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North American F-86A Sabre

USA flag old United States of America (1947)
Jet Fighter – 554 Built

F-86A-1-NA Sabre 47-630 in flight (North American Aviation)

The iconic F-86A got its first official production underway with the A series in 1947, with the initial examples fulfilling many testing duties, followed by a larger second production batch for active service. The development of these first Sabres would address many teething problems with the aircraft’s engines, speed brakes, and weaponry.  The A models, alongside many other first generation American jet aircraft would go on to see a few short years of service in the Korean theatre as well as defense of the United States before being eclipsed by the relatively rapid development of more advanced jet designs.

History

The P-86A was the first production version of the Sabre. North American had received an order for 33 production P-86As on November 20, 1946, even before the first XF-86 prototype had flown. The P-86A was outwardly quite similar to the XP-86, with external changes being very slight. About the only noticeable external difference was that the pitot tube was moved from the upper vertical fin to a position inside the air intact duct.

Major Richard L. Johnson, USAF with F-86A-1-NA Sabre 47-611 and others at Muroc AFB, 15 September 1948. (F-86 Sabre, by Maurice Allward)

The first production block consisted of 33 P-86A-1-NAs, ordered on October 16, 1947. These were known as NA-151 on North American company records. Serials were 47-605 through 47-637. Since there were officially no YP-86 service test aircraft, this initial production block effectively served as such.

The first production P-86A-1-NA (serial number 47-605) flew for the first time on May 20, 1948. The first and second production machines were accepted by the USAF on May 28, 1948, although they both remained at Inglewood on bailment to North American for production development work. Aircraft no. 47-605 was not actually sent to an Air Force base until April 29, 1950. It remained at WPAFB until May of 1952, when it was retired to storage at the Griffiss Air Depot.

In June of 1948, the P-86 was redesignated F-86 when the P-for-pursuit category was replaced by F-for-fighter

By March of 1949 the last F-86A-1-NA (47-637) had been delivered. Most of the 33 F-86A-1-NAs built were used for various tests and evaluations, and none actually entered squadron service.

The first production block to enter squadron service was actually the second production batch, 188 of which were ordered on February 23, 1949. They were assigned the designation of F-86A-5-NA by the USAF, but continued to be carried as NA-151 on company records. Serials were 48-129 to 48-316. These were powered by the J47-GE-7 jet engine. Deliveries began in March of 1949 and were completed in September of 1949.

A contract for 333 additional F-86As was received on May 29, 1948, and the final contract was approved on February 23, 1949. These aircraft were assigned a new designation of NA-161 on North American company records, but continued to be designated F-86A-5-NA in USAF records. Their serials were 49-1007 to 49-1229. These were powered by the General Electric J47-GE-13 engine which offered 5200 pounds of static thrust. The cockpit wiring was simplified. New 120-gallon drop tanks, developed specifically for the F-86, were introduced during this production run. Deliveries commenced in October of 1949 and were completed by December of 1950. The 282nd F-86A aircraft had a redesigned wing trailing edge with shorter chord aileron and greater elevator boost. Deliveries commenced October 1949 and ended in December 1950.

First Deployment

The first USAF combat organization to receive the F-86A was the First Fighter Group based at March AFB in California, with the famous “Hat in the Ring” 94th Squadron being the first to take delivery when they traded in their F-80s for the F-86A-5-NA during February of 1949. The 27th and 71st Squadrons were equipped with F-86A-5-NAs next, and by the end of May of 1949 the group had 83 F-86As on strength. This group was charged with the aerial defense of the Los Angeles area, which, coincidentally, is where the North American Aviation factory was located. Next to get the F-86 the the 4th Fighter Group based at Langley AFB, charged with the defense of Washington, D.C, and then the 81st Fighter Group, based at Kirtland AFT and charged with the defense of the nuclear bomb facilities at Alamogordo, New Mexico. Next came the 33rd Fighter Group based at Otis AFB in Massachusetts, charged with defending the northeastern approaches into the USA. In January of 1950, all air defense units were redesignated as Fighter Interceptor Groups (FIGs) or Fighter Interceptor Wings (FIWs) as a part of the Air Defense Command.

Origin of the “Sabre” Name

In February of 1949, there was a contest held by the First Fighter Group to choose a name for their new fighter. The name *Sabre* was selected, and was made official on March 4, 1949.

Reserves

The first Sabres that went to Reserve units were assigned to the 116th Fighter Interceptor Squadron of the Air National Guard, which received its first F-86As on December 22, 1950.

The following Wings were issued with the F-86A:

  • 1st Fighter Interceptor Wing (27th, 75st and 94th Squadrons)
  • 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing (334th, 335th, 336th Squadrons)
  • 33rd Fighter Interceptor Wing (58th, 59th and 60th Squadrons)
  • 56th Fighter Interceptor Wing (61st, 62nd, 63rd Squadrons)
  • 81st Fighter Interceptor Wing (78th, 89st, 92nd Squadron)

The F-86A was replaced in active USAF service by the F-86E beginning in the autumn of 1951. As F-86As left active USAF service, they were refurbished, reconditioned and transferred to Air National Guard units in the United States. The first ANG units to get the F-86A were the 198th Squadron in Puerto Rico, the 115th and 195th Squadrons at Van Nuys, California, the 196th at Ontario, and the 197th at Phoenix, Arizona.

Record Breaker

In the summer of 1948, the world’s air speed record was 650.796 mph, set by the Navy’s Douglas D-558-1 Skystreak research aircraft on August 25, 1947. Like the record-setting Lockheed P-80R before it, the Skystreak was a “one-off” souped-up aircraft specialized for high speed flight. The USAF thought that now would be a good time to show off its new fighter by using a stock, fully-equipped production model of the F-86A to break the world’s air speed record.

Major Richard L. Johnson on the day of his record-breaking flight, September 15th, 1948 (

To get the maximum impact, the Air Force decided to make the attempt on the speed record in the full glare of publicity, before a crowd of 80,000 spectators at the 1948 National Air Races in Cleveland, Ohio. The fourth production F-86A-1-NA (serial number 47-608, the cold weather test aircraft) was selected to make the record attempt, and Major Robert L. Johnson was to be the pilot. According to Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) rules, a 3km (1.86 mile) course had to be covered twice in each direction (to compensate for wind) in one continuous flight. At that time, the record runs had to be made at extremely low altitudes (below 165 feet) to enable precise timing with cameras to be made.

On September 5, 1948, Major Johnson was ready to go and flew his F-86A-1-NA serial number 47-708 on six low-level passes over the course in front of the crowd at Cleveland. Unfortunately, timing difficulties prevented three of these runs from being clocked accurately. In addition, interference caused by other aircraft wandering into the F-86A’s flight pattern at the wrong time prevented some of the other runs from being made at maximum speed. Even though the average of the three runs that were timed was 669.480 mph, the record was not recognized as being official by the FAI.

Further attempts to set an official record at Cleveland were frustrated by bad weather and by excessively turbulent air. Major Johnson then decided to move his record-setting effort out to Muroc Dry Lake (later renamed Edwards AFB), where the weather was more predictable and the air less turbulent. On September 15, 1948, Major Johnson finally succeeded in setting an official record of 670.981 mph by flying a different F-86A-1-NA (serial number 47-611, the armaments test aircraft) four times over a 1.86-mile course at altitudes between 75 and 125 feet.

Design

F-86A-1 47-611 Conducting a Static 5-inch HVAR Rocket Firing Test (U.S. Air Force Photo)

The P-86A incorporated as standard some of the changes first tested on the third XP-86 prototype. The front-opening speed brakes on the sides of the rear fuselage were replaced by rear-opening brakes, and the underside speed brake was deleted. However, the most important difference between the P-68A and the three XP-86 prototypes was the introduction of the 4850 lb.s.t. General Electric J47-GE-1 (TG-190) in place of the 4000 lb.s.t. J35. The two engines had a similar size, the J47 differing from the J35 primarily in having a twelfth compressor stage.

The F-86A-1-NA fighters could be recognized by their curved windshields and the flush-fitting electrically-operated gun muzzle doors that maintained the smooth surface of the nose. These muzzle doors opened automatically when the trigger was pressed to fire the guns, and closed automatically after each burst.

The cockpit of the F-86A remained almost the same as that of the XP-86, although certain military equipment was provided, such as an AN/ARC-3 VHF radio, an AN/ARN-6 radio compass, and an AN/APX-6 IFF radar identification set. The IFF set was equipped with a destructor which was automatically activated by impact during a crash or which could be manually activated by the pilot in an emergency. This was intended to prevent the codes stored in the device from being compromised by capture by the enemy. The F-86A was provided with a type T-4E-1 ejection seat, with a manually-jettisoned canopy.

The F-86A-1-NA’s empty weight was up to 10,077 pounds as compared to the prototype’s 9730 pounds, but the higher thrust of the J-47 engine increased the speed to 673 mph at sea level, which made the F-86A-1-NA almost 75 mph faster than the XP-86. Service ceiling rose from 41,200 feet to 46,000 feet. The initial climb rate was almost twice that of the XP-86.

In the autumn of 1948, problems with the J-47-GE-1 engine of the early F-86As forced a momentary halt to F-86 production. It was followed by a few J47-GE-3s, and in December the J47-GE-7 became available, which offered 5340 lb.s.t. and full production resumed.

A close up of the early A models’ retractable gunport covers. (Julien of Britmodeller)

The F-86A-5-NA had a V-shaped armored windscreen which replaced the curved windscreen of the F-86A-1-NA. The A-5 would dispense with the gun doors at some point in its production in the interest of maintenance simplicity, although many A-5 examples can be seen with gun doors, many of them with the doors permanently open. A jettisonable cockpit canopy was introduced. The A-5 introduced underwing pylons capable of carrying a variety of bombs (500 and 1000-pounders) or underwing fuel tanks of up to 206 gallons in capacity. A heating system was provided for the gun compartments, and stainless steel oil tanks and lines were provided for better fire resistance.

In May of 1949, beginning with the 100th F-86A aircraft, an improved canopy defrosting system was installed and a special coating was applied to the nose intake duct to prevent rain erosion. Earlier airframes were retrofitted to include these changes. The 116th F-86A was provided with a new wing slat mechanism which eliminated the lock and provided a fully automatic operation.

Gun Sight & Radar

The P-86A was equipped with the armament first tested on the third XP-86 six 0.50-inch machine guns in the nose, three on each side of the pilot’s cockpit. The guns had a rate of fire of 1100 rounds per minute. Each gun was fed by an ammunition canister in the lower fuselage holding up to 300 rounds of ammunition. The ammunition bay door could be opened up to double as the first step for pilot entry into the cockpit. The P-86A had two underwing hardpoints for weapons carriage. They could carry either a pair of 206.5 US-gallon drop tanks or a pair of 1000-lb bombs. Four zero-length stub rocket launchers could be installed underneath each wing to fire the 5-inch HVAR rocket, which could be carried in pairs on each launcher.

An innovation introduced with the NA-161 production batch was a new type of gun aiming system. All earlier F-86As had been equipped at the factory with Sperry Mark 18 optical lead computing gunsight, which was quite similar to the type of gunsight used on American fighter aircraft in the latter parts of World War 2. When the pilot identified his target, he set the span scale selector lever to correspond to the wingspan of the enemy aircraft he was chasing. He then aimed his fighter so that the target appeared within a circle of six diamond images on the reflector. Next, he rotated the range control unit until the diameter of the circle was the same as the size of the target. When the target was properly framed, the sight automatically computed the required lead and the guns could be fired.

Beginning with the first NA-161 aircraft (49-1007), the A-1B GBR sight and AN/APG-5C ranging radar were provided as factory-installed equipment. This new equipment was designed to automatically measure the range and automatically calculate the appropriate lead before the guns were fired, relieving the pilot of the cumbersome task of having to manually adjust an optical sight in order to determine the range to the target. When activated, the system automatically locked onto and tracked the target. The sight image determined by the A-1B was projected onto the armored glass of the windscreen, and the illumination of a radar target indicator light on the sight indicated time to track target continuously for one second before firing. This system could be used for rocket or bomb aiming as well as for guns.

In the last 24 F-86A-5-NAs that were built, the A-1B GPR sight and AN/APG-5C ranging radar were replaced by the A-1CM sight that was coupled with an AN/APG-30 radar scanner installed in the upper lip of the nose intake underneath a dark-colored dielectric covering. The APG-30 radar was a better unit than the AN/APG-5C, with a sweep range from 150 to 3000 yards. The A-1CM sight and the APG-30 ranging radar were both retrofitted to earlier A-5s during in-field modifications. These planes were redesignated F-86A-7-NA. However, some F-86A-5-NAs had the new A-1CM GBR sight combined with the older AN/APG-5C radar. These were redesignated F-86A-6-NA.

Engines

Some consideration given to replacing the J47 engine with the improved J35-A-17 that was used in the F-84E. This engine was tested in the first XP-86. Flight tests between November 28, 1949 and March 1951 indicated that the performance remained much the same as that of the F-86A-1-NA but with a slightly better range. However, the improvement was not considered significant enough to warrant changing production models.

Some F-86As were re-engined with the J47-GE-13 engine, rated at 5450 lb.s.t., but their designation did not change.

All F-86As were initially delivered with the pitot head located inside the air intake duct. It was found in practice that false airspeed readings could be obtained due to the increased airflow within the intake duct, so North American decided to move the pitot head to the tip of a short boom that extended from the leading edge of the starboard wingtip. All F-86As were later retrofitted with the wingtip boom when went through IRAN (Inspect and Repair as Necessary). However, the pitot tube in the intake was never designed to provide airspeed input to the pilot, and the pitot tube in the intake was still there and was used to provide input for the engine.

Fuel

Internal fuel capacity of the F-86A was 435 gallons, carried in four self-sealing tanks. Two of the tanks were in the lower part of the fuselage, one of them being wrapped around the intake duct just ahead of the engine and the other being wrapped around the engine itself. The other two fuel tanks were in the wing roots. Usually the F-86A carried two 120-gallon drop tanks, although 206.5 gallon tanks could be fitted for ferry purposes.

Weapons

Ground attack weapons could be installed in place of the jettisonable underwing fuel tanks. Choices include a pair of 100, 500 or 1000-pound bombs, 750-pound napalm tanks, or 500 pound fragmentation clusters. Alternatively, eight removable zero-rail rocket launchers could be installed. These mounted sixteen 5-inch rockets. When external armament was fitted in place of the drop tanks, combat radius was reduced from 330 to 50 miles, which was not a very useful distance.

F-86A in Korea

Even though the initial skirmishes with MiGs in Korea had demonstrated that their pilots lacked experience and an aggressive approach, the MiG threat was very real and threw the USAF into a near panic. The USAF had nothing in Korea that could provide an effective counter if the MiG-15s were to intervene in large numbers.

In order to counter the MiG threat, on November 8 the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing, which consisted of the 334th 335th, and 336th Squadrons, based at Wilmington, Delaware and equipped with the F-86A Sabre was ordered to Korea. Most of their pilots were seasoned veterans of World War 2 and they had shot down over 1000 Germans during that conflict. Prior to flying to the West Coast, the 4th FIG exchanged their older ’48 model F-86As for some of the best “low-time” F-86As taken from other Sabre units. The 334th and 335th FIS flew to San Diego and their planes were loaded aboard a Navy escort carrier. The 336th FIS went to San Francisco and was loaded aboard a tanker. Their F-86A aircraft arrived in Japan in mid-December. The aircraft were then unloaded and flown to Kimpo airfield in Korea.

However, before any of these Sabres could reach the front, on November 26, 1950, Chinese armies intervened with devastating force in Korea, breaking through the UN lines and throwing them back in utter confusion. The MiGs did not provide any effective support for this invasion, being unable to establish any effective intervention below a narrow strip up near the Yalu. The MiG pilots were relatively inexperienced and were poor marksmen. They would seldom risk more than one pass at their targets before they would dart back across the Yalu. Had the MiGs been able to establish and hold air superiority over the battle area, the UN forces may well have been thrown entirely out of Korea.

The first advanced detachment of 336th FIS F-86As arrived at Kimpo airfield south of Seoul on December 15. The first Sabre mission took place on December 17. It was an armed reconnaissance of the region just south of the Yalu. Lt. Col. Bruce H. Hinton, commander of the 336th Squadron, succeeding in shooting down one MiG-15 out of a flight of four, to score first blood for the Sabre. The rest of the MiGs fled back across the Yalu. On December 19, Col. Hinton led another four-plane flight up to the Yalu, where his flight met six MiGs who flew through his formation without firing a shot before dashing back across the Yalu. On December 22, the MiGs managed to shoot down a single Sabre out of a flight of eight without loss to themselves, but later that day the Sabres got their revenge by destroying six MiGs out a flight of 15. This loss spooked the MiG pilots, and they avoided combat for the rest of the month.

During December, the 4th Wing had flown 234 sorties, clashed with the enemy 76 times, scored eight victories, and lost one aircraft.

By the end of 1950, Chinese armies had driven UN forces out of North Korea and had begun to invade the South. The Sabres were forced to leave Kimpo and return to Japan which put them out of range of the action up at the Yalu.

Even though the Yalu was now out of range, on January 14, an F-86A detachment appeared at Taegu to participate as fighter bombers to try to halt the Chinese advance. The F-86A was not very successful in the fighter-bomber role, being judged much less effective than slower types such as the F-80 and the F-84. When carrying underwing ordinance, the F-86A’s range and endurance were much too low, and it could not carry a sufficiently large offensive load to make it a really effective fighter bomber. In these attacks, the underwing armament was usually limited to only a pair of 5-inch rockets.

Eventually, the Chinese advance ground to a halt due to extended supply lines and the relentless UN air attacks. The Chinese advance was halted by the end of January, and the UN forces began pushing them back. Kimpo airfield was recovered on February 10. The halting of the Chinese advance can be blamed largely on the inability of the MiGs to provide any effective support for the Chinese attack. Not only had no Chinese bombers appeared to attack UN troops, but no MiGs had flown south of the Yalu region to provide any air support.

The Chinese apparently did have plans for a major spring offensive to complete the task of driving the UN out of Korea. This plan was to be based on the construction of a series of North Korean air bases and for Chinese MiGs to use these bases as forward landing strips to provide air superiority over the North, preventing UN aircraft from interfering with the advance.

In early March, the MiGs began to become more active in support of this offensive, On March 1, MiGs jumped a formation of nine B-29s and severely damaged three of them. Fortunately, by this time the UN base at Suwon was now ready, and the Sabres were now able to return to Korea and reenter the fray over the Yalu. The Sabres of the 334th Squadron began their first Yalu patrols on March 6th, and the rest of the squadron moved in four days later. At the same time, the 336th Squadron moved to Taegu from Japan, so that they could stage Sabres through Suwon. The 4th Wing’s other squadron, the 335th, stayed in Japan until May 1.

MiG Alley

The strip of airspace in western Korea just south of the Yalu soon became known as “MiG Alley” to the Sabre pilots. The Sabres would arrive for their 25-minute patrols in five minute intervals. The MiGs would usually cruise back and forth at high altitude on the other side of the Yalu, looking for an opportune time to intervene. Very often they would remain on the north side of the river, tantalizingly out of reach. When the MiGs did choose to enter battle, the Sabres would usually have only a fleeting chance to fire at the enemy before the MiGs broke off and escaped back across the Yalu. The MiGs had the advantage of being able to choose the time and place of the battle. The MiG-15 had a better high-altitude performance than the F-86A. The MiG had a higher combat ceiling, a higher climb rate, and was faster at higher altitudes than the F-86A. Its superior high-altitude performance enabled the MiG to break off combat at will. Despite these handicaps, the F-86A pilots were far more experienced than their Chinese opponents and they were better marksmen. The Sabre was a more stable gun platform and had fewer high-speed instabilities than did the MiG-15. In addition, the F-86A was faster than the MiG-15 at lower altitudes, and an effective strategy was for the Sabre to force the battle down to lower altitudes where it had the advantage.

In April of 1951, the MiGs got a little bolder, and they would often make attempts to intercept B-29 formations that were attacking targets in the Sinuiju area up near the Yalu. The biggest air battle of that spring took place on April 12, when a formation of 39 B-29s escorted by F-84Es and F-86As were attacked by over 70 MiGs. Three B-29s were lost, whereas 14 MiGs were claimed destroyed, four by the escorting Sabres and ten by B-29 gunners.

On May 20, 1951, F-86A pilot Captain James Jabara became the world’s first jet ace when he shot down a pair of MiGs to bring his total to six.

No F-86As were lost in action during the first five months of 1951, and they flew 3550 sorties and scored 22 victories. Most of the attrition was caused by accidents rather than by losses in actual combat.

In June of 1951, the MiGs began to show more aggressive behavior, and their pilots began to get somewhat better. In air battles on June 17th, 18th, and 19th, six MiGs were destroyed but two Sabres were lost. Another Sabre was lost on June 11 when the 4th Wing covering an F-80 attack on the Sinuiju airfield shot down two more MiGs.

As the first year of the Korean War came to an end, it was apparent that the Sabre had been instrumental in frustrating the MiG-15’s bid for air superiority. Without control of the air, the Red Chinese were unable to establish their series of air bases and they were not able to carry out effective air support of their spring offensive, and the Korean War settled down to a stalemate on the ground.

The more-advanced F-86E began to enter action in Korea with the 4th Wing in July of 1951, replacing that unit’s F-86As on a one-by-one basis. The conversion to the F-86E was rather slow, and the last F-86A was not replaced until July of 1952.

Operators

  • U.S. Air Force – The U.S. utilized the F-86A extensively for the air defense of the Continental United States, while also seeing action in Korea in MiG Alley.

North American F-86A-5-NA Specifications

Wingspan 37 ft 1.5 in / 11.32 m
Length 37 ft 6.5 in / 11.44 m
Height 14 ft 9 in / 4.5 m
Wing Area 287.9 ft² / 26.8 m²
Engine 1x General Electric J47-GE-13 Turbojet Engine

5200 lbst

Weights
Empty 10,093 lb / 4,578 kg
Maximum Take Off 14,108 lb / 6,399 kg
Combat 13,791 lb / 6,255 kg
Climb Rate
Rate of Climb at Sea Level 7,470 ft / 2,277 m per minute
Time to 40,000 ft / 12,192 m 10.4 minutes
Maximum Speed
Sea Level 679 mph / 1,092 kmh
35,000 ft / 10,668 m 601 mph / 967 kmh
Takeoff Run 2,430 ft / 741 m
Range (with Drop Tanks) 660 mi / 1,062 km
Maximum Service Ceiling 48,000 ft / 14,630 m
Crew 1 pilot
Armament
  • 6x Browning M3 machine guns, 300 rounds per gun
  • A-1B GBR Gun Sight
  • AN/APG-5C Ranging Radar
  • 8x 5-inch HVAR Rockets
  • 2x 1000 lb bombs
  • 2x Drop Tanks – 206.5 U.S. Gal / 781.7 Liters

Gallery

Illustrations by Ed Jackson

F-86A-1 Sabre 47-611 – September 1948
F-86A-1 Sabre 47-630 – 1948
F-86A-5 48-0158 – 1949
F-86A-5 48-1257 – Korea 1951 – Flown by Capt. James Jabara
F-86A-5 Sabre 49-1080 February 1952 – Note the 5 inch HVAR Rocket Mounted inboard of the fuel tank

Sources:

  1. F-86 Sabre in Action, Larry Davis, Squadron/Signal Publications, 1992.
  2. The North American Sabre, Ray Wagner, MacDonald, 1963.
  3. The American Fighter, Enzo Angelucci and Peter Bowers, Orion, 1987.
  4. The World Guide to Combat Planes, William Green, MacDonald, 1966.
  5. Flash of the Sabre, Jack Dean, Wings Vol 22, No 5, 1992.
  6. North American F-86 Sabre, Larry Davis, Wings of Fame, Volume 10, 1998

 

Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa in Communist Chinese Service

PRC flag People’s Republic of China (1945-1952)
Fighter – 8+ Operated

An illustration depicting a Hayabusa in Communist service flying. (Encyclopedia of Chinese Aircraft: Volume 2)

Widely known as one of Japan’s most iconic aircraft of the Pacific War, the Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa’s service life was not limited to the Second World War. Shortly after the Japanese capitulation, Nationalist and Communist Chinese forces were able to capture stockpiles of firearms, tanks and planes left over by the fleeing Japanese forces. Among these were various models of the Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa. These were pressed into service with the Communist Chinese as an advanced combat trainer and fighter. One of the rather obscure chapters of the Hayabusa’s service life was that it was the first plane used by the Communist Chinese in aerial combat.

History

Developed in the late 1930s, the Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa (Type 1 Fighter) enjoyed a relatively successful service record in the Second Sino-Japanese War once introduced in 1941. The Japanese 59th and 64th Sentai (Squadrons) were the first two squadrons to receive the new Ki-43-I fighter. With barely any resistance by the Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF), the Ki-43-I helped reinforce Japanese aerial superiority over China, French Indochina, Malaya, and parts of India until the arrival of lend-lease Allied warplanes for China. Throughout the service of the Hayabusa, three major variants were issued to units: the Ki-43-I, Ki-43-II, and Ki-43-III. The Japanese also provided some of these variants to the Manchukuo Imperial Air Force in the Northeast region of China. With the end of the Second Sino-Japanese War, stockpiles of Japanese equipment was up for grabs between the Soviets, Nationalist Chinese, and the Communist Chinese. The Nationalist Chinese forces reoccupied Shanghai near the end of 1945 and captured warplanes formerly belonging to the Japanese. Among these were various models of the Hayabusa which were used to equip the 18th and 19th Squadrons of the ROCAF’s 6th Fighter Group. These Hayabusas were stationed at Shandong in preparation for the Chinese Civil War. Due to a lack of spare parts and adequate mechanics, the two squadrons were disbanded the following May.

The Communist Chinese forces were by no means idle during the immediate few postwar months. Countless guns were captured, with a considerable amount of tanks and planes as well. In October of 1945, the Communist Chinese forces captured their first five Hayabusas during the liberation of Shenyang during the Liaoshen Campaign from the Nationalists. These five captured Nationalist Hayabusas were Ki-43-II models that formerly belonged to the Japanese 4th Training Regiment. The exact model of the planes is unknown. (It is unknown if they are kō, otsu, hei, etc. variants). These five planes would be sent to the recently established Northeast Old Aviation School (东北老航校) after some refurbishing and repairs. In December of the same year, two of these planes were repaired and were planned to be ferried to the Northeast Old Aviation School. Two Japanese ferry pilots now loyal to the Communist Chinese took off from Fengjibao (奉集堡) to fly to Tonghua (通化), one of their destinations. The two Hayabusas and their pilots never made it to Tonghua however, and it is widely speculated that these Japanese pilots were unfamiliar with the geography and ended up getting lost. This is indeed a possibility but there are many other theories. It’s conceivable that the planes suffered from mechanical failure and crashed. Another possibility may be that the pilots were intercepted by ROCAF planes, but there is no proof of this.

Artwork Depicting a Ki-43 flying over Japanese trainers in the Northeast Aviation School. (Illustration by Chen Yingming / 陈应明)

The rest of the Hayabusas were eventually delivered to the Northeast Old Aviation School, where they were used as advanced trainers for fighter pilots. In April of 1948, men belonging to the Northeast Old Aviation school were able to capture an unspecified amount of Hayabusa fighters in the Chaoyang (朝阳镇) Town airport located in Jilin. This was followed by another unspecified batch of Hayabusas captured in Sunjia (孙家) Airport located near Harbin in the Heilongjiang province sometime in June of the same year. Four Hayabusas were recorded to have been repaired by the school from 1947 to 1948. Under the guidance of former Japanese and Manchukuo pilots, many of the Communist Chinese air cadets were soon able to graduate from flying in the two-seater Tachikawa Ki-55 trainer to flying solo in the Hayabusa.

In March of 1948, a number of experienced pilots and instructors were pulled from the school to form a “Combat Flying Wing” (战斗飞行大队). The 1st Squadron would use bombers and transport aircraft while 2nd Squadron would use fighters. Among these would be six Ki-43-II models. The intent of this formation was to combat Nationalist planes, but this wing never saw any combat action.

Considerations were made to use the Hayabusa in the Establishment of the People’s Republic of China parade on October 1st of 1949, but this did not happen. Despite what one may think, the Japanese planes were not withheld from the parade due to political and racial issues, but rather fear of them experiencing mechanical problems during the parade.

Communist Chinese service members standing in front of a captured Hayabusa. (Encyclopedia of Chinese Aircraft: Volume 2)

As such, these worn out Hayabusas were grounded. By November of 1949, there were only five examples of the Hayabusa that were still in use. These final five fighters were used by the 7th Aviation School as trainers and teaching aids. By 1952, all of the Hayabusas were finally retired from service. There are no surviving examples of the Communist Chinese Hayabusa, but there is one known photo of the Communist Hayabusa in service.

First Air-to Air Combat of the Communist Chinese Air Force

In the afternoon of October 15th 1947, four Nationalist Chinese P-51D Mustangs belonging to the Shenyang Beiling airfield took off under the leadership of Xu Jizhen (徐吉骧), the co-captain of the squadron. They were tasked with the mission of patrolling the airspace of Harbin (哈尔滨), Jiamusi (佳木斯) and the Sino-Soviet border. Upon crossing the mountains near Mishan (密山), the Mustangs squadron noticed a Tachikawa Ki-55 trainer with Communist Chinese markings belonging to the Northeast Old Aviation School preparing to land at the nearby Tangyuan (汤原) airport. This Ki-55 was piloted by Lu Liping (吕黎平) and an unnamed Japanese instructor. Xu Jizhen immediately dove for the trainer and began firing. The area immediately behind the instructor’s compartment was hit, which resulted in a fire. Watching the attack from the ground, Fang Hua (方华), a veteran Communist soldier, scrambled for a nearby parked Nakajima Ki-43-II Hayabusa and took off. Unfortunately for him, the Hayabusa was not loaded with ammunition so he was unable to engage the Mustangs. However, he was able to lead the Mustangs away from the airfield and evaded their shots until they ran out of ammo. This unfortunate skirmish was the first air-to-air combat experience the Communist Chinese had.

Debunking the Numbers Operated

According to many Western sources, the Communist Chinese Forces only operated five Hayabusas. This is however incorrect. The author believes the reason that these sources mention only five models captured was due to translation errors or simply by overlooking facts. The most likely cause of the misconception is likely due to two facts:

  1. By the end of the Liaoshen Campaign, the Communist Chinese forces had captured five models.
  2. By the time the PLAAF was officially established, there were five models still in service.

What these Western sources may have overlooked however, was the fact that two of the first five models captured crashed during a ferry flight in December of 1945. This leaves only three models operational.

However, a commonly overlooked fact is that the Northeast Old Aviation School was able to capture an unspecified amount of Hayabusas in the Chaoyang (朝阳镇) Town airport located in Jilin sometime in April of 1946. Another unspecified batch of Hayabusas were also captured in Sunjia (孙家) Airport located near Harbin in the Heilongjiang province in June. Due to the unspecified nature of the amount of Hayabusas captured in these two places, it only adds to the difficulty of determining how much Hayabusas were truly captured and operated. But on an inventory check done in April of 1948, a total of six Hayabusas were accounted for serving with the 2nd Squadron. According to this record, that should mean three or more Hayabusas were captured in those two airfields. That should make a total of eight or more Hayabusas when accounting for the two crashed ones. In conclusion, the author believes that a potential total of eight or more Hayabusas were captured, and operated by the Communist Chinese forces to some extent until the retirement of all models in 1952.

Gallery

Communist Chinese Ki-43-II in the colors of the Northeast Old Aviation School by Brendan Matsuyama

Sources

Gang, W., Ming, C. Y., & Wei, Z. (2012). 中国飞机全书 (Vol. 1). Beijing: 航空工业出版社., Gang, W., Ming, C. Y., & Wei, Z. (2009). 中国飞机全书 (Vol. 2). Beijing: 航空工业出版社., Allen, K. (n.d.). PEOPLE’S LIBERATION ARMY AIR FORCE ORGANIZATION., 网易军事. (2016, May 24). 老航校70周年:“鬼子飞行员”在中国当教官., Zhang, X. (2003). Red Wings over the Yalu: China, the Soviet Union, and the Air War in Korea. College Station: Texas A & M University Press., Side Profile Views by Brendan Matsuyama

North American P-51 Mustang in Communist Chinese Service

PRC flag People’s Republic of China (1948-1953)
Fighter – 39 Operated

The North American P-51 Mustang is considered one of the world’s most iconic warplanes from the Second World War, seeing action in nearly all theaters, as well as the Korean War and many other conflicts thereafter. However, one of the lesser known stories of the Mustang is its service with the Communist Chinese forces who would go on to form the People’s Republic of China shortly after. A total of 39 Mustangs were obtained from the Chinese Nationalist forces either by capture or defection. These Mustangs were used in various roles with the Communists, and nine of them even had the honor of flying over Beijing on October 1st 1949 for a parade to commemorate the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. Although never seeing combat, the Mustangs still had served with the Communist Chinese forces as one of their most advanced fighters until the arrival of Soviet aid.

A photo displaying the rather impressive cache of captured Nationalist planes now in Communist service. In this photo, there are around nineteen P-51 Mustangs visible. (Encyclopedia of Chinese Aircraft: Volume 2)

History

The Republic of China (i.e, Chinese Nationalists under Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek) was a notable operator of the North American P-51 Mustang during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). Since the United States entered the Second World War, plans were made to provide the Republic of China China with modern American warplanes to replace the worn and outdated planes that the Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) were using. The Mustangs were initially flown by pilots of the Chinese-American Composite Wing (CACW) starting from November 1944. The models they operated were P-51B and P-51C, but later in February 1945, P-51D and P-51K variants were delivered and put to use against the Japanese along with the P-51B and P-51C. At the end of the Second World War, the ROCAF received 278 Mustangs from the USAAF, most of which were P-51D and P-51K models, but also with some F-6D and F-6K photo reconnaissance models. Soon after, the uneasy relationship between the Communist Party of China under the leadership of Mao Zedong and the Nationalist government under the leadership of Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek) disintegrated. As such, the civil war between the two parties resumed after nearly nine years of truce. This time however, the Communist forces were more prepared to fight the Nationalist forces. As time went on, the Nationalist forces began losing their hold on mainland China and were forced to retreat to Formosa (Taiwan), but not before many of their soldiers, officers and generals defected, leaving a substantial amount of equipment behind.

The People’s Liberation Army obtained their first Mustang on September 23rd 1948 when Captain Yang Peiguang (杨培光) from the Nationalist 4th Fighter Wing based in Beiping (Beijing) defected with his P-51D to the Communist forces at Siping, Jilin Province. The bulk of the Mustangs which would be captured by the Communist forces were, however, from the Liaoshen Campaign which lasted from September 12th – November 2nd, 1948. With the Communist victory at the Battle of Jinzhou on October 15th, a considerable amount of Nationalist equipment was captured; among these were thirty one Mustangs in various states of repair at the Jinzhou Airfield. Though now with thirty four Mustangs in total, the People’s Liberation Army was not able to press any into service due to many factors; the most important two being the lack of able pilots and the varying states of disrepair that the Mustangs were in.

The city of Shenyang was finally captured by the People’s Liberation Army on October 30th 1948, and on the second day of the city’s capture on October 31st, the Northeast People’s Liberation Army Aviation School sent men to secure the Shenyang Beiling airport, factories, warehouses, personnel, and various other assets formerly belonging to the Nationalists. In November, the Shenyang Beiling airport was officially established as the People’s Liberation Army Air Force Repair Factory Number 5 (中国人民解放军空军第五修理厂). With the establishment of this repair factory, the first machines to be repaired were the Mustangs. The repairs took top priority and the first Mustang was ready for service on December 30th. Since then, thirty six Mustangs were repaired within a span of eighteen to twenty months lasting until 1950.

On December 10th 1948, the People’s Liberation Army was able to capture the Nationalist-held Beiping (Beijing) Nanyuan Airport as part of the Pingjin Campaign. Three Mustangs were found in relatively good condition, and a total of 128 Packard-built V-1650 Merlin engines were captured as well. This boosted the total amount of Mustangs in the People’s Liberation Army to thirty seven, and provided plenty of replacement engines for maintenance. After this, two more Mustangs would fall in the hands of the Communist forces.

On December 29th, Lieutenant Tan Hanzhou (谭汉洲) of the Nationalist 4th Fighter Group defected with his Mustang from Qingdao to Communist held Shenyang. The last Mustang to fall into the People’s Liberation Army’s hands occured on January 14th of 1949 when Lieutenant Yan Chengyin* (阎承荫) from the Nationalist 3rd Fighter Group’s 28th Squadron defected from his home base of Nanjing to Communist held Jinan.

Lieutenant Tan Hanzhou with his Mustang shortly after his defection. (blog.163.com)

 

Now with thirty nine Mustangs in total, the People’s Liberation Army began to put them to use. Starting from late January 1949, a large number of Mustangs were presented to the Northeast Old Aviation School’s (东北老航校) 2nd Squadron of the 1st Air Group with the purpose of training pilots. On August 15th 1949, the People’s Liberation Army formed their first flying squadron named at the Beiping Nanyuan airfield. The squadron consisted of two Fairchild PT-19 trainers, two de Havilland Mosquito fighter-bombers and six Mustangs. Shortly after the formation on September 5th, this squadron was assigned the task of defending Beiping’s airspace from Nationalist forces. At some point before October, eleven more Mustangs were assigned to this squadron. The squadron saw no combat.

* Mr. Yan later changed his name to Yan Lei (阎磊) after his defection.

Perhaps the most notable use of the Mustangs in Communist Chinese service was on October 1st 1949. By then, the bulk of the Nationalist forces were in discord and in the process of retreating to Formosa (Taiwan). With the Communist victory inevitable, Mao Zedong proclaimed the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. A Soviet-style military parade was held in newly-renamed Beijing’s (Beiping) Tiananmen Square which included sixteen thousand and four hundred soldiers, one hundred and fifty two tanks, two hundred and twenty two cars and seventeen planes were displayed to the public. Of these seventeen planes, nine were Mustangs. The Mustangs flew in groups of threes in a V formation and led the aerial convoy. Once over Tiananmen square, these Mustangs increased their speed and flew past the square and out of sight, they made a turn and reentered Tiananmen square for the back just in time to link up with the two Fairchild PT-19A trainers flying last. Because they re-entered the square so quickly, the spectators were led to believe these were nine different Mustangs, with a total of twenty six planes appearing over Tiananmen square instead of the actual seventeen. This was mentioned in a government made propaganda newsreel. Of these nine Mustangs, at least one was a P-51K model.

After the parade, the Mustangs were once again deployed in a defensive state awaiting possible Nationalist intrusions in Beijing. By November 1949, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force was officially established and a total of twenty two airworthy Mustangs were in service, with nine more awaiting repair. This meant that thirty one Mustangs still survived, with eight written off. It is unknown what precisely happened to these Mustangs but the author speculates that they could have been cannibalized for parts, destroyed in training flights, disassembled to study the structure, or simply scrapped.

One of the only known photos of the two seat P-51D trainer. The canopy seemed to have been removed to make space. (js.voc.com.cn)

On July 26th 1950, the Beijing defense squadron was renamed the “Air Force 1st Independent Fighter Brigade” (空军独立第一歼击机大队). By then, the Soviet Union was supplying the Chinese with more modern equipment and by mid-August, the brigade’s Mustangs were replaced by Soviet Lavochkin La-9 fighters. Once replaced, all Mustangs scattered across the country were collected and given to Aviation School No.7 to train new pilots. With this, Aviation School No.7 modified thirteen Mustangs to be two-seat trainers. This was done perhaps to speed up the training process, and to prevent accidents by rookie pilots without guidance. There is currently one known photo of the two seat trainer.

By September 1953, most Mustangs were retired from training service due to cracks in the landing gear. However, eight of them remained in service with Aviation School No.7 to train Ilyushin IL-10 pilots how to taxi their planes. A few more examples were used as teaching tools to train pilots on identifying plane parts. It is unknown when precisely the Mustang was retired once and for all.

An illustration showing three P-51 Mustangs flying over Beijing on October 1st of 1949. (thepaper.cn)

Surviving PLAAF Mustangs

To this day, only two Mustangs formerly in PLAAF service survive in museums. The first one is a P-51K-10-NT “Red 3032” with the serial number 44-12458. This P-51K is on public display at the Chinese Aviation Museum (中国航空博物馆), sometimes also known as the Datangshan Aviation Museum located in Datangshan, Beijing. It remains in relatively pristine condition as it was in an indoors display and sheltered from the elements. Bomb hardpoints are visible under each of the wings which signifies that this Mustang perhaps once served as a fighter/bomber for the ROCAF.

P-51K-10-NT “Red 3032” on display. It is in rather good condition due to being stored indoors. (George Trussell)

The other surviving PLAAF Mustang is a P-51D-25-NA “Red 3” with the serial number 44-73920. This Mustang can be seen at the China People’s Revolution Military Museum (中国人民革命军事博物馆) in the Haidian District of Beijing. What is notable about this specific plane is that it was one of the nine Mustangs that flew over Beijing on October 1st of 1949 for the Founding of the People’s Republic of China parade. This Mustang was displayed outdoors exposed to nature for the majority of its life until the museum went under renovation when it was finally moved indoors. The Mustang has gone through minimal restoration, as it looks considerably cleaner than when it was displayed outdoors. This Mustang also had bomb hardpoints under its wings.

The P-51D-25-NA “Red 3” in its new indoor display after the museum renovation. It looks considerably cleaner than when it was displayed outdoors. (Wikimedia Commons)
The P-51D-25-NA “Red 3” in its old outdoors display, dust and slight rust can be seen on the machine. (Wikimedia Commons)

Variants Operated

A total of 39 North American P-51D Mustangs were operated by the Communist Chinese forces, and later the People’s Republic of China. Within these Mustangs, an unknown amount were P-51D and P-51K models.

  • P-51D – An unspecified amount of P-51D Mustangs of various block numbers were operated by the People’s Republic of China. A P-51D-25-NA is confirmed to have been in service as it flew over Beijing as part of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China parade and is now in the China People’s Revolution Military Museum (中国人民革命军事博物馆) in the Beijing.
  • P-51K – An unspecified amount of P-51K Mustangs of various block numbers were operated by the People’s Republic of China. A P-51K-10-NT is confirmed to have been in service as it is in the Chinese Aviation Museum (中国航空博物馆) in Beijing.
  • P-51 Trainer – A total of thirteen Mustangs were modified by Aviation School No.7 in 1951 to be two-seat trainers. The instructor sat in the rear while the student pilot was at the front. No surviving examples are preserved to this day.

Note

The author would like to extend his thanks to Mr. Hemmatyar for restoring some of the photos used in this article.

Gallery

P-51K-10-NT “Red 3032” displayed in the Chinese Aviation Museum in Datangshan, Beijing. Illustration by Brendan Matsuyama
P-51D-25-NA “Red 3” displayed in the China People’s Revolution Military Museum in the Haidian District of Beijing. Illustration by Brendan Matsuyama
A PLAAF P-51D/K with a blue rudder. The unit and serial number is unknown. Illustration by Brendan Matsuyama
A rare photograph of a mini P-51 Mustang model with PLAAF markings dated some time in the early 1950s. Two little boys accompany the cutout. This shows how impactful the Mustang was to the initial years of the People’s Republic of China. (eBay)
22 year old Lin Hu (林虎) with his P-51K before taking off to partake in the parade. (gogonews.cc)
A still frame showing three P-51 Mustangs flying over Beijing. (Establishment of the People’s Republic of China Parade)
A line of P-51 Mustangs awaiting inspection with their respective pilots standing at ease. (sohu.com)
A PLAAF Mustang taking off. Note the rocket rails. (Encyclopedia of Chinese Aircraft: Volume 2)
Mechanics and ground crew doing engine work on a Mustang. (Encyclopedia of Chinese Aircraft: Volume 2)
Four Mustangs line up on the Beijing Nanyuan Airfield awaiting to take off for the participation in the 1949 parade. Two Curtiss C-46 Commandos can also be seen in the background. (windsor8.com)

Sources

Gang, W., Ming, C. Y., & Wei, Z. (2009). 中国飞机全书 (Vol. 2). Beijing: 航空工业出版社., 八一战鹰大全(一)—— P-51“野马”战斗机. (n.d.). , Armstrong. (n.d.). 天马行空: 纪念 P-51 野马战斗机升空六十年., 肖邦振, & 李冰梅. (2010). 新中国成立前后 国民党空军飞行人员驾机起义探析. 军事史资料., Allen, K. (n.d.). PEOPLE’S LIBERATION ARMY AIR FORCE ORGANIZATION., (2016, December 19).开国大典——1949国庆大阅兵, Side Profile Views by Brendan Matsuyama

1-f-15a-77-0124-ma_03

F-15 Eagle

usa flag USA (1976)
Tactical Fighter – 1,600 Built

The F-15 Eagle is beyond any doubt one of the most famous air superiority fighters of the second half of the Cold War, and a worthy successor of the also famous McDonnel Douglas F-4 Phantom. For instance, its predecessor was designed to be a fighter with attack capabilities for any weather condition, and the same concept was taken into account when developing the Eagle, only that it was intended mainly for air superiority. Interestingly, and despite the F-4 being a naval plane for most of the part, the F-15 would be a combat eagle on use by the USAF. There is also another thing both planes have in common, despite being the Phantom already in combat and the Eagle yet to be developed: the Vietnam War. As it happens, high number of casualties made the US Navy and the Air Force, along with the influence of Secretary of State Robert McNamara, to look for new models to replace the existing ones, including the Phantom. The introduction of the Mig 25 Foxbat provided the final argument in favour of the development of a new aircraft for air superiority. And with while the Navy would ultimately incorporate the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, the USAF decided to go for its own fighter, resulting in the F-15, being the counterpart of the Tomcat and taking the Mig-25 as inspiration in terms of performance, to say the least.

f-15a-display
F-15A Model on Display

The F-15 Eagle is single-seat – or double seat in tandem in certain versions – twin-engine all-weather tactical fighter/air superiority fighter with attack and bombing capabilities, with cantilever shoulder-mounted wings. As it was briefly mentioned, the Vietnam War gave way for its requirement given the high losses to soviet-made aircraft (often old models) back in 1964, with 1968 being the year of requirements issuing and 1969 the year when development of the Eagle began. The main requirement was for the new fighter to be of air superiority and having secondary attack capacities. McDonnell Douglas was the company that awarded the requirements, thus developing the Eagle from the abovementioned year and flying the first prototype in 1972. NASA, in addition, came to take active part in the development of the F-15, especially on its mission requirements, at the same time of the development by the industry contractors.

The Eagle became to be one of the most advanced fighters of the times, clearly fulfilling its mission as it is considered the best air superiority fighter. The secret of its effectiveness and resilience lies on its structure, which is made of metal and then titanium at most of its components, and the empennage made of composite materials – twin aluminium/composite material honeycomb – and the vertical stabilizers made of boron-composite skin. This allowed the tails and the rudders to be very thin yet resistant. The wing also plays its role in bestowing the flying and combat capabilities of the F-15, as this has a cropped delta shape with a leading-edge sweepback of 45 degrees. There are no leading-edge flaps, and the trailing edge – or posterior area of the wing – is having ailerons and a simple high-lift flap. As a result, the wing’ low loading allows the F-15 to be very manoeuvrable without sacrificing speed in the process. The powerplant (two Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-100 turbofans engines with afterburners) and the avionics also play a role in providing the F-15 with its exceptional qualities: The former by bestowing speeds of up to 2.5 Mach and a good time/altitude ratio, the latter by allowing the crew to track and engage targets at distanced up to 160 km (87 miles) and targets at very low and high altitudes.

The F-15 has proven to be a platform capable of receiving structural and avionics/electronics improvements, further enhancing its combat and flight capabilities, with new radars, computers, weapons controls and armament type, powerplants (Pratt & Whitney F-100-PW-220), warning and navigation systems. The F-15 could even receive low visibility technologies, proving the adaptability and capacity of the aircraft to incorporate the latest technologies, as it is the case of the proposed F-15SE Silent Eagle, where its weapons carrying capabilities are proposed to be equally upgraded. This version could co-operate with 5th generation air assets, let alone to almost operate like one.

The F-15 has witnessed action not only in the air campaigns waged by the USA in the Middle East, the Balkans and Central Asia, but also with other air forces, being the Israeli Air Force where the F-15 have had similar combat intensity, and the Saudi Air Force making some considerable use of their F-15s. With the USAF, the F-15 on its different configurations achieved air superiority by shooting down many air assets of Iraq in air-to-air combats or in the ground, as well as to inflict a serious damage to Iraqi military and governmental infrastructure, contributing at a great extend to the sound victory of the Coalition in 1991. The F-15 even managed to destroy a low flying helicopter with a laser guided bomb. The F-15 kept a watch in enforcing the established no-fly zones after this conflict. The Balkans were another scenario where the F-15s made their presence to be felt, by pounding Serbian ground targets and even scoring 4 enemy kills (Serbian Mig-29s). The Second Iraq War, Afghanistan and strikes against ISIS saw the F-15E mainly in action, attacking important targets on these three scenarios, and even providing Close Air Support (CAS) for the troops in the ground.

With the Israeli Air Force, it achieved its first air-to-air kill, establishing then Israeli air superiority over the skies of Lebanon and against Syrian air assets. It had seen use also as a long-range striker and as a platform for attacking specific targets. Saudi Arabia also had some air kills in the 80’s and during Operation Desert Storm, using the F-15s nowadays to strike important targets in Yemen.

As of now, the F-15 is still in service and production (by Boeing, as McDonnell Douglas was absorbed by this company), with the USAF considering to operate with this fighter until 2025 or 2040 at the latest, and production to be maintained until 2019. So far, 1074 units have been produced (by 2012).

Design

Rear View of the Pratt and Whitney Engines
Rear View of the Pratt and Whitney Engines

The F-15 is an all metal (later on aluminium) semi-monocoque fighter with a shoulder-mounted wing, powered by two engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney F-100-PW-100 (F-15A, F-15B and F-15C) or F-100-PW-220 (F-15DJ and F-15 J), or F-100-PW-229 (F-15E). Two engine air intakes are located at each side of the fuselage, starting from the half area of the cockpit with a intake ramp configuration. The wings have a characteristic shape of a cropped delta shape with a leading-edge sweptback of 45 degrees, starting at nearly half of the wing. It lacks of manoeuvring flaps at the leading edge, having only a simple high-lift flap and ailerons at the trailing edge. As the wing has a low loading with high thrust-to-weight ratio, the F-15 can perform tight turns without any loose of speed, capable also of sustaining high G forces. Noteworthy to point out that the airfoil thickness has a variation of 6% at the wing root, to 3% at the wingtip. The empennage is made out of metal, with the two vertical stabilizers made out of honeycomb twin aluminium and composite materials covered with boron-composite skin, allowing them to be thin but very resisting. This means that the F-15 has two tails, the same way as the Grumman F-14 and the Mig 25. The horizontal stabilizers also have a remarkable characteristic of their own, as they have dogtooth within their structural shape, being able to move independently thus increasing control. The aerodynamic brake is located on the top of the fighter’s structure, behind the cockpit. The landing gear is a retractable tricycle. Noteworthy to point out that the F-15E lack of the typical exhaust petals covering the engine nozzles.

The cockpit is placed high in the frontal part of the aircraft, featuring a one-piece windscreen and a large canopy, allowing a full 360 degrees visibility for the pilot. In most F-15 variants the canopy is designed for one pilot. However, the F-15B, F-15D, F-15DJ and F-15E have a canopy designed for a crew of two: a pilot and a weapons officer in the case of the F-15E, and the student and instructor in the case of the training versions.

The wings and the same structure of the fighter allows it to carry a large number of weaponry and other devices. Among the weaponry normally carried by the F-15, there are AIM-7F/M Sparrow, AIM-120 AMRAAM, AIM—9L/M Sidewinder, as well as the M61 Vulcan Gatling gun at the right wing root. Other armament the F-15 is usually armed with are a varied array of free-fall and directed bombs, rockets, air-ground or anti-ship missiles, such as the AGM-84K SLAM-ER, AGM-84H Harpoon Block II anti-ship missiles, AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile JASSM, AGM-88 HARM anti-radar missiles, and AGM-154 JSOW missiles. ECM pods, external fuel tanks and low-drag conformal fuel tanks (CTFs), which are attached to the sides of the air intakes and cannot be dropped, are usually among the additional equipment carried by this fighter.

f-15i-raam-israel
F-15l Ra’am – Israeli Air Force

The avionics of the F-15 allow an optimal operationalization of the armament carried by this fighter, as well as its navigation and combat-electronic performance and multi-mission capabilities. Among the avionics of the F-15, it could be accounted: Heads Up Display (HUD), the advanced pulse-Doppler Raytheon radars APG-63 and APG-70, the AN/ASN-109 Inertial Guidance System, the Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS), ECM pods, Hazeltine AN/APX-76 or Raytheon AN/APX-119 IFF device, Magnavox AN/ALQ-128 Electronic Warfare Warning Set (EWWS), Loral AN/ALR-56 radar warning receiver and a Northrop-Grumman Electronics System ALQ-135 internal counter-measures system. All of these comprise the electronic brain of the fighter, which in combination with the powerplant, the aerodynamics and the weapons systems, makes of the F-15 an outstanding air asset that can achieve supreme control over the skies it operates.

As the design of the F-15 allows adaptation and upgrades, all of the versions were receiving gradual upgrades in avionics and engines, being the F-15E the most prominent. Yet some versions operated by other air forces, such as the Israel Air Force and the Republic of Korea Air Force can receive electronic and avionics components developed by those nations, proving that the Eagle is entirely adaptable to receive technology other than of its country of origin. And its versatility allows combat conversions, explaining why a single airframe can have air superiority, attack or electronic warfare missions, deciding the outcome of any campaign either in the skies or the ground.

An Eagle Not to Mess With

f-15e-grand-canyon
F-15E during aerial refueling operations over the Grand Canyon

The F-15 has proven to be a very powerful asset and a though adversary for those obliged to face it, feeling the powerful strike of the F-15. It has a suitable name that makes honour to its combat capabilities, which have been proven in action from the year it was unleashed. During the 1991 Gulf War and the aftermath, the F-15 achieved air superiority and delivered hard blows to the Iraqi military assets, by scoring 32 fixed-wing aircraft as confirmed kills (Iraqi fighters, fighter/bombers, transport airplanes and trainers that fell under the claws of the F-15), and 4 helicopters as kills. Many of these kills were achieved in air-to-air combats or simply by attacking the Iraqi air assets on the ground, being involved also in the hunt for valuable targets or by watching the skies over Iraq and the Balkans. In the hands of Israel and Saudi Arabia, the F-15 Eagle scored 41 and around 4-5 air kills respectively. With Israel, the F-15 left a deep impression on those that were targeted by its bombs. In the Balkans, the F-15 scored four air kills and equally contributed to pound the Serbian military facilities at Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo.

The Eagle began the 21st century with more capabilities to increase its striking power, as well as seeing more combat in the light of the 9/11 attacks and the campaigns against terrorism. During the Second Iraq war of 2003, the Eagle once and again delivered precision strikes that decimated Iraq’s combat capacities. During the Afghan campaign, it attacked key Taliban and terrorist targets, at the point of even supporting the troops on the ground, and in recent years, it contributed at weakening the military power of Libya during its own Arab Spring, as well as striking important targets in the anti-terrorist campaign over Syria, Libya and Iraq. The F-15 Eagle has been on active duty basically during its entire operational life, being at the very first line.

The Eagle, as a last, could be able to destroy the eyes above the skies, as it was used for experimental tests where it fired a two-staged anti-satellite missile, proving capable for doing so. It has more than fulfilled the requirements set for its development after the nasty experiences of the Vietnam War, war that gave birth to one of the most powerful and memorable birds in all the history of aviation, being the Eagle a milestone by itself.

Variants

  • F-15 Prototypes Series – These series comprised at least 12 different airframes (2 F-15A-1; 3 F-15A-2; 2 F-15A-3; 3 F-15A-4; 1 two-seat F-15B-1 and 1 two-seat F-15B-2), each having a specific purpose during development, like testing the engines, the avionics, the structure, armament and fire control systems, external payload, electronic warfare systems, and even test and demonstrations tasks.
  • F-15A – The first series and operational version of the Eagle, being a single-seat all-weather air superiority fighter version. 384 units delivered.
  • F-15B – Two-seated training version that received once the denomination TF-15A. 61 units delivered.
  • F-15C – An improved version of the single-seat and all-weather superiority fighter version, receiving the last 43 units AN/APG-70 and AN/APG 63(V)1 radar. 483 units delivered.
  • F-15D – Another two-seat version for training purposes. 92 units delivered.
  • F-15E Strike Eagle – The all-weather strike version, as its name indicates, and equipped with conformal external tanks. Optimized for ground attacks, it was one of the main air assets used by the Coalition in Iraq in 1991, by NATO during the Balkans campaigns, the USAF in the second Iraq War, and on neutralizing combat capacities of terrorist groups. introduced in 1987.
  • F-15J – Japan Air Self Defence Force version of the single-seat and all-weather air superiority fighter. 2 units made in the USA, and 139 built under license in Japan by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
  • F-15DJ – Japan Air Self Defence two-seat version for training purposes. 12 units built in the USA, and 25 built under license in Japan by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
  • F-15SE Silent Eagle – A proposed version with stealth capabilities by reducing the radar cross-section, having also new and specific avionics to be incorporated. This version has given way to the following versions:
  • F-15I Ra’am – Version for Israel and thus operated by the Israeli Air Force with the name of Ra’am or ‘Thunder’. It has two seats and is for ground-attack missions, fitted with Israel-made electronics, including Sharpshooter targeting pods for night-time attacks, Elisra SPS-2110 radar warning receivers, a new central computer and GPS/INS system. Furthermore, the Display and Sight Helmet (DASH) allows the incorporation of all sensors, enhancing targeting. The APG-70I radar allows access to hard targets on the ground, capable also of detecting airliner-size target at distances up to 280 km (182 miles) and a fighter-size target at 104 km (64 miles). It will receive structural reinforcements, AESA radar and new weaponry. Around 25 units.
  • F-15K Slam Eagle – Version for the Republic of Korea (South Korea), with 40% of the airframes comprised of South Korean-made components, including wings, fuselage, avionics, electronics and licence-built engines, with Boeing in charge of final assembly. A first batch was received in 2005 with 40 fighters received, followed by a second batch of 21 units ordered in 2008, having the Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-229 engines. This version has its own particularities, just like the F-15I, with an AAS-42 infra-red search and track device, a customized Tactical Electronics Warfare Suite aiming at reducing weight and enhancing jamming effectiveness, cockpit compatibility with NVG, and VHF/UHF radio with a Fighter Data Link system. Moreover, it is fitted with an advanced APG-63(V)1 mechanical-scanned array radar, upgradable to AESA radar, and having a Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System. The armament is pretty ‘unique’ as well, as it carries AGM-84K SLAM-ER, AGM-84H Harpoon Block II anti-ship missiles, and AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile JASSM (a low observable standoff and long range cruise missile).
  • F-15S and SA – Variant supplied and developed for Saudi Arabia, with the F-15S having the AN/APG-70 radar and General Electric F110-GE-129C. The F-15SA will incorporate fly-by-wire flight control technologies (that will allow the carriage of weaponry on the unused wing stations, APG-63(V)3 AESA radar, digital electronic warfare systems, infra-red search and track systems and a redesigned cockpit.
  • F-15SG (or F-15T) – Version operated by the Republic of Singaporean Air Force (RSAF) with 24 units. These units operate with AIM-120C and AIM-9X missiles, GBU-38 JDAM bombs and AGM-154 JSOW missiles, complemented with NVG and Link 16 terminals, powered by General Electric F110 engines.
  • F-15QA – 72 units that will be delivered for the Qatar Air Force.
  • F-15H Strike Eagle – A proposed version for Greece (H stand for Hellas, the Greek name of the country) that did not advanced further, as the Greek government chose instead Mirage 2000-5 and F-16.
  • F-15G Wild Weasel – A proposed two-seat version to replace the F-4G in Suppression of Enemy Air Defences tasks, but the F-16 received such capabilities, and the F-15E was capable of carrying anti-radar missiles, like the AGM-88 HARM, thus performing SEAD roles.
  • F-15N Sea Eagle and F-15N-PHX – A carrier capable version proposed in the early 70’s as an alternative to the Grumman F-14 Tomcat. The F-15N-PHX was also a proposed naval version for the US Navy, capable of carrying the AIM-54 Phoenix missile. As naval versions, these featured structural reinforcement at the wingtips, the landing gear and a tailhook for carrier operations. These versions would never see action as the US Navy decided to carry on with the Tomcat.
  • F-15 2040C – A proposed upgrading programme for the F-15C to enable co-operation with the F-22, with characteristics similar to those of the F-15SE and having more air capabilities and combat power. Infra-red search and track, instalment of quad racks (increasing the missile carriage up to 16), Passive/Active Warning Survivability System, conformal fuel tanks, upgraded radar (APG-63(V)3 AESA, and a Thalon HATE communications pod for co-operation with the F-22 are among the proposed upgrades.
  • F-15 Streak Eagle – A research unit without painting and avionics, which broke time-to-climb records. Now part of the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
  • F-15 STOL/MTD – Another experimental unit for short-take-off/manoeuvre technology demonstrator, incorporating canards before the main wings, thrust-vectoring nozzles, and vectorised engine thrusts.
  • F-15 ACTIVE – A modification of the F-15 S/MTD with thrust vectoring nozzles for advanced flight control research. The acronym ‘ACTIVE’ stands for Advanced Control Technology for Integrated Vehicles. NASA, Pratt & Whitney, United Technologies, the USAF, West Palm Beach and McDonnell Douglas Aerospace are in charge of the program. This unit is powered by Pratt and Whitney F-100-PW-229 engines fitted with modified axisymmetric vectoring nozzles
  • F-15 IFCS – Conversion of the F-15 Active into a research aircraft for intelligent flight control systems.
  • F-15 MANX – Intended tailless variant of the F-15 Active that was never materialized.
  • F-15 Flight Research Facility – Two F-15 A acquired by NASA (Dryden Flight Research Center) for Highly Integrated Digital Electronic Control, Adaptive Engine Control System, Self-Repairing and Self-Diagnostic Flight Control System, and Propulsion Controlled Aircraft System experiments.
  • F-15B Research Testbed – Used by NASA (Dryden Flight Research Center) for flight tests.

Operator

  • United States of America
    The F-15 is operated mainly by three services or institutions in the United States. One is the USAF, which operates around 255 F-15 of the C/D versions, with the Air National Guard being the second service and operating 140 of them. In addition, the USAF operates 213 F-15E. Many of USAF F-15 saw extensive action in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in Iraq in 1990 and 1991. On these operations, F-15 of C and D versions gained air superiority, killing 5 Iraqi Mig-29, 2 Mig-25, 8 Mig-23, two Mig-21, 2 Su-25, 4 Su-22, one Su-7, six Mirage F1, one Ilyushin Il-76 cargo airplane, one Pilatus PC-9 trainer, and 2 Mil-8 helicopters. In the 1999 Kosovo campaign, four Serbian Mig-29 were scored as kills by the F-15C.Meanwhile, the F-15E’s hunted SCUD launchers, engaged against Iraqi Mig-29 fighters and even shot down a Mil-24 Hind with a bomb, losing only two units. Iraqi air assets were also destroyed by the F-15E, as well as enemy armoured assets in Kuwait, engaging also in operations intended at killing Saddam Hussein. Operations Southern Watch and Northern Watch, which followed in the aftermath of the Gulf War, saw the F-15E enforcing the no-fly zone, managing to cause one Iraqi helicopter – a Hind – that was attacking a Kurdish site to crash. They also destroyed SAM sites and radars, as well as command and control sites, radio communications and relay stations, and radars. They also executed surveillance and reconnaissance, mission practicing and even strikes against the Iraqi Republican Guard and Baath Party HQs (Operation Southern Watch).In the Balkans, the F-15E were used to strike Serbian targets in both Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo mainly against armour, logistical, and air defences weapons and facilities targets of Serbia, where it executed for the first time, stand-off attacks with the AGM-130 missile. Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom saw the deployment of USAF F-15E for the second time in Iraq and in Afghanistan, following the 9/11 attacks. In Afghanistan, the F-15E engaged in strikes against Taliban and terrorist targets – military structures, supply depots, training camps, and caves – as well as in CAS missions, where they gave support fire to a SEAL team whose helicopter was shot down. In Iraq, in turn, the F-15E attacked key military and governmental sites, airfields – 65 Migs destroyed – and decimating 60% of the Iraqi Medina Republican Guard.Libya, Syria and Iraq are the areas the USAF F-15E are currently in action, attacking ISIS terrorist training camps, facilities, command and control facilities and even vehicles and trucks. But the USAF utilization of the F-15 did not stopped there, as in fact made the Eagle capable of firing anti-satellite missiles from 1984 to 1988, although on an experimental basis.The older F-15C and F-15D models are to be upgraded and to be operated beyond 2025, while the A and B versions were retired after being operated by the Air National Guard. They are intended to be gradually replaced by F-22 and F-35.NASA is the third US operator with a single unit for experimental purposes.
  • Israel
    Israel is another operator of the F-15, which have seen extensive action with the Israel Air Force since 1977. Among its inventory, Israel has F-15A, F-15B, F-15C, F-15D and F-15I, where the F-15 scored its first ait-to-air kill over the skies of Syria by Israeli ace Moshe Melnik. They also saw extensive action over Lebanon, taking down 13 Mig-21 and 2 Mig-25 of the Syrian Air Force. They also escorted the F-16I during Operation Opera, an Israeli strike against an Iraqi nuclear plant, and during the Lebanese Civil War, the Israeli F-15 scored 23 Mig-21, 17 Mig-23 and one Gazelle SA.342L helicopter as air kills. They also attacked a terrorist headquarters in Tunis in 1985, as Israel was the first one in exploiting the air and ground capabilities of the F-15 as well as its range. The F-15I, in turn, can operate Israeli-made infra-red homing missiles in coordination with a helmet mounted sight, as well as air-to-air missiles.
  • Japan
    Japan is another prominent operator of the F-15, as it has license-built version that fulfil its own requirements. The Japan Air Self-Defence Force therefore operates 12 F-15DJ for training purposes, and nearly 155 F-15J for their standard role of air superiority and ground-attack.
  • South Korea
    The Asian nation has enrolled 58 F-15K Slam Eagle, defeating very capable fighters such as Dassault Rafale, the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Sukhoi S-35 during the selection program process for a new fighter. The Korean F-15 incorporate many electronics and avionics components made in South Korea, as well as enhanced radars and other equipment, being mostly assembled in South Korea.
  • Singapore
    40 F-15G are operated by the Republic of Singapore Air Force.
  • Saudi Arabia
    The Middle East Kingdom received 75 F-15C and F-15D, seeing action for the first time in 1984, shooting down two Iranian F-4E Phantom II during an aerial skirmish. The Saudi F-15 would also see action in the 1991 Gulf War, killing two Mirage F-1 of the Iraqi Air Force, losing one during the conflict. Later on, Saudi F-15S have co-operated with Saudi Panavia Tornados in strikes against Houthi insurgents in Yemen, as part of Saudi-led efforts against this group, concentrating on air defence sites, army HQ, airfields, ballistic missile depots and launchers. A single F-15S was lost during the operation’s early stages. This nation has also received F-15SA.

 

F-15C Specifications

Wingspan  13,05 m / 42 ft 10 in
Length  19,43 m / 63 ft 9 in
Height  18,6 m / 13 ft 5,63 in
Wing Area  56,5 m² / 608 ft²
Engine  2 X Pratt & Whitney F-100-PW-100 or PW-200 or PW-229 afterburning turbofans
Maximum Take-Off Weight  30845 Kg / 68,000 lb
Empty Weight  12700 kg / 28,000 lb
Loaded Weight  20200 kg / 44,500 lb
Climb Rate  more than 50,000 ft/min (254 m/s)
Maximum Speed  At high altitude: Mach 2,5+ (2665+ km/h / 1,650+ mph), At low altitude: Mach.1,2 (1450 km/h / 900 mph)
Range  1967 Km / 1,222 miles for combat radius; 5550 Km / 3,450 miles on ferry
Maximum Service Ceiling  20000 m /65,000 ft
Crew  1 (pilot)
Armament
  • 1 X 20mmM61A1 Vulcan 6-barrel rotary cannon
  • 11 hardpoints – two under-wing with each having a pair of missile launch rails, four under-fuselage, and a central pylon station – that could allow up to 7300 kg (16,000 lb) of payload and provisions. This payload could be carried in combination of: 4 X AIM-7 Sparrow; 4 X AIM-9 Sidewinder; 8 X AIM-120 AMRAAM; or 3 external fuel drop tanks of 2300 lts (600 US gallons) or 1 MXU648 Cargo/Travel pod to carry personal belongings or maintenance equipment.
  • Among the avionics of the fighter, that complements its armament and allows a maximization of use and combat, the F-15C has: Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS); Raytheon AN/PG 63 or AN/PG 70 radars; Northrop-Grumman Electronics system ECM pod; Hazeltine AN/APX-76 or Raytheon AN/APX-119 IFF device; a Magnavox AN/ALQ-128 Electronic Warfare Warning Set (EWWS); a Loral AN/ALR-56 radar warning receiver; a Northrop-Grumman Electronics System ALQ-135 internal counter-measures system; and chaff/flares.

Gallery

1-f-15c-81-0040-zz_03
F-15C 81-0040 – Kadena AB Okinawa, Japan
1-f-15a-77-0124-ma_03
F-15A 77-0124 – Massachusetts ANG
1-f-15d-86-0182-ln_03
F-15D 86-0182 Lakenheath, England
F-15C 80-0010 Aggressor Nellis AFB, Nevada
F-15E 01-2004A LN RAF Lakenheath, UK
F-15J 72-8885 Nyutabaru AB, Miyazaki Japan
F-15J 02-8920 Naha AB, Okinawa Japan

 

 

Sources

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