Korea and Vietnam Aviation

Aerial attacks during the Korean and Vietnam wars involved limited campaigns waged with conventional weapons. The vast formations of heavy bombers common during World War II were seldom used. These wars were fought mainly by Allied ground forces assisted by U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps fighters and bombers, which provided close support and attacked enemy supply lines.

The helicopter came into its own during these conflicts. It excelled at evacuating wounded ground troops, and in Vietnam the Bell UH-1 Huey provided battlefield mobility in a new type of maneuver warfare. The Huey became the modern-day cavalry for the ground forces. Although air power did not play a decisive role in Korea or Vietnam, U.S. strategic air power did help deter the Soviet Union and China from expanding these wars into global conflicts.


McDonnell F-4S Phantom II at the Udvar-Hazy Center

McDonnell F-4S Phantom II
The U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps and the air forces of 12 other nations have flown the multi-role Phantom II. On June 21, 1972, in this aircraft (then a Navy F-4J), Cmdr. S. C. Flynn and his radar intercept officer, Lt. W. H. John, spotted three enemy MiG fighters off the coast of Vietnam and shot down one MiG-21 with a Sidewinder air-to-air missile. This Phantom also flew combat air patrols and bombing missions during the Linebacker II bombing campaign that same year.

Later assigned to the Marine Corps, this F-4J was extensively modernized and designated an F-4S. Changes included improving the engines (smokeless), hydraulics, electronics, and wiring; modifying the wings to increase maneuverability; and adding a radar homing and warning antenna, as well as formation tape lights on the fuselage and vertical tail.

More information: McDonnell F-4S Phantom II

Grumman A-6E Intruder

Grumman A-6E Intruder
The Navy's experience in the Korean War showed the need for a new long-range strike aircraft with high subsonic performance at very low altitude — an aircraft that could penetrate enemy defenses and find and destroy small targets in any weather. The Grumman A-6 Intruder was designed with these needs in mind. The Intruder first flew in 1960 and was delivered to the Navy in 1963 and the Marine Corps in 1964.

The Navy accepted this airplane as an "A" model in 1968. It served under harsh combat conditions in the skies over Vietnam and is a veteran of the 1991 Desert Storm campaign, when it flew missions during the first 72 hours of the war. It has accumulated more than 7,500 flying hours, over 6,500 landings, 767 carrier landings, and 712 catapult launches.

More information: Grumman A-6E Intruder

North American F-86A Sabre at the Udvar-Hazy Center

North American F-86A Sabre
America's first swept-wing jet fighter, the F-86 Sabre joined the ranks of great fighter aircraft during combat operations high above the Yalu River in Korea. Even though they could not pursue the enemy across the Chinese border, Sabre pilots established an impressive shoot-down advantage against enemy MiGs. Sabre designers capitalized on captured German aerodynamic data, which showed that swept wings delayed air compressibility effects encountered at high subsonic airspeeds. Swept-wing aircraft could therefore be controlled at much higher speeds than similar straight-wing aircraft.

This F-86A saw combat against MiG-15s during the Korean War. It flew most of its missions from Kimpo Air Base near Seoul and bears the markings of the 4th Fighter Wing, the first F-86 unit in Korea.

More information: North American F-86A Sabre

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15bis "Fagot B" at the Udvar-Hazy Center

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 (Ji-2) FAGOT B
Arch rival to the U.S. F-86 in Korea, the MiG-15 shocked the West with its capabilities. The Soviets designed the aircraft in 1946 to answer an urgent need for a high-altitude day interceptor. It first flew in late 1947. The MiG-15 was the first Soviet jet to benefit from the British sale to Russia of the new Rolls Royce Nene and Derwent jet engines, which the Soviets immediately copied and refined. The resulting RD-500, Klimov RD-45, and modified VK-1 engines gave a powerful boost to Soviet jet technology.

The MiG-15 featured the first production swept wing, pressurized cockpit, and ejection seat on a Soviet aircraft. Although Mikoyan and Gurevich were aware of German turbojet and swept-wing work, this design was wholly Russian, except for the engine. This MiG-15bis is a Chinese Ji-2 modification. The Smithsonian acquired it in 1985.

More information: Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 (Ji-2) FAGOT B