The F-86, the US Air Force’s first swept-wing jet fighter, made its initial flight in October 1947. The first production model flew in May 1948, and four months later, an F-86A set a new world speed record of 670.9 mph.
By early 1952, the F-86s regularly launched in group strength, operating in flights of four. Take-off times would be staggered three minutes apart between flights, so launching a maximum effort sweep from Kimpo, using three squadrons of 16 aircraft, would take around 33 minutes. This ensured that MiG Alley was well saturated by F-86s patrolling at varying altitudes and also that there were fresh F-86 flights available to intercept the MiGs which had been scrambled against earlier flights.
The first serious clashes of the year took place on 6 January. A number of engagements took place throughout the day, after which F-86 pilots claimed to have shot down five MiG-15s and Soviet MiG-15 pilots claimed to have shot down nine F-86s. The Chinese pilot Fan Wanzhang of the 7th Regiment (FT) from the then Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (CPLAAF) also claimed to have shot down an F-86 that attempted to bounce his formation leader. In fact, on that day the UNC recorded the loss of just one F-86 and no Soviet MiG-15s were lost in combat.
According to the 7th FT bibliography not only Wanzhang scored three kills against USAF F-86s but fought alone against 8 Sabres. The account is available to read in the book Korean Air War written by Michael Napier;
‘While the four US planes were circling and searching, he used the sun as a cover and dived to attack from a height of 10,000 metres. The US pilots never expected that a single machine would suddenly dare to engage a formation. He took the opportunity to shoot the last US plane. When the US aircraft almost filled the entire gunsight, he opened fire and a cannon shell hit the enemy aircraft which exploded with heavy black smoke. The other three US planes realised their poor predicament and slipped away like dogs. He levelled off and continued to catch up with the formation, scanning the skies as he went. Soon, he spotted four more American planes. He carried out a split-S and dived down from the height of 9,000 metres, firing his cannons at the enemy leader. The enemy aircraft immediately shuddered twice and started to smoke. He quickly closed in, as three tongues of fire licked the enemy and it finally fell away. The other three US planes were angered when their leader was shot down and took advantage of the three-to-one advantage. They flipped up and down around him, trying to push him down to gain a high advantage. He was very calm, and skillfully out-manoeuvred the enemy. Just as enemy plane was about to fire, he kicked the rudder bar and the aircraft immediately skidded up to the left… The gunfire from the three enemy planes came close to the aircraft. He reversed in a barrel roll and came down behind the US machine. He fired at the last US plane which exploded in a volley. The other two US planes saw their companions shot down and accelerated away, desperately fleeing to the sea.’
Korean Air War is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.
Photo credit: NARA and U.S. Air Force
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