Fighters of the Korean War
As in the discussion of some WWII
fighters, these aircraft are sorted by by hitting power, in terms of
fired weight per second. The muzzle power is also given, in
North American F-86 Sabre
The F-86A was the first American swept-wing jet fighter, a development
of the Navy's straight-wing FJ Fury based on German research. It was
inferior to the MiG-15 in climb, in service ceiling, and in
speed above 20,000 ft. But the Sabre had a good performance at lower
altitudes and much better handling characteristics at high speeds.
Better pilot training gave the USAAF the upper hand in its fight
against the MiGs.
- Six Browning .50 M3 machineguns in the nose, with 267 rounds
- The M3 version of the venerable Browning fired at 1200 rpm,
so the Sabre could fire 120 rounds per second for 13 seconds.
This gave a weight of fire of 5.8 kg/sec. The muzzle power
was 2203 kW.
- Identical armament was installed in the
Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star (with 300 rounds per gun) and
the Republic F-84 Thunderjet. In
terms of weight of fire and muzzle power it was not so bad;
but the during the Korean war it became clear that the .50
projectile was inadequate against the sturdy and well-armoured
MiG-15. Many MiG-15s returned to base despite numerous hits. Four
20 mm cannon were installed in a few Sabres for combat
evaluation, but only after the Korean war did they become
standard armament on USAAF fighters.
American Military Aircraft
Duncan's F-86 Sabre Website
F-86 Pilots Association
Grumman F9F Panther
This F9F-2 is being loaded with bombs on a carrier off the Korean coast.
The nose cone has been extended forward to make the ammunition
boxes accessible. Although the F9F was outclassed, the first
jet-versus-jet combat ended when a F9F-2 shot down a MiG-15.
There is some irony in the fact that the J42 engine was a
version of the Rolls-Royce Nene, just like the VK-1 of the
- Four 20mm Hispano M3 cannon in the nose, with 190 rounds per gun.
- The F9F fired 57 rounds per second, a weight of 7.4 kg/sec.
Total muzzle power was 2660 kW. It had ammunition for 13
- This was the best armament combination available, considerably
more destructive than the .50s of the F-86 and without the
disadvantages of trajectory and harmonisation of the MiG-15.
But the foresight of the USN in the selection of armament was
balanced by its conservative approach to aircraft design.
Its F9F and F2H straight-wing jet fighters were outclassed by
the two swept-wing types.
The McDonnell F2H Banshee and the
Gloster Meteor (operated in Korea
by the RAAF) had the same armament as the F9F, and the same
problem. They were used mainly for ground support operations.
Grumman developed the swept-wing Cougar from the Panther, but
the type was too late to see combat in Korea.
American Military Aircraft
The MiG-15 shocked Western complacency when in appeared in
combat over Korea. The engine had British origins and the
aerodynamics were inspired by German research, but nevertheless
it was a powerful reminder that the USSR had an advanced aviation
industry. The MiG-15 had a higher service ceiling than the F-86,
outclimbed it and was faster at high altitude. Evaluation of
captured examples such as this one had a high
priority. The picture on the
right shows the gun installation, in this case in a Polish-built
Lim-5. The neat weapons tray
could be lowered for reloading and maintance.
- Late-production MiG-15s and the MiG-15bis had one 37mm N-37 cannon
with 40 rounds and two 23mm NR-23 cannon with 80 rounds per gun.
Early production MiG-15s had NS-23 guns with about half the rate of
fire of the NR-23.
- The MiG-15bis fired seven 37 mm and twenty-eight
23 mm rounds, with a weight of fire of 10.7 kg/sec
and a muzzle power of 1872 kW. The ammunition was expended
in six seconds.
- The MiG-15 represented an approach to fighter armament that
was totally different from that of the F-86: Big guns with a
modest (690 m/sec) muzzle velocity, firing rounds with a
very high destructive power. This armament had been devised to
destroy bombers such as the B-29, and the MiG-15 very effective
in that role. The USAAF was forced to call a halt to daylight B-29
operations. But for use against fighters this armament suite was
less ideal; it mixed guns that were a poor ballistics match. In
addition, the MiG-15 was a mediocre gun platform and had an
Russian Aviation Museum
|Name ||Rounds ||Weight ||Energy |
| || (1/sec)||(kg/sec) || (kW) |
|North American F-86A Sabre || 120|| 5.8 ||2203 |
|Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 || 22|| 5.8 ||1066 |
|Grumman F9F Panther || 57|| 7.4 ||2660 |
|Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15bis || 35|| 10.7 ||1872 |
Beyond doubt the best armament in use consisted of four Hispano
cannon, in either the American M3 or the British Mk.V version. This
offered both high destructive power and a high muzzle velocity. But the
two best fighters of the war were the F-86 and the MiG-15: The armament
of the first had a high muzzle velocity but was deficient in destructive
power, and for the second the reverse was true. This rather absurd
situation was the result of different priorities and a too late
understanding of the importance of sweptback wing desings.
Next: Fighter's Table