Michigan Aviation Archaeology
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F-80A Shooting Star #44-85075, Oscoda, MI - 9 July, 1948

A F-80A of the 62nd Fighter Squadron similar to Lt. York's plane

Pilot - 1st Lt. Jack R. York, 29

Ethel Popek was in the observation tower on the Wurtsmith AFB gunnery and bombing range watching her husband, Major Edward Popek, leading a flight of F-80 Shooting Stars of the 62nd Fighter Squadron in a practice bombing run. At about 5:30, the fourth plane in the flight of four, flown by 1st Lieutenant Jack York began its bombing run. As Ethel watched, she thought that York’s dive seemed a little steeper and faster than the other planes’ had been. No doubt she was horrified when the jet leveled out at just 300 ft. and smashed into the ground just beyond the bombing target, bursting into flames and skidding to a halt after 2,000 feet. Rescue teams responded within minutes and the remaining planes flew out over nearby Lake Huron, dropped their remaining bombs and landed to await word on their comrade. Sadly, 1st Lieutenant Jack R. York was killed on impact.  He was survived by his wife Virginia and two children.
The cause of the crash was determined to be either failure of the dive flaps to properly deploy or failure of the pilot to deploy the dive flaps prior to beginning the dive. The 62nd Fighter Squadron was using the first production jets in the USAF. Training SOPs in use at the time were still those written for the much slower propeller planes.

Crash site, 1948:

Slide shows are clickable to enlarge or see a photo album view for comments


The Search for the crash site:

In the fall of 2012, I received an inquiry through my website from Paul Bolander. He had been exploring the old Wurtsmith Air Force Base target range about 10 miles northwest of the old base near Oscoda, MI and had discovered what he thought were old plane parts.  He contacted me to find out if I knew anything about them. He had been hiking the range for years looking for rocket parts but this was the first time he stumbled upon plane parts. He was kind enough to provide me with directions to the site and pictures of the parts he had found along with a detailed description of some part numbers and stamps found on the pieces.
I had been researching the range for a couple years, just trying to locate its actual whereabouts, because I knew that at the very least, they would have had old planes on the ground as targets. It made sense that a few planes would also have crashed there over the years.
After consulting the AAIR database, it turned out that there are hundreds of potential crash sites in and around the Oscoda area. The airstrip at Wurtsmith was used as a military training area since 1923. Using the provided part numbers and stamps, my expert colleagues at wreckchasing.com were able to narrow that down to a Lockheed plane of either the T-33 (jet trainer) or P/F-80 types.

On a rainy October 20, 2012, Dave Trojan and I met at the Au Sable-Oscoda Historical Museum for research and to wait out the rain, in Oscoda. We drove my truck to the area where Paul had indicated he had found parts. Once on site, a quick call to Paul confirmed that we were in the right location. With the evenly spaced sand pits, it was obvious where the targets must have been and it became clear that the metal detector would be rendered useless by all the spent ammunition casings and bullets. In fact, we ran into locals that were collecting such items for their recycle value. They said they could make $250 in a good day of collecting!  When we asked them about plane parts and explained what we were looking for, they pointed us in a direction and seemed very interested in our work (hopefully not for recycling purposes!) and took my phone number in case they find anything interesting in the future. We began finding every imaginable kind of ammunition; bullets, practice bombs, flares, rockets and shrapnel from real bombs. Soon aircraft parts began showing up and some even with part numbers. There weren’t many but enough to warrant more searching. Since we were not finding much, we started to fan out further from the target area. About 300 yards away from the original cluster of aircraft parts that we found, we began finding more parts but these seemed vastly different in material and construction style. One piece had an unmistakable “NAA” stamped into it – North American Aviation. We had already found Lockheed part numbers in the other cluster so we now realized that we had stumbled upon ANOTHER crash site; and the mystery deepened.

Upon returning home, I plotted the day’s events from my GPS on GoogleEarth and it revealed two distinct debris fields, but which two? After more deliberation at wreckchasing.com I decided on the two best candidates based on the known information. The crash reports arrived and contained detailed drawings of the range and crash locations. Based on this comparison, I believe we had discovered the final locations of Lt. Jack York’s F-80A Shooting Star, serial number 44-85075 and Lt. William Tanner’s F-51D Mustang, serial number 45-11470. It is clear from comparing the reports with our actual GoogleEarth track-points that we only skimmed the surface of the two debris fields. I am planning on returning this coming field season for a more concentrated search effort armed with this new information. Perhaps we can get further evidence to make a positive identification.

Crash site, today:

Slide shows are clickable to enlarge or see a photo album view for comments
The first set is from Paul Bolander. After talking with Paul, it appears that he did not search the area of the F-51 debris field, thus all of his pictures are of F-80A parts. The second set is from my investigation and contains parts from both debris fields. They are identified on the Flickr page.

Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star

The Shooting Star was the first USAF aircraft to exceed 500 mph in level flight, the first American jet airplane to be manufactured in large quantities, and the first USAF jet to be used in combat. Designed in 1943, the XP-80 made its maiden flight on Jan. 8, 1944. Several early P-80s were sent to Europe for demonstration, but World War II ended before the aircraft could be employed in combat. (The aircraft was redesignated in 1948 when P for Pursuit was changed to F for Fighter.) Of 1,731 F-80s built, 798 were F-80Cs.

Although it was designed as a high-altitude interceptor, the F-80C was used extensively as a fighter-bomber in the Korean Conflict, primarily for low-level rocket, bomb and napalm attacks against ground targets. On Nov. 8, 1950, an F-80C flown by Lt. Russell J. Brown, flying with the 16th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, shot down a Russian-built MiG 15 in the world's first all-jet fighter air battle.

 F-80 Shooting Star Specifications:

Engine:   One Allison J33-A-17A turbojet; 4,000 lbs thrust
Wingspan:   38 ft 10 1/2 in (without wingtip tanks)
Length:   34 ft 6 in
Height:   11 ft 4 in
Weight:   7,920 lbs empty; 14,500 lbs max
Speed:   max: 558 mph at sea level; 492 mph at 40,000 ft
Range:   max: 1,440 miles; normal: 780 miles
Service Ceiling:   45,000 ft
Armament:   Six .50-caliber Browning M-2 machine guns; up to 2,000 lbs ordnance
Cost:   $64,096 (estimated)