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NOVA: Missing In MiG Alley

Airs Wednesday, May 23, 2012 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Photo of an American F-86 Sabre.

In 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 pilots’ skills to the limit.

Ralph Wetterhahn by a MiG-15, Moscow.
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Above: Ralph Wetterhahn by a MiG-15, Moscow.

Captain Troy "Gordie" Cope crouches by his wife's name on the wing of his F-86 Sabre. He was later shot down in "MiG Alley," his fate unknown for over 50 years.
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Above: Captain Troy "Gordie" Cope crouches by his wife's name on the wing of his F-86 Sabre. He was later shot down in "MiG Alley," his fate unknown for over 50 years.

The epicenter of the air campaign was MiG Alley, a strip of airspace between the Korean-Chinese border. Flying higher and faster than ever before, American and British pilots had little idea of the hidden dangers that awaited them if they were shot down.

Thirty-one Sabre pilots are believed to have survived crash landings, and the evidence suggests that a few of the pilots were captured and secretly imprisoned in Russia.

In “Missing In MiG Alley,” NOVA follows the poignant and sometimes harrowing efforts of family members to trace what happened to pilots who went missing more than a half-century ago.

The program combines forensic detective work with an in-depth look at why the Sabre and the MiG acquired their reputations as legendary fighting machines. With the help of dramatic reconstructions, rare archival footage and interviews with veteran aces, NOVA puts viewers in the cockpit to experience the lethal split-second duels in the skies over MiG Alley.

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Video

NOVA: Missing In MiG Alley

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Watch Missing in MiG Alley on PBS. See more from NOVA.

Above: What happened to American pilots shot down over Korea half a century ago? In “Missing In MiG Alley,” NOVA follows the poignant and sometimes harrowing efforts of family members to trace what happened to pilots who went missing more than a half-century ago.