Q: Bob, when did you receive your wings?
A: In June 1940 with Class 40-C at Kelly Field.
Q: What was your first fighter?
A: The P-40.
Q: May we review your career between 1940 and the Korean War?
A: I was sent to Randolph Field for eighteen months as a flight instructor because the Second World War was coming with a great need for more pilots. I then went into engineering and flight test for two years and flew almost everything: fighters, bombers. transports; the whole works! Then I went overseas to Italy. I took a repair squadron over, which repaired and flight-tested battle damaged aircraft. I later transferred to the First Fighter Group as the commander of the 71st Fighter Squadron. We flew P-38s on air-to-ground missions and bomber escort over Germany and Austria late in the war.
After the war, I returned to flight test, logistics and maintenance. I ran the only jet engine overhaul facility in the .Air Force in San Bernardino, California. Later we moved to Tinker Field. Oklahoma City, which was the major jet repair facility in the Air Force. After a short stint in command and staff school, I transferred to the 56th Fighter Group at Selfridge Field as their wing operations officer and was finally back in a tactical unit. We flew F-80s in 1950.
My first contact with the F-86 was when I was sent to March Field. California as a project officer. We received new F-86As from the factory, flew them to March Field, shook them down and processed them, and then called for ferrv crews to deliver them to Selfridge. After two years. I transferred to Air Defense Command in Colorado Springs as an operations officer. That was when 1 made my first flight in an F-86D. which was an experimental Sabre at Edwards Air Force Base.
In December 1952, 1 transferred to Korea and became the group commander of the 51st Fighter Group. We flew F-86s, the "E's and the "F"s. and 1 started flying combat. As group commander. l flew with all three squadrons in all positions. By the end of the war. I had five kills and became an ace, but this was not my primary purpose. As group commander, my job was to get everyone experienced in air-to-air combat tactics because this was the world's last eyeball-to-eyeball combat where the pilot aimed the airplane to direct its weapons. We did not have missiles or rockets in Korea We had the same armament we had on P-51s from World War Two: six .50 caliber machine guns.
We worked against MiG-15s in Korea. Like any aerial combat, the pilot on top had the advantage. We flew combat at 35,000 feet, but we ended fighting air-to-air at 45,000 feet which was 10,000 higher than the F-86 was designed for. We stripped weight from the airplane so we were competitive with the MiG. The MiG was 4,000 pounds lighter than the F-86 and more maneuverable. The only way we could offset its increased maneuverabilitv was to operate at top speed. The MiG was capable of speeds approaching 700 miles per hour, but so was our F-86. The weight differential made a difference. Wide open. the MiG and the F-86 were about the same, and we flew at full throttle all the time. Our maneuverability was the same as the MiG as long as we kept our speed up. Since the MiG had a major advantage because it was lighter, we had to cripple it very quickly. If we did not, it was soona bove us, and we were either all alone or at a serious disadvantage.
We flew finger four formations made of two elements of two Sabres. We insisted on better air discipline and better coordinated air tactics. By the end of the war. the 51st had as good a kill ratio as the 4th. We had as manv kills. but we lost fewer pilots. At the end of the war, we had a kill ratio of 16 to 1. and while I was there, we lost only two in my group. We recovered one pilot. We lost the other in the Yellow Sea.
The maneuverability of the F-86 was exceptional at high speeds. The F-86 was easy to fly, maneuverable and very forgiving. It was a very rugged machine. One of our major advantages was thattheMiGwasapparentlyapoor gun platform. It had one 37mm and two 23mm cannons. When they fired their cannon,. it shook the whole aircraft. The gun mounts must have been flexible. I was fired at twice almost at point blank range but was not hit.
I cannot say enough good things about the F-86. It was a beautiful bird. It had essentially the same wing and airfoil as the F-86D and the F-86H. The "H" was the Sabre we wanted in Korea, but it did not finish production tests in time. The F-86H had additional thrust, and had pre-turbine fuel injection. It was like an early model afterburner. It would have given us more thrust and more speed in Korea.
Q: What were your total hour flying all Sabre models?
A: Over a thousand. I spent more time in the F-86D after the Korean War than any other model.
Q: How many missions did you fly in Korea?
A: I had 85.
Q: Where were you based?
A: We were at Suwon, 30 miles south of Seoul, out in the "boonies"! The 4th was at Seoul which was closer to the Yalu. Our missions were 60 miles longer!
Q: When you arrived to Korea, what briefings were you given about the MiG's capability?
A: When I was notified I was going to Korea, I checked with the Pentagon to find out which assignment I was getting. It was to be with the 18th, flying F-51s and F-80s. I did not want that. I had a friend at Nellis Air Force Base who was conducting training for Korea. I called and asked. "I am heading for Korea. Can I get some refresher training in the F-86?" He said. "Sure. I cannot set up anything special, but you can jump in the program and stay with us as long as you can." I was there for ten days flying missions. I received a good indoctrination into air-to-air combat because the people running the program were all ex-Korean War combat personnel. WhenI1 arrived in Korea, I was sent to Personnel at Fifth Air Force, Rear. The general asked. "Where did you come from?" I said, "Nellis". I did not tell him it was not the full 90 day course. "Oh". he said, "F-86s! We are looking for an F-86 group commander." "Great!". I said. "I'll take it'" That is how I got the 51st! I then flew three missions on the wing of the previous group commander. He had served his tour and was leaving. I took the group after those three combat missions.
Combat was something we talked about day and night. and we learned plenty. We were well indoctrinated in what the MiG was capable of and what its tactics were, as well as our own tactics. We developed some new tactics which worked to our advantage. After analyzing the MiG's procedures, we simply countered them.
We kept seeing MiGs flying at 52.000 feet. There was always that urge to get up there with them. Finally, we developed a "hot rod" flight that could get to 52,000 feet. We stripped weight from the Sabres. Instead of carrying 500 rounds per gun. we only carried 250. We removed armor plate from the seat bottom. There were two flap motors and two alternators. We took out one each. We stripped 1,500 pounds from the airplane. Then it operated at 52.000 feet. but maneuverability was poor. If a MiG blundered into us, we could engage it, but we could not maneuver much because of the poor handling at that altitude.
There was one period during which the MiGs' tactics had us stopped. None of the F-86 groups were able to successfully engage the MiGs. Every time we engaged a flight of four MiGs. within about three minutes four more MiGs joined the fight. If we chose to fight with these odds, in a few more minutes, four more MiGs joined the fight. At that point it was smart to head for the deck and leave the fight for another time. As I recall, this period lasted about two weeks during which our MiG kills stopped.
Our group operations analyst was a second lieutenant ROTC graduate from MIT who majored in mathematics. He figured out what was happening. The communists had set up what Hollywood later called "Casey Jones' railroad." They flew flights of four MiGs south from Antung to the Chongchon Rive, made a wide turn, and flew back across the Yalu River at the Suiho Reservoir. Their flights followed this track at three minute intervals. If we engaged a flight of MiGs, we became badly outnumbered in short order.
In order to counter this tactic, the 51st Group changed tactics. We laid out a "racetrack" pattern directly across their "railroad". Since this would be a prescribed pattern with known turning points, we flew flights of six F-86s at three minute intervals. The results were astounding. and the number of aircraft involved in these engagements was unbelievable! For a period of ten days, we were the only ones getting kills. Everyone wanted to fly the number five or six positions in the flights as they were unexpected by the MiGs and therefore the most successful. After about ten days, the MiGs stopped flying the "railroad". and we disbanded our "racetrack".
Q: How was the F86 better than the MiG and nice versa?
A: With regard to armament, the MiGs had three cannons and we had six .50 caliber machine guns. This sounds obsolescent when we remember that that was what our P-5ls had in World War Two. But it was like using a shotgun versus a rifle to shoot at birds. Our six.50 calibers were deadly! 1 saw MiGs ripped apart by our .50s. They looked like the kind of scraper used for grating carrots! Their fuselages were shredded after our .50 caliber shells went up their backs! Our armament was more appropriate under those conditions.
The maneuverability at high speeds was about the same because we had a cleaner airplane. They had a little less weight. but they had a "dirtier" airplane aerodynamically. At higher speeds, their drag took over. At lower altitude wide open, both speeds were about the same. The major benefit the MiG had was that it was 4,000 pounds lighter. If we jumped a MiG but did not quickly cripple it, if its pilot was smart. he started a climbing turn. We lost it very shortly because it was lighter and climbed better.
We had a radar-ranging gunsight. I do not know what the MiGs had, but I believe they had a gyro-stabilized gunsight. Our radarranging gunsight was new and somewhat difficult to maintain, but it gave us automatic range which was a big advantage, except when we got in close combat.
The MiG was also more flexible and fragile. The F-86 was built likea bridge. Our escape maneuver was heading straight down. They could not stay with us because they went into a wing roll when their wings twisted. We went supersonic straight down, but they could not follow. When we got into trouble, we dove from it. When they got into trouble, they climbed.
Q: Was the MiG prone to spinning if it went into certain attitudes or manevcers?
A: Yes. All ammunition in the MiG was held in a rack beneath the cockpit, forward of the center of gravity. If we teased the ammunition from the MiG, it became progressively more tail heavy. Then if the MiG went into a panic hard turn, it tumbled. That was its only poor flight characteristic other than at very high speeds, because the MiG was so light and flexible, when it went into a high speed dive, the ailerons acted like trim tabs. Instead of working normally, they twisted the wing. It aggravated their situation. When they were close to supersonic speeds, most MiGs developed wing flexing which suddenly terminated the engagement! The MiGs then went into a roll. The only time we saw them spin was when we damaged their controls or they became tail-heavy from expending the cannon ammunition in their nose. Then they became tail-heavy and very unstable.
Q: Please describe your first MiG victory?
A: It was at high altitude while patrolling the Yalu River. I looked to my left and saw a flight of four MiGs two miles away. We were crossing ahead of them. They looked like they were on a training mission. I called my flight. "Heads up! We are turning back on these guys." We made a right turn heading north in their direction, and they ended behind us. This is an indication of the poor maneuverability at that altitude.
As we headed north, it was like walking on eggs with the MiGs alongside about a quarter mile away. They were preoccupied while we were flying alongside. We then gradually mooed behind. Now they were at our maximum gun range. We had been two miles ahead, made our turn and moved behind them by 2,000 feet. It was a long shot, but the radar gunsight ranged a little better.
I picked the last MIG in the flight and gave a short burst. We had tracers loaded one in every ten rounds. Nothing happened. I raised the gunsight more and gave another short burst. Again nothing happened. I raised my gunsight a little more. Now I began slowing down because I was pulling my F-86's nose up. With that burst, I hit the MiG. Then I gave a good. long burst, and the MiG caught fire. It started burning, and down it went.
Q: Where were your first hits on MiG?
A: In the aft fuselage. They finally hit the saddle tank beneath the engine. It flamed like a big skyrocket.
Q: Were your five victories over a six month period?
Q:Which kill was the most difficult?
A: The one when I put 10 g's on the airplane, my fifth MiG kill. We were in and out of the clouds between 25,000 to 30.000 feet. We encountered a flight of MiGs flying in our direction almost directly below us. We were too close to nose over, so I did a loose barrel roll .and ended up about 100 feet behind the leader. I fired at the MiG which immediately started to burn. The MiG pilot dove into the clouds. and I trailed the MG through the clouds by tracking its black smoke. As soon as we broke out of the clouds, I fired again. That happened four times. In the process of tracking the smoke, I became disoriented. The next time we broke out we both were in a vertical dive at 12.000 feet near Mach 1. I made a reflexive pullout as the ground was coming up fast! The pull out was hard enough to force my helmet blast shield and my head down. I was looking at the floor and everything was dark! I could not pull my head up to see if I was going to make it. It seemed I wrestled with this dilemma for some time. I had to ease up on the pull out at the proper time, because in my blinded condition I was eventually going to hit the ground. Eventually, I relaxed my pull and raised my head. I was in a canyon. Very soon I was going straight up. I looked at the "g" meter, and it was pegged at 10!
Q: While you were pulling out, was the MiG going in?
A: The MiG went straight in. I lost my wingman when I followed the MiG into the clouds. My gun camera film showed the MiG burning like a torch, but I could not confirm its impact. Fortunately the pull out happened in front of one of my other flights. The flight leader said the MiG never tried to pull out. It hit the ground so hard it did not even burn. I called the tech representative when I returned and said. "I bent your airplane!" They flew a crew in from Tokyo to set the Sabre on jigs. They found it was perfectly alhight with nothing wrong!
Q: Did it take prolonged firing of the .50 caliber machine guns to knock a MiG down?
A: It depended on where we hit the MiG. I once set a MiG on fire with as few as a hundred rounds. If we hit a MiG in the right place, such as a fuel tank, with our armor piercing incendiary shells, the MiG burned immediately. It depended on how good of a shot we were, and whether we put shots in a fuel cell or the engine We had to be careful, however, because prolonged firing could ruin our guns.
Q: Was there a specific location where the MiG was particularly vulnerable?
A: We only shot at their engine, and the saddle tank was beneath it. Those burned very well! If we damaged their engine, then we had the MiG. It could not get away.
Q: Did MiG pilots bail out?
Q: Were you hit white flying in Korea?
A: No, although twice they fired point blank at me from less than a hundred yards away but missed. But I was not sitting still, either!
Q: Was their cannon fire more deadly although slower firing?
A: Yes. It was lethal when it hit. They used explosive shells. Once one of our younger pilots was hit in the wingtip. The flak damage along his fuselage was extensive. He was stunned, and had been cut on his forehead. I located him and was able to nurse him back to Seoul. He could not talk because the microphone cord from his helmet had been cut. He could receive but could not transmit. I told him to go on 100% oxygen and said. "Follow me. I will steer you home." He landed on my wing because his airspeed indicator was out.
Q: Did you see F-86s lost due to the MiG s cannon fire?
A: I never witnessed it, but once I watched gun camera film that was startling. It showed a MiG firing on an F-86 in the 4th Fighter Group. Behind that MiG was another F-86 firing on the MiG! The F-86 being fired upon turned hard while the trailing F-86 fired at the MiG. Then one of the MiG's cannon shells shot the wing off the first F-86! The second F-86 recorded this on gun camera film. The first F-86 was hit in the wing root and its left wing came off.
Q: Did the F-86 pilot bail out?
A: Yes, but he became a prisoner of war.
Q: One shot from the .MiG's cannon blew the left wing off that Sabre?
A: Yes. Once we had an F-86 in the 25th Squadron return with an unexploded cannon shell embedded in its wing root. That Sabre belonged to another flight. It had a 23mm cannon shell jammed in the wing s main spar.
Q: Was it removed?
A: We contacted an explosive ordnance disposal crew who pulled it out. That Sabre went for a major overhaul!
Q If that shell had exploded, would it have destroyed the Sabre?
Q: Did you fly any F-86s in Korea that had the hard wing?
A: Yes. Our "F"s did.
Q: Did that make any difference in combat?
A: Not really. It was a little faster. Our "E" models had slats and were a little heavier.
Q: Please describe MiGAlley?
A: It was mostly open country with a few small villages. It was not highly populated. The weather was generally good. On rare occasions we had clouds that interfered. The MiGs as a rule did not fly through overcast, and those were the days we worked below it. There were beautiful days where everyone left contrails. Very soon, the sky looked like a plate of spaghetti! The Yalu River flowed west through the Suiho Reservoir. It then travelled to the coast at Antung and dumped into the Yellow Sea. There were no mountains, only rolling hills. It was semi-agricultural. with small plots of land and open brush.
Q: What were your guidlines for staying away from Antung?
A: We had what we called the Truman Doctrine which said, "You will not cross the Yalu River". It was not only Antung. but also the entire Yalu River. That prevailed for a long time until General Barcus came. He flew several missions with us. His policy was. "You may pursue a MiG across theYalu River if it is on fire or about to come apart". If we severely damaged a MiG, we could proceed across the Yalu River to finish it, otherwise we were told to stay on the south side of the Yalu River.
Q: If you were flying on the south side of the Yalu, could you see the the MiGs at their bases near Antung?
A: Yes, but I personally never went there. The rule was. "Thou shalt not cross the Yalu River". I was the group commander, so I had to follow it!
Q: Were you involved in raids on Pyongyang the capital ofNorfh Korea?
A: No. We did not fly any air-to-ground operations, nor did we provide air cover.
Q: Did the MiGs use other tactics against the Sabres?
A: No. They seemed to use a random, roaming, search and destroy pattern. The MiGs generally did not fly south of the Chongchon River in North Korea. They flew across the Yalu in flights of four, turned and went back. This process continued until they organized the "railroad."
Q: Did they attack in greater numbers?
A: The MiGs usually flew flights of four, as we did. As a result, most fights were four against four.
Q: What was your perception of the average MiG pilot?
A: There were good and bad. The one that nearly led me into the ground had a big red dragon painted along the length of his airplane. We could not tell for certain who was flying the MiGs.
Q: Were there periods when the MiG pilots were better, and then were replaced by lesser pilots, followed by more good ones?
A: No. It seemed there were good and bad ones, but they were mixed together. We were thinning them at a good rate. Gradually they became less capable as they apparently lost their experienced pilots.
Q: Did you see incredibly poor tactics?
A: Yes. Sometimes we shot at a MiG, and the pilot held the MiG still during the whole process! We heard later they were afraid to turn because their armor plating would not protect them. They waited until the MiG fell apart, and then bailed out.
Q: Did you see any situations where a MG was attacked, but before taking any hits, the pilot bailed out?
Q. Did you see evidence of Russian pilots flying, MiGs?
A: I do not know for sure other than we heard there were "soldiers of fortune" or mercenaries flying. Someone once knocked a MiG out of the air, and the pilot bailed out losing his helmet. He had red hair! We were in the area, and someone said, "Hey! There is a redhaired pilot!" So, we flew by to take a look!
Q: Did you see MiG15s in different color schemes possibly indicating they were from different countries ?
A: Yes. There were camouflaged MiGs' as well as aluminum ones. Some had different insignias, but most wore Russian insignia. Once in a while we caught one with North Korean or Chinese insignia. They were basically all in Russian colors.
Q: Do you know: aboutanyChinese plots who became aces. or where fheir pilots' names were publicized?
A: No. We never heard that.
Q: Did you ever inspect the wreck of a MiG15 on the ground while in Korea?
A: No. The only MiG we saw in Korea was the one that defected.
Q: Have you flown a MiG-15?
Q: What was the condition of your air field in Korea?
A: Our base had a 13,000 foot runway. We were well equipped. We had two Wings. The 8th was on the south side and we were on the north. We never had problems other than some congestion from so many Sabres.
Q: Do you have a favorite Korean War Sabre story?
A: Yes. I have two. There was the time when I almost stuck the F-86 into the ground! The other was when I found the injured pilot and led him back to his home base. He was blind in one eye and needed help badly.
Thank you, Bob!
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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