From the Hangar Floor: The restoration of F-86F 52-5116

From the Hangar Floor: The restoration of F-86F 52-5116

By John Gourley

The North American Aviation Corp. F-86 Sabre has a unique history in aviation as the plane that dominated the skies over the Korean Peninsula during the Korean War. It also could well have been the first manned aircraft to have broken the sound barrier. The original design was to have had straight wings, but aerodynamic instability at the higher speeds attained with the installation of jet engines meant that a solution, in the form of wings and tail-plane surfaces swept aft at a 35 degree angle, was designed into the modified airframe. This not only resulted in a more stable platform, it allowed for faster climb rates and higher altitudes.

After Doug Matthews, EAA Lifetime 9028488, bought it in 2013, this F-86F-30 variant is currently undergoing a full ground-up restoration effort by Classic Fighters of America in Titusville, Florida. After the airplane resumes flying, it will be displayed and flown at air shows across America, before eventually being donated to an aviation museum. In seeking a suitable F-86 for this project, Doug was interested in obtaining one that was comparable to the present one he already flies, a flying F-86F, 53-1201, emblazoned with the Skyblazers aerial demonstration team livery, forerunner to the present day U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds. The effort includes a complete new electrical system! When completed, the Sabre will be the only “new” F-86 in the world.

The airplane, once completed, will be reborn as an exact replica of F-86F MSN (manufacturer’s serial) No. 51-12910, Beauteous Butch II, the mount of Capt. Joseph C. McConnell, who was assigned to the 39th Fighter Interceptor Squadron of the 51st FIW (Fighter Interceptor Wing) at Suwon Air Base, in Korea. During the conflict, McConnell shot down a total of 16 MiG-15 jets and damaged five more.

Doug chose this particular aircraft to honor the exploits of McConnell, who remains, to this day, America’s highest scoring jet combat ace. He also has the distinction of having been a part of the first triple jet-on-jet aerial dogfight. McConnell began his career in Europe during World War II, flying 60 missions as a navigator assigned to B-24 Liberator bombers. He earned his pilot’s wings at Williams Air Force Base (AFB), in Arizona in February of 1948. His tour of duty in Korea was flown in three different F-86s. The first one, F-86E-10 (51-2753) was used to claim his first eight kills. The second plane he flew was F-86F-15 (51-12971). His third Sabre was F-86F-1 (51-12910). All were painted in the Beauteous Butch II nose-art scheme, to honor his wife, Pearl “Butch” Brown.

McConnell was shot down in combat by a Chinese MiG-15 pilot, Daoping Jiang, on the April 12, 1953. McConnell ejected over the Yellow Sea, where he was recovered by a search and rescue helicopter. After the war, McConnell was assigned to Edwards AFB as a test pilot, flying the new F-86H variant. While flying the fifth production example, testing flight handling qualities, he experienced control system malfunctions and crashed, losing his life. He is buried alongside his wife, at Victor Valley Memorial Park, in Victorville, California.

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