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    Finding 'Little Miss Claire'

    Finding 'Little Miss Claire'

    Photo By Master Sgt. Matt Hecht | A photo of retired U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Jack Nichols when he was a crew...... read more read more



    Story by Tech. Sgt. Matt Hecht 

    177th Fighter Wing - NJ Air National Guard

    MAYS LANDING, N.J. - When the 177th Fighter Wing Public Affairs Office received a DVD of old photos, I thought it would be the standard F-106 Delta Dart and F-16 Fighting Falcon shots that we see all the time. Those photos are great, and extremely popular, so I was surprised to open the folders and see a plethora of images that were new to us. P-47 Thunderbolts, P-51 Mustangs, F-86 Sabres, and F-100 Super Sabres, some in full color that we had never seen before. It was a treasure trove of history! What stuck out to me were the F-86 Sabres with amazing lightning paint schemes and something we had never seen on 119th Fighter Squadron aircraft – nose art!

    Nose art has an amazing place in U.S. Air Force history. It was a way for the pilots and aircrew to personify their aircraft, and it was also a morale booster. The two photos of F-86’s with nose art were the “Little Miss Claire,” and “Shake, Rattle & Roll.”

    The photos of the F-86’s were so unique I figured the best place to share them was social media. I could post them on the Wing Facebook page and the 177th Alumni page, and maybe start generating some conversations.

    I was extremely surprised that within a few hours of posting the images, I received a Facebook message from retired Chief Master Sgt. Jack Nichols.

    “That plane was named for my wife Claire!” said Nichols.

    After a few e-mails and a phone call later, I found the real Little Miss Claire and her husband living only three miles from the current home of the 177th Fighter Wing’s 119th Fighter Squadron.

    Nichols’ Air National Guard story began on Nov. 22, 1952, when he and a friend showed up at the 119th Air Base Squadron at Newark Airport, N.J., looking for work.

    “The Navy recruiter wouldn’t take us, so we figured we’d give Newark a try, and they took us,” said Nichols. “Back in those days we did basic training right there at Newark, and the tech school was all on-the-job training done by mentors there, all World War II veterans.”

    Nichols, who had previously worked at an auto mechanic shop, fit right in as a P-51 Mustang crew chief.

    “It was a great plane to work on,” he said. “The Rolls Royce engine could be difficult sometimes, but it had a great air frame.”

    In 1956 Nichols left Newark for McGuire Air Force Base, following the 119th as they switched airfields and aircraft gaining the F-86 Sabre. Manufactured by North American Aviation, the U.S. Air Force first flew the F-86 in 1947. They were flown in combat during the Korean War, with 792 MiGs shot down to only 78 Sabres lost. Post-Korean War, many F-86’s were sent to Air National Guard units as the active duty Air Force picked up newer aircraft.

    Nichols became an F-86 crew chief for the 119th at McGuire and married his high school sweetheart, Claire.

    It wasn't long after getting the F-86’s that a creative crew chief requested to paint nose art on one of the jets.

    “One of the crew chiefs, Nick Bongo was his name, he asked the commander for permission to give the planes some nose art, and the commander agreed as long as it was appropriate. Nick designed and painted every plane’s nose art by hand. It was a real morale booster! Guys were out their wiping down their aircraft every chance they got.”

    For Nichols, naming his plane was easy.

    “I named the plane after my wife. She’s a really special lady, one of a kind,” said Nichols. “She thought it was really cool.”

    “It was so neat having a jet named after me,” said Claire Nichols.

    While the fate of F-86 “Little Miss Claire,” tail number 51-2848 has remained a mystery, some of its history has come to light.

    On Dec. 12, 1953, she was flying at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and was being used by the U.S. Air Force and NASA as a chase plane for the Bell X-1A rocket plane program. The F-86 escorted the X-1A when it was flown Chuck Yeager during a record breaking flight that saw speeds of Mach 2.44.



    Date Taken: 04.01.2014
    Date Posted: 04.02.2014 15:45
    Story ID: 123781
    Location: MAYS LANDING, NJ, US 
    Hometown: MAYS LANDING, NJ, US

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