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Jets and Aircraft of the Korean War

Jets and Aircraft of the Korean War

On the surface, the Korean War that lasted between 1950 and 1953 was a war between the southern and northern half of Korea. However the war was actually a proxy war between the sponsors of the southern half of Korea (the United States and United Nations) and sponsors of the northern half of Korea (People’s Republic of China and Soviet Union) resulting in the first important armed conflict in the Cold War. At the end of World War II, Korea was divided between the United States and the Soviet Union for a short term until the two could be reunited. However skirmishes began to happen in the border, and finally in 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea. Soon the sponsors of the two countries intervened and did most of the fighting and/or provided support. Therefore, the Korean War also utilized the new technology evolving in warfare at the time, especially aircraft. The Korean War was the first war to utilize the jet aircraft which was superior over the old aircraft of World War II that used piston engines and propellers. The Korean War also saw some of the first helicopters used during a war.

Types of Aircraft

There were several types of aircraft that were used in the Korean War. Fighter aircraft were primarily used for air-to-air combat against other fighters. Bombers, on the other hand, were used to attack the ground forces and buildings. Transport aircraft were either used to transport troops or equipment across distances. Then there were reconnaissance aircraft that were used for surveying or observation missions. Helicopters in the Korean War were used primarily for medical evacuation, but their effectiveness later involved into the helicopter gunships that were used in the Vietnam War. For each of these types of aircraft there are numerous models that were used in the Korean War.

Korean People’s Air Force Models

The Korean People’s Air Force (KPAF) was primarily funded by the Chinese and Soviet powers with most of their aircraft models having origins in China and Soviet Russia. They were also aided by the Soviet Air Force and China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force. For example, the initial aircraft used in the early months of the Korean War were the Yakovlev Yak-9 and the Lavochkin La-9s which were both fighter aircraft of Soviet design. These fighters were not successful in these initial months because they still used piston engines. Later on, another fighter, the MiG-15 Fagot was developed by the Soviet Union but was provided by the Chinese. It was a swept-wing jet fighter that gave the North Korean forces an advantage over the South Korean forces. Many of the dogfights that occurred with this aircraft occurred in an area called the MiG Alley, a portion of North Korea were the Yalu River flowed. This place is considered the birthplace of jet fighter combat.

United States Air Force Models

The US Air Force (USAF) was the primary air force that fought against the KPAF. Initially they were successful in combating the KPAF using fighters like the P-80 Shooting Star and the F9F Panther. These fighters used jet engines which gave the USAF a serious advantage. Once the MiG-15 Fagot arrived into the battle however, the USAF scrambled to develop an aircraft that could compete equally with the MiG-15 and began to use another fighter called the F-86 Sabre. While this fighter could still not match the speed of the MiG’s, it could maneuver better. In the end 792 MiG-15s were shot down by Sabres while only 78 Sabres were shot down by the enemy, which helped the USAF maintain air superiority during the Korean War. USAF bombers such as the B-26 Invaders and B-29 Superfortresses also did serious damage to North Korea’s cities, dropping nearly 800 tons of bombs daily. Helicopters such as the Sikorsky H-19 were extremely useful for medical evacuations as the terrain proved to be difficult for jeeps. Helicopters helped reduce fatalities and complimented the Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals.



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