Aviation History

F4U Vs MiG-15: the story of how the WWII Corsair became a MiG Killer

“When his parachute opened, I could see his “G” suit burning from head to foot. I glanced down and saw the flaming MiG hit the water vertically,” Capt. Jesse Folmar, VMA-312 F4U Corsair pilot

Although outclassed by the new generation of jet fighters and chiefly used in the close air support role, during the Korean War a number of U.S. Navy and Marine Corps F4U Corsairs were sent up against the night raiders that North Korea sortied over UN lines after dark, and it was in an F4U-5N nightfighter that Lt Guy Bordelon became the U.S. Navy’s sole ace of the conflict.

Nevertheless, as told by Warren Thompson in his book F4U Corsair Units of the Korean War, on Sep. 10, 1952 Capt. Jesse Folmar flying Corsair from VMA-312 was able to destroy one of two MiG-15s that had bounced both him and his wingman.

Between August 1950 and December 1952, the light carrier Sicily supported strikes into North Korea by F4U units VMF-214 (1950) VMF-323 (1951) and VMA-312, which operated from the ship between Sep. 4 and Oct. 19 1952.

On Sep. 10, 1952, an interdiction and close air support mission called for maximum effort, and the ship launched a large number of the ‘Checkerboards” F4U-4Bs. Capt Jesse G Folmar was leading one division, and during the course of the mission he and his wingman, Lr Walter E Daniels, would be involved in an historic encounter with some aggressive MiG-15s. Taking off at 1610 hrs, they were ordered to attack a troop concentration on the south side of the Taedong River, close to Chinnampo.

Capt Folmar recalled how events unfolded;

“As we crossed the coast and headed into enemy territory, we begs executing a tactical weave at 10,000 ft. Arriving over the target area, we observed no activity, so we continued to fly reconnaissance in the area of the Taejon estuary. As we started to bank over a small island off the coast, I caught a glimpse of two MiG-15s in the early stages of setting up for firing pass on us. They were in loose section formation, so I steepened the angle of my banking turn into them, while at the same time increasing power. I jettisoned all external ordnance and fuel tanks and then switched to the guard channel to report that we were being attacked by MiGs. I told Lt Daniels to fly a much tighter weave, and not to let the communist lees out of his sight.

“Seconds later, I spotted two more of them closing rapidly from my ‘eight o’clock’. I turned hard to the left, trying to bring my guns to bear before they could open fire, but due to their rapid closure, I was unable do so. Their tracers were overshooting us, so I reversed my bank to the right and turned inside one of the MiGs as he started a climbing left turn. I pulled up and got him squarely in my gunsights, giving him about 20 mils’ lead. I then triggered off a long five-second burst with my four 20 mm cannon.

“I could tell that I had him boresighted by the blinking flashes along the left side of his fuselage. A grey trail of fuel vapour began to stream from the MiG, and this quickly turned into billowing black smoke. He nosed over slightly and seemed to lose acceleration. Seconds later the pilot ejected, and he tumbled through the air in what appeared to be a ball of smoke. When his parachute opened, I could see his “G” suit burning from head to foot. I glanced down and saw the flaming MiG hit the water vertically.”

Both Folmar and Daniels resumed their defensive weave, and soon four more MiGs joined the fight, strung out in a loose column of two sections. Suddenly, the odds facing the Corsair pair were stacked even greater against them. Folmar decided to break off for home, and he ordered a hard break to the left and down;

“I had just started picking up good diving speed when I saw balls of tracer passing on my left. At that instant I felt a severe jolt and explosion in my left wing. My aircraft began to shudder as if in a high-speed stall. I glanced over and saw that my left aileron and about four feet of my left wing were gone. Also, the top of the left wing was gutted to the inboard side of my inboard 20 mm gun. My damaged aeroplane was trying to roll to the left, although the control column was placed in a full right position. This led to my decision that it would too hazardous to attempt a landing back on Sicily, so I decided to bale out.”

Folmar transmitted the search and rescue distress signal and repeated his position, before getting ready to bale out. Whilst he was doing this another MiG made a firing pass at him, but its shells went wide. At 3000 ft he rolled out of the right side of the cockpit and fell clear.

Just as pulled the D-ring on his parachute, he heard an ear-splitting noise, and he looked up to see another MiG firing at his stricken Corsair. Seven MiG-15s remained in the area, but they departed as soon as Folmar hit the water. He estimated that he was in the sea for about eight minutes before being rescued by an SA-16 Albatross ‘Dumbo’.

Photo credit: Bzuk via Wikipedia, U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy

F4U Corsair Units of the Korean War is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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