The Korean Conflict saw the world’s first jet-on-jet dogfights over a country that, prior to June 1950, the United States never anticipated having to defend.  Korea also saw the first widespread use of the helicopter for transport, rescue and medical evacuation; Sikorsky H-5’s and Bell Model 47’s saved the lives of scores of downed pilots and wounded soldiers and airmen who otherwise would not have survived.

Under the terms of a settlement at the end of World War II, Korea was divided along the 38th Parallel, with North Korea under a communist regime friendly to the Soviet Union, and South Korea controlled by a government friendly to the West.  As the Cold War came into existence, American policymakers, preoccupied with containing the Soviet threat in Western Europe, inadvertently excluded the Korean peninsula from their Far Eastern strategy.  When a speech by then-Secretary of State John Foster Dulles omitted Korea from a listing of American vital interests in the Far East, the North Korean regime of Kim Il Sung took it as a signal that South Korea would not be defended in the event of attack.  Miscalculation on both sides led to tragedy.

On June 25, 1950, North Korean troops and tanks invaded South Korea with the goal of unifying the country under communist rule.  President Truman reacted swiftly, intervening with U.S. forces in the first overt test of the American policy of containment.  Initially many of the aircraft available to defend against the attack were World War II-era P-51 Mustangs, F4U-4 Corsairs, British Seafires and Sea Furies.  Initially they cleared the skies of North Korea’s Russian-built Yak fighters, but with the North’s introduction of the MiG, Western jets were needed.  Propeller-driven fighters were soon augmented by the first American jets on the scene, Lockheed’s land-based F-80 Shooting Star, and the Navy’s Grumman F9F Panther and McDonnell F2H Banshee.

Most of the sorties were close air support missions, over 600 a day in the final months of 1950, to buy time for beleaguered U.S. ground forces as they retreated to an area in the southwest called the Pusan Perimeter.  It was not until November 1950 and General MacArthur’s risky amphibious operation at Inchon on Korea’s west coast, that American and United Nations ground forces were able to get off the defensive and push the North Koreans back across the 38th Parallel.  Stability remained elusive, however, when MacArthur’s offensive, now seeking to liberate North Korea, pushed too close to the Yalu River, the border separating North Korea from Communist China.  The Korean War took on an entirely different character once the Chinese invaded Korea in force, ensuring a bloody stalemate that lasted another two years, when peace negotiations finally concluded.

During this time the air war consisted mostly of air support for the ground fighting, with strategic bombing playing less of a role than it had in World War II.  The F-80 was a capable fighter-bomber but was outclassed by the new Soviet MiG-15, which was faster, could climb higher, and had heavier firepower.  Into the fray went North American’s F-86 Sabre, to contend with the Russian fighter in the skies near the Chinese border known as “MiG Alley.”  Flown by Chinese and a few Russian pilots, the MiG was a significant threat that Sabre pilots learned to beat with the proper tactics.  Korea was the last major conventional war fought by the United States, one in which jets and helicopters played an unprecedented role.


A-26C Invader

MPC’s 1970’s re-box of the Airfix kit bears raised rivet detail and a full cockpit and bomb bay — nose weights definitely needed for this WWII era warbird that was still flying in Vietnam.

Polikarpov Po-2

The Po-2 was a Soviet military trainer that saw service as everything from a crop duster to air ambulance to night intruder, and was used as a light bomber during the Korean War over 20 years after its introduction. The KP kit is generally accurate and features simple construction.

P-80 Shooting Star

Monogram’s Korean War-era Lockheed P-80 features detailed cockpit and landing gear, and a detachable rear fuselage that reveals an Allison jet engine.

Yakolev Yak-18

Amodel’s Soviet trainer features a basic cockpit, engraved panel lines, and white metal bombs. Designed at the end of WWII, it went on to fame as a night intruder in the Korean War.

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