ON MAC'S WING
by Dean Abbott
I graduated with Class 52-F in September 1952, having trained in the T-6 at Greenville AFB, the T-28 at Perrin, and the T-33 at Laredo. My' cousin, Earl Wisecarver, also a member of 52-F, went to Bainbridge AFB and Bryan AFB. We got together for the first time when we went through gunnery' training at Nellis between October and December 1952.
Training was hectic in those days. The Air Force took in twice as many trainees as they graduated. The attrition rate was high. The purpose was to rush as many' trained pilots to Korea as possible to bolster the undermanned units fighting there. A fatality a week was common at Nellis during our training. However, the system worked and the squadrons in Korea finally came up to authorized strength.
I left late in December for assignment to the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing at Suwon, K-13, about 20 miles south of Seoul. To my pleasant surprise, cousin Earl was assigned there about a week later. We were both assigned to the 39th Squadron, Earl to 'C' Flight, commanded by 1/Lt. Hal Fischer; and I went to 'D' Flight, commanded by l/Lt. Joe McConnell, 'Mac' to his friends. At that time, Fischer already had three kills, Mac had none.
The beefing up of the wings had one very big consequence for us new guy's. The 'Old Hands', who'd arrived a month or so earlier, already had six to ten missions as wingmen before becoming element or flight leaders. Our arrival alleviated the necessity to rush new guys into lead positions. We didn't get to 'lead' either elements or flights until we had flown at least thirty missions as wingmen.
Joe McConnell got his first victory' on 14 January 1953. At that time, both Earl and I were going through 'in-country' training at Tsuiki, where they taught us to forget what we had just learned at Nellis, and to do it "our way". It was a lot to digest in two weeks, but we were soon flying missions as wingmen. By the end of March, Hal Fischer was a captain and a double ace with 10 victories. Mac was also a new captain, and had seven kills. Fischer was shot down shortly thereafter and captured. Had he not been shot down, it's possible that he would have been the top American ace of the war
I was fortunate enough to fly some memorable missions with Mac. On one of them, Mac and I were conserving fuel while CAPing Chodo Island, acting as spares or covering any on of the forty-plus Sabres sweeping the Yalu River for MiGs, that might get into trouble. However, there was no action and the mission headed south for home. In the meantime, Mac's primary hydraulic system failed and he we forced to use the alternate system. The F-86 Dash-1, i.e. the flight manual called for landing immediately. But suddenly, the Chodo radar started calling out MiG flights over Mukden, eighty miles into Manchuria.
Without a word, Mac turned north and we went straight toward Mukden. By the time we arrived, the MiGs had all landed. We made a lazy, time consuming 3600 circle above the city. I was doing my best to hold my breath. Nothing happened and I thought, "Good, now let's get OUT of here!" Nope, not yet. Mac called for another big ten minute orbit over Mukden. Still nothing happened. THEN we finally started the long flight back to K-13 with barely enough fuel to make it.
Although that was fun (!!!), my most memorable flight with Mac came on the 18th of May. By that time, he had thirteen kills, and the Migs were very active most of the time. We were experimenting with six-ship flights to counter the MiG tactic of flying long trains' of two-ship slights, one behind the other. Our six-shipper didn't last long, proving too unwieldy,. But this morning Mac was leading one. It also didn't last long.
No.5 aborted the takeoff roll and 6 stayed behind with him. Now we were four. Then, when we dropped our tanks, No.3 couldn't get one off, so he and No.4 headed for home. Mac and I were now an element and continued north to the Yalu.
Shortly after we arrived over the river, two MiGs flew right over us heading north. We turned after them and followed them across the river into China. We were allowed to do that according to the rules of 'hot pursuit' that were in effect. The MiGs were about a half mile in front of us, slightly high - and they knew we were behind them. They were dipping their wings to keep us in sight, and we figured, correctly, that they were calling for help.
We weren't gaining on them at full power so I was surprised when Mac pulled his nose up, which would result in a loss of airspeed. What he was doing was getting off a short burst in an attempt to slow his Mig down. quite often if you hit them in the tail, their landing gear would come down, making them a sitting duck. To my amazement, Mac scored some hits and his MiG lit up from strikes on the tail. I tried the same thing, getting off a quick burst at the one I was behind, but with no visible success.
At that very moment, the help the MiGs had called for, started showing up. I called a flight of four coming in from 3 o'clock, and another at 9 o'clock. Another flight also came from 9 o'clock and flew right under us. We broke hard right into this flight, as they were better targets than the two we'd originally chased. In the break, I got out in front and one of the MiGs behind us started firing at me. Mac rolled in behind him and quickly shot him off my tail. The MiG pilot ejected. We broke hard right again, and again with me out in front, the same thing happened. Another MiG opened up on me, and again, Mac did a half roll, got behind him, and shot him off my tail.
Somewhere in this melee, as I was calling out MiGs, I said, "My God, there must be thirty of them!" Mac responded, "Yeh, and we've got 'em all to ourselves." We were the only two still in action that morning and everyone was listening, including the Battle Staff back in Combat Ops at K-13. This audacious statement, plus the fact that he had just become a triple ace, gained Mac a lot of notoriety.
From that point on, all we could do was break left and right defensively, trying to work our way back south as best we could. Probably the only reason we weren't shot down was that there were so many of them they got in each others way. We finally made it south of the Yalu, and, thankfully, they didn't follow. Had they done so, we would have been out of fuel quickly, and they could have claimed both of us without firing another round. As it was, we limped back and landed on fumes. But we did make it.
Mac went back up that afternoon and got one more to raise his total to a record 16 MiGs. That was his last combat flight. He was sent back to the States a few days later. Before he left, he recommended me for a Distinguished Flying Cross, which I received, and secured a spot promotion for me to first lieutenant. One of my most prized possessions is an 8x10 picture of the two of us shaking hands. It's autographed, "to my wingman on the roughest one of all."
Joe McConnell was a fine leader. Often, returning from a mission, if fuel allowed, he would let us practice the scissors maneuver on him. Or practice a simulated complete hydraulic failure using only throttle and rudder, so that we could get ourselves back to friendly territory' to eject if necessary'. his ability to fly that way probably cost him his life the following year. He was stationed at George AFB, and was being 'loaned' to Edwards flight Test Center for acceptance testing of the F-86H. The people of Apple Valley had built and donated a new home for Joe and his family.
In August 1954, he experienced a complete hydraulic failure in an H, and elected to try and bring the crippled airplane down on the dry' lake bed using only throttle and rudder. He almost made it but ground turbulence got him as he was about to land. One wing lifted and he had no way to correct for it. He ejected, but that was before the advent of the zero-launch seat and he didn't make it. Captain Joseph M. Mac' McConnell is buried in a spot of honor in the Victorville Cemetery. his sixteen jet-vs-jet victories have not been surpassed to this day.
His replacement as 'D' Flight commander was a US Marine exchange pilot, Major John Bolt, a 5 victory ace in World War Two with 'Pappy' Boyington's Black Sheep Squadron, VMF-214. Major Bolt would become the only Marine to make ace in Korea, claiming 7 MiGs before the end of the war.
I ended up with exactly 50 missions when the war ended, returning to the States in December. I'd spent enough time in grade as a spot first lieutenant to retain that rank. I was one of the first six pilots to form the nucleus of the 388th Fighter Bomber Wing at Clovis AFB (later Cannon AFB), New Mexico. I later flew a tour in Vietnam, retiring in 1971 at Myrtle Beach AFB, flying the A-7D. Two of my sons followed me into the Air Force as fighter pilots. it. Col. Joe Abbott and Major Tom Abbott, are both still in the Air Force. Both flew in Desert Storm. They' like to remind me that MY war stories are now history. And, damn it, they are!
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