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The North American F-86 "Saber Jet"

The North American F-86 "Dog Sabre"


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The F-86, the USAF's first swept-wing jet fighter, made its initial flight on October 1, 1947. The first production model flew on May 20, 1948, and on September 15, 1948, an F-86A set a new world speed record of 670.9 mph. Originally designed as a high-altitude day-fighter, it was subsequently redesigned into an all-weather interceptor (F-86D) and a fighter-bomber (F-86H).

As a day fighter, the airplane saw service in Korea in three successive series (F-86A, E, and F) where it engaged the Russian-built MiG-15. By the end of hostilities, it had shot down 792 MiGs at a loss of only 76 Sabres, a victory ratio of 10 to 1.

More than 5,500 Sabre day-fighters were built in the U.S. and Canada. The airplane was also used by the air forces of 20 other nations, including West Germany, Japan, Spain, Britain, and Australia.



Number built/Converted



Prototype day-fighter
1st prod. model
188 canceled; to F-86A-5
YF-93A; Imp. F-86A
Imp. F-86A
Imp. F-86E
Two-place trainer

Span: 37 ft. 1 in.
Length: 37 ft. 6 in.
Height: 14 ft. 8 in.
Weight: 13,791 lbs. loaded
Armament: Six .50-cal. machine guns and eight 5 in. rockets or 2,000 lbs. of bombs
Engine: One General Electric J-47 turbojet of 5,200 lbs thrust.
Cost: $178,000
Crew: One

Maximum speed: 685 mph
Cruising speed: 540 mph.
Range: 1,200 miles
Combat Ceiling: 49,000 ft

The F-86D (known briefly as the YF-95A) made its first flight on December 22, 1949. It was developed as an all-weather interceptor version of the famed F-86A, the airplane that won supremacy of the skies from the MiG 15 during the Korean Conflict. The F-86D was used during the 1950s--both in the U.S. and overseas--to guard against possible air attack. In all, 2,506 -Ds (includes 2 YF-86Ds) were produced.

The F-86D was known for two historic firsts. It was the first USAF airplane to have all-rocket armament, and the first all-weather interceptor to carry only one person for operating the radar fire control system as well as piloting the airplane. It also had the unique distinction of succeeding itself in setting a new world's speed record--698.505 mph on November 19, 1952 and 715.697 mph on July 16, 1953.

TYPE Number built/Converted Remarks


2 (cv)
2 (cv)
800 (cv)

Prototype interceptor
Production model
Modified F-86D
4 20mm Cn. rep. rocket arm.
Mod. F-86D

* - Many more F-86Ks built under license agreements

Span: 37 ft. 1 in.
Length: 40 ft. 4 in.
Height: 15 ft. 0 in.
Weight: 19,975 lbs. loaded
Armament: Twenty-four 2.75 in. Mighty Mouse folding fin aircraft rockets (FFAR)
Engine: One General Electric J-47 turbojet of 7,650 lbs thrust.
Cost: $344,000
Crew: One

Maximum speed: 715 mph
Cruising speed: 550 mph.
Range: 800 miles


General Electric J73 Turbojet  Engine

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The J73 engine was developed by the General Electric Company from the J47 engine in the early 1950s. The more powerful J-73 was used in F-86H aircraft instead of the J47 as in earlier series F-86s. In September 1954, during the National Aircraft Show at Dayton, Ohio, a J73 engine powered an F-86H to a world's speed record of 649.302 mph for a 500-kilometer closed course in the General Electric Trophy Event. At the same show, the J73-powered F-86H also established a Thompson Trophy Event record of 692.818 mph over a 100-kilometer closed course.

The engine on display is similar to the J73-GE-3 series engine used in the F-86H aircraft. Part of the case has been cut away to reveal the engine's internal components.

General Electric J73 Turbojet

Model:           J73-GE-3E
Compressor: 12-stage axial
Turbine:         two-stage axial
Thrust:   8,920 lbs. max.
Weight:  3,650 lbs.
Max. RPM: 7,950
Max. Operating Altitude:  65,000 ft.
Cost: $145,000


The General Electric J-73 Also Powered the F-86-L

North American F-86 Saber Jet

By Joe Baugher

The XP-86 Saber

The North American F-86 Sabre was without question one of the greatest fighter aircraft of all time, ranking right up there with such aircraft as the Fokker D.VII, the Sopwith Camel, the Supermarine Spitfire, the Messerschmitt Bf 109, the Focke Wulf Fw 190, the Mitsubishi Zero, and the North American P-51 Mustang. It first entered service with the USAAF in 1949, and was instrumental in denying air superiority to the Communist forces during the Korean War. After the Korean War ended, many Sabres entered service with dozens of foreign air arms, becoming the primary fighter equipment of many Allied nations. It was built under license in Canada, Japan, Italy, and Australia. Its service was so long-lived that the last operational F-86 was not withdrawn from service until 1993, which must be some sort of record for a combat aircraft.

The F-86 Sabre began its life as North American Aviation's company project NA-134, which was originally intended for the US Navy. As the war in the Pacific edged toward its climax, the US Navy was making plans to acquire jet-powered carrier-based aircraft which, it was hoped, could be pressed into service in time for Operation Olympic-Coronet, the invasion of Japan planned for May 1946. The Navy had planned to acquire four jet fighters, the Vought XF6U-1 Pirate, the McDonnell XFD-1 Phantom, the McDonnell XF2D-1 Banshee, and the North American XFJ-1 Fury.

Work on the NA-134 project began in the late autumn of 1944. The NA-134 had a straight, thin-section wing set low on a rather tubby fuselage. It featured a straight-through flow of air from the nose intake to the jet exhaust that exited the aircraft under a straight tailplane. The wing was borrowed directly from the P-51D, and had a laminar-flow airfoil. It was to be powered by a single General Electric TG-180 gas turbine which was a license-built version of the de Havilland Goblin. The TG-180 was designated J35 by the military and was an 11-stage axial-flow turbojet which offered 4000 lb.s.t. at sea level. The Navy ordered three prototypes of the NA-134 under the designation XFJ-1 on January 1, 1945. On May 28, 1945, the Navy approved a contract for 100 production FJ-1s (NA-141).

At the same time that North American was beginning to design the Navy's XFJ-1, the USAAF issued a requirement for a medium-range day fighter which could also be used as an escort fighter and a dive bomber. Specifications called for a speed of at least 600 mph, since the Republic XP-84 Thunderjet already under construction promised 587 mph. On Nov 22, 1944, the company's RD-1265 design study proposed a version of the XFJ-1 for the Air Force to meet this requirement. This design was known in company records as NA-140. The USAAF was sufficiently impressed that they issued a Letter Contract on May 18, 1945 which authorized the acquisition of three NA-140 aircraft under the designation XP-86.

The Navy's XFJ-1 design had to incorporate some performance compromises in order to support low-speed carrier operations, but the land-based USAAF XP-86 version was not so constrained and had a somewhat thinner wing and a slimmer fuselage with a high fineness ratio. However, the XP-86 retained the tail surfaces of the XFJ-1.

The XP-86 incorporated several features not previously used on fighter aircraft, including a fully-pressurized cockpit and hydraulically-boosted ailerons and elevators. Armament was the standard USAAF equipment of the era--six 0.50-inch Browning M3 machine guns that fired at 1100 rounds per minute, with 267 rounds per gun. The aircraft was to use the Sperry type A-1B gun/bomb/rocket sight, working in conjunction with an AN/APG-5 ranging radar. Rocket launchers could be added underneath the wings to carry up to 8 5-inch HVARs. Self-sealing fuel tanks were to be fitted, and the pilot was to be provided with some armor plating around the cockpit area.

In the XP-86, a ten percent ratio of wing thickness to chord was used to extend the critical Mach number to 0.9. Wingspan was to be 38 feet 2 1/2 inches, length was 35 feet 6 inches, and height was 13 feet 2 1/2 inches. Four speed brakes were to be attached above and below the wings. At a gross weight of 11,500 pounds, the XP-86 was estimated to be capable of achieving a top speed of 574 mph at sea level and 582 mph at 10,000 feet, still below the USAAF requirement. Initial climb rate was to be 5850 feet per minute and service ceiling was to be 46,000 feet. Combat radius was 297 miles with 410 gallons of internal fuel, but could be increased to 750 miles by adding a 170 gallon drop tank to each wingtip. As it would turn out, these performance figures were greatly exaggerated.

A mock-up of the XP-86 was built and approved on June 20, 1945. However, early wind tunnel tests indicated that the airframe of the XP-86 would not be able to reach the desired speed of 600 mph. It is highly likely that the XP-86 project would have been cancelled at this time were it not for some unusual developments.

After the surrender of Germany in May of 1945, the USAAF (along with a lot of other air forces) was keenly interested in obtaining information about the latest German jet fighters and in learning as much as they could about secret German wartime research on jet propulsion, rocket power, and ballistic missiles. American teams were selected from industry and research institutions and sent into occupied Germany to investigate captured weapons research data, microfilm it, and ship it back to the USA.

By the summer of 1945, a lot of German data was pouring in, much of it as yet un-translated into English. As it turned out, German aeronautical engineers had wind-tunnel tested just about every aerodynamic shape that the human mind could conceive of, even some ideas even only remotely promising. A particular German paper dated 1940 reported that wind tunnel tests showed that there were some significant advantages offered by swept wings at speeds of about Mach 0.9. A straight-winged aircraft was severely affected by compressibility effects as sonic speed was approached, but the use of a swept wing delayed the effects of shock waves and permitted better control at these higher speeds. Unfortunately, German research also indicated that the use of wing sweep introduced some undesirable wing tip stall and low-speed stability effects. American researchers had also encountered similar problem with the swept-wing Curtiss XP-55 Ascender, which was so unstable that it flipped over on its back and fell out of the sky on one of its test flights.

In 1940, these German studies were of only theoretical interest, since no powerplants were available even remotely capable of reaching such speeds. However, such studies caught the attention of North American engineers trying to figure out ways to improve the performance of their XP-86.

It would do no good to build an aircraft capable of high speeds that would be so unstable that it would fall out of the sky at low speeds. The cure for the low-speed stability problem that was worked out by North American engineers was to attach automatic slats to the wing leading edges. The wing slats were entirely automatic, and opened and closed in response to aerodynamic forces. When the slats opened, the changed airflow over the upper wing surface increased the lift and produced lower stalling speeds. At high speeds, the slats automatically closed to minimize drag.

In August of 1945, project aerodynamicist L. P. Greene proposed to Raymond Rice that a swept-wing configuration for the P-86 be adopted. Wind tunnel tests carried out in September of 1945 confirmed the reduction in drag at high subsonic speeds as well as the beneficial effect of the slats on low speed stability. The limiting Mach number was raised to 0.875.

Based on these wind-tunnel studies, a new design for a swept-wing P-86 was submitted to the USAAF in the fall of 1945. The USAAF was impressed, and on November 1, 1945 it readily approved the proposal. This was one of the most important decisions ever made by the USAAF--had they not agreed to this change, the history of the next forty years would undoubtedly have been quite different.

North American's next step was to choose the aspect ratio of the swept wing. A larger aspect ratio would give better range, a narrower one better stability, and the correct choice would obviously have to be a tradeoff between the two. Further tests carried out between late October and mid November indicated that a wing aspect ratio of 6 would be satisfactory, and such an aspect ratio had been planned for in the proposal accepted on November 1. However, early in 1946 additional wind tunnel tests indicated that stability with such a narrow wing would be too great a problem, and in March the design reverted to a shorter wingform. An aspect ratio of 4.79, a sweep-back of 35 degrees, and a thickness/chord ratio of 11% at the root and 10% at the tip was finally chosen.

All of these changes lengthened the time scale of the P-86 development in comparison to that of the Navy's XFJ-1. The XFJ-1 took to the air for the first time on November 27, 1946, but the XP-86 still had almost a year more of work ahead of it before it was ready for its first flight.

On February 28, 1946, the mockup of the swept-winged XP-86 was inspected and approved. In August of 1946, the basic engineering drawings were made available to the manufacturing shop of North American, and the first metal was cut. So excited was the USAAF over the performance of the XP-86, on December 20, 1946, a Letter Contract for 33 production P-86As was approved by the USAAF. No service test aircraft were ordered. Although the 4000 lb.s.t. J35 would power the three XP-86 prototypes, production P-86As would be powered by the General Electric TG-190 (J47) turbojet offering 5000 lb.s.t.

The wing of the P-86 was to be constructed of a double-skin structure with hat sections between layers extending from the center section to the outboard edges of the outer panel fuel tanks. This structure replaced the conventional rib and stringer construction in that region. This new construction provided additional strength and allowed enough space in the wing for fuel tanks.

The wing-mounted speed brakes originally contemplated for the XP-86 were considered unsuitable for this type of wing, so they were replaced by a hydraulic door-type brake mounted on each side of the rear fuselage and one brake mounted on the bottom of the fuselage in a dorsal position. The speed brakes opened frontwards. These speed brakes had the advantage in that they could be opened at any attitude and speed, including speeds above Mach One.

The first of three prototypes, 45-59507, was rolled out of the Inglewood factory on August 8, 1947. It was powered by a Chevrolet-built J35-C-3 turbojet rated at 4000 pounds of static thrust. The aircraft was unarmed. After a few ground taxiing and braking tests, it was disassembled and trucked out to Muroc Dry Lake Army Air Base, where it was reassembled.

Test pilot George "Wheaties" Welch took the XP-86 up into the air for the first time on October 1, 1947. The flight went well until it came time to lower the landing gear and come in for a landing. Welch found to his shock that the nosewheel wouldn't come down all the way. After spending forty minutes in fruitless attempts to shake the nosewheel down into place, Welch finally brought the plane in for a nose-high landing. Fortunately, the impact of the main wheels jolted the nosewheel into place, and the aircraft rolled safely to a stop. The swept-wing XP-86 had made its first flight.

The maximum speed of the XP-86 was over 650 mph, 75 mph faster than anything else in service at the time. With the bubble canopy, the pilot's field of vision was excellent. The noise and vibration levels were considerably lower than those of other jet-powered aircraft. However, the J35 engine did not produce enough thrust, and the XP-86 could only climb at 4000 feet per minute. However, since production P-86As were to be powered by the 5000 lb.s.t. General Electric J47, no one was too worried.

On October 16, 1947, the USAF gave final approval to the Fixed Price contract for 33 P-86As, plus they authorized 190 P-86Bs. The P-86B was to be a strengthened P-86A for rough-field operations.

There is actually a possibility that the XP-86 rather than the Bell XS-1 might have been the first aircraft to achieve supersonic flight. During some of his early flight tests, George Welch reported that he had encountered some rather unusual fluctuations in his airspeed and altitude indicators during high speed dives, which might mean that he had exceeded the speed of sound. However, at that time, North American had no way of calibrating airspeed indicators into the transonic range, so they were not sure just how fast Welch had gone. On October 14, 1947, Chuck Yeager exceeded Mach 1 in the XS-1. Although the event was kept secret from the general public, North American test crews heard about this feat via the grapevine and persuaded NACA to use its equipment to track the XP-86 in a high-speed dive to see if there was a possibility that the XP-86 could also go supersonic. This test was done on October 19, five days after Yeager's flight, in which George Welch was tracked at Mach 1.02. The tests were flown again on October 21 with the same results. Since Welch had been performing the very same flight patterns in tests before October 14, there is the possibility that he, not Chuck Yeager, might have been first to exceed the speed of sound.

In any case, the fact that the XP-86 had exceeded the speed of sound was immediately classified, and remained so for several months afterward. In May of 1948, the world was informed that George Welch had exceeded Mach 1.0 in the XP-86, becoming the first "aircraft" to do so (an aircraft being defined as a vehicle that takes off and lands under its own power). The date was set as April 26, 1948. This flight did actually take place, but George Welch was not the pilot. In fact, it was a British pilot who was checking out the XP-86 who inadvertently broadcasted that he had exceeded Mach 1 over an open radio channel. However, the facts soon became common knowledge throughout the aviation community--the June 14, 1948 issue of *Aviation Week* published an article revealing that the XP-86 had gone supersonic.

The XP-86 could go supersonic in a dive with only a moderate and manageable tendency to nose-up, although below 25,000 feet there was a tendency to roll which made it unwise to stay supersonic for very long. Production Sabres were limited to Mach 0.95 below 25,000 feet for safety reasons because of this roll tendency.

XP-86 number 45-59597 was officially delivered to the USAF on November 30, 1948. By that time, its designation had been changed to XF-86.

Phase II flight tests (those flown by USAF pilots) began in early December of 1947. . An Allison-built J35-A-5 rated at 4000 lbs of static thrust was installed for USAF tests. The second and third XP-86 prototypes (45-59598 and 45-59599 joined the test program in early 1948. There were different from the first prototype as well as being different from each other in several respects. Nos 1 and 2 had different fuel gauges, a stall warning system built into the control stick, a bypass for emergency operation of the hydraulic boost system, and hydraulically-actuated leading-edge slat locks. The number 3 prototype was the only one of the three to have fully-automatic leading-edge slats that opened at 135 mph. Nos. 2 and 3 had SCR-695-B IFF beacons and carried the AN/ARN-6 radio compass set.

For the second and third prototypes, the ventral brake was eliminated, and the two rear-opening side fuselage brakes were replaced by brakes which had hinges at the front and opened out and down. These air brakes were adopted for production aircraft.

Prototype number 3 was the only one to be fitted with armament. The armament of six 0.50-inch M3 machine guns were mounted in blocks of three on either side of the cockpit. Ammunition bays were installed in the bottom of the fuselage underneath the gun bay, with as many as 300 rounds per gun. The guns were aimed by a Mk 18 gyroscopic gunsight with manual ranging.

In June of 1948, the new US Air Force redesignated all Pursuit aircraft as Fighter aircraft, changing the prefix from P to F. Thus the XP-86 became the XF-86. XP-86 number one was officially delivered to the USAF on November 30, 1948. The three prototypes remained in various test and evaluation roles well into the 1950s, and were unofficially referred to as YP-86s. The number 1 prototype crashed in September of 1952 after logging 241 flying hours, whereas numbers 2 and 3 were finally retired from service in April of 1953.

Specifications of the XP-86:

One Chevrolet-built J35-C-3 turbojet rated at 4000 pounds of static thrust. Dimensions: wingspan 37 feet 1 7/16 inches, length 37 feet 6/1/2 inches height 14 feet 9 inches. Weights: 9730 pounds empty, 13,395 pounds gross, 16,438 pounds maximum takeoff. Performance: Maximum speed of 599 mph at sea level, 618 mph at 14,000 feet, and 575 mph at 35,000 feet. Initial climb rate was 4000 feet per minute. An altitude of 20,000 feet could be attained in 6.4 minutes, and 30,000 feet in 12.1 minutes. service ceiling was 41,300 feet. Takeoff run was 3030 feet, and the aircraft could clear a 50-foot obstacle in 4410 feet.

Developing The XP-86

North American F-86A Sabre

The P-86A was the first production version of the Sabre. North American had received an order for 33 production P-86As on November 20, 1946, even before the first XF-86 prototype had flown.

The P-86A was outwardly quite similar to the XP-86, with external changes being very slight. About the only noticeable external difference was that the pitot tube was moved from the upper vertical fin to a position inside the air intact duct.

The P-86A incorporated as standard some of the changes first tested on the third XP-86 prototype. The front-opening speed brakes on the sides of the rear fuselage were replaced by rear-opening brakes, and the underside speed brake was deleted.

The P-86A was equipped with the armament first tested on the third XP-86--six 0.50-inch machine guns in the nose, three on each side of the pilot's cockpit. The guns had a rate of fire of 1100 rounds per minute. Each gun was fed by an ammunition canister in the lower fuselage holding up to 300 rounds of ammunition. The ammunition bay door could be opened up to double as the first step for pilot entry into the cockpit. The P-86A had two underwing hardpoints for weapons carriage. They could carry either a pair of 206.5 US-gallon drop tanks or a pair of 1000-lb bombs. Four zero-length stub rocket launchers could be installed underneath each wing to fire the 5-inch HVAR rocket, which could be carried in pairs on each launcher.

However, the most important difference between the P-68A and the three XP-86 prototypes was the introduction of the 4850 lb.s.t. General Electric J47-GE-1 (TG-190) in place of the 4000 lb.s.t. J35. The two engines had a similar size, the J47 differing from the J35 primarily in having a twelfth compressor stage.

The first production block consisted of 33 P-86A-1-NAs, ordered on October 16, 1947. These were known as NA-151 on North American company records. Serials were 47-605 through 47-637. Since there were officially no YP-86 service test aircraft, this initial production block effectively served as such.

The first production P-86A-1-NA (serial number 47-605) flew for the first time on May 20, 1948. The first and second production machines were accepted by the USAF on May 28, 1948, although they both remained at Inglewood on bailment to North American for production development work. Aircraft no. 47-605 was not actually sent to an Air Force base until April 29, 1950. It remained at WPAFB until May of 1952, when it was retired to storage at the Griffiss Air Depot.

In June of 1948, the P-86 was redesignated F-86 when the P-for-pursuit category was replaced by F-for-fighter

The F-86A-1-NA fighters could be recognized by their curved windshields and the flush-fitting electrically-operated gun muzzle doors that maintained the smooth surface of the nose. These muzzle doors opened automatically when the trigger was pressed to fire the guns, and closed automatically after each burst.

The cockpit of the F-86A remained almost the same as that of the XP-86, although certain military equipment was provided, such as an AN/ARC-3 VHF radio, an AN/ARN-6 radio compass, and an AN/APX-6 IFF radar identification set. The IFF set was equipped with a destructor which was automatically activated by impact during a crash or which could be manually activated by the pilot in an emergency. This was intended to prevent the codes stored in the device from being compromised by capture by the enemy.

The F-86A was provided with a type T-4E-1 ejection seat, with a manually-jettisoned canopy.

The F-86A-1-NA's empty weight was up to 10,077 pounds as compared to the prototype's 9730 pounds, but the higher thrust of the J-47 engine increased the speed to 673 mph at sea level, which made the F-86A-1-NA almost 75 mph faster than the XP-86. Service ceiling rose from 41,200 feet to 46,000 feet. The initial climb rate was almost TWICE that of the XP-86. The F-86A was one hot ship!

In the summer of 1948, the world's air speed record was 650.796 mph, set by the Navy's Douglas D-558-1 Skystreak research aircraft on August 25, 1947. Like the record-setting Lockheed P-80R before it, the Skystreak was a "one-off" souped-up aircraft specialized for high speed flight. The USAF thought that now would be a good time to show off its new fighter by using a stock, fully-equipped production model of the F-86A to break the world's air speed record.

To get the maximum impact, the Air Force decided to make the attempt on the speed record in the full glare of publicity, before a crowd of 80,000 spectators at the 1948 National Air Races in Cleveland, Ohio. The fourth production F-86A-1-NA (serial number 47-608, the cold weather test aircraft) was selected to make the record attempt, and Major Robert L. Johnson was to be the pilot. According to Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) rules, a 3km (1.86 mile) course had to be covered twice in each direction (to compensate for wind) in one continuous flight. At that time, the record runs had to be made at extremely low altitudes (below 165 feet) to enable precise timing with cameras to be made.

On September 5, 1948, Major Johnson was ready to go and flew his F-86A-1-NA serial number 47-708 on six low-level passes over the course in front of the crowd at Cleveland. Unfortunately, timing difficulties prevented three of these runs from being clocked accurately. In addition, interference caused by other aircraft wandering into the F-86A's flight pattern at the wrong time prevented some of the other runs from being made at maximum speed. Even though the average of the three runs that were timed was 669.480 mph, the record was not recognized as being official by the FAI.

Further attempts to set an official record at Cleveland were frustrated by bad weather and by excessively turbulent air. Major Johnson then decided to move his record-setting effort out to Muroc Dry Lake (later renamed Edwards AFB), where the weather was more predictable and the air less turbulent. On September 15, 1948, Major Johnson finally succeeded in setting an official record of 670.981 mph by flying a different F-86A-1-NA (serial number 47-611, the armaments test aircraft) four times over a 1.86-mile course at altitudes between 75 and 125 feet.

In the autumn of 1948, problems with the J-47-GE-1 engine of the early F-86As forced a momentary halt to F-86 production. It was followed by a few J47-GE-3s, and in December the J47-GE-7 became available, which offered 5340 lb.s.t. and full production resumed.

By March of 1949 the last F-86A-1-NA (47-637) had been delivered. Most of the 33 F-86A-1-NAs built were used for various tests and evaluations, and none actually entered squadron service.

The first production block to enter squadron service was actually the second production batch, 188 of which were ordered on February 23, 1949. They were assigned the designation of F-86A-5-NA by the USAF, but continued to be carried as NA-151 on company records. Serials were 48-129 to 48-316. These were powered by the J47-GE-7 jet engine. Deliveries began in March of 1949 and were completed in September of 1949.

The F-86A-5-NA had a V-shaped armored windscreen which replaced the curved windscreen of the F-86A-1-NA. The A-5 dispensed with the gun doors of the A-1 in the interest of maintenance simplicity. A jettisonable cockpit canopy was introduced. The A-5 introduced underwing pylons capable of carrying a variety of bombs (500 and 1000-pounders) or underwing fuel tanks of up to 206 gallons in capacity. A heating system was provided for the gun compartments, and stainless steel oil tanks and lines were provided for better fire resistance.

In May of 1949, beginning with the 100th F-86A aircraft, an improved canopy defrosting system was installed and a special coating was applied to the nose intake duct to prevent rain erosion. Earlier airframes were retrofitted to include these changes.

The 116th F-86A was provided with a new wing slat mechanism which eliminated the lock and provided a fully automatic operation.

A contract for 333 additional F-86As was received on May 29, 1948, and the final contract was approved on February 23, 1949. These aircraft were assigned a new designation of NA-161 on North American company records, but continued to be designated F-86A-5-NA in USAF records. Their serials were 49-1007 to 49-1229. These were powered by the General Electric J47-GE-13 engine which offered 5200 pounds of static thrust. The cockpit wiring was simplified. New 120-gallon drop tanks, developed specifically for the F-86, were introduced during this production run. Deliveries commenced in October of 1949 and were completed by December of 1950. The 282nd F-86A aircraft had a redesigned wing trailing edge with shorter chord aileron and greater elevator boost. Deliveries commenced October 1949 and ended in December 1950.

Another innovation introduced with the NA-161 production batch was a new type of gun aiming system. All earlier F-86As had been equipped at the factory with Sperry Mark 18 optical lead computing gunsight, which was quite similar to the type of gunsight used on American fighter aircraft in the latter parts of World War 2. When the pilot identified his target, he set the span scale selector lever to correspond to the wingspan of the enemy aircraft he was chasing. He then aimed his fighter so that the target appeared within a circle of six diamond images on the reflector. Next, he rotated the range control unit until the diameter of the circle was the same as the size of the target. When the target was properly framed, the sight automatically computed the required lead and the guns could be fired.

Beginning with the first NA-161 aircraft (49-1007), the A-1B GBR sight and AN/APG-5C ranging radar were provided as factory-installed equipment. This new equipment was designed to automatically measure the range and automatically calculate the appropriate lead before the guns were fired, relieving the pilot of the cumbersome task of having to manually adjust an optical sight in order to determine the range to the target. When activated, the system automatically locked onto and tracked the target. The sight image determined by the A-1B was projected onto the armored glass of the windscreen, and the illumination of a radar target indicator light on the sight indicated time to track target continuously for one second before firing. This system could be used for rocket or bomb aiming as well as for guns.

In the last 24 F-86A-5-NAs that were built, the A-1B GPR sight and AN/APG-5C ranging radar were replaced by the A-1CM sight that was coupled with an AN/APG-30 radar scanner installed in the upper lip of the nose intake underneath a dark-colored dielectric covering. The APG-30 radar was a better unit than the AN/APG-5C, with a sweep range from 150 to 3000 yards. The A-1CM sight and the APG-30 ranging radar were both retrofitted to earlier A-5s during in-field modifications. These planes were redesignated F-86A-7-NA. However, some F-86A-5-NAs had the new A-1CM GBR sight combined with the older AN/APG-5C radar. These were redesignated F-86A-6-NA.

Some consideration given to replacing the J47 engine with the improved J35-A-17 that was used in the F-84E. This engine was tested in the first XP-86. Flight tests between November 28, 1949 and March 1951 indicated that the performance remained much the same as that of the F-86A-1-NA but with a slightly better range. However, the improvement was not considered significant enough to warrant changing production models.

Some F-86As were re-engined with the J47-GE-13 engine, rated at 5450 lb.s.t., but their designation did not change.

All F-86As were initially delivered with the pitot head located inside the air intake duct. It was found in practice that false airspeed readings could be obtained due to the increased airflow within the intake duct, so North American decided to move the pitot head to the tip of a short boom that extended from the leading edge of the starboard wingtip. All F-86As were later retrofitted with the wingtip boom when went through IRAN (Inspect and Repair as Necessary).

Internal fuel capacity of the F-86A was 435 gallons, carried in four self-sealing tanks. Two of the tanks were in the lower part of the fuselage, one of them being wrapped around the intake duct just ahead of the engine and the other being wrapped around the engine itself. The other two fuel tanks were in the wing roots. Usually the F-86A carried two 120-gallon drop tanks, although 206.5 gallon tanks could be fitted for ferry purposes.

Ground attack weapons could be installed in place of the jettisonable underwing fuel tanks. Choices include a pair of 100, 500 or 1000-pound bombs, 750-pound napalm tanks, or 500 pound fragmentation clusters. Alternatively, eight removable zero-rail rocket launchers could be installed. These mounted sixteen 5-inch rockets. When external armament was fitted in place of the drop tanks, combat radius was reduced from 330 to 50 miles, which was not a very useful distance.

The first USAF combat organization to receive the F-86A was the First Fighter Group based at March AFB in California, with the famous "Hat in the Ring" 94th Squadron being the first to take delivery when they traded in their F-80s for the F-86A-5-NA during February of 1949. The 27th and 71st Squadrons were equipped with F-86A-5-NAs next, and by the end of May of 1949 the group had 83 F-86As on strength. This group was charged with the aerial defense of the Los Angeles area, which, coincidentally, is where the North American Aviation factory was located. Next to get the F-86 the the 4th Fighter Group based at Langley AFB, charged with the defense of Washington, D.C, and then the 81st Fighter Group, based at Kirtland AFT and charged with the defense of the nuclear bomb facilities at Alamogordo, New Mexico. Next came the 33rd Fighter Group based at Otis AFB in Massachusetts, charged with defending the northeastern approaches into the USA. In January of 1950, all air defense units were redesignated as Fighter Interceptor Groups (FIGs) or Fighter Interceptor Wings (FIWs) as a part of the Air Defense Command.

In February of 1949, there was a contest held by the First Fighter Group to choose a name for their new fighter. The name *Sabre* was selected, and was made official on March 4, 1949.

The first Sabres that went to Reserve units were assigned to the 116th Fighter Interceptor Squadron of the Air National Guard, which received its first F-86As on December 22, 1950.

The following Wings were issued with the F-86A:

  • 1st Fighter Interceptor Wing (27th, 75st and 94th Squadrons)
  • 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing (334th, 335th, 336th Squadrons)
  • 33rd Fighter Interceptor Wing (58th, 59th and 60th Squadrons)
  • 56th Fighter Interceptor Wing (61st, 62nd, 63rd Squadrons)
  • 81st Fighter Interceptor Wing (78th, 89st, 92nd Squadron)

The F-86A was replaced in active USAF service by the F-86E beginning in the autumn of 1951. As F-86As left active USAF service, they were refurbished, reconditioned and transferred to Air National Guard units in the United States. The first ANG units to get the F-86A were the 198th Squadron in Puerto Rico, the 115th and 195th Squadrons at Van Nuys, California, the 196th at Ontario, and the 197th at Phoenix, Arizona.

Specification of F-86A-5-NA:

Engine: One General Electric J47-GE-13 turbojet with a maximum sea level static thrust of 5200 pounds. Dimensions: Wingspan 37.12 feet, length 37.54 feet, height 14.74 feet, and wing area 287.9 square feet. Weights: 10,093 pounds empty, 14,108 pounds takeoff, 13,791 pounds combat. Performance: Maximum speed 679 mph at sea level, 601 mph at 35,000 feet. Initial climb rate was 7470 feet per minute at sea level. An altitude of 40,000 feet could be reached in 10.4 minutes. Service ceiling was 48,000 feet. The ground run at sea level was 2430 feet, and a 50-foot obstacle could be cleared in 3660 feet. Armament: Six 0.50-in machine guns with 300 rpg. There were two underwing hardpoints for weapons carriage. They could carry either a pair of 206.5 US-gallon drop tanks or a pair of 1000-lb bombs. Four zero-length stub rocket launchers could be installed underneath each wing to fire the 5-inch HVAR rocket, which could be carried in pairs on each launcher.

Serial Numbers of North American F-86A Sabre

47-605/637 	North American P-86A-1-NA Sabre 
			c/n 151-38432/38464
48-129/316 	North American F-86A-5-NA Sabre 
			c/n 151-43498/43685
49-1007/1339	North American F-86A-5-NA Sabre 
			c/n 161-1/333

The RF-86A

Photographic reconnaissance had proven to be a special problem during the Korean War. Both the Lockheed RF-80A and the North American RB-45C Tornado reconnaissance aircraft had proven that they could not operate unescorted in airspaces where MiGs were active. A faster reconnaissance aircraft was needed, and it was decided that a reconnaissance version of the F-86A might fit the bill.

However, at the time no reconnaissance version of the F-86 was being planned by either North American Aviation or the USAF. Out in the field, several pilots of the 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing at Kimpo AB, Korea requested permission to convert some F-86s to the reconnaissance role. Approval was readily given, and the project came to be known as *Project Honeybucket*.

A pair of tired F-86As (48-187 and 48-217) were ferried to Tachikawa AB, Japan for the first conversion. One problem was that there was very little room inside an F-86 fuselage for the long-range cameras needed for the reconnaissance mission. However, it was found that if the lower pair of 0.50-inch guns on the right-hand side of the fuselage were removed, there was enough room for a small focal length K-25 camera scrounged from an RB-26C. The camera was mounted horizontally, but a series of mirrors allowed the camera to shoot vertically out of a small opening cut under the right side of the nose. All three guns in the left side of the fuselage plus the remaining top gun in the right side of the fuselage were retained.

The first *Honeybucket* F-86As were returned to Kimpo in October of 1951 and the first operational missions were flown. These missions were uually flown with the Honeybucket aircraft as the lead ship of a four-ship flight of F-86s.

In late 1951, the conversion of six more F-86As to reconnaissance configuration was authorized under the name *Project Ashtray*. In these, the compartment below the cockpit was enlarged and fitted with constant temperature air conditioning for a forward oblique 24-inch K-11 camera and two 20-inch K-24 cameras mounted lengthwise with a mirror arrangement to provide vertical coverage. The Ashtray aircraft were all officially designated RF-86A. The RF-86A could be distinguished from the fighter version by the presence of a pair of camera bay fairing bulges underneath the forward fuselage just ahead of the wings. Some had a K-14 "dicing" camera installed in the upper forward part of the nose in place of the APG-30 radar. Some had open apertures for the cameras, but others had sliding doors that opened only when the cameras were in use. Most RF-86As were unarmed, although some retained the upper pair of 0.50-in machine guns with limited ammunition capacity. Aircraft converted to RF-86A included 48-183/187, 48-196, 48-217, 48-246, and 48-257. In addition, both *Honeybucket*F-86As were brought up to Ashtray configuration

Five RF-86A aircraft went to the 67th Wing's 15th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron. On combat missions, the RF-86A was usually able to evade interception and was able to perform missions that were more hazardous than the typical reconnaissance flights. However, the photos taken were often fuzzy or blurred due to vibrations or the high speeds at which the aircraft operated. A modified mirror installation helped to solve the vibration problem, but the slow speed cameras continued to cause problems until they were replaced by the higher-speed K-14.

Surviving RF-86As were replaced by RF-86Fs in Korea and passed on to the 115th Fighter Interceptor Squadron of the California Air National Guard. They were still flying as late as June of 1959.

The F-86B

While the first production F-86s were under construction, North American's team was also working on a USAF requirement for a Sabre with larger landing gear tires that would be suitable for rough airfields. This at first sight sounds like a fairly simple and straightforward thing to do--what could be easier, one might ask, than for designers simply to increase the size of its landing gear tires? However, as is often the case, this turned out to be one of those requirements which had far-reaching implications, needing many more changes than one might initially think--larger tires required larger wheelbays which in turn required a seven-inch wider fuselage in order to accommodate them. Change one small thing and you end up having to redesign the entire airplane :-)

These larger-wheeled aircraft ended up being so different from the production F-86A that they were designated F-86B. However, the development of higher-pressure tire designs and better wheel brakes eliminated the need for larger tires, and North American recommended on December 1, 1946 that work on the F-86B be discontinued and that the contract for 190 F-86Bs be transferred to an order for 188 F-86A-5-NAs and two F-86Cs. This proposal was accepted by the USAF, and on December 16, 1948 the F-86B was officially cancelled.

The F-86-C / YF-93A

One of the problems of early jet fighters was their relatively limited range and endurance as compared to their piston-engined predecessors. The USAAF wanted to acquire jet powered escort fighters capable of defeating enemy interceptors, but most of the early jet fighter designs lacked sufficient range to escort bombers all the way to their targets. Since the USAAF had found by painful experience in World War II that fighter escort was absolutely vital for the survival of bombers in enemy airspace, they considered all sorts of proposals for markedly increasing the range of jet fighter escorts, some of which bordered on the bizarre. Some thought that the range problem could be solved by having the bombers tow their escorting fighters into the combat zone, and several experiments were made with B-29s or B-36s towing P-80 or P-84 jet fighters. Other proposals involving having jet fighters operate in parasite fashion from the bellies of large bombers, the best known example of this idea being the McDonnell XF-85 Goblin. Other ideas included the use of mixed power concepts such as that which produced the Convair XP-81. Others involved the construction of large, bulky fighters that were virtually flying fuel tanks, e.g., the Bell XP-83.

Initial attempts to produce jet-powered fighters with the endurance of piston-engined aircraft (e.g. the Bell XP-83 and the Convair XP-81) were disappointing, and in early 1946, the USAAF informally requested proposals for a "penetration fighter" with a combat radius of at least 900 miles and a performance capable of meeting all opposing fighters on more than equal terms. In addition, the USAAF wanted to keep the gross weight of the aircraft below 15,000 pounds. They didn't ask for much, did they? :-)

Lockheed submitted the XF-90 and McDonnell entered the XF-88 in response to this proposal, and the USAAF ordered prototypes of both designs in the spring of 1946. In late 1947, North American entered the penetration fighter fray with a proposal for an extensively revised version of the F-86A.

North American's penetration fighter proposal began life as company project NA-157 on December 17, 1947. In order to keep costs down, the NA-157 retained the swept-wing and the tail assembly of the F-86A, but almost everything else was different. For one, it had an entirely new engine. The engine was to have been the Pratt & Whitney J48-P-1 centrifugal-flow turbojet rated at 8000 with afterburning. The J48 was an American-built version of the Rolls Royce Tay. Since the J48 was significantly larger than the J47 of the F-86A, the fuselage had to be increased both in width and in length. In order to meet the range requirement, additional fuel tankage had to be added, bring the total fuel capacity to 1580 gallons. Since the NA-157 was a larger and heavier aircraft than the F-86A, the landing gear was significantly more robust, with twin wheels being used on the main landing gear.

In December of 1947, the USAF ordered two examples of the NA-157 under the designation F-86C, reflecting its Sabre ancestry. Serials were 48-317 and 48-318.

Armament of the F-86C was to have been six 20-mm cannon (with 225 rpg), and an SCR-720 search radar was to have been mounted in the nose. Since the radar set now took up the nose, the air intakes for the turbojet had to be relocated to the sides of the fuselage. These side intakes used special NACA-designed flush-mounted air scoops in the hopes of reducing aerodynamic drag. The air brakes on the sides of the F-86A fuselage were replaced by a single large slab-type brake mounted on the fuselage belly.

In the penetration fighter competition, the USAF initially favored the North American design because of its commonality with other Sabre variants, and in June of 1948 they supplemented the contract for the two F-86Cs with a contract for 118 production aircraft. At that time, it was decided that there were so many differences between the F-86C and the production Sabre that the F-86C should be assigned a new F-number--it was redesignated YF-93A.

It would seem that the F-93 would be assured of a long and fruitful career with the USAF. However, the F-93A production contract was suddenly cancelled in February of 1949. Several reasons were given. One reason was that the projected performance of the B-47 Stratojet was such that it probably would not need a fighter escort. Perhaps the most important reason was a severe reduction in the military budget for FY 1949. With limited funds available, it was decided to give priority to interceptors and to strategic bombers. In addition, a Senior Officers' Board felt that no production order for any penetration fighters should be awarded until a competitive flyoff between the three contenders could be carried out.

Even though the production contract had been cancelled, work on the two YF-93A prototypes (48-317 and 318) continued so that they could be entered in the penetration fighter contest. The YF-93A was actually the last of the three penetration fighter competitors to take to the air. The McDonnell XF-88 competitor had flown on October 20, 1948, and the Lockheed XF-90 had made its first flight on June 3, 1949. The YF-93A did not roll out of the factory until late 1949, and was trucked out to Muroc Dry Lake for flight testing. George Welch took the YF-93A (48-317) on its maiden flight on January 24, 1950.

The flyoff between the Lockheed XF-90, the McDonnell XF-88, and the North American YF-93A took place in the summer of 1950. On August 15, 1950, the Evaluation Board declared the McDonnell XF-88 to be the winner of the contest. However, McDonnell's victory was rather hollow, since no penetration fighters were ever actually manufactured or placed in service because the development of long-range, high-speed jet bombers such as the B-47 and the B-52 eliminated any real need for penetration fighters. In addition, wartime pressures mandated that priority be given to the procurement of existing types for use in Korea.

The two YF-93As were eventually handed over to NACA's Ames Laboratory at Moffett Field, California for comparison tests of the flush air intakes. Late in their lives, both prototypes were fitted with more conventional air intake scoops extending over the NACA flush intakes. The test results indicated that the standard intakes were actually a better design for high-speed flight than the original flush intakes. At one point in their service lives, both planes had their rear fuselages modified to accept a production F-86D tailpipe and stabilizer housing. They were used by NACA as flight test and chase aircraft well into the mid 1950s, and played an important role in testing for most of the "Century Series" of fighter aircraft ranging from F-101 to F-106. They were both retired and scrapped in the late 1950s.

Specification of North American YF-93A:

Engine: One Pratt & Whitney J48-P-6 turbojet rated at 6000 dry and 8750 with afterburner. Performance: Maximum speed 708 mph at sea level, 622 mph at 35,000 feet. Initial climb rate 11,960 feet per minute. Maximum range on internal fuel 2000 miles. Service ceiling 46,800 feet. Dimensions: Wingspan 38 feet 9 inches , length 44 feet 1 inch, height 15 feet 8 inches, wing area 306 square feet. Weights: 14,035 pounds empty, 21,610 pounds gross, 26,516 pounds combat. Armament: Six 20-mm cannon in the nose.

The F-86D

In the late 1940s, being faced for the first time with the possibility of a strategic bombing attack on the US mainland by Soviet strategic bombers, the US government began a massive effort to develop an effective defense of US airspace. In support of this effort, the USAF had decided on the Northrop F-89 Scorpion as the interceptor of choice that would provide for the aerial defense of North America until the supersonic "1954 Interceptor" (the Convair F-102/F-106) would be ready. However, problems with the XF-89 prototype led the Air Force to consider possible alternatives in case the F-89 project failed. These alternatives included a modified Lockheed TF-80C which evolved into the F-94 Starfire, as well as a highly modified version of the F-86 Sabre.

On March 28, 1949, North American Aviation began engineering design work on an all-weather interceptor version of the F-86. The project was known as NA-164 by the company. The USAF showed immediate interest in the project, and on April 7, 1949 the company felt sufficiently confident that they began work on a production version, which was known as the NA-165.

Up to that time, all-weather jet interceptors had always been two-seaters, and the NA-164/165 was the first attempt to build a single-seat all-weather jet interceptor. An on-board radar-guided intercept system would provide for the all-weather capability, and an afterburning jet engine would be used to provide the extra boost needed to reach high speeds and high altitudes in a hurry, an essential feature for an interceptor. The omission of the second seat made for a simpler adaptation of the existing Sabre airframe. However, the choice of a single-seat format required sophisticated electronic systems to replace the second crew member, making it necessary to employ some of the earliest computers used in aviation.

An afterburning General Electric J47-GE-17 turbojet was selected as the powerplant for the NA-164/165, and was provided with an electronically- controlled fuel scheduling system which was designed to relieve the pilot of the tedious task of having to watch the engine behavior constantly. A single throttle lever control worked through an electronic fuel selector which determined the amount of fuel to be fed to the engine and correlated the entire engine and afterburner behavior for optimal efficiency. In the promotional literature of the day, this engine was referred to as a "blowtorch with a brain".

An AN/APG-36 search radar was to be carried in the nose. In order to fit the search radar into the nose, the nose air intake had to be lowered and reshaped to make space above it for a 30-inch dielectric radome covering the 18-inch antenna of the search radar.

Instead of using conventional cannon armament, plans were made for the armament to consist of a battery of twenty-four 2.75-inch "Mighty Mouse" Folding Fin Aircraft Rockets (FFARs), all mounted in a retractable tray in the aircraft's belly. The FFAR, developed jointly by North American and the Navy, was based on the German R4 rocket of World War II. The use of an all-rocket armament was quite innovative for the time, although a more conventional 20-mm cannon installation was studied as a standby plan.

The rearward-sliding canopy of the F-86A was replaced by a clamshell canopy hinged at the rear. It was anticipated that the clamshell canopy would make for easier and safer ejection in the event of an emergency. The aircraft was to be fitted with an all-flying horizontal tail, and the controls were to be completely hydraulic.

In February 1950, the rocket armament was selected and all plans for the standby 20-mm cannon were dropped.

On July 19, 1949, the Secretary of the Air Force formally endorsed the Sabre interceptor project. A Letter Contract for two NA-164 aircraft and 122 NA-165 aircraft was made out on October 7, 1949. Since the NA-164/165 was a substantially new aircraft with only 25 percent commonality with the original F-86A, the USAF decided to give the new interceptor a new F-number and assigned it the designation F-95. The announcement of the first successful USSR atomic bomb test a short while earlier gave a certain sense of urgency to the F-95 project. A formal contract was approved on June 2, 1950, with 31 more examples being added to the order to bring the total to 153.

Responsibility for the electronic fire control system was assigned to the Hughes Aircraft Corporation. On November 18, 1949, the Hughes company proposed that the system be designed so that the rocket attack on the enemy aircraft would be made from a lead collision course instead of from the traditional tail pursuit curve. Hughes evolved the E-4 system for this purpose. Until the 250-kW E-4 was available, the less-capable E-3 50-kw system would be fitted to the first 37 production F-95 aircraft.

The first NA-164 rolled out of the NAA plant in September of 1949. At that time, it was still known as the YF-95A, and was so labeled on its nose. Oddly enough, the two YF-95A prototypes had serials numbered after the beginning of the production run (the YF-95A had serials 50-577/578, and production F-95s began with serial number 50-455).

Neither the rocket armament nor the fire control system were yet available, and in order not to delay testing both prototypes were initially delivered and flown without them. In addition, conventional F-86A controls were fitted, and the sliding canopy and V-shaped windscreeen of the F-86A were retained. An early version of the afterburning J47-GE-17 engine was fitted, limited to 5000 lb.s.t. dry and 6650 lb.s.t. with afterburning.

50-577 went by truck to Muroc on November 28, 1949, The first flight was made on December 27, 1949, the redoubtable George Welch being at the controls. Throughout 1950, North American test pilots made some 74 flights to evaluate engine electronic controls and to check out the function of the afterburner.

The prototype Hughes E-3 fire-control system was received at NAA on May 26, 1950 and was installed in the second YF-95A (50-578) and tested during September. On October 17, 1950, this aircraft went to Hughes for two years of development testing.

The retractable rocket pack with twenty-four 2.75-inch "Mighty Mouse" FFAR (Folding-Fin Aircraft Rockets) rockets was fitted to 50-577 which went to Inyokern, the Navy's rocket range at China Lake, California for firing tests. The 1.75-inch rocket had a 7.55-pound explosive warhead, a velocity of 2500 feet/second at burnout, and a range of 4500 yards. First trials were carried out in February of 1951. The launcher took only a half-second to extend, and the FFARs could be fired in groups or in salvo from the launcher. The stabilizing fins were foldable, being clustered around the aft end of the rocket and snapping into position after clearing the launcher.

For political reasons the designation of the F-95 was changed to F-86D on July 24, 1950. The reasons for the change are sort of murky. North American company officials explained that the reason for the designation change was that separate appropriations must be made by Congress to allocate funds for "new" types of aircraft, but "developments" of existing types come under another budget category, making the F-86D a much easier "sell" to Congress than the F-95A. However, the USAF claimed that that the real reason for the change was the fact that a contractor could justify larger unit costs for a "new" aircraft than it could for a "development" of an existing one. Even though the USAF initially had agreed that the F-86D was substantially a "new" aircraft and designated it F-95A, in order to save the taxpayers some money they convinced North American management to agree that the plane was simply a "logical extension" of the existing F-86 and the designation was changed to F-86D.

The pressure of the Korean War led to fears that a Soviet attack on the US mainland could come at any time, and orders for the F-86D were dramatically stepped up. An order for 188 F-86D-20-NAs under the NAA number NA-177 was approved on April 11, 1951. Another contract for 638 F-86D-25 through D-35 aircraft was approved on July 18, 1951, the company designation for these aircraft being NA-173. A total of 979 production F-86Ds were now on order.

The first production version was the F-86D-1-NA. The first F-86D-1-NA (50-455) was delivered to the USAF in March of 1951. This aircraft had the production configuration--with clamshell canopy, increased vertical tail surface area, and the all-flying horizontal tail which had been lowered slightly. The aircraft also had the production version of the J47-GE-17 engine, which offered 5425 lb.s.t. dry and 7500 lb.s.t. with afterburner. The rear fuselage of the D-1 was redesigned to have a mush smaller exhaust opening than the prototypes, and small vortex generators were added to both the stabilizer and the rear fuselage to break up potential drag in these areas. All D-1s had the E-3 fire control system.

The all-flying horizontal tail had an artificial feel for the pilot. It had more positive longitudinal control than the F-86A's tail, eliminating the phenomenon of control reversal that took place at high subsonic speeds. However, the all-flying tail took a bit of getting used to. It was very sensitive, and when a pilot was flying at high speeds at low altitudes he could inadvertently induce a violent oscillating pitching maneuver. However, the pitching could be halted by the pilot simply releasing the controls. Some system changes helped to reduce this problem, but the F-86D always required careful piloting throughout its entire career.

The F-86D-1-NA had an empty weight of 13,677 pounds and a combat weight of 16,292 pounds. It had a top speed of 692 mph at sea level and an initial climb rate of 12,200 feet per minute. This was less than the 707 mph promised at the time of the contract in June of 1950. Nevertheless, the F-86D-1 was quite a bit faster than the contemporary Northrop F-89C Scorpion (650 mph) and the Lockheed F-94C Starfire (640 mph). Consequently, the F-86D was chosen for two-thirds of the Air Defense Command's wings, and became the dominant ADC interceptor during the late 1950s.

In the meantime, F-86D-1-NA acceptances were agonizingly slow because of delays in delivery of the Hughes E-3 fire control system, as well as by problems with the electronic fuel controls. The last F-86D-1 was not delivered to the USAF until October of 1952, three years after the original letter contract had been issued.

The next production version was the F-86D-5-NA, which was the first to be equipped with the E-4 fire control system. The first production Hughes E-4 fire control system was received in December 1951, nearly three months late. The E-4 was five times as powerful as the E-3 system, but the first few examples of the E-4 that were delivered had extremely poor quality control, with serious defects like incorrect wiring, wrong vacuum tubes, loose hardware, and the like. It was not until July of 1952 that the first E-4 equipped aircraft, the F-86D-5-NA (serial number 50-492) was delivered for testing.

The 26 F-86D-5-NAs were followed by 36 F-86D-10s which introduced a power-operated rudder without a trim tab.

The 54 F-86D-15s introduced a single-point ground refueling receptacle for faster mission turnaround times. Other changes on the D-15 included installation of the AN/ARC-27 command radio. This completed the first (NA-165) contract.

The second contract (NA-177) began with the F-86D-20-NA, which added a fuel filter deicing system. 188 of these were built between May and December of 1953.

The 88 F-86D-25-NAs introduced provisions for using the 120-gallon drop tanks for combat missions rather than simply for ferrying.

The F-86D-30-NA introduced an automatic approach coupler control, and the manually-operated rudder with trim tab reappeared. 200 were built.

The F-86D-35-NA introduced omni-directional radar ranging--the RC-103 Zero Reader of earlier versions was replaced with the AN/ARN-14 Omni-Directional Ranging Set. The last 97 of the production F-86D-35-NA aircraft had an afterburner fitted with a new fuel flow amplifier and an inner ceramic liner of the exhaust to provide for better protection against excess heat. A total of 350 D-35s were built. However, recurring problems with the E-4 fire control system, with the electronic fuel control, and with the new AN/ARN-14 ranging set, kept the last of the planes from being completed until late December of 1953.

During the early 1950s, North American Aviation was turning out F-86Ds at a faster rate than they could be supplied with engine controls and electronic equipment. At one time during the winter of 1952-53 there were no less than 320 F-86Ds parked outside the factory at Inglewood waiting for various electronic systems such as radar, E-4 fire control systems, autopilots, or engine controls. Deliveries were eventually made of the electronic equipment and the F-86Ds eventually moved off the strip outside the Inglewood factory and out to squadron service. All the D-15s were delivered by March of 1953, and the D-20s, 25s and 30s were delivered to the USAF by June of 1953.

The USAF was anxious to show off its hot new interceptor to the public. On November 18, 1952, F-86D-20-NA serial number 51-2945 set a new world's air speed record of 698.505 mph. The record-setting plane was flown by Captain J. Slade Nash over a 3-km course at the Salton Sea in California at a height of 125 feet. This record was broken on July 16, 1953 by Lt. Col. William Barnes flying the first F-86D-35-NA (51-6145) over the same Salton Sea course, averaging 715.697 mph. Both record-breaking aircraft were standard production F-86Ds with full armament and electronics. The faster speed of the second aircraft was made possible by a higher ambient temperature and by the addition of a ceramic liner around the exhaust nozzle. This innovation was added to the last 97 D-35 production aircraft.

The advanced performance of the F-86D won it two more contracts. The first of these new contracts, the NA-190, was approved on March 6, 1952 and called for 901 F-86D-40 to -50 aircraft.

The 300 F-86D-40-NAs were powered by the J47-GE-17B of 5425 dry and 7500 with afterburner. They had a new glide path indicator and had an exhaust temperature gauge added to the instrument panel.

By December of 1953, problems with the electronic fuel control system had gotten so bad that the Air Force was forced to ground its entire F-86D fleet after the loss of 13 aircraft due to engine fires and explosions.

Long landing runs had been a problem for the F-86D ever since its introduction, and to cure this problem a 15.6-foot ribbon drag parachute was tested on F-86D-15-NA serial number 50-544. This reduced the landing roll from 2550 feet to 1600 feet. The success of this installation led to the installation of drag parachutes to all production aircraft from F-86D-45-NA onward. The first D-45 appeared in April 1954. The D-45s could be distinguished from their predecessors by the presence of the braking parachute housing with a straight fairing immediately above the exhaust tailpipe which replaced the curved fairing of previous blocks. Installation of the drag chute was made necessary by the introduction of the F-86D to bases in Japan, Formosa, and Okinawa where the runways were much shorter than those normally used by the F-86D at bases in the continental USA.

The first 238 D-45s were provided with the J47-GE-17B turbojet, but the remaining F-86Ds (52-4136 and subsequent) completed from July 1954 onward had the J47-GE-33 with a dry thrust of 5500 pounds and 7650 pounds with afterburner. For a brief time, the version of the F-86D with the -33 engine was known as F-86G, but the designation was soon changed back to F-86D. The main effect of the more powerful engine was an improvement in speed at 40,000 feet from 612 to 616 mph. Maximum sea level speed was 693 mph, service ceiling was 49,600 feet, and initial climb rate was 12,000 feet per minute.

The J47-GE-33 engine was much more powerful than the -17 engine which powered the earlier versions. In addition, it had better cooling and afterburner ignition, as well as several other improvements which eliminated some of the flaws of the earlier engine. However, crashes caused by engine problems continued. Many of these were caused by engine fuel control malfunctions, by defective engine parts, or by turbine wheel failures.

The final three variants had minor instrument and electronics changes. All were externally similar to the D-45 with the drag chute in the tail. The 301 F-86D-50-NAs rounded out the NA-190 contract. The last production order was placed on June 12, 1953 for 624 F-86D-55s and -60s. These bore the company designation of NA-201. They were all quite similar to each other. The last F-86D-60-NA, 53-4090, was accepted in September 1955. At that time the ADC had twenty F-86D wings.

The F-86D was a very complex aircraft for its day, and was a bit of a handful for a single pilot. It required more pilot training than any other USAF aircraft, including the six-engined B-47. Most of the training for the F-86D took place at Perrin AFB in Texas. Pilot trainees had to spend a lot of time in ground based flight simulators that had a replica of a cockpit duplicating F-86D controls. Flight training included the firing of rockets at targets towed behind B-45 bombers.

By the time that late 1953 rolled around, there was a profusion of many different production blocks of F-86Ds in service, all of them quite different from each other and requiring different sets of spare parts, different instruction manuals, and different maintenance procedures. This made for a maintenance and repair nightmare. In order to make the various production blocks of the F-86D standard throughout the USAF, a decision was made in late 1953 to withdraw all F-86Ds from combat units in stages and subject them all to upgrades so that there would be a more-or-less "standard" F-86D out there in the field, making maintenance and repair much less of a headache. The project was given the name *Project Pull-Out*. One by one, as their periodic maintenance became due, these early-block F-86Ds were taken out of service, returned to maintenance depots or to the North American factory, and subjected to upgrades such as the installation of current electronics or the provision of braking parachutes. By September 1955, the upgrade program was completed.

The last production F-86D (53-4090) was delivered to the ADC in September of 1954. In all, a total of 2506 F-86Ds were built.

In a typical intercept mission, the F-86D's AN/APG-37 radar searched the sky in a forward direction, sweeping back and forth and up and down in a 3.5-second cycle. Targets could be located up to 30 miles away. When the target showed up as a blip on the pilot's radar scope, he locked the radar onto the target and the AN/APA-84 computer determined a lead collision course. The pilot flew this course by keeping the steering dot on his scope inside a reference circle. When the automatic tracking system indicated that there were only 20 seconds to go, the pilot steered more precisely to keep the dot in a smaller circle. The pilot chose whether to fire 6, 12, or all 24 of his rockets, and pressed the trigger. However, the actual firing instant was determined by the computer, not by the pilot, and when the computer deemed the range to be right, the rocket pack was extended and the rockets were fired. The range at which the computer fired the rockets at the target was typically about 500 yards. It took a half-second for the pack to lower, and only a fifth of a second to fire all 24 rockets. After firing, the rockets fanned out in a predetermined pattern reminiscent of a shotgun blast. When the last rocket was away, the pack automatically retracted back into the fuselage belly, and an "8" appeared on the pilot's scope, warning him that the target was only 260 yards ahead and that he had better break away. It was thought that the lead collision course attack would expose the F-86D to enemy defensive fire for the minimum amount of time, and the "shotgun" effect of the rocket pattern would ensure a high probability of a kill.

If, for some reason, the E-4 fire control system went down, there was a stand-by optical lead computing sight provided.

The F-86Ds rockets were meant for use against bombers, not fighters. If confronted by enemy fighters, the tactic was for the F-86D to turn towards its attackers, then use its superior speed to get the heck out of there as quickly as possible.

Tests had disclosed that the 2.75-inch FFAR rockets of the F-86D were only marginal in accuracy and effectiveness. In 1955, an F-86D-60-NA (serial number 53-4061) was fitted with underwing fixtures for four GAR-1B Falcon radar-homing missiles. Another example was tested with the infrared homing Sidewinder missile. However, budgetary limitations ended both projects in September of 1957.

In the late 1950s, the F-86D served as the main air defense weapon against Soviet bomber attacks. In retrospect, the Soviet bomber threat was grossly exaggerated, but it cannot be denied that the presence of the F-86D interceptor and its F-94 and F-89 stablemates was an important deterrent. At one time, the ADC had no less than 20 F-86D wings, totaling 1405 aircraft, which made up two thirds of all ADC units. All the F-86D squadrons were under Air Defense Command, US Air Forces in Europe, or Far East Air Force control, with the exception of two squadrons that were transferred to the Strategic Air Command in 1959.

The F-86D served with the following Air Defense Command Fighter-Interceptor Squadrons:

2nd, 5th, 11th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 31st, 37th, 42nd, 47th,49th 54th 56th, 60th, 62nd 63rd, 71st, 75th, 82nd, 83rd, 85th,86th, 87th, 93rd, 94th, 95th, 97th, 318th, 332nd, 323rd,324th, 325th, 326th, 327th, 329th, 330th, 331st, 332nd, 354th,413th, 432nd, 440th, 444th, 445th, 456th, 460th, 465th, 469th,496th, 497th (later to SAC), 498th, 518th, 519th, 520th, 538th,539th.

The F-86D served with the following Far East Air Force squadrons:

4th, 16th, 25th, 26th, 39th, 40th, 41st, 68th, and 329th FIS.

The following independent squadrons of USAFE operated F-86Ds:

357th, 431st, 525th, and 526th

Even after Project Pull-Out had been completed, the USAF was still experiencing problems with its F-86D fleet. Engine failures were still all too frequent, and the E-4 fire control system remained unreliable and difficult to maintain. In September of 1957, the Air Force decided to phase out the F-86D as soon as possible and replace it with the F-86L. The F-86L was to be a conversion of existing F-86D airframes so that the aircraft had the capability of working in conjunction with the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) computerized ground-controlled intercept system.

The phaseout of the F-86D from the ADC began in August of 1956, and was essentially complete by April of 1958. As ADC F-86Ds were phased out, some of them were turned over to the Air National Guard (ANG).

The following Air National Guard Squadrons received F-86Ds:

141th, Texas ANG (1957-1960)
120th, Colorado ANG (1960-1961)
122nd, Louisiana ANG (1957-1960)
125th, Oklahoma ANG (1957-1960)
127th, Kansas ANG (1958-1961)
128th, Georgia ANG (1960-1961)
133rd, New Hampshire ANG (1958-1960)
146th, Pennsylvania ANG (1957-1960)
147th, Pennsylvania ANG (1958-1961)
151st, Tennessee ANG (1957-1960)
156th, North Carolina ANG (1959-1960)
157th, South Carolina ANG (1958-1960)
159th, Florida ANG (1956-1960)
173rd, (1957-1964)
181st, Texas ANG (1957-1964)
182nd, Texas ANG (1957-1960)
185th, Oklahoma ANG (1958-1961)
187th, Wyoming ANG (1958-1961)
190th, Idaho ANG (1959-1964)
191st, Utah ANG (1958-1961)
192nd, Nevada ANG (1958-1961)
194th, California ANG (1958-1965)
196th, California ANG (1958-1965)
197th, Arizona ANG (1957-1960)
198th, Puerto Rico ANG (1958-1960)
199th, Hawaii ANG (1958-1961)

Many of the ANG's F-86Ds were quickly supplanted by F-86Ls, and by June 1961, the F-86D no longer appeared on either the USAF or ANG rolls.

So far as I am aware, the F-86D never fired a single shot in anger while serving with the USAF. Perhaps that fact alone is a testimony to its effectiveness as a deterrent.


Throughout much of the 1950s, the E-4 fire control system of the F-86D was considered too sensitive for export to foreign nations. A simplified version, known as the F-86K, was delivered in its stead. It was not until 1958 that it was deemed safe to export the F-86D overseas. By that time, the F-86D was beginning to be replaced in USAF service by supersonic types such as the Convair F-102A Delta Dagger and the McDonnell F-101B Voodoo, and ex-USAF F-86Ds were now freed up for export to Allied nations.

The F-86E

The next production version of the day-fighter Sabre was the F-86E. Initial work on this model began at North American Aviation on November 15, 1949 under the company designation NA-170. A contract for 111 examples under the designation F-86E was finalized on January 17, 1950.

The F-86E was externally identical to the F-86A except for the presence of an "all-flying" tailplane, which was intended to correct many of the undesireable transonic characteristics that had been experienced by the F-86A. The stabilizer fitted to the F-86A was moveable by an electric motor which could change the angle of incidence in flight to trim out excessive air loads. Unfortunately, the elevator of the F-86A had been found to be largely ineffective in the supersonic regime, and recovery from a supersonic dive required very large angles of elevator movement which exerted so much stress that it could on occasion cause rivets to pop out from the trailing edge. Sabre pilots had complained that the flight controls appeared to be "strange" in the transonic speed range. They seemed to "reverse"--if the pilot wanted to pull up and his speed was near Mach 1, the aircraft continued to go down. Several accidents had been caused by this effect, which had come to be known as "control reversal". In reality, the controls did not actually reverse, they simply did not respond very effectively.

The new elevator of the F-86E was called an "all-flying tail". Instead of using the mechanically adjustable stabilizer just for trim control, the F-86E's elevators and horizontal stabilizer operated as one unit. The horizontal stabilizer was pivoted at its rear spar so that the leading edge was moved eight degrees up or down by the normal action of the controls. The elevator was mechanically linked to the stabilizer and moved in a specific relation to the stabilizer movement, with elevator travel being slightly greater than stabilizer travel. This effectively created a larger elevator surface--as the pilot called for more elevator, the stabilizer could move in conjunction with the elevator, creating a greater angle of attack, thus giving better control at all speeds.

In the F-86A, the elevator controls were actuated by cables, with a hydraulic boost. On the F-86E, the cable system was eliminated and replaced with a fully hydraulic system having greatly increased boost for the controls. Only the rudder remained cable-controlled. The fully hydraulic controls had their drawbacks. One of these was that the pilot lost his "feel" for the aircraft handling--the loads were no longer transmitted back to the control stick. An artificial "feel" had to be created for pilot feedback, which consisted of a bobweight and bungee system.

Externally, the only difference between the F-86A and E was the presence of a bulge in the fuselage of the E immediately in front of the stabilizer to cover the gearing mechanism. Internally, there were several significant changes. The A-1CM gunsight-AN/APG-30 radar combination that had first been installed in the last 24 F-86A-5-Nas was made standard on the F-86E. The J47-GE-13 engine rated at 5450 lb.s.t. was the powerplant.

The first F-86E (50-0579) made its maiden flight on September 23, 1950, with George Welch at the controls. The all-flying tail of the F-86E eliminated many of the undesirable compressibility effects that had been experienced with the F-86A. In particular, it made the recovery from a supersonic dive much easier to accomplish. The all-flying tail of the F-86E made sonic dive recovery much more straightforward, with much less danger of structural damage or catastrophic failure. In other respects, the performance of the F-86E was similar to that of the F-86A.

The first of 60 F-86E-1-NAs were delivered in February of 1951, followed by 51 F-86E-5-NAs which differed only in the placement of cockpit control panel switches. Both the E-1 and the E-5 had the same wing, the same V-shaped windscreen, and the same weapons capabilities as the F-86A.

First to get the new Sabre was the 33rd Fighter-Interceptor Wing at Otis AFB in Massachusetts. Both the 33rd and the 1st FIGs began receiving F-86Es in the early spring of 1951 to replace some of the older aircraft that had been acquired when the 4th FIG had been sent to Korea. In June of 1951, the first shipment of F-86Es was sent to Korea, where they gradually replaced F-86As in service. The F-86E entered action in Korea with the 4th Wing in September of 1951, replacing that unit's F-86As on a one-by-one basis.

The conversion to the F-86E was rather slow, and the last F-86A was not replaced until July of 1952. Following their replacement by F-86Es, the war-weary F-86As were returned to the USA and issued to Air National Guard squadrons.

In 1949, Canadair Ltd. of Montreal acquired a license to manufacture the Sabre in Canada. The first Canadian production version was powered by the 5200 lb.s.t. J47-GE-13 engine. The first aircraft assembled at Cartierville (near Montreal) was designated CL-13 Sabre Mk 1. This first Canadian Sabre was assembled from components largely supplied by NAA, and was essentially an F-86A-5-NA. Only one Sabre Mk 1 was built, the first production version being the Sabre Mk 2. The Mk 2 was the Canadian equivalent of the F-86E, and also used the J47-GE-13. Faced with a shortage of Sabres available for service in Korea, in February 1952, the USAF arranged to purchase sixty Sabre Mk.2s from Canada. These were designated F-86E-6-CAN, and were delivered to the USAF between February and July of 1952. These Canadian-built Sabres were fitted with US equipment in California before being delivered to operational units. With few exceptions, the entire production of Canadair E-6s went to squadrons in Korea, serving with both the 4th and the 51st FIGs.

Plans were for the F-86E-5-NA to be immediately followed on the NAA production lines by the F-86F. The F-86F, known as the NA-172 by the company, was to be equipped with the more powerful J47-GE-27 engine, rated at 5910 lb.s.t. A contract for 109 NA-172s was approved on April 11, 1951 and was increased to 360 aircraft on June 30. However, production by General Electric of the J47-GE-27 engine was delayed, and the first 132 NA-172s on the contract were fitted with the 5200 lb.s.t. J47-GE-13. Since this effectively made them F-86Es rather than F-86Fs, they were delivered to the USAF as F-86E-10-NAs from September 1951 to May 1952. These aircraft had provisions for the installation of the -27 engine once it became available, and they could be distinguished from the earlier F-86Es by the introduction of a new optically-flat windscreen which replaced the V-shaped windscreen of earlier F-86As and Es. In addition, the instrument panel layout was modified. Most of the E-10s went directly from the assembly lines to combat squadrons operating in Korea. Some of these aircraft were later retrofitted with the -27 engine when it became available.

Further delays in deliveries of -27 engines caused the last 93 aircraft on the NA-172 F-86F contract being completed as F-86E-15-NAs with J47-GE-13 engines from August to December of 1952. These aircraft were used by the Air Training Command and by Air National Guard squadrons, and none went to Korea. Many of the E-15s were later retrofitted with both the -27 engine and the 6-3 solid leading edge wing introduced on the F-86F.

A total of 369 F-86Es were built.

The following wings received F-86Es:

  • 1st Fighter Interceptor Wing
  • 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing (334th, 335th, 336th Squadrons)
  • 33rd Fighter Interceptor Wing (58th, 59th, 60th Squadrons)
  • 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing (16th, 25th, 39th Squadrons)
  • 56th Fighter Interceptor Wing

As the F-86E was phased out of active USAF service, many were passed on to the Air National Guard. The F-86E served with the following Air National Guard squadrons: 107, 121, 170, 171, 172, 198, and 199.

Serials of F-86E Sabre

50-0579/0638	North American F-86E-1-NA Sabre
			c/n 170-1/60.
50-0639/0689	North American F-86E-5-NA Sabre
			c/n 170-61/111.
51-2718/2849	North American F-86E-10-NA Sabre
			c/n 172-1/132.
51-12977/13069	North American F-86E-15-NA Sabre
			c/n 172-268/360.  Originally intended as F-86F-15-NA
52-2833/2892	Canadair F-86E-6-CAN Sabre
			Ex-RCAF Sabre Mk 2.

Specification of the F-86E-5-NA:

Engine: One General Electric J47-GE-13, 5200 Dimensions: wingspan 37.12 feet, length 37.54 feet, height 14.79 feet, wing area 287.9 square feet. Weights: 10,555 pounds empty, 14,578 pounds takeoff (clean) 16,346 pounds takeoff (drop tanks). Performance: maximum speed 679 mph at sea level, 601 mph at 35,000 feet. Initial climb rate 7250 feet per minute. Altitude of 30,000 feet could be reached in 6.3 minutes. Service ceiling 47,200 feet. Combat radius 321 miles, ferry range 1022 miles.

The F-86F

The major production version of the day-fighter Sabre was the F-86F. The F-86F Sabre was basically a more powerful version of the F-86E, being powered by the 5910 J47-GE-27 engine in place of the 5200 J47-GE-13. Work on the new aircraft began on July 31, 1950 as the NA-172, and was scheduled to begin production as the F-86F in October of 1950. A contract for 109 F-86Fs was approved on April 11, 1951, which was increased to 360 by June 30.

Plans were also made to manufacture the F-86F in the Columbus, Ohio factory that had been used by the Aeroplane Division of Curtiss-Wright during World War 2 to manufacture the SB2C Helldiver dive bomber. This plant had been built for Curtiss by the Navy during the war. After the war, Curtiss fell onto hard times, and was forced to undergo a major downsizing, eventually consolidating all of its aircraft operations at the Columbus factory. Curtiss-Wright was ultimately unsuccessful in securing any defense contracts, and was forced to close down its Aeronautical Division. All of the assets of the Aeroplane Division were sold to North American, but control of the Columbus factory reverted to the Navy. The Columbus factory had sat idle for several years. With the expansion in military orders caused by the Korean War, North American arranged to lease this factory for manufacture of the F-86F. This Columbus-built F-86F was designated NA-176 by NAA, and the project was formally initiated on September 29, 1950. The Columbus factory reopened in December 1950, and the initial Columbus contract, dated September 6, 1951 and approved March 17, 1952, was for 441 aircraft.

While Columbus was coming up to speed, the California plant began to produce some F-86Fs. Unfortunately, there were serious delays in the deliveries of the J47-GE-27 engines from General Electric, and the first 132 aircraft on the NA-172 contract had to be delivered with the less powerful -13 engine of the F-86E. Since this made them essentially F-86Es rather than F-86Fs, they were given the designation F-86E-10-NA. They were delivered between September 1951 and April 1952. They could be distinguished from earlier Es by the introduction of a new optically-flat armored windscreen which replaced the v-type windscreen of earlier F-86As and Es.

The J47-GE-27 engine finally became available in the early spring of 1952, and the first of 78 F-86F-1-NA aircraft (51-2850) took to the air on March 19, 1952. Other than the engine change, the F-1 was identical to the E-10. with the same weapons capabilities, wings and flight control systems. By June of 1952, they were in service with the 84th Squadron at Hamilton Field and with the 51st Wing in Korea. The F-86F was added to the 4th Wing in September.

With the same weight as the E-10 but with more engine thrust, the F offered significantly better performance over the E. The F's top speed rose to 688 mph at sea level and well over 600 mph at 35,000 feet. Service ceiling was up to 52,000 feet, and initial climb rate was now 9850 feet. The introduction of the F into combat in Korea went a long way to closing the high-altitude performance gap between the Sabre and the MiG-15. No longer could the MiGs zoom and climb through Sabre formations with impunity, and the Sabre pilots could now close on the MiGs at any altitude, even during a climb. The -27 engine also offered slightly better fuel economy, giving a combat radius of 430 miles with a pair of 120-US gallon drop tanks.

The F-86F-5-NA appeared in June of 1952. It differed in having underwing shackles capable of handling 200-gallon drop tanks instead of the earlier 120-gallon tanks. These increased the combat radius from 430 to 463 miles. 16 of these were built.

The F-86F-10-NA introduced a new gunsight. Most of the F-86As in Korea had used the Mark 18 optical gyrosight. The ranging control of this sight had to be operated manually, which was an awkward task for a pilot to perform under the stress of high-speed combat. Late F-86As and all Es had been fitted with an A-1CM radar ranger which relieved the pilot of the task of having to do the ranging task manually, but this equipment was rather complicated, was subject to frequent breakdowns, and was difficult to service and maintain. The F-86F-10-NA and later aircraft introduced the A-4 ranging system, which operated in a similar manner as the A-1CM, but was simpler to operate and easier to maintain. All other equipment on the F-86F-10 remained the same as on previous models.

The last 100 aircraft on the NA-172 contract were to have been F-86F-15-NAs with re-positioned control systems. Combat in Korea had shown that there were several vital areas in the F-86 where just one hit could result in severe damage and perhaps loss of the entire aircraft. All of these vital areas were identified and either repositioned, encased in armor plating, or given a backup system in case of failure. However, in April of 1952, additional delays in deliveries of General Electric J47-GE-27 engines forced another substitution of the earlier -13 engine in all but the first seven aircraft in this block. These 93 re-engined aircraft were then re-designated F-86E-15-NA and were issued to training units rather than to combat Wings. Six of the seven F-15s built are known to have been operational in Korea with the 4th FIG.

Columbus was rather slow in getting production going on their NA-176 contract, and the first Columbus-built F-86F aircraft (51-13070) did not fly until May of 1952. These aircraft were known as F-86F-20-NH (the Columbus-built Sabres having the suffix "NH", the California-built Sabres having the suffix "NA"). These aircraft were essentially duplicates of the Inglewood-built F-86F-15-NA, and could carry a pair of 200-gallon drop tanks and had armor protection fitted around the horizontal stabilizer control system. They had a different radio and cockpit arrangement than previous Sabres. Delivery of the 100 F-86F-20-NH aircraft was not completed until January of 1953. However,none of the F-86F-20s ever served in Korea.

The next version of the Sabre was known by the company as NA-191. The project began on October 26, 1951. This called for a fighter-bomber adaptation of the Sabre, capable of carrying two stores under each wing rather than just one. Earlier Sabres had been found to be deficient when called upon to assume the fighter-bomber role, primarily because of insufficient range and endurance when the drop tanks were replaced by bombs or rockets. The F-86A had a combat radius of only 50 miles when carrying underwing bombs, which was not a very useful distance! A contract was approved on August 5, 1952 for 907 NA-191 aircraft, all to be built in California. The same configuration was to be used on 341 NA-176 aircraft already on order from Columbus, plus 259 NA-193 aircraft added to the contract on October 17, 1952.

The first Sabre built to this fighter-bomber configuration was the F-86F-30-NA, which starting rolling off the production lines in California in October of 1952. All four hardpoints could handle either 120- or 200-US gallon drop tanks, but only the inner pair could carry ordnance, up to 1000 pounds for each pylon. This meant that an F-86F with the dual-store wing could carry a pair of 1000-pound bombs plus two 200-US gallon drop tanks on a typical mission. If the maximum fuel load of two 200-gallon and two 120-gallon drop tanks was carried, ferry range was 1600 miles and combat radius was 568 miles.

In January 1953, the Columbus-built version of the fighter-bomber Sabre, the F-86F-25-NH, had appeared.

In an attempt to improve the high-speed performance of the Sabre, a fixed wing leading edge was tested on three aircraft in August of 1952. These aircraft had the wing leading edge slats eliminated and their wing leading edges extended by six inches at the root and three inches at the tip. The wing area went from 287.9 to 302.3 square feet, and the angle of leading edge sweep increased slightly to 35.7 degrees. Airflow pattern changes over the wing required the addition of five-inch-high wing fences at 70 percent span. Since the leading edge extension occurred in front of the main wing spar, the extended leading edge could be used to accommodate some additional fuel, raising total internal fuel capacity from 435 to 505 US gallons.

This wing, soon to be known as the "6-3 wing", immediately demonstrated improved combat qualities. The "6-3" wing increased maximum speed from 688 to 695 mph at sea level and from 604 to 608 mph at 35,000 feet. In addition, there was a slight improvement in range. The most significant improvement was, however, in the maneuverability at high altitudes and at high Mach numbers. By delaying the onset of buffeting, the new wing gave the Sabre pilot the ability to fly closer to the maximum G-limit, enabling tighter turns at high altitudes. About 1.5 Gs were added to the maneuverability at 35,000 feet. Unfortunately, the improved high-speed performance came at the expense of losing the low-speed advantages of the slatted wing. Stalling speed went up from 128 to 144 mph, and the stall was now preceded by a yaw-and-roll effect. This resulted in a faster final landing approach speed and necessitated a longer landing roll.

Fifty "6-3" wing conversion kits were shipped to Korea in high secrecy in September of 1952 to convert F-86F aircraft already there to the new configuration. Enough kits were eventually supplied to convert all Korean-based F-86Fs and some F-86Es to this new configuration. The "6-3" wing was introduced as standard production line equipment starting with the 171st F-86F-25-NH (51-13341) and the 200th F-86F-30-NA (52-4505). No F-86F-25s were actually sent to Korea, with most of the combat aircraft used in Korean combat being early Fs from F-1 through F-15, plus large numbers of F-30s.

The "6-3" wing was an immediate success, quickly boosting Sabre victories in Korea. With the "6-3-wing" F-86F, the USAF now had a fighter which could match the maximum speed of the MiG at altitudes all the way up to the Sabre's service ceiling of 47,000 feet, could turn inside the MiG, and which had almost as great a rate of climb.

The third F-86F production batch was the NA-191, built in California under a contract approved on August 5, 1952. These were delivered as F-86F-30-NA (52-4305 through -5163) and as F-86F-35-NA (52-5164 through -5271). Deliveries began in October of 1952 and were completed by May of 1954. 967 were built.

157 NA-202 aircraft were built in California under the next contract. These included F-86F-35-NAs covering serials 53-1072 through 53-1228. The F-86F-35-NA had the capability of carrying a nuclear weapon. The 1200-pound Mk 12 "special store" (as the atomic bomb was euphemistically called) with a yield of up to 12 kT was carried under the port wing, while droptanks were attached under the starboard wing. The nuclear bomb was delivered by use of the Low Altitude Bombing System (LABS), in which the pilot approached the target at low altitude, pulled up to begin a loop, released the bomb near the top of the loop to throw the bomb away from the flight path, and then escaped the blast by climbing away with an Immelmann turn. The F-86F-35-NA was equipped with a computer for determining the exact instant of bomb release, along with a set of controls for arming and disarming the "special store" in flight. Conventional weapons that could be carried included a pair of 1000-pound or smaller bombs, two 750-pound napalm tanks, or eight 5-inch HVAR rockets. The F-35 was otherwise similar to other F-86Fs.

The F-86F served with the following USAF wings:

  • 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing (334th, 335th, 336th Squadrons)
  • 8th Fighter Bomber Wing (35th, 36th, 80th Squadrons)
  • 18th Fighter Interceptor Wing (12th, 44th, 55th Squadrons)
  • 21st Fighter Interceptor Wing (92nd, 416th, 531st Squadrons)
  • 36th Fighter Interceptor Wing (23rd, 32nd, 53rd Squadrons)
  • 48th Fighter Interceptor Wing (492nd, 493rd, 494th Squadrons)
  • 50th Fighter Bomber Wing (10th, 81st, 417th Squadrons)
  • 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing (16th, 25th, 39th Squadrons)
  • 58th Fighter Interceptor Wing (69th, 310th, 311th Squadrons)
  • 81st Fighter Interceptor Wing (78th, 91st, 92nd Squadrons)
  • 322nd Fighter Interceptor Wing (450th, 451st, 452nd Squadrons)
  • 366th Fighter Interceptor Wing (384th, 390th, 391st Squadrons)
  • 388th Fighter Interceptor Wing (561st, 562nd, 563rd Squadrons)
  • 406th Fighter Interceptor Wing (512th, 513th, 514st Squadrons)
  • 450th Fighter Interceptor Wing (721st, 722nd, 723rd Squadrons)
  • 474th Fighter Interceptor Wing (428th, 429th, 430th Squadrons)
  • 479th Fighter Interceptor Wing (431st, 434th, 435th Squadrons)

Serials of F-86F

51-2850/2927		North American F-86F-1-NA Sabre
				c/n 172-133/200
51-2928/2943		North American F-86F-5-NA Sabre
				c/n 172-201/226.
51-12936/12969	North American F-86F-10-NA Sabre
				c/n 172-227/260.
51-12970/12976	North American F-86F-15-NA Sabre
				c/n 172-261/267.
51-13070/13169	North American F-86F-20-NH Sabre
				c/n 176-1/100.
51-13170/13510	North American F-86F-25-NH Sabre
				c/n 176-101/441.
52-4305/5163		North American F-86F-30-NA Sabre
				c/n 191-1/859.
52-5164/5271		North American F-86F-35-NA Sabre
				c/n 191-860/967.
52-5272/5530		North American F-86F-25-NH Sabre
				c/n 193-1/259.
53-1072/1228		North American F-86F-35-NA Sabre
				c/n 202-1/157

Cannon Armed F-86Fs

Even though the six 0.50-inch machine guns of the Sabre had a high rate of fire, one of the primary complaints by Sabre pilots was that these guns really didn't pack enough punch to ensure a kill of every MiG that got into their gunsights. The MiG-15 was actually a fairly robust aircraft, one which could sustain a considerable amount of damage and still keep flying. Colonel Glenn Eagleston submitted a report in which he estimated that as much as two-thirds of the MiGs hit by Sabre gunfire had actually escaped to return home and fight another day. A heavier cannon armament was clearly needed, but one which still preserved the high rate of fire of the machine guns which would give a higher probability of a kill during air combat.

It is a little known fact that some operational trials were actually carried out in Korea with cannon-armed Sabres. Four F-86E-10s (serial numbers 51-2803, 2819, 2826 and 2836) and six F-86F-1s (serial numbers 51-2855, 2861, 2867, 2868, 2884 and 2900) were pulled off the North American assembly line and fitted with a quartet of T-160 20-mm cannon and redesignated F-86F-2-NA. The T-160 guns were belt-fed and were capable of firing 1500 rounds per minute. The gun bays had to be completely redesigned and the guns had to be spaced further apart vertically with a totally new blast panel. The ammunition canisters could carry only 100 rounds each, for about 6 seconds of firing. The gun mounts had to be strengthened and the nose structure around the guns had to be beefed up in order to handle the extra amount of recoil. In order to prevent the buildup of gun gas in the cannon bays, where it could be an explosion and fire hazard, small doors were cut into the interior of the intake duct to extract the gun gas and suck it into the engine.

First tests were carried out with 51-2803 by test pilot George Welch over the Pacific firing range near Catalina Island. All test flights and gun firings were carried out at altitudes between 10,000 and 25,000 feet, with no problems being encountered. The remaining F-86F-2-NAs were delivered to the Air Force Armament Test Center at Eglin AFB.

The cannon-armed Sabre project came to be known as Project Gunval. Eight F-86F-2s were transferred to the 4th Wing in Korea in January 1953 for actual combat tests. The Gunval project was assigned to the 335th FIS, commanded by LtCol Vermont Garrison. Almost immediately, problems were encountered. In the very first aerial combats, the engines of the Gunval Sabres flamed out immediately when the cannon were fired, and no hits on MiGs were scored.

All of the *Gunval* Sabres had to be grounded to figure out what the problem was. It turned that during the firing of the cannon, excessive amounts of gun gas were being sucked into the engine, much larger amounts than the engineers had expected. The early stateside firing tests had been carried out at lower altitudes and no problems had been encountered, but at higher altitudes there was lesser oxygen to run the engine and the gun gas was causing a compressor stall, resulting in a flameout.

The idea of extracting the gun gas by sucking it into the engine had to be abandoned. The doors that bled gun gas into the engine intake duct were welded shut, and a selector switch was installed in the cockpit that permitted the pilot to be able to choose either two or four cannon firing. Small holes were drilled into the aft portion of the gun bay doors to alleviate gun gas buildup. These changes seemed to cure most of the gun gas buildup problems.

However, gun gas problems soon returned once combat trials were resumed. Test photos indicated that large amounts of gun gas were building up ahead of the nose during firing and were being ingested directly into the intake. This problem was ultimately solved by North American engineer Paul Peterson, who added a small horseshoe-shaped clip inside the recessed nozzle trough of each weapon. This clip broke up the gun gas, deflecting it away from the nose of the aircraft and trailing it harmlessly away in the wake of the aircraft.

This seemed to cure the gun gas ingestion problem, and combat tests resumed. A total of 282 combat missions were flown. Out of the 41 MiGs fired at, six were destroyed, three were probably destroyed, and 13 were damaged. Two *Gunval* Sabres were hit by MiG cannon fire, but both aircraft were able to return safely to base. The *Gunval* tests were completed on May 1, 1953, and the surviving aircraft were sent back to the USA, ultimately to be assigned to the Colorado Air National Guard *Minutemen* aerobatic team.

The combat tests were sufficiently encouraging that the T-160 cannon was placed into production by a division of the Ford Motor Company as the M-39, and the cannon ended up arming the F-86H and some of the Century Series of supersonic fighters.

Following the end of the Korean War, two F-86F-1-NAs (51-2916 and 51-2926) were fitted with Oerlikon 206RK 20-mm cannon and were redesignated F-86F-3-NA. Tests were carried out at Eglin AFB in April of 1954. The Oerlikon installation was not very successful--the guns were much heavier than the T-160s, resulting in a shift of the aircraft's center of gravity. In addition, the barrel life was too short and the stoppage rate was unsatisfactory. The F-86F-3s were assigned to Air Proving Ground Command for further tests in 1954-55, being redesignated JF-86F in 1957 and eventually scrapped.

The F-86 In Korea

On June 25, 1950, the forces of North Korea invaded the South. The South Korean army was poorly organized and badly led, and the initial North Korean advance was quite rapid. The United Nations Security Council immediately met in emergency session and ordered the North Koreans to cease their invasion and withdraw from the South, but these demands were ignored. On June 27, President Harry Truman authorized American forces to oppose the invasion, and General MacArthur ordered the Far East Air Force (FEAF) into immediate action against the attackers.

At that time, the combat units of the FEAF were equipped with the Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star fighter, the North American F-82 Twin Mustang all weather escort fighter, the Douglas B-26 Invader light attack bomber, the Lockheed RF-80A tactical reconnaissance aircraft, and the Boeing B-29 Superfortress heavy bomber. These were later supplemented by North American F-51 Mustang fighters transferred in great haste from the USA.

These US aircraft rapidly gained control of the air from the Korean People's Armed Forces Air Corps (KPAFAC), which was equipped with an assortment of Russian-built equipment such as the Yakovlev Yak-9 and Lavochkin La-ll fighters, the Ilyushin Il-10 ground attack aircraft and a smattering of Yak-18 and Po-2 trainers. Having largely eliminated the KPAFAC, the FEAF now turned to the task of ground attack in trying to halt the rapid North Korean advance.

Despite repeated air attacks by UN aircraft on the advancing North Korean troops, by early September the UN armies had been squeezed down into a small area south of the Naktong River, and there was a very real fear that the hard-pressed UN troops might be forced to evacuate the entire Korean peninsula.

General MacArthur's invasion of Inchon on September 15, 1950 suddenly reversed the fortunes of the UN forces in Korea, and by the end of the month North Korean forces had been driven entirely out of South Korea. At that time, the UN decided to enforce its prewar intention of reuniting all of Korea under one government, and UN forces advanced across the 38th Parallel and headed north, in spite of stern warnings from China of possible intervention if UN troops approached their border.

By the end of October, UN forces were up near the Chinese frontier and some forward units were actually on the southern banks of the Yalu River. On November 1, 1950, a group of F-51s and B-26s were beating up an airfield near Sinuiju (just across the Yalu from China) when they encountered six swept-wing jets coming across the Yalu at them, firing as they approached. The Mustangs were able to escape the attack and return to base to report that the MiG-15 had appeared in Korea.

The Russian-built MiG-15 was a product of the Mikoyan/Gurevich design bureau, and was originally designed as a high-altitude interceptor to counter the US B-29 and B-36 long-range bombers. The prototype, designated I-310, made its first flight on December 30, 1947 powered by an imported Rolls-Royce Nene-1 centrifugal flow turbojet. The Nene turbojet was placed into production in the Soviet Union as the RD-45. The first production MiG-15s reached operational units in early 1949. The RD-45 engine was not very reliable and had excessively high fuel consumption. In later production batches, this engine was replaced by the Klimov VK-1, which was an improved version of the RD-45 offering 5957 Versions of the MiG-15 powered by the VK-1 became known as MiG-15bis. These entered operational service in early 1950, and eventually became the most widely produced MiG version. Armament consisted of one NS-37 or N-37 37-mm cannon with 40 rounds and two NS-23 23-mm machine guns with 80 rpg.

It is now known that these MiGs were not actually flown by Chinese or North Korean pilots but by experienced Russians, many with considerable World War 2 experience. In February of 1950, the 29th Fighter Aviation Regiment had been transferred from Moscow to China. It was later joined by the 151st Fighter Aviation Division to form the 64th Fighter Aviation Corps. The unit was committed to combat in November of 1950. The pilots wore Chinese uniforms and were not allowed to speak Russian over their radios. This deception continued until the summer of 1951, after which Chinese and North Korean pilots began to participate.

In these early encounters, MiG pilots would cross the border at high altitude, dive down and attack American aircraft, then duck back over the Yalu. For political reasons, US aircraft were forbidden to pursue.

On November 8, history's first jet-vs-jet battle took place when Lieut. Russell J. Brown flying a F-80C shot down a single MiG-15 out of a flight of four which had dashed across the Yalu. Even though the F-80C drew first blood, the MiG was a hundred miles per hour faster than the Shooting Star and there was no doubt in anyone's mind that the MiG-15 was a deadly threat and could soon wrest control of the air from the UN forces unless checked. Chinese-based MiGs soon began to attack B-29 bombers flying near the Chinese border, and the F-80s were too slow to provide any effective protection.

Even though the initial skirmishes with the MiGs had demonstrated that their pilots lacked experience and an aggressive approach, the MiG threat was very real and threw the USAF into a near panic. The USAF had nothing in Korea that could provide an effective counter if the MiG-15s were to intervene in large numbers.

In order to counter the MiG threat, on November 8 the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing (which consisted of the 334th 335th, and 336th Squadrons) based at Wilmington, Delaware and equipped with the F-86A Sabre was ordered to Korea. Most of their pilots were seasoned veterans of World War 2 and they had shot down over 1000 Germans during that conflict. Prior to flying to the West Coast, the 4th FIG exchanged their older '48 model F-86As for some of the best "low-time" F-86As taken from other Sabre units. The 334th and 335th FIS flew to San Diego and their planes were loaded aboard a Navy escort carrier. The 336th FIS went to San Francisco and was loaded aboard a tanker. Their F-86A aircraft arrived in Japan in mid-December. The aircraft were then unloaded and flown to Kimpo airfield in Korea.

However, before any of these Sabres could reach the front, on November 26, 1950, Chinese armies intervened with devastating force in Korea, breaking through the UN lines and throwing them back in utter confusion. The MiGs did not provide any effective support for this invasion, being unable to establish any effective intervention below a narrow strip up near the Yalu. The MiG pilots were relatively inexperienced and were poor marksmen. They would seldom risk more than one pass at their targets before they would dart back across the Yalu. Had the MiGs been able to establish and hold air superiority over the battle area, the UN forces may well have been thrown entirely out of Korea.

The first advanced detachment of 336th FIS F-86As arrived at Kimpo airfield south of Seoul on December 15. The first Sabre mission took place on December 17. It was an armed reconnaissance of the region just south of the Yalu. Lt. Col. Bruce H. Hinton, commander of the 336th Squadron, succeeding in shooting down one MiG-15 out of a flight of four, to score first blood for the Sabre. The rest of the MiGs fled back across the Yalu. On December 19, Col. Hinton led another four-plane flight up to the Yalu, where his flight met six MiGs who flew through his formation without firing a shot before dashing back across the Yalu. On December 22, the MiGs managed to shoot down a single Sabre out of a flight of eight without loss to themselves, but later that day the Sabres got their revenge by destroying six MiGs out a flight of 15. This loss spooked the MiG pilots, and they avoided combat for the rest of the month.

During December, the 4th Wing had flown 234 sorties, clashed with the enemy 76 times, scored eight victories, and lost one aircraft.

By the end of 1950, Chinese armies had driven UN forces out of North Korea and had begun to invade the South. The Sabres were forced to leave Kimpo and return to Japan which put them out of range of the action up at the Yalu.

Even though the Yalu was now out of range, on January 14, an F-86A detachment appeared at Taegu to participate as fighter bombers to try to halt the Chinese advance. The F-86A was not very successful in the fighter-bomber role, being judged much less effective than slower types such as the F-80 and the F-84. When carrying underwing ordinance, the F-86A's range and endurance were much too low, and it could not carry a sufficiently large offensive load to make it a really effective fighter bomber. In these attacks, the underwing armament was usually limited to only a pair of 5-inch rockets.

Eventually, the Chinese advance ground to a halt due to extended supply lines and the relentless UN air attacks. The Chinese advance was halted by the end of January, and the UN forces began pushing them back. Kimpo airfield was recovered on February 10. The halting of the Chinese advance can be blamed largely on the inability of the MiGs to provide any effective support for the Chinese attack. Not only had no Chinese bombers appeared to attack UN troops, but no MiGs had flown south of the Yalu region to provide any air support.

The Chinese apparently did have plans for a major spring offensive to complete the task of driving the UN out of Korea. This plan was to be based on the construction of a series of North Korean air bases and for Chinese MiGs to use these bases as forward landing strips to provide air superiority over the North, preventing UN aircraft from interfering with the advance.

In early March, the MiGs began to become more active in support of this offensive, On March 1, MiGs jumped a formation of nine B-29s and severely damaged three of them. Fortunately, by this time the UN base at Suwon was now ready, and the Sabres were now able to return to Korea and reenter the fray over the Yalu. The Sabres of the 334th Squadron began their first Yalu patrols on March 6th, and the rest of the squadron moved in four days later. At the same time, the 336th Squadron moved to Taegu from Japan, so that they could stage Sabres through Suwon. The 4th Wing's other squadron, the 335th, stayed in Japan until May 1.

The strip of airspace in western Korea just south of the Yalu soon became known as "MiG Alley" to the Sabre pilots. The Sabres would arrive for their 25-minute patrols in five minute intervals. The MiGs would usually cruise back and forth at high altitude on the other side of the Yalu, looking for an opportune time to intervene. Very often they would remain on the north side of the river, tantalizingly out of reach. When the MiGs did choose to enter battle, the Sabres would usually have only a fleeting chance to fire at the enemy before the MiGs broke off and escaped back across the Yalu. The MiGs had the advantage of being able to choose the time and place of the battle. The MiG-15 had a better high-altitude performance than the F-86A. The MiG had a higher combat ceiling, a higher climb rate, and was faster at higher altitudes than the F-86A. Its superior high-altitude performance enabled the MiG to break off combat at will. Despite these handicaps, the F-86A pilots were far more experienced than their Chinese opponents and they were better marksmen. The Sabre was a more stable gun platform and had fewer high-speed instabilities than did the MiG-15. In addition, the F-86A was faster than the MiG-15 at lower altitudes, and an effective strategy was for the Sabre to force the battle down to lower altitudes where it had the advantage.

In April of 1951, the MiGs got a little bolder, and they would often make attempts to intercept B-29 formations that were attacking targets in the Sinuiju area up near the Yalu. The biggest air battle of that spring took place on April 12, when a formation of 39 B-29s escorted by F-84Es and F-86As were attacked by over 70 MiGs. Three B-29s were lost, whereas 14 MiGs were claimed destroyed, four by the escorting Sabres and ten by B-29 gunners.

On May 20, 1951, F-86A pilot Capain James Jabara became the world's first jet ace when he shot down a pair of MiGs to bring his total to six.

No F-86As were lost in action during the first five months of 1951, and they flew 3550 sorties and scored 22 victories. Most of the attrition was caused by accidents rather than by losses in actual combat.

In June of 1951, the MiGs began to show more aggressive behavior, and their pilots began to get somewhat better. In air battles on June 17th, 18th, and 19th, six MiGs were destroyed but two Sabres were lost. Another Sabre was lost on June 11 when the 4th Wing covering an F-80 attack on the Sinuiju airfield shot down two more MiGs.

As the first year of the Korean War came to an end, it was apparent that the Sabre had been instrumental in frustrating the MiG-15's bid for air superiority. Without control of the air, the Red Chinese were unable to establish their series of air bases and they were not able to carry out effective air support of their spring offensive, and the Korean War settled down to a stalemate on the ground.

The more-advanced F-86E began to enter action in Korea with the 4th Wing in July of 1951, replacing that unit's F-86As on a one-by-one basis. The conversion to the F-86E was rather slow, and the last F-86A was not replaced until July of 1952.

In September of 1951, the MiG-15bis began to appear. It was powered by a 6000 lb.s.t. engine.

In order to meet a new threat of MiG action against B-29 bombers over Korea, on October 22, 1951 seventy-five F-86Es were ordered shipped to Japan to replace the F-80Cs of the 51st Wing based at Suwon. The 51st Wing (consisting of the 16th and 25 FIS) began operations with its new F-86Es from Suwon on December 1, with the famous World War 2 ace Col. Francis S. Gabreski as wing commander. The first kill for the 51th FIS was scored by Lt. Paul Roach of the 25th FIS on December 2. Col. Gabreski had scored 31 kills over Europe in World War 2, and he added 6.5 victories to his score in Korea.

At any one time, only about 60 Sabres could be put into the air, assuming that everything was "right", with the rest of the force remaining at Kimpo or Suwon on alert or down for maintenance. Even when at maximum levels, the Sabre force was far outnumbered by the MiGs. By late 1951, there were enough MiGs available so that the Chinese forces attempted to move a couple of MiG squadrons into the base at Uiju, North Korea. UN air attacks soon made this base untenable, forcing the MiGs back across the Yalu.

A third squadron was added to the 51st FIG (the 39the FIS) in June of 1952. The number disparity still remained, with the MiGs outnumbering the Sabres about 1000 to 150 during late 1952.

It is now known that there were Soviet fighter squadrons which participated in the air combat along the Yalu. They were rotated through the MiG bases on the northern side of the Yalu. Soviet Air Force MiGs operated from bases at Antung, Fengcheng, Tak Tung Kao, Takushan, Juantien, and others. At Mukden in Manchuria there were large numbers of MiGs waiting to replace those lost in battle or rotating home. Some Eastern Block units also participated. In addition, Soviet Units carried out extensive training of Chinese and North Korean pilots.

The rules of engagement initially laid down by UN order was that no UN aircraft were allowed to violate the Manchurian border for any reason. The Communist forces were well aware of this limitation and took full advantage of it. The MiGs would form up into attack position just across the Yalu, usually at an altitude well above that at which the Sabres could operate. The MiGs would dive on the UN aircraft, make their attack, then pop back across the Yalu to safety.

In late 1951, the rules of engagement were modified, making it possible for UN pilots to cross the Yalu when in "hot pursuit" of an enemy. However, there were lots of unofficial violations of this rule, and there were some occasions in which bombing and strafing attacks were carried out by UN aircraft on Communist facilities north of the Yalu, and F-86s did on occasions went north of the Yalu looking for MiGs. There were even some MiG kills scored on the "wrong" side of the Yalu. The Manchurian sanctuary was lifted in the second week of April of 1952.

The first F-86Fs reached Korea in June and July of 1952, and they were issued to the 51st Wing's new 39th Squadron. F-86Fs were provided to the 335th Squadron of the 4th Wing in September of 1952. The arrival of the F-86F quickly boosted Sabre victories in Korea. The 4th Wing's 335th Squadron scored a total of 81 victories during the remainder of 1952, while the other two 4th Wing squadrons (which were still operating F-86Es) got 41.

With a record like that, it now seemed that EVERYONE in Korea wanted an F-86F, and so to prevent the morale of F-86E pilots from declining, a decision was made to have F-86Fs distributed more or less equally among all the squadrons in the 4th Wing. To meet the increased demand, all the F-86Fs still in the US were immediately shipped to Korea and exchanged for F-86Es which were then returned home.

Fifty "6-3" wing conversion kits were shipped to Korea in high secrecy in September of 1952 to convert F-86F aircraft already there to the new configuration. Enough kits were eventually supplied to convert all Korean-based F-86Fs and some F-86Es to this new configuration. The "6-3" wing was an immediate success, quickly boosting Sabre victories in Korea. With the "6-3-wing" F-86F, the USAF now had a fighter which could match the maximum speed of the MiG at altitudes all the way up to the Sabre's service ceiling of 47,000 feet, could turn inside the MiG, and which had almost as great a rate of climb.

During late 1952, fully a fifth of Sabre victories over MiGs were obtained without the pilots having to fire their guns. During the last four months of 1952, thirty-two MiGs were observed to go in to sudden uncontrollable spins while being chased by Sabres. Only two of their pilots managed to recover. The rest either ejected or else crashed with their planes. Even though no guns were actually fired, the frightening of a MiG pilot into getting himself into an unrecoverable spin nevertheless still counted as a "kill". It seems that a large number of inexperienced MiG pilots were now entering the fray.

However, during the first four months of 1953, MiG pilot performance seemed to get a little better, since more of their pilots were able to recover from these involuntary spins.

F-86Fs would often fly in teams with F-86Es, with the Fs flying at 40,000 feet and the Es at a lower level to handle any MiGs which managed to come down to harass the fighter bombers.

It was with F-86F with the "6-3" wing that the Sabre was to rack up its biggest score during the Korean War. Between May 8, 1953 and May 31, 1953, F-86Fs with 6-3 wings accounted for 56 MiG kills vs only one lost, one of the most one-sided air battles ever fought, not to be surpassed until the early 1980s when Israeli F-15s and F-16s scored an 80-0 victory over Syrian aircraft over the Bekka Valley during the Lebanon incursion. On June 20, 1953 F-86F Sabres accounted for 16 victories, their biggest one-day score of the war.

The arrival of the "6-3" winged Sabre in Korea was soon to be followed by the fighter-bomber Sabre. The first F-86F-30-NA fighter-bombers arrived in Korea on January 28, 1953, and they equipped the 18th Fighter Bomber Wing based at Osan. This Wing flew its first Yalu patrol on February 25, and scored its first MiG kill on the same day. By the end of March, there were enough F-86F-30s to equip the 12th Squadron and the attached 2nd Squadron of the South African Air Force. The SAAF 2nd Squadron flow 1427 Sabre sorties during the Korean War, and lost two enemy aircraft to ground fire. No. 2 Squadron returned their Sabres to the USAF after Korea, and purchased Canadair-built versions to supplement the fighter force in South Africa.

The 8th Fighter Bomber Wing based at Suwon began trading in its F-80C Shooting Stars for F-86F-30 Sabres in February of 1953, the conversion being finally completed at the end of April. The 8th Wing took their Sabres into action in a MiG Alley sweep on April 8, and on April 13 this Wing carried out its first ground attack mission by hitting an enemy troop concentration.

By this time, the USAF had five jet fighter-bomber wings, three with F-84G Thunderjets and two with F-86F-30s. The Thunderjets had a superior range, but the fighter-bomber Sabre proved itself eminently suitable for bombing work and, unlike the Thunderjet, was able to fend for itself in MiG-infested territory.

During June 1953, more Sabres were lost in ground attack missions than in air-to-air combat. They delivered 3044 tons of bombs during that month, fourteen being lost to enemy flak.

The Korean War finally ended on July 27, 1953, with a negotiated truce in which the country remained divided into two. The last Sabre/MiG fight of the Korean War took place on July 22, 1953, when Lt. Sam P. Young of the 31st Wing scored his first and only victory. The last kill of the Korean War took place on July 27, when Capt. Ralph S. Parr flying an F-86F-30 shot down an Il-12 twin-engined transport aircraft. At the end of the Korean War, the seven American fighter Wings in Korea had 297 Sabres on hand, with 132 of them being with fighter-bomber Wings.

The actual kill-to-loss ratio vis--vis the F-86 and the MiG-15 is still a matter of controversy. In an official Air Force publication issued shortly after the end of the Korean War listed 808 MiGs shot down for the loss of 58 Sabres, for a 14:1 ratio. Other official lists issued by the Air Force come up with somewhat different numbers. The USAF Historical Study #81, USAF Credits for the Destruction of Enemy Aircraft, Korean War, and the USAF Statistical Digest of FY 1953, all list a total of 792 MiGs as having been claimed by F-86s. A total of 78 Sabres were lost in air-to-air combat, with 19 additional Sabres being lost to ground fire, and 13 to unknown causes. So the overall superiority of the Sabre over the MiG was about ten to one.

Soviet archives that have only recently come to light officially list 345 Soviet-piloted MiG-15s having been lost to UN aircraft of all types during the Korean conflict. There are no comparable figures available for Chinese or North Korean losses. By the early spring of 1953, most of the Soviet units had been withdrawn from combat, and most of the MiGs were now being flown by Chinese or North Korean pilots. During April-July of 1953, Sabres claimed 191 MiGs destroyed, most of them being flown by Chinese or North Korean pilots. Soviet pilots from the era claimed a 2:1 kill ratio in their favor, but this claim must be treated with a considerable amount of skepticism.

There were 39 Korean War American jet aces, all of which flew Sabres. 305 of the 810 aircraft shot down by the Sabres in Korea were destroyed by aces. Capt. Joseph McConnell Jr. of the 16th Squadron, 51st Wing was the top ace with 16 kills. Col. Francis Gabreski added 6 1/2 MiGs to his 31 German kills of World War II.

The RF-86F

In 1953, several F-86F-30s were fitted a suite of photo-reconnaissance cameras at the Tsuiki REMCO facility in Japan, in a project code-named *Haymaker*. All armament, radars, and gunsights were removed, and a camera suite identical to that of the earlier *Ashtray* RF-86As was fitted, but using K-14 cameras in place of the lower-speed K-9s. Again, the K-14s were mounted horizontally, shooting through a mirror complex with an aperture in the bottom of the fuselage. The K-14 "dicing" camera was mounted between the two vertical cameras. As with the RF-86A, the fuselage was bulged to cover the camera suite installation. The modified aircraft were redesignated RF-86F-30.

*Haymaker RF-86F-30s were issued to the 15th TRS at Kimpo in 1953, flying alongside the *Ashtray* aircraft that remained in service. In an attempt to fool enemy MiGs, they had fake gun ports painted on the sides of their noses.

Factory-built RF-86Fs began to be delivered in June of 1953. They were equipped at the factory with two K-22 and one K-17 cameras in an under-fuselage installation. The cameras were mounted vertically, which took the main body of the camera and the film magazines outside the fuselage contours in a bulge on the gun bay doors. 750 pounds of ballast had to be added to the forward fuselage to realign the center of gravity. The cockpit had an elongated canopy to counter a buffet that had appeared caused by the bulged fuselage. The factory aircraft had the new "6-3" wing as standard equipment. A total of 8 were built (serial numbers 52-4337, 4379,4492, 4800, 4808, 4822, 4823, and 4864), but they were too late for combat duty in Korea.

In spite of the success of the RF-86A and F in combat, the USAF opted for the Republic RF-84F Thunderflash as its next-generation tactical reconnaissance aircraft. However, the RF-86F continued to be involved in clandestine and standard reconnaissance missions after the Korean War ended.

The F-86F-40-NA

The production run of the F-86F Sabre finally ended with the delivery of the last F-86F-35-NA in August of 1954. At that time, it was assumed that this would be the end of the line for the day-fighter Sabre, as plans were already being made for the F-86F Sabre to be replaced in service by supersonic types such as the F-100. However, the USAF was finding that it was impossible to meet its commitments to Asian allies such as Nationalist China and Japan by using the surplus F-86Fs already available from USAF stocks. Consequently, the F-86F was put back into production to meet this demand.

The new model was known as the NA-227 to the company and as the F-86F-40-NA on USAF rolls. A contract for 215 was formally approved on June 27, 1955. USAF serials were 55-3816/4030. 65 more -40s were added to the contract on March 27, 1956, with USAF serials being 55-4983/5047. USAF serials were assigned to these planes because they were purchased with MDAP funds, even though they were not intended for USAF service.

The first F-86F-40-NA (serial number 55-3816) rolled out of the factory in October of 1955. The new F-86F was basically similar to the earlier F-86F Sabres and was powered by the same J47-GE-27 of the earlier Fs and had the fuselage, weapons system, and flight controls of the standard F, but had a different wing. It had the "6-3" extended wing leading edge of the earlier Fs, but leading edge slats were once again fitted in an attempt to improve the low speed handling properties. In addition, the wing tips were extended, increasing the wing area from 302.3 square feet to 313.4 square feet and the wing span from 37.12 feet to 39.11 feet. The original F-86F aileron was part of the wingtip, while the F-40 aileron was separate.

The wing slats and the increased wing area markedly improved the handling, especially at low speeds. The low-speed roll-and-yaw problem which had plagued the "6-3" F-86F Sabres was largely eliminated. Stalling speed was reduced from 144 mph to 124 mph, and 800 feet were shaved from the takeoff ground run. The slat actuators and wingtip extensions added about 250 pounds to the weight, but performance was almost identical to that of a standard F-86F.

These improvements in handling and turning ability led the USAF to decide to upgrade many of their existing F-86F-25 and F-86F-30 Sabres to F-86F-40 standards. North American supplied the Air Force with modification kits containing the new wing leading edge, slat assemblies, wingtip extensions, and new ailerons. Many Sabre-equipped foreign air forces also upgraded their Sabres to F-40 standards through use of these kits. Only the Canadair and Commonwealth Sabres were not equipped with F-40 wing kits, although both types could accept the installation if needed.

The last of 280 California-built F-86F-40-NA (55-5047) was delivered in December of 1956. This was the last of 5035 California-built Sabres. The F-86F-40-NA was designed purely for export, and never served operationally with any USAF units. The following nations operated F-86F-40-NAs:

In late 1953, the Allied nations (minus the USSR) decided to let Japan begin to re-equip its military forces. It was agreed that F-86Fs would be supplied to the Japanese Air Self Defense Force, or JASDF. It was also agreed that most of these F-86Fs would be built in Japan. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (the wonderful folks who brought you the Zero) of Nagoya signed a joint production agreement with North American Aviation on July 13, 1954, under which Mitsubishi would build the F-86F-40-NA under license.

Mitsubishi was not going to build these planes from scratch, but it was to assemble Sabres in Japan from kits made in California. This included seventy sets manufactured under the company designation NA-231 (USAF serials 55-5048/5117), 110 sets built under the company designation NA-238 (USAF serials 56-2773/2882), and 120 sets built under the company designation NA-256 (USAF serials 57-6338/6457). These 300 Japanese-assembled Sabres were all meant for service with JASDF. The first Nagoya-assembled Sabre flew on August 9, 1956, and the last one was completed on February 25, 1961.

The Mitsubishi-assembled F-86F-40-NAs carried JASDF serials 62-7701/7705, 72-7706/7773, 82-7774/7868, 92-7869/7880, 92-7881/7940, 02-7941/7991, 12-7992/7999, and 12-7000 (although it isn't clear why the last plane wasn't assigned the serial number 12-8000). Late in the contract, an additional kit was supplied to Mitsubish which had a set of pylons to carry the Philco-Ford GAR-8 (AIM-9B) Sidewinder air-to-air missile.

Specification of F-86F-40-NA:

Engine: One General Electric J47-GE-27, 5910 Dimensions: wingspan 39.11 feet, length 37.54 feet, height 14.74 feet, wing area 313.37 square feet. Weights: 11,125 pounds empty, takeoff weight 15,198 pounds (clean), 18,152 pounds (2 200-gallon drop tanks), 20,611 pounds (2 200-gallon drop tanks plus 2 1000 pound bombs). Maximum speed 678 mph at sea level, 599 mph at 35,000 feet (at 15,352 pounds combat weight). Initial climb rate 8100 feet per minute. Altitude of 30,000 feet reached in 5.2 minutes (clean). 47,000 feet service ceiling. Combat radius 463 miles. Ferry range 1525 miles.


55-3816/4030 	North American F-86F-40-NA Sabre 
55-4983/5047 	North American F-86F-40-NA Sabre 
55-5048/5117 	North American F-86F-40-NA Sabre assembled by Mitsubishi
56-2773/2882 	North American F-86F-40-NA Sabre assembled by Mitsubishi 
				JASDF serials 72-7771/7773,
57-6338/6457 	North American F-86F-40-NA Sabre assembled by Mitsubishi 
				operated by JASDF as 92-7881/7940,
				02-7941/7991,12-7992/7999 and 12-7000.
				some returned to USA and converted to

The TF-86F

On February 3, 1953, the North American company proposed a two-seat training version of the Sabre, perhaps hoping that the success of Lockheed in adapting its single-seat F-80 to the T-33 two-seat trainer could be duplicated for the F-86 Sabre. Initial design work was begun as the NA-204 project on April 8 of that year, and the company proposed that a stock F-86F-30 be modified by adding a student's cockpit ahead of the instructor in a lengthened fuselage and by moving the wing forward eight inches to compensate for the shift in center of gravity. Armament was to be deleted, but all the other F-86F-30 features were to be retained. However, slatted wings were to be used, since it was important to preserve good low-speed handling capabilities in an aircraft intended for the training role.

On September 9, the USAF authorized the conversion of F-86F-30 serial number 52-5016 to the two-seat configuration. This particular plane was one of the early aircraft without the "6-3" wing, and retained the leading edge slats. The length of the fuselage was increased from 37 feet 6 inches to 42 feet 9 inches, and the student and instructor were seated in tandem ejector seats underneath a long clamshell-type canopy. Due to the modification of the fuselage, the aircraft's center of gravity had shifted to the rear, and North American engineers had to correct this by moving the entire wing assembly forward by 8 inches. The wing, tail assembly, and powerplant were the same as those of the standard F-86F, but no armament was fitted. The rebuilt aircraft was designated TF-86F.

The first TF-86F made its maiden flight on December 14, 1953, with Ray Morris at the controls. Bob Hoover also did a considerable amount of the early flight testing. The aircraft weighed only about 100 pounds more than the standard F, and had a performance which closely matched that of the standard F. Range was an additional 300 miles, due to additional fuel tankage. However, on March 17, 1954, on its ninth flight, disaster struck. While doing a slow roll on takeoff, NAA test pilot Joe Lynch lost control of his plane and the aircraft crashed. Joe Lynch was killed.

Another conversion to a two-seat Sabre was authorized on March 23 to replace the one which had crashed. The final F-86F-35 off the production line (53-1228) was modified to the two-seat TF-86F configuration. It was similar to the first TF-86F, but was armed with a pair of 0.50-in machine guns in the nose and was equipped with a pair of underwing racks for drop tanks or bombs. Early-F-86F style wing slats were fitted. In addition, a small ventral fin was added to the aft fuselage to correct what was thought to have caused the crash of the first prototype.

The second TF-86F (53-1338) made its maiden flight on August 5, 1954. In order to try and sell the two-seat Sabre to the USAF, a demonstration tour of training bases began on September 2, 1954. Bob Hoover was the point man for these demonstrations, going from one training base to another, offering pilots a ride in the second seat and giving them an opportunity to see what it was like to fly through the sound barrier. The TF-86F aircraft was delivered to Nellis AFB on January 31, 1955. However, on February 7, the USAF announced that the TF-86F would not be getting any production orders, the contract going instead to a two-seat version of the F-100 Super Sabre.

Even though the number two TF-86F never got any production orders, it nevertheless served for many years as a chase plane at Edwards AFB. It was eventually scrapped.

Specification of the TF-86F:

Engine: One General Electric J47-GE-27, 5910 pounds static thrust. Performance: Maximum speed (clean) was 692 mph at sea level and 611 mph at 35,000 feet. Initial climb rate was 10,300 feet per minute. Service ceiling was 50,500 feet. Maximum ferry range was 1293 miles. Weights: 14,836 pounds takeoff weight (clean), 18,040 pounds takeoff weight (2 200-gallon drop tanks plus 60 rounds of ammunition), 12,980 pounds combat weight. Dimensions: wingspan 37.12 feet, length 42 feet 9 inches, height 14.79 feet, wing area 287.9 square feet. Armament: Two 0.50-in machine guns in the nose.


The F-86H

Development of a purely fighter-bomber version of the Sabre was initiated by North American Aviation on March 16, 1951 as the NA-187.

The new design proposed to handle the additional payload by using the larger General Electric J73 engine, which offered 8920 pounds of thrust. In order to accommodate the additional power of the engine, the air intake had to be increased in area, which was accomplished by splitting the fuselage longitudinally and then splicing in an additional six inches of depth. In addition, the fuselage was lengthened by over two feet and widened by a few inches. The additional space inside the fuselage made it possible to increase the internal fuel capacity from 435 to 562 gallons, and four underwing stations were added for bombs or drop tanks. The horizontal tail surfaces were increased in area. As in the case of the F-86D, the horizontal tail lacked dihedral. An F-86D-like clamshell cockpit canopy was to be fitted in place of the rearward-sliding canopy of the F-86F. The cockpit was more spacious than that of any previous Sabre variant, and had a new ejector seat originally developed for the F-86D.

The vertical tail assembly was 3 inches taller and wider through the chord, but had a smaller rudder. The horizontal tail surfaces were changed from the "all-flying" design with a split stabilizer and elevator to a single all-flying tail design. Initially, the design was to have the old-style slatted wing without the "6-3" extension.

The Air Force initially ordered 150 of these fighter-bombers under the designation F-86H, the first two to be built in California and the remainder in Columbus. A contract finalized on November 3, 1952 increased this order to 175. It was decided that the 15th F-86H should receive the "6-3" wing of the later F-86F. The first F-86Hs were to have six 0.50-inch machine guns with the type A-4 GBR gunsight using the AN/APG_30 radar rangefinder, but later production aircraft were to be armed with four 20-mm T-160 cannon. Since the F-86H was to have a nuclear capability, an M-1 LABS toss-bombing computer was to be installed.

The first two F-86Hs were built in California. The first F-86H made its maiden flight on April 30, 1953, piloted by Joseph Lynch. It carried no armament, and was fitted with the standard Sabre slatted wing. By the time it was sent to Edwards AFB for tests in October, it had the "6-3" wing of the later F-86F. In December, it returned to Edwards with slatted wings. However, with slatted wings, the top speed was three percent lower than the predicted value of 707 mph. = The maximum speed was over 617 mph at 35,0000 feet. Service ceiling was up to 51,500 feet, and the rate of climb was 12,160 feet per minute. Even though the F-86H was 10,000 pounds heavier than the F, the combat radius was about the same (532 miles) because of the additional fuel suply.

The first of 112 Columbus-built F-86H-1-NH fighter bombers made its maiden flight on September 4, 1953. It had extended leading edges and carried an armament of six 0.50-inch machine guns. Deliveries did not get underway in quantity until Columbus had delivered the last of its F-86F-25-NHs, which was in May of 1954.

The first 60 aircraft on the order had the J73-GE-3, but all the rest had the J73-GE-3A.

Ten F-86Hs had been delivered by the end of June 1954, but operational testing was delayed by accidents. There were problems with both the airframe engine, with the J73 not being able to meet its 150-hour qualification tests. The most notable of these accidents was the crash on August 25, 1954 in which Capt Joseph McConnell, the leading Korean War ace (16 kills) was killed. This crash, plus some other accidents, caused a delay in the operational testing of the F-86H. It was not until October of 1954 that operational testing of the F-86H was resumed.

The first production F-86H was delivered to the 312th Fighter Bomber Wing at Clovis AFB in New Mexico in the fall of 1954, later than expected because of the delays in operational flight testing

The F-86F set a world speed record of 649 mph for a 500-kilometer closed circuit, flown by Major John L. Armstrong. Another F-86H flown by Captain Eugene P. Sonnenberg set a 100-kilometer closed course record of 692.8 mph.

As compared to the F-86F, the F-86H had a shorter takeoff run, a better rate of climb, a higher ceiling, a larger combat radius, and better air to ground gunnery characteristics. All of these features made the F-86H a better fighter bomber than the F-86F. The increased power of the J73 engine did provide better acceleration and higher cruising speed, but aerodynamic limitations kept the improvement in maximum speed from being anything other than marginal, except at altitudes above 35,000 feet. However, the F-86H's higher wing loading made it less maneuverable than the F-86F, especially at high altitudes.

The 15th F-86H-1-NH was fitted with the "6-3" wing of the later F-86F, with extended wing tips and wing fences. Wing span was increased from 37.12 feet to 39.1 feet and wing area rose to 313.4 square feet.

The F-86H-5-NH, which appeared in January of 1955, introduced an armament of four 20-mm M-39 cannon. The M-39 was formerly known as the T-160, which was first tested in Korea. These guns weighed 286 pounds more than previous Sabre gun installations, but packed a lot more punch. Ammunition supply was limited to only 600 rounds, which was only about six seconds of firing time. The last of 60 F-86H-5-NH was delivered in February of 1955.

In the meantime, on June 11, 1953 the USAF approved an additional contract (NA-203) for 300 F-86H-10-NHs. These differed from earlier F-86Hs primarily in having different electronic equipment and in having the J73-GE-3E engine. The first aircraft was delivered in January of 1955, and the last aircraft on the order was delivered in April of 1956. The last ten H-10s used the so-called "F-40" wing, with extended wingtips and slats on the extended leading edge, which improved low-speed handling. Eventually, all of the remaining Hs in the USAF and ANG inventories were retrofitted with the "F-40" wing.

Since the airframe of the F-86H limited it to subsonic speed in level flight no matter how great the power, the production run of the F-86H was relatively short. 473 were built, all but the first two at North American's Columbus, Ohio factory. The first production F-86H was delivered to the 312th Fighter Bomber Wing at Clovis AFB in New Mexico in the fall of 1954

The F-86H was equipped with the Low Altitude Bombing System (LABS) and could carry a 1200 pound "special store" (a euphemistic term for an atomic bomb) under the inboard port wing. Provisions were also made for arming and disarming the "special store" in flight.

The F-86H served with five wings: the 50th FBW in Europe, and with the 83rd, 312th, 413rd, and 474th Wings of the TAC. The operational life of the F-86H was quite brief, as its performance was rapidly eclipsed by such types as the F-100 Super Sabre. By 1957, the F-86H was already being phased out of active service with the USAF, and by June of 1958 all F-86H aircraft in active USAF use had been passed on to the Air National Guard (ANG).

At one time or another, the F-86H served with the following Air National Guard outfits: 102 Air National Guard Wing (101st, 131st, and 138th Squadrons) plus 104, 118, 121, 136, 137, 139, 142, 167, and 168 Squadrons. During the 1961 Berlin crisis, the 101st and 131st Tactical Fighter Squadrons of the Massachusetts ANG were activated and deployed with their F-86Hs to France, where they stayed until August of 1962.

The F-86H remained in service with the ANG until well after the United States had committed itself to the Vietnam war. However, no F-86Hs ever went overseas to participate in that conflict. The last F-86H Sabre was phased out of ANG service on January 8, 1972, when the 138th TFS of the New York ANG officially retired its last H.

After withdrawal from ANG service, F-86H aircraft with the lowest air time were turned over to the Navy. The Navy used them both as target drones and as MiG simulators for TOP GUN aggressor training. The F-86H had a similar size, shape, and performance as the MiG-17 fighter then being encountered over North Vietnam, and many a Navy F-4 pilot was "killed" by a F-86H Sabre during these mock battles.

Many F-86Hs ended their lives as target drones for the testing of advanced air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles such as the Phoenix, the AMRAAM, and the Standard. When used in the unmanned target role, the aircraft were redesignated QF-86H.

Serials of the F-86H:

52-1975/1976		North American YF-86H-1-NA Sabre
				c/n 187-1/2
52-1977/2089		North American F-86H-1-NA Sabre
				c/n 187-3/115
52-2090/2124		North American YF-86H-5-NA Sabre
				c/n 187-116/150
52-5729/5753		North American F-86H-5-NH Sabre 
				c/n 187-151/175.
53-1229/1528		North American F-86H-10-NH Sabre

Specification of the F-86H-10-NH:

Engine: One General Electric J73-GE-3D or -3E, 8920 pounds static thrust. Performance: Maximum speed (clean) was 692 mph at sea level and 617 mph at 30,000 feet. Initial climb rate was 12,900 feet per minute, and an altitude of 30,000 feet could be reached in 5.7 minutes. Service ceiling was 50,800 feet, and combat radius was 519 miles (403 miles with bombs) at 552 mph. Maximum ferry range was 1810 miles. Weights were 13,836 pounds empty, 24,296 pounds gross (with two 1000 pounds and two 200-gallon drop tanks). Dimensions: wingspan 39.12 feet, length 38.84 feet, height 14.99 feet, wing area 313.4 square feet. Armament: Four 20-mm M39 cannon, 200 rounds per gun.

The F-86K

In the early 1950s, the air forces of America's NATO allies had an urgent need for a high performance interceptor capable of meeting the perceived Soviet bomber threat. As the highest-performance interceptor in the US inventory, the F-86D was a natural choice. However, the advanced Hughes E-4 fire-control system of the F-86D was considered too sensitive for export overseas, lest Soviet intelligence get their hands on it. In addition, the USAF was at that time experiencing troubles of its own with the maintenance and reliability of the E-4, and it was thought that it was not a good idea to burden America's NATO allies with such a troublesome and unreliable system, advanced though it might be. The F-86K was an simplified version of the F-86D interceptor designed to meet this need.

On January 22, 1953, NAA was informed by the USAF that they would like to have Italy manufacture an interceptor that would be similar in configuration to the F-86D but would have cannon armament instead of the FFARs. It should have a simpler fire control system and carry a crew of two rather than just one. North American replied that a two-seat version of the F-86D would be much too costly and time-consuming to design, and proposed instead that the single-seat format of the F-86D be retained, but in a simplified version.

The USAF accepted North American's suggestion, and the project was given the company designation of NA-205. In place of the E-4 fire control system, NAA came up with a new MG-4 fire control system designed for operation with a quartet of 20-mm M-24A1 cannon with 132 rpg. Although this system was less complex than the E-4, it nevertheless retained the APG-37 nose radar. The new simplified system still permitted the use of the same lead-pursuit attack strategy employed by the F-86D, automatically computing the firing range for the cannon and automatically displaying the suggested breakaway time. A modified AC type A-4 gunsight assembly was to be installed.

Two government-furnished F-86D-40-NAs were allocated to the NA-205 project. Serials were 52-3630 and 52-3804. Work on the project began on May 14, 1953. The designation YF-86K was applied to the two planes.

On May 16, 1953, a license agreement was reached with Fiat in which the F-86K would be assembled in Italy from US-supplied components. Two days later, a contract committed MDAP funds for 50 sets of F-86K parts that would be manufactured by NAA in California but assembled in Italy by Fiat. This contract was known on company records as NA-207. Since these aircraft were purchased with MDAP funds, they were given USAF serial numbers, although they never actually served with the USAF. These serials were 53-8273/8322. According to the terms of the contract, these Italian-assembled F-86Ks were to be supplied to France's Armee de l'Air, to the newly-revived West German Luftwaffe, as well as to Italy's own newly-organized Aeronautica Militare. The air forces of Holland and Norway later joined the program.

However, in order to get quantity production underway as soon as possible, 120 F-86Ks were to be assembled in California by NAA under contract NA-213 approved on December 18, 1953. These planes were to be supplied to Norway and the Netherlands, but these aircraft were carried on USAF books with serials 54-1231 thru 54-1350 since they were purchased with MDAP funds.

The first YF-86K (53-3630) flew on July 15, 1954, piloted by NAA test pilot Raymond Morris. It had the same engine as the F-86D-40-NA, a J47-GE-17B. The internal fuel tankage remained the same, at 610 US gallons. Like the F-86D, it could carry a pair of 120 US gallon drop tanks on underwing pylons. In order to make room for the 20-mm cannon and their ammunition, the YF-86K differed from the D in having a slightly longer nose (40.9 feet as opposed to 40.3 feet), and the gun bays and muzzle ports were cut into the forward fuselage. Large vent holes were cut into the gun bay doors to relieve the gun gas buildup that had been such a problem in Korea. The afterburning J47 engine had the same electronic fuel control system as was found in the USAF F-86D. All of the other major assemblies found in the F-86D were replicated on the YF-86K, including the wing, the wing leading edge slats, the landing gear, the tail assembly (including the drag chute) and the flight control systems. Both of the YF-86Ks were shipped to Italy after initial tests.

The first North American-built F-86K (54-1231) made its maiden flight on March 8, 1955. The 120 NA-213 aircraft were manufactured in California from April to December 1955. One F-86K was kept in the USA for test work, but 60 were delivered to Norway's Kongelige Norske Flyvapen and 59 went to the Netherlands' Koninklijke Nederlandse Luchtmacht.

North American shipped 50 sets of F-86K parts to Italy for assembly under the NA-207 contract. The first of the Fiat-assembled F-86Ks (MM6185/53-8273) was flown on May 23, 1955, with NAA representative Col. Arthur de Bolt at the controls. More sets of F-86K parts were delivered to Italy under the following contracts:

  • NA-221 (70 aircraft, August 1954, 55-4811/4880)
  • NA-232 (56 aircraft, July 1955, 55-4881/4936)
  • NA-242 (45 aircraft, December 1955, 56-4116/4160)

The NA-242 batch differed from the previous batches by having the extended wing leading edges and wingtips of the F-86F-40-NA, increasing wingspan from 37.1 to 39.1 feet and wing area from 287.9 to 313.37 square feet. Many previous Fiat-assembled F-86Ks were modified in the field to bring them up to the NA-242 standard.


The F-86L was the designation given to late-1950s conversions of existing USAF F-86Ds to use the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) datalink system.

The SAGE system was developed during the early 1950s by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Lincoln Laboratory. It was based on the use of a large, high-speed ground-based computer to handle and coordinate air surveillance data from various ground radar installations. This information was transmitted in real-time to a special data receiver aboard the interceptor, and an on-board system converted this data into heading, speed, altitude, target bearing, and range information that would be used to guide the pilot in his interception. No voice instructions were used, and the interceptor was automatically positioned for a lead-collision attack with its own E-4 fire control system.

In the mid 1950s, it was decided to adapt the F-86D to the new SAGE system, and in 1956, 2192 conversion kits were ordered for the F-86Ds of the Air Defense Command (ADC). Under a project code-named Project Follow-On, starting in May of 1956, certain low-time F-86D interceptors were withdrawn one-by-one from service and fitted with the upgrade. This work was done at North American plants in Fresno and Inglewood, California. Following the upgrade, they were redesignated F-86L. All F-86L block designations were changed to reflect their original F-86D block numbers. The F-86D-10 to F-86D-45 became F-86L-11 to F-86L-46, but blocks 50, 55, and 60 just changed the type from D to L, that is, the F-86D-50 became F-86L-50.

When F-86Ds were upgraded to the F-86L configuration, an AN/ARR-39 datalink receiver was fitted, which had a blade-like antenna sticking out of the fuselage just forward of and below the starboard wing. The AN/ARC-27 command radio of the F-86D was replaced by an AN/ARC-34 set. An AN/APX-25 identification radar was added, and a new AN/ARN-31 glide slope receiver was provided.

All Follow-On aircraft were brought up to F-86D-45 standards before starting with the electronics upgrades, including the installation of the drag chute in the tail. In the F-86L, two protruding cooling air intakes were added to the fuselage sides just aft of the wing, replacing the older recessed cooling ducts. The same J47-GE-33 or J47-GE-17B engine of the F-86D was retained, but the F-86L was fitted with the F-86F-40 wing, with twelve-inch wingtip extensions and "6-3" leading edge extensions with slats. The wingspan and wing area were 39.1 feet and 313.37 square feet respectively. The new wing improved the handing ability and provided better turning at high altitudes. The reconditioned F-86Ls retained the armament of twenty-four rockets of the F-86D.

The first flight took place on December 27, 1955. That particular aircraft had just the SAGE equipment installed, and the first conversion incorporating all of the Follow-On changes did not fly until May of 1956. A total of 981 F-86Ds were modified to the F-86L configuration. After conversion in 1956-57, F-86Ls were issued to most of the ADC wings that were using the F-86D. First to receive the F-86L was the 317th FIS at McChord AFB, which first received the planes in late November of 1956. The service of the F-86L with the ADC was destined to be quite brief, since by the time the last F-86L conversion was delivered, the type was already being phased out in favor of the Convair F-102A and F-106A delta-winged interceptors. The last F-86Ls left ADC service by 1960.

As F-102A and F-106A interceptors became available to the ADC, the F-86Ls were transferred to Air National Guard units beginning in late 1957. The first ANG squadron to receive the F-86L was the 108th, based at O'Hare Field in Chicago. The following ANG squadrons got F-86Ls: 108, 111, 124, 127, 128, 133, 146, 147, 151, 156, 156, 158, 159, 173, 181, 182, 185, 187, 190, 191, 192, 194, 197, and 199.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, six ANG F-86L squadrons were on alert. The last F-86Ls were withdrawn from ANG service during the summer of 1965.

In 1964, seventeen F-86Ls were supplied to the Royal Thai Air Force. So far as I am aware, Thailand was the only foreign user of the F-86L. They served with No. 12 Squadron at Don Maung Airport until they were finally retired in 1976.

Specification of the F-86L:

Engine: One General Electric J47-GE-33, 5550 dry, 7650 with afterburner. Performance: Maximum speed: 693 mph at sea level, 616 mph at 40,000 feet. Initial climb rate was 12,200 feet per minute, and service ceiling was 49,600 feet. Dimensions: wingspan 39 feet 1 inch, length 40 feet 3 inches, height 15 feet, wing area 313 square feet. Weights: 13,822 pounds empty, 18,484 pounds gross.


  1. F-86 Sabre in Action, Larry Davis, Squadron/Signal Publications, 1992.
  2. The North American Sabre, Ray Wagner, MacDonald, 1963.
  3. The American Fighter, Enzo Angelucci and Peter Bowers, Orion, 1987.
  4. The World Guide to Combat Planes, William Green, MacDonald, 1966.
  5. The World's Fighting Planes, William Green, Doubleday, 1964.
  6. Flash of the Sabre, Jack Dean, Wings Vol 22, No 5, 1992.
  7. F-86 Sabre--History of the Sabre and FJ Fury, Robert F. Dorr, Motorbooks International, 1993.
  8. E-mail from Chris Werb with correction on ANG use.

By Joe Baugher