TEST FLIGHT

by Lt.Col. George Jones

4th FIG Mission #J-01
F-86F-2 #52-2867 date: 29 March 1953
Pilot: G.L. Jones Position in Flight: #3 in a flight of four.
Type mission: Fighter Sweep of the Yalu River. Altitude: 42,000 feet
Weather: Clear Contrail levels: 30,000 to 38,000 feet. 460 rounds loaded.
92 rounds fired. No stoppages. No attempt was made to 'fire out' the guns.


The date was 29 March 1953, during the Korean War, a mission that remains vivid in my memory. I remember it so well because it was a mission whose outcome pivoted around the reactions of two wingmen in a combat situation - my wingman and his enemy counterpart in a MiG-1 5.

We were flying F-86Fs at the time. Ordinarily the F-86F is equipped with six .50 caliber machine guns. However, in our aircraft (F-86F-2s), the machine guns had been removed and replaced with four T-160 2Omm cannons, capable of firing a high explosive shell at high velocity. Our mission was to find and engage MiG-15 aircraft in air to air combat to test the effectiveness of the new guns.

Originally, we had a flight of four aircraft scheduled for the mission. But somewhere along the line, two of the flight didn't get off, and my wingman, Major Wendall Brady, and I proceeded with the mission as a flight of two.

Climbing out from K-14 (Kimpo), we crossed the no-bomb line, turned on our gun switches, and fired a short burst into the clear air to check the weapons. They worked perfectly, and we continued north, climbing through 20,000, past 30,000. We maintained radio silence shortly after leveling off around 35,000 feet.

Far behind us, we heard the chatter of the rest of the mission taking off. Some six flights of four checking in on the radio as they also climbed out to the north, taking the same track we had taken. Flicking my left wing down for the crossover signal, I moved my wingman to the left side and gave him the "Heads Up!" signal. I knew there were plenty of MiGs in the area and I wanted no surprises. Rather selfishly, we hoped that the large formation of Sabres behind us would be the focal point of attention on the enemy radar scopes. Our small flight might have a good chance to make a surprise 'bounce' on the MiGs trying to intercept the north-bound flights.

As we approached the Yalu River, I spotted a glint in the sky high above us and to the right. I waggled the stick rocking my wings to get my wingmans attention. Wendal looked across and I silently signaled to "Drop tanks!" They arced down, empty of fuel, tumbling slowly to the brown earth far below. Again a silent signal to push up the throttle, and we started a slow turn under the 'glint' in the sky.

Now we could see many other flashes in the sun up ahead. "Keep your speed up!" I thought "Turn slow, look for the 'climbers'." All of a sudden I saw them. First there was nothing in front, then they jumped into focus A flight of 8 MiGs in loose trail, climbing as they crossed the YaIu heading south. Ever so gently we increased our rate of turn and started an easy climb behind them. I swung in behind their last man, but still too far out to shoot We had to close on them.

I watched the range dial unroll - 2800 feet, 2600, 2400. We were closing on them, but slow. I edged around in my seat and glanced behind. Bad news! Coming in from below, almost in position for an attack on me, was a MiG. I realized now that I had cut between the last two MiGs, between the leader and his wingman! Jerking around I looked to my right for my wingman. Wendall was right there. As I watched, he dropped his wing as if to start a firing pass on the MiG coming up.

Good boy! I snapped my head around to the left The MiG which had tilted his wing down for the start of a slanting pass at me suddenly straightened up and leveled out. No attack this time. Evidently, the MiG pilot realized if he jumped me, Wendall would swing in behind him for a firing pass.

By now we were climbing through 40,000 feet The MiG I was chasing was closer. The range gate marker stood at 1800 feet I wanted 800 feet I wasn't sure how long the game between the two wingman, the Mig leader's and mine, would keep up. Each feinting an attack, one at me, one at the other.

In the back of my mind I remembered the engine compressor stalls which had been occurring when we fired the new cannons at high altitude, a stall which robbed the engine of power, leaving you a sitting duck unless you could recover by diving to a lower altitude for a try at an air start I dismissed the thought - "Shoot first! Worry about the stall later.".

Now the range dial on the A-4 gunsight indicated 1,000 feet. But the Mig pilot at my rear was getting frantic. For the first time during the flight, Wendall broke radio silence - "I can't hold him much longer. Get out of there! Get out of there!" "Watch him", I said "Call if he turns in." I eased the nose of my 86 up, the pipper was just under the MiG. "A little more.", I thought, "Up a little, easy, don't lose air speed."

The pipper was on his tailpipe now. The range dial at 800 feet The little orange colored diamonds of the sight reflected on my windscreen, circled the MiG perfectly. I pressed the trigger. Instantly a stream of incandescent flashes exploded in rapid succession on the MiG ahead Bursting out in fire and smoke, the MiG seemed to stop in mid-air. I was momentarily fascinated by the sight Then with an awful start, I realized that I was about to run into him.

Before I could do anything, I was completely enveloped in smoke. I felt there was a solid wall of debris ahead in the darkness. Instinctively I retarded the throttle, my thumb jerking back the speed brake switch to slow down. Now I could only pull back on the stick and try rolling upside down in a barrel roll, hoping to get out of the way. Suddenly, I was out of the smoke. Looking through the canopy, I saw the MiG. The canopy was gone, the cockpit empty. It was starting down with debris, smoke and flames trailing behind. I rolled upright.

It was then that I first noticed the sound of my engine in a compressor stall. it was a roaring, buzzing noise that vibrated the whole airplane. At that point I wasn't too worried. I knew what to do about it point her nose down. In the past, we usually recovered from these stalls around 30,000 feet However, when I passed through 30,000 with the engine still stalling, I began to worry. At 25,000 nothing had changed.

The stall really had my attention now. I remember thinking, - "At 18,000 feet I'll have to pull out. Maybe I can glide out to the Yellow Sea" - although the sea looked awfully far away.

Then I noticed that my speed brake switch had broken off, and the brakes were still open, and still slowing me down. I pushed my index finger down between the thumb guard to the nub of the switch and edged it forward. All at once, the brakes closed and I felt the aircraft accelerate. With the increased speed the buzzing stopped, the engine smoothed, and the compressor stall broke. I eased the power on. It was 18,000 feet I took a deep breath.

Now I felt better about the situation and looked around for my wingman. There he was, just off my right wing, staring through the oil-smeared canopy at me. I couldn't have been happier. I started to relax a little and gave him a signal meaning, "let's get the hell out of here! I'll buy the drinks tonite!" For the second time during the entire flight, he broke radio silence, "You're all heart Lead!" He was 'there' all the way, a great wingman, Major Wendall Brady was an accomplished flier to whom the flick of a wing tip spoke volumes. If not for a great wingman today, I would not have been able to make 'ace'.

GEORGE L JONES, Lt Colonel, USAF DCS/Operations, Hq Fifth Air Force

(note: Colonel George L Jones, USAF Ret, passed away on 18 February 1997.)


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