One of many duels between Sabres and MiGs was raging at 10,000 meters (about 30,000 feet) over the southern shore of the Yalu River over North Korea, and the experienced CO of the American 336th FIS, Lt. Col. Bruce Hinton, was getting closer to an unaware MiG, ready for his 3rd MiG kill. (Hinton had shot down the very first MiG credited to a Sabre pilot in the Korean War six months earlier.) Suddenly he saw a Sabre crossing in front of him followed by a MiG-15, which was beating up the F-86 with its terrible 37 mm cannon.
Hinton even saw big pieces of debris coming off of the stricken Sabre. Shell strikes were setting the F-86 on fire.
Without hesitation, Hinton flew to help his comrade. However, he could not surprise the MiG-15 pilot, who saw him coming, forgot the beaten F-86 and performed a head-on pass against Hinton, like a joust of medieval knights. The MiG passed so close to Hinton’s Sabre, that he wondered how they avoided a mid-air collision (the MiG driver missed Hinton’s aircraft by less than 15 yards). In the ensuing fight, Hinton needed all his expertise to get a little advantage. Hinton’s wingman confessed later that he couldn’t follow the maneuvers of his leader, blacking out several times despite his g-suit. But after one circle and two low yo-yos, Hinton was able to shoot two short bursts, hitting the MiG. Smart enough so to know when he should quit, the skillful MiG-15 pilot disengaged and crossed the Yalu before Hinton could catch him.
Hinton escorted the badly hit F-86 (BuNo 49-1281) back to Suwon, where it belly landed and was written off. Only then did Lt. Col. Hinton realize that he had saved the life of his dear friend Glenn T. Eagleston, CO of the 4th Fighter Wing. Eagleston was a WW2 ace with 18.5 kills against German planes, and he had scored two MiG kills in the previous six months. So, the adversary able to beat up such an excellent pilot had to be a first class opponent. Hinton referred to that MiG-15 pilot with the following words:
“This MiG driver had been good, VERY GOOD. He had been waiting above the engagements between the MiGs and the F-86s. It was a well-known tactic that was commonly used by a single MiG pilot, that we referred to as CASEY JONES*. Ol’ Casey was an exceptional pilot, and definitely not an Oriental. His normal procedure was to hit fast from a high perch, diving down on any F-86 that was isolated from the on-going air battle, quite similar to a tactic used by von Richthofen in The Great War.”
The small, agile and lethal MiG-15 Fagot was the classic opponent of the F-86 Sabre in Korea.
Did differences in equipment explain the disparity? Probably not. Esentially the technological contest between the Soviet MiG-15 and the American F-86 Sabre was an even match. The MiG-15 Fagotwas better than the F-86 in many aspects (superior climb rate, faster acceleration, more powerful weaponry) but the F-86 Sabre compensated that with more stable diving, a better gunsight, and a g-suit for their pilots, allowing them to resist the tremendous g-forces involved in dogfights. So, the edge were the men in the cockpits, and in the “Honcho Period” the Soviets had such slight edge. Quoting Chuck Yeager: “It’s the man, not the machine”.
Additionally, Korea was for the Russian MiG-15 pilots a “target-rich environment.” In April-May 1951 there were only two regiments of MiG-15s in Manchuria, with a total of only 72 MiGs (despite the fantastic US reports which talked about 200 MiGs in China at that time). These six dozen MiGs faced about 700 UN aircraft, odds of 10 to 1. The arrival of the 3 regiments of the 303rd IAD reduced the odds to 4 to 1 by October 1951, but the Soviets actually never enjoyed the numerical superiority so often mentioned in US sources. By July 1953 the Russians had about 300 MiG-15s in the theater (plus a similar number of Chinese MiGs) against 1,000 UN aircraft (297 of them F-86E/Fs, plus a similar number of F-84s). Taking into account such figures, it is clear that the Russians always found the Korean skies full of American aircraft, and that’s why scores of 15, 10 or 8 were not uncommon.
All these factors created opportunities for the Russian pilots to pile up bigger scores than their American counterparts in 1951. Officially, there were 51 Soviet aces in Korea, but many of them achieved such scores by including “group victories.” The following list shows only the aces with 5 or more ‘full’ kills. The number in parenthesis indicates the kills confirmed by UN sources, and gives a good idea of the huge over-claiming of some aces. The list includes all aces with scores of 8 or higher, and some noted aces with lower scores.