21 May 09. On May 20, 1951, Capt. James Jabara, an F-86 Sabre pilot of the 334th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, became the world’s first jet ace, shooting down his fifth and sixth MiGs in the Korean War. He scored his initial victory April 3, 1951. He was then ordered back to the United States for special duty; however, at his own request, he returned to Korea in January 1953. By June, he had shot down nine additional MiG-15s, giving him a total of 15 air-to-air jet victories during the Korean War. He was also credited with 1.5 victories over Europe during World War II.
Jabara was born in Muskogee, Okla., October 1923. He was the prototypical fighter pilot, although perhaps not at first glance. Standing 5 feet 5 inches tall, Jabara was nevertheless larger than life. He was determined to enter pilot training, and he did. He was equally determined to become an ace in his F-86 Sabre, and he did.
Jabara graduated from Wichita, Kan., High School in May 1942, and immediately enlisted as an aviation cadet at Fort Riley. He graduated from pilot training while still a teenager in 1943 and scored 1 1/2 confirmed and two unconfirmed kills in more than 100 European combat missions in the P-51 Mustang. After two tours of combat duty, Jabara had earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and oak leaf cluster, as well as a reputation as a perfectionist in the air.
After World War II, he attended the Tactical Air School at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, and from 1947 to 1949 was stationed on Okinawa with the 53rd Fighter Group.
Jabara arrived in Korea in December, 1950, flying the brand-new F-86 Sabre as a member of the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing, the top-scoring American fighter unit of World War II. The 4th FIW was rushing the unproven F-86 into combat to counter the Soviet-made MiG-15, which immediately outclassed every Western warplane in the Korean theater when it had first appeared a month earlier.
By April, 1951, Jabara and his fellow Sabre pilots had gained the measure of the tough and maneuverable MiGs. Jabara, in particular, caught the attention of the Air Force’s top brass after destroying four MiGs in April.
He was earmarked by his commanders as a top contender to become the first jet ace — the first to destroy five enemy jets in combat. When his 334th Fighter Interceptor Squadron rotated back to Japan at the end of April, Jabara was allowed to remain behind at Suwon Air Base to fly with the sister 335th FIS, giving him one more chance to score his fifth kill before his combat tour was over.
On May 20th, the MiGs came out to spar again — in quantity. Near Sinuiju in northwest Korea, Jabara and the other members of the 335th encountered 50 MiGs ready for a fight. Although outnumbered two to one, the American flight commander called for his pilots to drop their two under wing auxiliary fuel tanks and attack. When Jabara attempted to punch off his tanks, only one came off the wing, leaving his fighter dangerously unbalanced and sluggish.
Although procedures called for an immediate return to base in such circumstances, Jabara pressed home the attack with a head-on pass at a group of three MiGs. As the enemy fighters shot past, Jabara led his wingman in a wrenching turn to get behind the scattering MiGs. As Jabara fought his balky controls to get a bead on the MiGs twisting in front of him, his wingman spotted three more enemy fighters closing in from behind. Ignoring the new attackers for the moment, Jabara sent a long burst of fire from his F-86’s six machine guns into the nearest North Korean fighter, which caught fire. Jabara followed the stricken MiG downward until the pilot ejected. Jabara had become the first jet ace, although he barely had time to think about it.
As Jabara coaxed his Sabre back up to the still-raging battle at 25,000 feet, he realized that he had lost track of his wingman, creating a situation just as dangerous as dogfighting with one wing tank. Because a wingman provided cru