ho tiger, but we could not flush a thing up.

The 67th boys had better luck, however, or did they? Some time after Harry and I had landed at Osan, Jim Hagerstrom and Pat Buie were trapped by 16 MiGs. They finally got loose, but poor Pat's ship was somewhat the worse for wear. When it ended, they left his Sabre for junk at Kimpo, the first friendly landing spot they found. I do not recall if Jim got a MiG that day, but they had an incredible fight.

On April 6, the 12th began practice dive bombing at a local air-to-ground range. I flew two practice dive bombing missions that day plus another Yalu sweep for my mission #52.I flew the sweep on the wing of Major Bill Shelton, a temporary duty pilot from Air Training Command's headquarters at Scott Field, Illinois. I believe he was evaluating the effectiveness of our training in acombat theatre. Bill outranked me and thus I flew his wlng, although by that time it did not matter to me where I flew in the formation. Later, however, things like that did matter. The flight leader and the element leader were the "shooters", and if one wanted to become an "ace", a definite advantage existed.

Bill Shelton was a top notch F-86 jock. Many, if not all, of the temporary troops and headquarters types who flew with us were very capable. I think of guys like Lieutenant Colonel Glenn "Pappy" Stell and Colonel John "Curley" Edwards from our group and wing staff who flew with us. "Curley" had an outstanding record as a fighter pilot in WW II. The Colonels in our wing; Frank Perego, "Curley" Edwards and "Marty" Martin; all earned and deserved the eagles they wore. They were combat tried and proven leaders.

On April 18, I flew my first F~6 combat dive bombing mission, or #58 for me, although I believe the group flew a combat dive bombing mission a few days earlier. For the record, the 18th was not the first F-86 unit to dive bomb in Korea. I believe Colonel Walker Mahurin was shot down and became a POW as a result of a dive bombing mission while flying an F-86. I blieve he was in the 4th wing at the time. Also, about the time the 18th was converting to '86s, so was the 8th Wing on the east side of Suwon, across from the 51st.

Thus ends my recollection of the 18th Wing's transition from the F-51 Mustang to the Sabre. Warstories after our transition program, however, abound. Hagerstrom became a jet ace; other pilots shot down MiGs (even I got one); some of our pilots were shot down; some crashed and survived; some experienced sudden death; eroics of all kinds occurred and comradeship developed that will never die. Pilots who flew together in mortal cornbat have a specoal bond. That was an exciting period in my life.

The 67th Squadron lost an entire flight on May31, 1953. "Beer Flight" (all their flights were named after drinks, such as Scotch, Gin, Vodka, Beer and so forth) had two fatalities and lost all four aircraft that day. Leader "Tex" Beneke was killed on takeoff, "Smo" Smotherman was killed in flight, and Lieutenants Varbie and Carmichael crashed on landing, but both survived. Never again was there the call sign, "Beer Flight".

The 12th Squadron lost eight pilots between June l0 and the 18th. Three were killed in action, two others became POWs, and three were lost in a C-124 crash in Japan.

After completing my 100th mission, Colonel Martin grounded me and my element leader, Hans Degner (it was his 101st mission) for allegedly "beating up the field" on June 29. In time (maybe several weeks, but it seemed like forever), the suspension was lifted. I flew a few maintenance testhops and finished writing cer effectiveness reports and combat doctrine papers, and in mid-July 1953, I left for Japan. After admistrative delay while my spot promotion was removed, I became a Captai again. On July 29, I left Haneda, Japan for home, almost a year to the day after I arrived in Japan 1n 1952. I later retired as a Lieutenant Colonel from the Michigan Air National Guard. Hans Degner? He is now a retired American Alrlines Captain.


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