Joseph C. McConnell

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Joseph C. McConnell
Joseph McConnell.JPG
McConnell with his F-86, Beauteous Butch II, following his last mission in Korea
Born (1922-01-30)30 January 1922
Dover, New Hampshire
Died 25 August 1954(1954-08-25) (aged 32)
Edwards Air Force Base, California
Allegiance United States United States of America
Service/branch United States Air Force
Years of service 1942-1954
Rank Captain
Unit 39th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, 51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing, Fifth Air Force
Battles/wars World War II
Korean War
Awards Distinguished Service Cross
Silver Star
Distinguished Flying Cross
Air Medal (4)

Joseph Christopher McConnell, Jr. (30 January 1922 – 25 August 1954) was a United States Air Force fighter pilot who was the top American flying ace during the Korean War.[1] A native of Dover, New Hampshire, Captain McConnell was credited with shooting down 16 MiG-15s while flying North American F-86 Sabres. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, and the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions in aerial combat. McConnell was the first American triple jet-on-jet fighter ace and is still the top-scoring American jet ace.

Military service[edit]

McConnell enlisted in the United States Army on October 15, 1940 and served in the Medical Corps.

World War II[edit]

McConnell entered the U.S. Army Air Forces Aviation Cadet Program in 1943 during World War II. His dream of becoming a pilot was dashed when, instead of being sent to pilot training, he was assigned to navigator training. He was commissioned a second lieutenant and received his navigator wings on September 18, 1944. He next completed Consolidated B-24 Liberator training and joined the 448th Bomber Group in England in January 1945. He flew 60 combat missions in Europe as a B-24 Liberator navigator.[2] He remained in the Army Air Forces after the war and entered pilot training in 1946. McConnell finally achieved his goal of becoming a pilot,[2] receiving his USAF pilot wings on February 25, 1948 at Williams AFB in Arizona. He then served in various fighter squadrons in the U.S.

Korean War[edit]

McConnell being rescued on 12 April 1953.
Air Force aces Joseph McConnell and Manuel "Pete" Fernandez meet with President Dwight D. Eisenhower at the White House in May 1953.

The Korean War began on 25 June 1950 when North Korea invaded South Korea. As the war continued to spread throughout the Korean peninsula, McConnell sought to become part of it. He was assigned to the 39th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron of the 51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing in Korea in September 1952. Gifted with exceptional eyesight, McConnell proved to be an aggressive MiG hunter, but he did not shoot down his first enemy aircraft until the following year. He scored all of his victories during a four-month period from 14 January to 18 May 1953.[3]

Captain McConnell flew at least three different F-86 Sabres, all named "Beautious Butch". The name referred to the nickname of his wife, Pearl "Butch" Brown. His first eight kills were scored in an F-86E-10 (serial number 51-2753, buzz number FU-753). The second Sabre was an F-86F-15 (serial number 51-12971, buzz number FU-971). McConnell was shot down in an encounter with MiGs in the morning of Apr 12, 1953.[4] by a Chinese pilot named Daoping Jiang (蒋道平), and McConnell ejected over the Yellow Sea.[5] He was rescued within minutes by an American helicopter.[6] The next day he returned to the air and shot down another MiG.[2] His final Sabre in combat was an F-86F-1 (serial number 51-2910, buzz number FU-910). This aircraft was repainted following his final mission, with the name being changed to "Beauteous Butch II". McConnell, during his last combat mission on 18 May 1953, destroyed two and damaged one of twenty-eight MiG-15 type aircraft over North Korea, bringing his total victory count to 16 destroyed plus 5 damaged and making him America's first triple jet ace.[1] Immediately after his 16th air victory, McConnell was sent back to the United States, along with Manuel "Pete" Fernandez, the top Air Force ace (14.5 air victories) of the 4th Fighter-Interceptor Wing. McConnell met with the President at the White House and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) for his actions on 18 May 1953, America's second-highest decoration for valor.[6]

"It's the teamwork out here that counts. The lone wolf stuff is out.Your life always depends on your wingman and his life on you. I may get credit for a MiG, but it's the team that does it, not myself alone."

—Joseph C. McConnell, reflecting on his air victories[1]

Radio Appearance[edit]

Captain McConnell appeared as a contestant on the 10 February 1954 airing of the comedy quiz program "You Bet Your Life" starring Groucho Marx.[7]


McConnell returned to his home in Apple Valley, California after meeting with the President, and was stationed at George Air Force Base, California where he was assigned to the 445th Fighter Squadron and continued flying F-86s. On 6 August 1953, the people of Apple Valley gave a new home, the "Appreciation House", to Capt. McConnell. The house was completed in 45 hours with all land, material, and labor donated. In 1954, he was temporarily assigned to the service test program for the new F-86H Sabre. This was the last and most powerful version of the Sabre, and was intended to be a nuclear-capable fighter-bomber. On 25 August 1954, while testing the fifth production F-86H-1-NA (serial number 52-1981) at Edwards Air Force Base, McConnell was killed in a crash near the base following a control malfunction.[8] The cause of the accident was attributed to a missing bolt. Then-Major Chuck Yeager was assigned to investigate the crash and replicated the malfunction at a much higher altitude. This height advantage allowed him to safely regain control of the aircraft before it hit the desert floor.[9]

The 1955 film The McConnell Story, starring Alan Ladd and June Allyson, chronicles his life story. The book Sabre Jet Ace (1959) by Charles Ira Coombs is a fictionalized biography for young readers covering his experiences as a fighter pilot in Korea.

Army distinguished service cross medal.jpg
Silverstar photo.jpg

McConnell's wife, Pearl "Butch" McConnell, died in 2008 at the age of 86. She never remarried and was buried with Captain McConnell at Victor Valley Memorial Park in Victorville, California.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c Farris, Phillip. "Jet War." Air Force Magazine, Air Force Association, Volume 73, Number 6, June 1990. Archival retrieval: 10 July 2011.
  2. ^ a b c Gurney 1958, p. 248
  3. ^ Shores 1975, p. 142.
  4. ^ Chitwood, Harold, "Capt. McConnell Shot Down", National Museum of the US Air Force, Retrieved: 30 March 2016.
  5. ^ "Confirmed after 48 years, Jiang Daoping shot down the best American flying ace in Korean War" (in Simplified Chinese). Beijing Daily. Mar 24, 2015. Retrieved Jan 16, 2017. 
  6. ^ a b Shores 1975, p. 143.
  7. ^ "Broadcast." You Bet Your Life, 1954. Retrieved: 28 December 2015.
  8. ^ "The Crash of the F-86H: aka-'The McConnell Site', 25 August 1954.", 11 July 2012. Retrieved: 13 May 2013.
  9. ^ Coombs 1961, pp. 249–251.


External links[edit]