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Joseph Christopher McConnell, Jr. (30 January 1922 – 25 August 1954) was the top American ace during the Korean War. A native of Dover, New Hampshire, Captain McConnell shot down 16 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15s while flying F-86 Sabres with the U.S. Air Force. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Silver Star for combat heroism. McConnell was the first American triple jet-on-jet fighter ace and is still the top-scoring American jet ace.
Joseph C. McConnell with his F-86, Beauteous Butch II, following his last mission in Korea.
World War II
During World War II McConnell entered U.S. Army Air Forces Aviation Cadet training. His dream of becoming a pilot was dashed when instead of going to pilot training he was assigned to navigator training. After completing training McConnell flew combat missions in Europe as a B-24 Liberator navigator. He remained in the Army Air Force after the war eventually
entering flight training. In 1948 McConnell achieved his goal of
becoming a fighter pilot.
The Korean War began on 25 June 1950 when North Korea invaded South Korea. As the war continued across the
Korean peninsula, McConnell sought to be part of it. He was assigned to
the 39th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron of the 51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing in Korea in late 1952. Gifted with keen eyesight, McConnell proved to be an
aggressive MiG hunter, but he did not get his first kill until the new
year. McConnell scored all of his kills over a four-month period, from January 14 to May 18, 1953.
McConnell flew at least three F-86 Sabres, all called “Beautious
Butch”. The name referred to the nickname of his wife, Pearl “Butch”
Brown. His first kills were scored in an F-86E-10 (serial number
51-2753, buzz number FU-753). The second was an F-86F-15 (serial number 51-12971, buzz number FU-971). This aircraft was shot down on April 12, 1953 with Captain McConnell ejecting and subsequently being rescued from the
Yellow Sea by helicopter. His final combat Sabre 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
On his last day flying in combat, on 18 May 1953,
he shot down three MiGs in two separate missions bringing his total to
16 and becoming the first triple jet ace. Immediately after his 16th
kill, McConnell was sent back to the United States along with Manuel “Pete” Fernandez, the top ace of the 4th Fighter Wing. For his exploits he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC).
After returning to his home in Apple Valley, California, McConnell was stationed at George Air Force Base and continued flying F-86s. In 1954 he was temporarily assigned to the
service testing program of the newest F-86, the F-86H. 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-NH, 52-1981, at Edwards Air Force Base, he was killed in a crash following a control malfunction. The crash’s cause 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, recovering before he hit the desert floor.
The 1955 film The McConnell Story, starring Alan Ladd and June Allyson, chronicles his life story. The book Sabre Jet Ace
(1961) by Charles Ira Coombs chronicled his experiences as a fighter
pilot in Korea in a fictionalized biography for young readers.
- Baugher, Joe. “USAAS-USAAC-USAAF-USAF Aircraft Serial Numbers – 1908 to Present”, USAF Serials. Retrieved: 29 December 2007.
- Davis, Larry MiG Alley. Carrollton, Texas: Squadron/Signal Publications, 1978 ISBN 0-89747-081-8.
- Thompson, Warren. F-86 Sabre Aces of the 51st Fighter Wing. London: Osprey, 2006. ISBN 1-84176-995-9.
- The Crash of McConnell’s F-86H
- Photograph of McConnell’s Sabre showing the name “Beauteous Butch II”, “Sabres and Aces”, Air Force Magazine, Sept. 2006, p. 85.
- Capt. Joseph McConnell Account of McConnell’s Korean War experiences, with photographs.
- F-86H photo F-86H photograph from National Museum of the USAF.