Aired Tuesday July 6th, 2010 at 7:00 pm on KUED HD Ch. 7.1
In the early 1950, Russian and American fighters clashed over Korea in the fastest dogfights ever seen. This was the world's first jet war, pitting the two most advanced planes of their day--the American F-86 Sabre and the Soviet MiG-15--in furious air battles that pushed their pilot skills to the limit. NOVA:Missing In MiG Alley explores the Korean War's aerial tactics, technology and grim aftermath for shot down pilots, many of whom disappeared without a trace. The documentary encores Tuesday, July 6, at 7:00 p.m. on KUED.
The air epicenter of the Korean War was 'MiG Alley', a strip of airspace between the Korean-Chinese border. NOVA investigates the pioneering engine technology and aerodynamic designs that gave the American Sabre and the Soviet MiG their reputations as the best and fastest fighting machines. One of the key secrets exposed in the program is how the MiG-15 engine was a direct copy of an advanced Rolls-Royce engine plan that the British rashly handed over to the Russians in a post-war trade agreement.
Although the Soviet Union was not officially a participant in the Korean War, it supplied one of its newest weapons, the MiG-15, to North Korea and China. The skill of the MiG pilots soon caused the American military to fear not only Soviet planes, but also Soviet pilots, who were deemed the best in the world.
"Neither before nor after the war were we allowed to reveal that we were going to fly for the North Koreans," MiG pilot Sergei Kramarenko tells NOVA. Kramarenko was one of the top Soviet aces of the war. In addition to helping their North Korean allies, the Soviets were eager to test their planes and pilots against the U.S. Air Force as a proving ground for a possible World War III.
Missing In MiG Alley follows the poignant and sometimes harrowing stories of three families searching for their loved ones, all Sabre pilots, who went missing more than a half-century ago. Russia's archives, opened only recently, provide some clues as to what happened to the pilots. When the Chinese government allows for the inevestigaiton of a crash sight, the NOVA team, along with other investigators, find shocking evidence: the sole of a shoe, a watchband, a rusted pocket knife and human bones. DNA analysis of the bones finally brings closure to a grieving son after more than half a century.
Former POW Michael DeArmond tells NOVA that he "became more and more concerned about the purpose of this Russian running my interrogation. So I tried to be the dumbest F-86 pilot he had ever interrogated." DeArmond believes that at least three fellow pilots were sent to Russia for further questioning. Their fate is unknown.
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