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Profiles In Aviation: George A Davis Was The USAF Ace of Aces

Davis’ Career Might Have Been Even More Legendary Had He Survived Korea

Official US Air Force Photograph

Born in Dublin, Texas, on December 1, 1920, George Andrew Davis Junior joined the US Army Air Corps (USAAC) in March of 1942. After his primary and basic flight training as well as his initial type training in Curtiss P-40 Warhawks was complete, he was sent to the Pacific Theater and assigned to fly Republic P-47 Thunderbolts with the 342nd Fighter Squadron, 348th Fighter Group of the Fifth Air Force. Davis’s squadron fought primarily in the New Guinea and Philippines campaigns.

Davis achieved ace status by shooting down seven Japanese aircraft. His aerial gunnery was superior and his ability to fly his P-47 to the limits of its capabilities was impressive. Davis flew a total of 266 combat missions against the Japanese. Like many of his fellow combat aces Davis was eventually assigned to train new pilots back in the United States. By the time the war ended in 1945 he had been awarded the Silver Star, two Distinguished Flying Crosses and nine Air Medals for his prowess in aerial combat.

Official US Air Force Photograph

After the war, Davis was assigned to several administrative positions in the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) but he kept his flight proficiency current by flying with one of the first USAAF aerial demonstration teams. When the United States Air Force (USAF) was born in 1948, Davis was commissioned as a Captain in the fledgling service. By the time war came to Korea in 1950, Davis had built up experience by flying as a flight commander.  In early 1951 Davis was promoted to Major and began training on the North American F-86 Sabre. When his training was complete in October 1951, Davis was transferred to the 334th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 8th Fighter Interceptor Group, 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing to fly Sabres in Korea.

Major Davis entered aerial combat in Korea quickly and effectively, scoring multiple kills against MiGs on several missions. In November of 1951 the Major was given command of the 334th Fighter Interceptor Squadron. The 334th was relocated to Kimpo Airfield, which was close to the fabled “MiG Alley” area near the North Korean border. Davis’ prior experience in training new and inexperienced pilots enabled him to effectively train the pilots entering the war in Korea in current tactics and doctrine, which both improved their life expectancy in aerial combat and earned Davis wide-ranging respect from his peers and rivals alike.

On February 10, 1952, while flying his 59th and last combat mission of the Korean War in a F-86E Sabre (tail number 51-2752) and leading a flight of four F-86s on a patrol near the Yalu River along the Manchurian border, Major Davis was shot down and killed. Controversy over Davis’ final mission has ranged from why he attacked the numerically superior force of 12 MiG-15s to exactly who it was that shot Davis down. Most likely Davis attacked because of his aggressively confident nature. He was also likely concerned about the USAF Republic F-84 Thunderjets attacking ground targets nearby and concerned that they were unaware of the presence of the MiGs above them.

Official US Air Force Photograph

Davis’ wingman reported that he did not see Davis bail out of his stricken aircraft. Davis was declared missing in action and presumed killed. Intense aerial searches of the area later revealed no evidence that Davis had survived the crash. It was only discovered many years later that a week after the incident, the Chinese military searched the region and recovered Davis’ body, still in the crashed aircraft. Major Davis’ body was never returned to the United States. Davis was posthumously promoted the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, USAF.

Official US Air Force Photograph

Davis’ death generated controversy between China and Russia because both Chinese MiG pilot Zhang Jihui and Soviet MiG pilot Mikhail A. Averin claimed to have shot Davis down. Even though Zhang was credited by the Chinese for shooting down Davis’ F-86, Russian sources disputed his claim some 40 years later by raising the possibility that the Russian Averin was the MiG pilot that had shot down Davis’ aircraft.

Official US Air Force Photograph

Lieutenant Colonel George A. Davis compiled an impressive list of accomplishments:

  • Davis scored 14 confirmed victories, 1 probable victory and 2 aircraft damaged, bringing his career total aerial victory count to 21.
  • Davis was one of only 30 US pilots to compile more than 20 confirmed victories over their careers.
  • Davis was one of 1,297 World War II aces from the United States, with seven confirmed kills during that war.
  • Davis was one of 41 Korean War aces from the United States.
  • Davis shot down four Chinese aircraft on November 30, 1951, which was the most kills achieved in a single day by any United Nations (UN) pilot in the Korean War.
  • Davis took the shortest time to become a double ace- just 17 days in Korea.

  • Davis was one of only six US Air Force pilots and seven US pilots overall who achieved ace status flying piston-engine planes in World War II and jets in a later conflict.
  • At the time of his death Davis was the top-scoring fighter ace from the UN forces, making him the Ace of Aces in Korea.
  • When the war ended, Davis was ranked fourth in aerial victories among pilots, surpassed only by fellow USAF Sabre pilots Joseph C. McConnell, James Jabara, and Manuel J. Fernandez.
  • Davis was the third of four members of the US Air Force to be awarded the Medal of Honor in the Korean War. All four Air Force recipients of the Medal of Honor were pilots who were killed in action and also the only USAF service members to be awarded the Army version of the MOH.

Medal of Honor Citation

Maj. Davis distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. While leading a flight of 4 F-86 Sabre jets on a combat aerial patrol mission near the Manchurian border, Maj. Davis’ element leader ran out of oxygen and was forced to retire from the flight with his wingman accompanying him. Maj. Davis and the remaining F-86’s continued the mission and sighted a formation of approximately 12 enemy MiG-15 aircraft speeding southward toward an area where friendly fighter-bombers were conducting low level operations against the Communist lines of communications. With selfless disregard for the numerical superiority of the enemy, Maj. Davis positioned his 2 aircraft, then dove at the MiG formation. While speeding through the formation from the rear he singled out a MiG-15 and destroyed it with a concentrated burst of fire. Although he was now under continuous fire from the enemy fighters to his rear, Maj. Davis sustained his attack. He fired at another MiG-15 which, bursting into smoke and flames, went into a vertical dive. Rather than maintain his superior speed and evade the enemy fire being concentrated on him, he elected to reduce his speed and sought out still a third MiG-15. During this latest attack his aircraft sustained a direct hit, went out of control, then crashed into a mountain 30 miles south of the Yalu River. Maj. Davis’ bold attack completely disrupted the enemy formation, permitting the friendly fighter-bombers to successfully complete their interdiction mission. Maj. Davis, by his indomitable fighting spirit, heroic aggressiveness, and superb courage in engaging the enemy against formidable odds exemplified valor at its highest.

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Bill Walton

Written by Bill Walton

Bill Walton is a life-long aviation enthusiast and expert in aircraft recognition. As a teenager Bill helped his engineer father build an award-winning T-18 homebuilt airplane in their Wisconsin basement. Bill is a freelance writer, an avid sailor, engineer, announcer, husband, father, uncle, mentor, coach, and Navy veteran. Bill lives north of Houston TX with his wife and son under the approach path to KDWH runway 17R, which means they get to look up at a lot of airplanes. A very good thing.

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