Richard Frailey

I'd land and be soaked in sweat. That’s an hour and 45 minutes, often in life-or-death aerial combat. The speeds you go; the evasive maneuvers; six or seven G’s in a turn. That’s the force of gravity on the human body under high acceleration. The G-suits we wore to keep you from blacking out squeezed the hell out of you.


Lieutenant Frailey in the cockpit of his F-86 after a mission. Frailey collection

Top Left: Frailey, third from left, front row, and fellow pilots pose with one of their Sabre jets. Frailey collection

Top Right: Pilots of the 334th Fighter Squadron at Kimpo Air Field. Frailey collection

Bottom Left: Frailey, right, with fellow pilots outside group headquarters. Frailey collection

Bottom right: America’s first jet ace, James “Jabby” Jabara, left, briefs squadron mates at Kimpo Air Field before a mission. Frailey, his wingman, is at his side. Frailey collection

Four U.S. Air Force F-86F Sabre jets were heading home from a hunting expedition along the Chinese border in 1953. The American pilots had hoped to ambush a cluster of MiG-15s, the Soviet-built jet flown by the communists. When 1st Lt. Richard L. Frailey spotted a jet closing in from behind, he figured it was a friend, not foe. A burst of machine-gun fire riddled his left wing; another slammed .50-caliber shells into the engine. His crippled plane began streaming smoke.

The man they called “Fearless Frailey” had flown with aces and West Pointers like future astronaut Buzz Aldrin. He was about to star in a war story the Air Force didn’t want anyone to hear. “Friendly fire” happens more often than most realize. Frailey lived to tell about it.