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by Jim "Twitch" Tittle
Article Type: Military History
Article Date: July 22, 2002
Iven Carl “Kinch” Kincheloe Jr. was born in Detroit in 1928 and like many kids of the era marveled at the 1930’s barnstormers. Growing up on a farm near Dowagiac, Michigan, his father allowed the intrepid stunt pilots to gather and land in his potato field. The pilots landing fees were bartered for rides for the five-year-old Iven. It became a yearly event and young Kincheloe was good at handling the controls of the Jennys that he went up in. He actually was capable of flying before he could read and soloed well before the legal age of sixteen years. On his sixteenth birthday he soloed for the CAA and got his license.
|From Rowan’s MiG Alley |
Kincheloe went to Purdue University and degreed in aero engineering but joined the Air Force and got his wings at Randolph Field, Texas in 1950. His instructor called him the most natural pilot he’d ever seen and that his moves were flawless.
|Iven Kincheloe |
Kinch arrived in Korea in September 1951 with the 25th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, 51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing and their F-86Es. The 51st FIW would be where top Korean ace Joseph McConnell would begin his 16-victory score a year later. The fabled Colonel Francis “Gabby” Gabreski led the group.
Kinch named his Sabre “Ivan” as a pun on his name and the fact that F-86 pilots knew they were unofficially up against Russian MiG 15 pilots often. “Ivan’ damaged a MiG on Kinch’s very first mission on January 6, 1952.
On the 19th he scored a kill near Uilu. Another damaged claim followed but it was not until April 1st that Lt. Kincheloe would score again. But it was worth the wait. He bagged two MiG 15s near Yongsansi. The next day he got another near Uili for a total of four. The amber-haired Kinch need just one more to join the ranks of the aces.
On April 6th Kincheloe took off in the cold Korean air for a huge fighter sweep near Uili. The Sabers climbed to 35,000 feet to search for MiGs. Their God’s eye view of the region allowed them the upper hand as suddenly the radio erupted in voices.
“Thirty-six bandits lining the ramp at Antung! More taxiing out!”
“Blue Leader, I see dust trails at Fen Cheng! They’re gathering!”
“Dust trails at Antung! More at Tatungkou! Looks like Fen Cheng’s sending up all they’ve got!”
“Eighteen bandits at 11 o’clock high! Eighteen more pulling out of Fen Cheng!” came the calls regarding activity at the enemy air bases.
Another call sent a shiver up Kinch’s spine, “Vapor trails at six, eight and eleven. Bandits coming out of the sun! The whole Chink damned air force is coming up!”
|Left Side Of F-86 Cockpit |
He checked his oxygen mask and seat straps again. Gun switches were on. He dropped the wing tanks.
The MiGs from Antung, Fen Cheng and Tatungkou were climbing vectored by their ground control. Massive dust clouds rose a mile in the air from the afterburners blast blotting out the snowy mountain peaks near Mukden.
The F-86s climbed to 41,000 and waited. Then the MiGs struck and the sky became a jumble of maneuvering fighters. But most of them were going for Gabreski’s element miles ahead of Kinch’s outnumbered eight Sabres. In a heartbeat his wingman was spiraling away to evade 37mm fire and Kinch was alone.
23 and 37mm balls passed harmlessly to his left as another MiG pulled in front of him. His attention was to the one behind as he thought, “missed me…I can get him…”
The Sabre pulled into a tight turn as Kinch sucked oxygen and acquired the Red plane. The MiG was standing in its wing in an effort to turn toward the Yalu sanctuary that U.S. pilots were usually forbidden to cross. The F-86 could not match it.
While the MiG 15 lacked the armor and range of the F-86 it could out turn it though the Sabre could out dive the MiG. The American plane had one advantagethe responsive power of the GE J47 engine’s thrust. Kinch ignored trying to turn with the MiG and figured he’d nail him in a deflection shot from broadside.
The other pilot was too good to be Chinese and Kinch reckoned he was a seasoned Russian officer who accompanied them on missions. All Kinch could see was the mustard-colored helmet and oxygen mask. The J47 screamed as the throttle was firewalled to close the distance.
The enemy plane was in the sight now and Lt. Kincheloe punched the trigger. The six Browning M3 .50 caliber guns barked, each sending twenty rounds per second at the MiG 15. The long burst worked as the API and tracers sparkled against the fat, round fuselage. Larger and larger pieces began to vomit back into the slipstream. Orange fuel smoke disgorged from the ruptured tanks as the pilot attempted to get out of the doomed Soviet plane.
Kinch glanced back to clear himself and when he re-focused on the fighter it was tumbling down wing-over-wing and then exploded. The Russian did not get out and that fifth kill made Lt. Kincheloe the tenth ace of the war.
Frigid blasts of icy air swept off the nearby mountains on May 4, 1952 flexing the Sabres’ wings. It was a gloomy day at 38,000 feet as the four F-86s approached the supply base at Sunuiju with their 500 lb. Bombs slung below the wings. There were no contrails to be seen. No MiGs!
|An F-86 Being Prepped |
The radio crackled with the voice of an Australian Meteor pilot who’d collided with a MiG far away and Kinch wished he were there with the RAAF slugging it out. All he had to look forward to was the deadly flak. He hated ground attack missions. His job was to kill MiGs.
Dirty puffs of AAA met the quartet of fighters. 40 millimeters reached out for the Americans too as Kinch keyed the mike, “Two minutes to target. I’ll make the first run.”
He dove down with the high-pitched whine of the J47 in his ears. Fireballs of all sizes reached for him as radar controlled guns zeroed in. Pulling out too soon would leave him in a cross fire and waiting too late would end everything.
At Sinuiju the Reds were re-building an airstrip. B-29s had carpet-bombed it long ago but now they wanted to have base for MiGs on the American side of the Yalu River to gain air superiority.
As he passed 10,000 feet the F-86 was rocking with the flak concussions. He noticed obsolete Yak 9Ps on the ground that would soon be replaced by potent MiG 15s. Reds soldier gawked up and scurried as the F-86 barreled into the fire coming from, now, even sub-machine guns and rifles.
At 5,000 feet he began a slight pull out and opened up. The Brownings’ fire converged on a Yak. He exploded a truck and cut down a squad of men then hit an oil storage tank. Ready to toggle his bombs, a series of violent nearby explosions flung his plane off course and he knew he was hit. A staccato of metal pierced the aluminum skin of the F-86. Fragments rained into every section of the plane.
Captain Elmer Harris in number three position called, “ Kinch, you’re trailing smoke. Get outta there!” The Sabre had leveled but was bouncing about knocking Kinch around the cockpit as he fought for control.
“Kinch, you’ve bought the farm! Get some altitude and get out!” called Harris.
Just then Kincheloe saw the perfect targeta fuel dump near the Yaks and the unfinished runway. But hydraulic fluid was spewing from a severed line into his face making vision tough and the riddled jet mushed about the air. He held it long enough to toggle the bombs.
The Sabre responded to elevator input and zoom-climbed to 5,000 feet as the others followed the way he’d made dropping their bombs. He glanced back at the inferno and the five Yak 9’s skeletal remains.
Quite luckily the plane’s damage was not mortal. Power boost was gone from the controls but the crate was flyable and bounced to a wild landing home at Suwan Airfield.
Inspection revealed that boost unit wrecked, just inches behind the seat. The whole rear fuselage was charred from smoke and the horizontal stabilizer and dive brake were shot up badly. A small caliber round penetrated below the seat and narrowly missed the ejector seat explosive charge. All tolled there were 311 holes of assorted sizes in “Ivan.”
Recon showed the base useable and the Reds never tried to base jets in North Korea again. Iven Kincheloe was promoted to Captain and awarded the Silver Star for his part in the action to go along with his Distinguished Flying Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster and Air Medal with two OLCs. He finished his 101-mission tour with five confirmed and six damaged.
Staying in the Air Force, he was accepted for the future X-15 program. In 1956 he piloted the Bell X-2 to a record 126,000 feet to the edge of space. The feat was rewarded with the Mackay Trophy. Kinch applied to Project Mercury too wanting to be one of the first in space.
|Kinch At Edwards AFB |
But such was not to be. Like aces Dick Bong and Joe McConnell he suffered the same fate testing aircraft. On July 26, 1957 he was flying an F-104 out of Edwards AFB over the Mojave Desert, the test pilots’ lethal sandbox. The Starfighter went out of control. He stayed with it to low altitude and announced calmly, “I’m bailing. I’m getting out” as he rolled the F-104 over to assist the downward ejection seat with altitude. He ejected but his chute didn’t open in time.
Kincheloe Air Force Base, in Michigan, is named in his honor.
The F-86A first flew in late 1947. While the “D” was the next sequential model, production was delayed and it entered service after the “E” in 1953. The original F-86 design was modified in light of German wartime research and a 35-degree sweep was given to the wings and tail gaining 70 mph in speed. In all, 336 F-86Es were built with the “E” entering service in 1951.
|The F-86E |
The F-86E was pretty close to the late model “A” in most respects but had the all-flying tail. The wing spanned 37’ and the length was 40.25’ with a wing area of 287.9 sq. ft. It stood 15.0’ high. Empty it weighed 10,845 lbs. and loaded it was 17,806 lbs.
Power came from a General Electric J47-GE-13 engine of 5,200 lbs. thrust. With water injection thrust was increased to 6,000 lbs. Maximum speed was 679 mph at sea level and 601 at 35,000 feet. The ceiling was 48,000 feet and it had an initial climb rate of 7,250 fpm. Range was 554 miles on internal fuel and about 925 miles with drop tanks.
The Mk.18 lead computing gun sight helped the six nose-mounted Browning .50 caliber machine guns bore in at twenty rounds per second rate of fire. Each gun carried 297 rounds. This was good for about ten seconds total fire time.
A virtual clone of German Kurt Tank’s WWII Ta-183 in most aspects, the MiG 15 also first flew in 1947 and entered service in late 1948. The 15bis replaced the original aircraft about one year later having a more powerful engine. Exact Soviet production figures are unknown.
|The MiG 15bis |
It had a wingspan of 33.0’, a length of 33.9’ and stood 12.0’ high. Wing area was 221.75 sq. ft. Weights were 8,320lbs. empty and normal loaded was 11,288 lbs.
Power was from a Klimov VK-1 turbine developed from the rolls Royce Nene with 5,952 lbs thrust and 6,750 with water injection. Maximum speeds were 668 mph at sea level, 620 at 20,000 feet, and 620 at 40,000 feet. Initial climb was 10,827 fpm and it could reach 51,800 feet in altitude. Range was less than 500 miles on internal and around 730 miles with drop tanks.
A simple gyro-type gun sight was mounted with a maximum usable range of 2,650 feet.
Originally two Nudelmann-Rikter Vya (NR-23) cannons with 80 rpg armed the MiG, but were quickly augmented with a 37mm Nudelmann having 40 rounds for a total of ten seconds of firing time.
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