North American F-86A Sabre
Single-engine single-seat low-swept-wing tri-gear jet fighter, U.S.A.

Archive Photos [1]

Archive Photos [1,2,3]

[North American F-86A-5-NA Sabre (NA-151, AF 48-260, c/n 151-43629) on display (2/16/2004) at the National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Chantilly, Virginia (Photo by Jim Hough, 2/16/2004)]

[North American F-86A-5-NA Sabre (NA-161, AF 49-1067, c/n 161-61, as AF 49-1236/FU-236) on display (5/4/1999) at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright Patterson AFB, Dayton, Ohio (Photo by John Shupek copyright © 1999 Skytamer Images)]

[North American F-86A-5-NA Sabre “Ole Leroy/The Bald Eagles” (NA-161, AF 49-1272, c/n 161-266) on display (12/2007) at the Fresno-Yosemite IAP, California (Photo by Ron Strong, 12/2007]

North American Aviation F-86 “Saber” Series Overview [4]

    North American F-86 Sabre
  • Role: Fighter aircraft
  • National origin: United States
  • Manufacturer: North American Aviation
  • First flight: 1 October 1947
  • Introduction: 1949, with USAF
  • Retired: 1994, Bolivia
  • Primary users: United States Air Force; Japan Air Self-Defense Force; Spanish Air Force; Republic of Korea Air Force
  • Number built: 9,860
  • Unit cost: USD $219,457 (F-86E)
  • Developed from: North American FJ-1 Fury
  • Variants: CAC Sabre; Canadair Sabre; North American F-86D Sabre; North American FJ-2/-3 Fury
  • Developed into: North American FJ-4 Fury; North American YF-93; North American F-100 Super Sabre

The North American F-86 Sabre, sometimes called the Sabre jet, is a transonic jet fighter aircraft. Produced by North American Aviation, the Sabre is best known as the United States' first swept wing fighter that could counter the similarly-winged Soviet MiG-15 in high-speed dogfights over the skies of the Korean War (1950-1953). Considered one of the best and most important fighter aircraft in that war, the F-86 is also rated highly in comparison with fighters of other eras. Although it was developed in the late 1940s and was outdated by the end of the 1950s, the F-86 Sabre proved versatile and adaptable and continued as a front-line fighter in numerous air forces until the last active operational examples were retired by the Bolivian Air Force in 1994.

Its success led to an extended production run of more than 7,800 aircraft between 1949 and 1956, in the United States, Japan, and Italy. Variants were built in Canada and Australia. The Canadair Sabre added another 1,815 airframes, and the significantly redesigned CAC Sabre (sometimes known as the Avon Sabre or CAC CA-27), had a production run of 112. The Sabre was by far the most-produced Western jet fighter, with total production of all variants at 9,860 units.

Development [4]

North American Aviation had produced the propeller-powered P-51 Mustang in World War II, which saw combat against some of the first operational jet fighters. By late 1944, North American proposed its first jet fighter to the U.S. Navy, which became the FJ-1 Fury. It was an unexceptional transitional jet fighter that had a straight wing derived from the P-51 Mustang. Initial proposals to meet a United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) requirement for a medium-range, single-seat, high-altitude jet-powered day escort fighter/fighter bomber were drafted in mid-1944. In early 1945, North American Aviation submitted four designs. The USAAF selected one design over the others, and granted North American a contract to build three examples of the XP-86 (Experimental Pursuit). Deleting specific requirements from the FJ-1 Fury, coupled with other modifications, allowed the XP-86 to be lighter and considerably faster than the FJ-1 Fury, with an estimated top speed of 582 mph (937 km/h), versus the Fury's 547 mph (880 km/h). Despite the gain in speed, early studies revealed the XP-86 would have the same performance as its rivals, the Lockheed XP-80 and Republic XP-84. It was also feared that, because these designs were more advanced in their development stages, the XP-86 would be canceled.

Crucially, the XP-86 would not be able to meet the required top speed of 600 mph (970 km/h); North American had to quickly come up with a radical change that could leapfrog it over its rivals. The North American F-86 Sabre was the first American aircraft to take advantage of flight research data seized from the German aerodynamicists at the end of World War II. This data showed that a thin swept wing could greatly reduce drag and delay compressibility problems that had bedeviled even prop-powered fighters such as the Lockheed P-38 Lightning approaching the speed of sound. By 1944, German engineers and designers had established the benefits of swept wings based on experimental designs dating back to 1940. Study of the data showed that a swept wing would solve their speed problem, while a slat on the wing's leading edge that extended at low speeds would enhance low-speed stability.

Because development of the XP-86 had reached an advanced stage, the idea of changing the sweep of the wing was met with resistance from some senior North American staff. Despite stiff opposition, after good results were obtained in wind tunnel tests, the swept-wing concept was eventually adopted. Performance requirements were met by incorporating a 35° swept-back wing, using NACA 4-digit modified airfoils, using NACA 0009.5-64 at the root and NACA 0008.5-64 at the tip, with an automatic slat design based on that of the Messerschmitt Me.262 and an electrically adjustable stabilizer, another feature of the Me.262A. Many Sabres had the "6-3 wing" (a fixed leading edge with 6 inches extended chord at the root and 3 inches extended chord at the tip) retrofitted after combat experience was gained in Korea. This modification changed the wing airfoils to the NACA 0009-64 mod at the root and the NACA 0008.1-64 mod at the tip.

Delays caused by the major redesign meant that manufacturing did not begin until after World War II. The XP-86 prototype, which would lead to the F-86 Sabre, was rolled out on 8 August 1947. The maiden flight occurred on 1 October 1947 with George Welch at the controls, flying from Muroc Dry Lake (now Edwards AFB), California.

The United States Air Force's Strategic Air Command had F-86 Sabres in service from 1949 through 1950. The F-86s were assigned to the 22nd Bomb Wing, the 1st Fighter Wing and the 1st Fighter Interceptor Wing. The F-86 was the primary U.S. air combat fighter during the Korean War, with significant numbers of the first three production models seeing combat.

The F-86 Sabre was also produced under license by Canadair, Ltd as the Canadair Sabre. The final variant of the Canadian Sabre, the Mark 6, is generally rated as having the highest capabilities of any Sabre version made anywhere.

Breaking Sound Barrier and Other Records [4]

The F-86A set its first official world speed record of 671 miles per hour (1,080 km/h) on September 15, 1948 at Muroc Dry Lake flown by Major Richard L. Johnson, USAF.

The Air Force announced that the XF-86 had exceeded Mach 1 in a dive on April 26, 1948. But shortly before his death in 1996, North American aerodynamicist Ed Horkey claimed that George "Wheaties" Welch had exceeded Mach 1 much earlier. In "Aces Wild," former NA test pilot Al Blackburn suggests dates as soon as October 1, 1947. Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier on 14 October 1947 in the rocket-propelled Bell X-1 during level flight, making it the first true supersonic aircraft. Five years later, on 18 May 1953, Jacqueline Cochran became the first woman to break the sound barrier, flying a "one-off" Canadian-built F-86 Sabre Mk 3, alongside Chuck Yeager. Col. K. K. Compton won the 1951 Bendix air race in an F-86A with an average speed of 553.76 mph.

Design [4]


The F-86 was produced as both a fighter-interceptor and fighter-bomber. Several variants were introduced over its production life, with improvements and different armament implemented (see below). The XP-86 was fitted with a General Electric J35-C-3 jet engine that produced 4,000 lbf (18 kN) of thrust. This engine was built by GM's Chevrolet division until production was turned over to Allison. The General Electric J47-GE-7 engine was used in the F-86A-1 producing a thrust of 5,200 lbf (23 kN) while the General Electric J73-GE-3 engine of the F-86H produced 9,250 lbf (41 kN) of thrust. The fighter-bomber version (F-86H) could carry up to 2,000 lb (907 kg) of bombs, including an external fuel-type tank that could carry napalm. Unguided 2.75 in (70 mm) rockets were used on some fighters on training missions, but 5 inch (127 mm) rockets were later carried on combat operations. The F-86 could also be fitted with a pair of external jettisonable jet fuel tanks (four on the F-86F beginning in 1953) that extended the range of the aircraft. Both the interceptor and fighter-bomber versions carried six 0.50 in (12.7 mm) M3 Browning machine guns with electrically boosted feed in the nose (later versions of the F-86H carried four 20 mm (0.79 in) cannons instead of machine guns). Firing at a rate of 1,200 rounds per minute, the .50 in (12.7 mm) guns were harmonized to converge at 1,000 ft (300 m) in front of the aircraft, using armor-piercing (AP) and armor-piercing incendiary (API) rounds, with one armor-piercing incendiary tracer (APIT) for every five AP or API rounds. The API rounds used during the Korean War contained magnesium, which were designed to ignite upon impact but burned poorly above 35,000 ft (11,000 m) as oxygen levels were insufficient to sustain combustion at that height. Initial planes were fitted with the Mark 18 manual-ranging computing gun sight. The last 24 F-86A-5-NAs and F-86Es were equipped with the A-1CM gunsight-AN/APG-30 radar, which used radar to automatically compute a target's range, which later proved to be advantageous against MiG opponents over Korea.

Flying Characteristics

The Sabre's swept wings and jet engine produced a flying experience that was very different from the pinnacle generation of propeller-driven fighters that were operational in the early days of jet fighter development in the 1940s and early 1950s. The transition from props to jets was not without accidents and incidents even for experienced fighter pilots. Early on in the jet age some US manufacturers instituted safety and transition programs where experienced test and production pilots would tour operational fighter squadrons to provide instruction and demonstrations designed to lower the accident rate.

As well, the ongoing technical development and long production history of the F-86 resulted in some significant differences in the handling and flying characteristics between the various F-86 models. Some of the important changes to the design included the switch from an elevator/stabilizer to an all-flying tail, the discontinuation of leading edge slats for a solid leading edge with increased internal fuel capacity, increased engine power and internal missile bay (F-86D). Each of these design changes impacted the handling and flying characteristics of the F-86 and not necessarily for the better. In the case of the solid leading edge and increased internal fuel capacity, the design change produced increased combat performance but exacerbated a dangerous and often fatal handling characteristic upon takeoff if the nose was raised prematurely from the runway. This 'over-rotation' danger is now a major area of instruction and concern for current F-86 pilots. The 1972 Sacramento Canadair Sabre accident resulting in 22 fatalities and 28 other casualties was a result of over-rotation on takeoff.

Operational History [4]

Korean War

The North American F-86 Sabre entered service with the United States Air Force in 1949, joining the 1st Fighter Wing's 94th Fighter Squadron and became the primary air-to-air jet fighter used by the Americans in the Korean War. While earlier straight-winged jets such as the Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star and Republic F-84 Thunderjet initially achieved air victories, when the swept wing Soviet MiG-15 was introduced in November 1950, it outperformed all UN-based aircraft. In response, three squadrons of F-86s were rushed to the Far East in December. Early variants of the F-86 could not outturn, but they could out dive the MiG-15, although the MiG-15 was superior to the early F-86 models in ceiling, acceleration, rate of climb and zoom. With the introduction of the F-86F in 1953, the two aircraft were more closely matched, with many combat-experienced pilots claiming a marginal superiority for the F-86F. The heavier firepower of the MiG (and many other contemporary fighters) was addressed by fielding eight cannon armed F-86Fs in the waning months of the war. Despite being able to fire only two of the four 20 mm cannon at a time, the experiment was considered a success. The MiGs flown from bases in Manchuria by Chinese, North Korean, and Soviet VVS pilots were pitted against two squadrons of the 4th Fighter-Interceptor Wing forward-based at K-14, Kimpo, Korea.

Many of the American pilots were experienced World War II veterans, while the North Koreans and the Chinese lacked combat experience, thus accounting for much of the F-86's success. However, United Nations pilots suspected many of the MiG-15s were being flown by experienced Soviet pilots who also had combat experience in World War II. Former Communist sources now acknowledge Soviet pilots initially flew the majority of MiG-15s that fought in Korea, and dispute that more MiG-15s than F-86s were shot down in air combat. Later in the war, North Korean and Chinese pilots increased their participation as combat flyers. The North Koreans and their allies periodically contested air superiority in MiG Alley, an area near the mouth of the Yalu River (the boundary between Korea and China) over which the most intense air-to-air combat took place. Although the F-86A could be safely flown through Mach 1, the F-86E's all-moving tailplane greatly improved maneuverability at high speeds. The MiG-15 could not safely exceed Mach 0.92, an important disadvantage in near-sonic air combat. Far greater emphasis has been given to the training, aggressiveness and experience of the F-86 pilots. American Sabre pilots were trained at Nellis, where the casualty rate of their training was so high they were told, "If you ever see the flag at full staff, take a picture." Despite rules of engagement to the contrary, F-86 units frequently initiated combat over MiG bases in the Manchurian "sanctuary." The hunting of MiGs in Manchuria would lead to many reels of gun camera footage being 'lost' if the reel revealed the pilot had violated Chinese airspace.

The needs of combat operation balanced against the need to maintain an adequate force structure in Western Europe led to the conversion of the 51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing from the Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star to the North American F-86 Sabre in December 1951. Two fighter-bomber wings, the 8th and 18th, converted to the F-86F in the spring of 1953. No. 2 Squadron, South African Air Force also distinguished itself flying F-86s in Korea as part of the 18 FBW.

By the end of hostilities, F-86 pilots were credited with shooting down 792 MiGs for a loss of only 78 Sabres, a victory ratio of 10:1. More recent research by Dorr, Lake and Thompson has claimed the actual ratio is closer to 2:1. The Soviets claimed to have downed over 600 Sabres, together with the Chinese claims, although these are thought by some to be an overcount as they cannot be reconciled with the 78 Sabres recorded as lost by the US. A recent RAND report made reference to "recent scholarship" of F-86 vs. MiG-15 combat over Korea and concluded that the actual kill:loss ratio for the F-86 was 1.8:1 overall, and likely closer to 1.3:1 against MiGs flown by Soviet pilots. Based on Soviet archival data, 335 Soviet MiG-15s are known to have been admitted as lost by the Soviets over Korea. Chinese claims of their losses amount to 224 MiG-15s over Korea. North Korean losses are not known, but according to North Korean defectors their air force lost around 100 MiG-15s during the war. Thus a total of 659 MiG-15s are admitted as being lost, all but a handful to F-86 Sabres, while USAF claims of their losses amount to 78 F-86 Sabres,. Of the 41 American pilots who earned the designation of ace during the Korean war, all but one flew the F-86 Sabre, the exception being a Navy Vought F4U Corsair night fighter pilot.

Cold War

In addition to its distinguished service in Korea, USAF F-86s also served in various stateside and overseas roles throughout the early part of the Cold War. As newer Century Series fighters came on line, North American F-86 Sabres were transferred to Air National Guard (ANG) units or the air forces of allied nations. The last ANG F-86s continued in U.S. service until 1970.

1958 Taiwan Strait Crisis

The Republic of China Air Force of Taiwan was an early recipient of surplus USAF Sabres. From December 1954 to June 1956, the ROC Air Force received 160 ex-USAF F-86F-1-NA through F-86F-30-NA fighters. By June 1958, the Nationalist Chinese had built up an impressive fighter force, with 320 F-86Fs and seven RF-86Fs having been delivered.

Sabres and MiGs were shortly to battle each other in the skies of Asia once again in the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis. In August 1958, the Chinese Communists of the People's Republic of China attempted to force the Nationalists off of the islands of Quemoy and Matsu by shelling and blockade. Nationalist F-86Fs flying CAP over the islands found themselves confronted by Communist MiG-15s and MiG-17s, and there were numerous dogfights.

During these battles, the Nationalist Sabres introduced a new element into aerial warfare. Under a secret effort designated Operation Black Magic, the U.S. Navy had provided the ROC with the AIM-9 Sidewinder, its first infrared-homing air-to-air missile, which was just entering service with the United States. A small team from VMF-323, a Marine FJ-4 Fury squadron with later assistance from China Lake and North American Aviation, initially modified 20 of the F-86 Sabres to carry a pair of Sidewinders on underwing launch rails and instructed the ROC pilots in their use flying profiles with USAF F-100s simulating the MiG-17. The MiGs enjoyed an altitude advantage over the Sabres, as they had in Korea, and Communist Chinese MiGs routinely cruised over the Nationalist Sabres, only engaging when they had a favorable position. The Sidewinder took away that advantage and proved to be devastatingly effective against the MiGs.

Indo-Pakistani War of 1965

In 1954, Pakistan began receiving the first of a total of 120 F-86F Sabres. Many of these aircraft were the F-86F-35 from USAF stocks, but some were from the later F-86F-40-NA production block, made specifically for export. Many of the -35s were brought up to -40 standards before they were delivered to Pakistan, but a few remained -35s. The F-86 was operated by nine PAF squadrons at various times: Nos. 5, 11, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 and 26 Squadrons.

During the 22-day Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 the F-86 became the mainstay of the PAF, though the Sabre was no longer a world-class fighter (due to availability of Supersonic Jets). However many sources state the F-86 gave the PAF a technological advantage.

Air to Air Combat

In the air-to-air combat of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, the PAF Sabres claimed to have shot down 15 IAF aircraft, comprising nine Hunters, four Vampires and two Gnats. India, however, admitted a loss of 14 combat aircraft to the PAF's F-86s. The F-86s of the PAF had the advantage of being armed with AIM-9B/GAR-8 Sidewinder missiles whereas none of its Indian adversaries had this capability. Despite this, the IAF claimed to have shot down four PAF Sabres in air-to-air combat. This claim is disputed by the PAF, which admitted to having lost seven F-86 Sabres but only three of them during air-to-air battles.

The top Pakistani ace of the conflict was Sqn. Ldr. Muhammad Mahmood Alam, who ended the conflict claiming nine confirmed and two probable kills/damaged aircraft.

Ground Attack

The aircraft remained a potent weapon for use against ground targets. On morning of 6 September, six F-86s of No. 19 Sqn struck advancing columns of the Indian army using 5 in (127 mm) rockets along with their six .50 in (12.7 mm) M3 Browning machine guns. On the same day, eight F-86 fighters of the same squadron executed an attack against IAF Pathankot. No. 14 PAF Squadron earned the nickname "Tailchoppers" for their successful attack against the Indian bomber base in Kalaikunda.

PAF claims of destroying around 36 aircraft on the ground at various Indian airfields. However, India only acknowledges 22 aircraft lost on the ground to strikes partly attributed to the PAF's F-86s and its bomber Martin B-57 Canberra.

Indo-Pakistani War of 1971

The Canadair Sabres (Mark 6), acquired from ex-Luftwaffe stocks via Iran, were the mainstay of the PAF's day fighter operations during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, and had the challenge of dealing with the threat from IAF.

At the beginning of the war, PAF had eight squadrons of F-86 Sabres. Along with the newer fighter types such as the Dassault Mirage III and the Shenyang F-6, the Sabre were tasked with the majority of operations during the war. In East Pakistan only one PAF F-86 squadron (14th Squadron) was deployed to face the numerical superiority of the IAF.

PAF F-86s performed well, with Pakistani claims of downing 31 Indian aircraft in air-to-air combat. These included 17 Hawker Hunters, eight Sukhoi Su-7 "Fitters", one MiG 21 and three Gnats while losing seven F-86s. The most interesting of these was a battle between two Sabres and four MiG-21s. One MiG was shot down, without any Sabres lost. This was achieved due to better low speed performance of the Sabre in comparison to the delta winged MiG-21.

India however claims to have shot down 11 PAF Sabres for the loss of 11 combat aircraft to the PAF F-86s. The IAF numerical superiority overwhelmed the sole East Pakistan Sabres squadron (and other military aircraft) which were either shot down, or grounded by Pakistani fratricide as they could not hold out, enabling complete air superiority for the Indian Air Force.

After this war, Pakistan slowly phased out its F-86 Sabres and replaced them with Chinese F-6 (Soviet MiG-19 based) fighters. The last of the Sabres were withdrawn from service in PAF in 1980. They are now displayed in Pakistan Air Force Museum and in the cities in which their pilots lived.

Guinea-Bissau War of Independence

In 1958, the Forca Aerea Portuguesa (FAP) received 50 F-86Fs from ex-USAF stocks. A small number of former Norwegian Air Force F-86Fs were also purchased as spares in 1968-69.

The Portuguese Air Force (FAP) deployed some of its F-86F Sabres to Portuguese Guinea in 1961, being based at AB2 - Bissalanca Air Base, Bissau. These aircraft formed "Detachment 52", initially equipped with eight F-86Fs (serials: 5307, 5314, 5322, 5326, 5354, 5356, 5361 and 5362) from the Esquadra 51, based at the BA5 - Monte Real Air Base. These aircraft were used in the Guinea-Bissau War of Independence, in ground attack and close support operations against the insurgent forces. In August 1962, 5314 overshot the runway during emergency landing with bombs still attached on underwing hardpoints and burned out. F-86F 5322 was shot down by enemy ground fire on 31 May 1963; the pilot ejected safely and was recovered. Several other aircraft suffered combat damage, but were repaired. In 1964, 16 F-86Fs based at Bissalanca returned to mainland Portugal due to U.S. pressure. They had flown 577 combat sorties, of which 430 were ground attack and close air support missions.

Philippine Air Force

The Philippine Air Force first received the Sabres in the form of F-86Fs in 1957, replacing the North American P-51 Mustang as the Philippine Air Force's primary interceptor. F-86s first operated from Basa Air Base, known infamously as the Nest of Vipers where the 5th Fighter Wing of the PAF was based. Later on, in 1960, the PAF acquired the F-86D as the first all weather interceptor of the PAF. The most notable use of the F-86 Sabres was in the Blue Diamonds aerobatic display team, which operated eight Sabres until the arrival of the newer, supersonic Northrop F-5. The F-86s were subsequently phased out of service in the 1970s as the Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighter and Vought F-8 Crusaders became the primary fighters and interceptors of the Philippine Air Force.

Antonio Bautista was a Blue Diamonds pilot and a decorated officer. He was killed on 11 January 1974 during a combat sortie against rebels in the south of the country.

Soviet Sabre

During the Korean War, the Soviets were searching for an intact U.S. F-86 Sabre for evaluation/study purposes. Their search was frustrated, largely due to the U.S. military's policy of destroying their weapons and equipment once they had been disabled or abandoned; and in the case of U.S. aircraft, USAF pilots destroyed most of their downed Sabres by strafing or bombing them. However, on one occasion an F-86 was downed in the tidal area of a beach and subsequently was submerged, preventing its destruction. The aircraft was ferried to Moscow and a new OKB (Soviet Experimental Design Bureau) was established to study the F-86, which later became part of the Sukhoi OKB. "At least one F-86 … was sent to the Soviet Union, the Russians admitted, and other planes and prizes such as U.S. G-suits and radar gun sights also went." The Soviets studied and copied the optical gunsight and radar from the captured aircraft to produce the ASP-4N gunsight and SRC-3 radar. Installed in the MiG-17, the gunsight system would later be used against American fighters in the Vietnam war. The F-86 studies also contributed to the development of aircraft aluminum alloys such as V-95.

Reports in 2012 from newly declassified documents confirmed that the Soviets had acquired some US aircraft technology. In several accounts by American pilots from late 1951 into 1952, at least one F-86 was in operation under Soviet control during the Korean War. The pilots report having come under fire from US planes, including from the F-86.

Feather Duster

The old but nimble MiG-17 had become such a serious threat against the Republic F-105 Thunderchief over North Vietnam that the U.S. Air Force created project "Feather Duster" to test which tactics supersonic American fighters could use against fighters like the MiG-17. Air National Guard F-86H units proved to be an ideal stand-in for the Soviet jets. One pilot remarked that "In any envelope except nose down and full throttle", either the North American F-100 Super Sabre or Republic F-105 Thunderchief was inferior to the North American F-86H Sabre in a dogfight.

North American F-86 Sabre Variants [4]

  • North American XF-86 Sabre (NA-140): Three prototypes, originally designated XP-86, North American model NA-140.
  • North American YF-86A Sabre: This was the first prototype fitted with a General Electric J47 turbojet engine.
  • North American F-86A Sabre (NA-151, NA-161): 554 built, North American model NA-151 (F-86A-1 block and first order of A-5 block) and NA-161 (second F-86A-5 block).
  • North American DF-86A Sabre (NA-151, NA-161): A few F-86A conversions as drone directors.
  • North American RF-86A Sabre (NA-151, NA-161): 11 F-86A conversions with three cameras for reconnaissance.
  • North American F-86B Sabre (NA-152): 188 ordered as upgraded A-model with wider fuselage and larger tires but delivered as F-86A-5, North American model NA-152.
  • North American F-86C Sabre (NA-157): Original designation for the YF-93A, two built, 48-317 & 48-318, order for 118 cancelled, North American model NA-157.
  • North American YF-86D Sabre (NA-164): Prototype all-weather interceptor originally ordered as YF-95A, two built but designation changed to YF-86D, North American model NA-164.
  • North American F-86D Sabre (NA-165, NA-173, NA-177, NA-190, NA-201: Production transonic all-weather search-radar equipped interceptor originally designated F-95A, 2,506 built. The F-86D had only 25 percent commonality with other Sabre variants, with a larger fuselage, larger afterburning engine, and a distinctive nose radome. Sole armament was Mk. 4 unguided rockets instead of machine guns. F-86Ls were upgraded F-86Ds.
  • North American F-86L Sabre (NA-165, NA-173, NA-177, NA-190, NA-201: 981 Modified F-86Ds.
  • North American F-86E Sabre (NA-170, NA-172, NA-178: Improved flight control system and an "all-flying tail". This system changed to a full power-operated control with an "artificial feel" built into the aircraft's controls to give the pilot forces on the stick that were still conventional, but light enough for superior combat control. It improved high-speed maneuverability; 456 built, North American model NA-170 (F-86E-1 and F-86E-5 blocks), NA-172, essentially the F-86F airframe with the F-86E engine (F-86E-10 and F-86E-15 blocks); 60 of these built by Canadair for USAF (F-86E-6). 188 NA-178 F-86Es canceled.
  • North American F-86E(M) Sabre (NA-170, NA-172): Designation for ex-RAF Sabres diverted to other NATO air forces.
  • North American QF-86E Sabre (NA-170, NA-172): Designation for surplus RCAF Sabre Mk.Vs modified to target drones.
  • North American F-86F Sabre (NA-172, NA-176, NA-191, NA-193, NA-202, NA-206, NA-210, NA-227, NA-231, NA-238, NA-256: Uprated engine and larger "6-3" wing without leading edge slats, 2,239 built; North American model NA-172 (F-86F-1 through F-15 blocks), NA-176 (F-86F-20 and F-86F-25 blocks), NA-191 (F-86F-30 and F-86F-35 blocks), NA-193 (F-86F-26 block), NA-202 (F-86F-35 block), NA-227 (first two orders of F-86F-40 blocks comprising 280 aircraft that reverted to leading edge wing slats of an improved design), NA-231 (70 in third F-86F-40 block order), NA-238 (110 in fourth F-86F-40 block order), and NA-256 (120 in final F-86F-40 block order); 300 additional airframes in this series assembled by Mitsubishi in Japan for Japanese Air Self-Defense Force. Sabre F-86Fs had much improved high-speed agility, coupled with a higher landing speed of over 145 mph (233 km/h). The F-86F-35 block had provisions for a new task: the nuclear tactical attack with one of the new small "nukes" ("second generation" nuclear ordnance). The F-86F-40 had a new slatted wing, with a slight decrease of speed, but also a much better agility at high and low speed with a landing speed reduced to 124 mph (200 km/h). The USAF upgraded many of previous F-86F versions to the F-86F-40 standard. One F-86E and two F-86Fs were modified for improved performance via rocket boost. F-86F-30 (52-4608) had a Rocketdyne AR2-3 with 3-6000 lb thrust at 35,000 feet, giving a top speed of Mach 1.22 at 60,000 feet.
  • North American F-86F-2 Sabre: Designation for 10 aircraft modified to carry the M39 cannon in place of the M3 .50 caliber machine gun "six-pack". Two F-86Es and Eight F-86Fs were production-line aircraft modified in October 1952 with enlarged and strengthened gun bays, then flight tested at Edwards Air Force Base and the Air Proving Ground at Eglin Air Force Base in November. Eight were shipped to Japan in December, and seven forward-deployed to Kimpo Airfield as "Project GunVal" for a 16-week combat field trial in early 1953. Two were lost to engine compressor stalls after ingesting excessive propellant gases from the cannons.
  • North American QF-86F Sabre: About 50 former Japan Self-Defense Forces (JASDF) F-86F airframes converted to drones for use as targets by the U.S. Navy.
  • North American RF-86F Sabre (NA-191): Some F-86F-30s converted with three cameras for reconnaissance; also 18 Japan Self-Defense Forces (JASDF) aircraft similarly converted.
  • North American TF-86F Sabre (NA-204, NA-216): Two F-86F converted to two-seat training configuration with lengthened fuselage and slatted wings under North American model NA-204.
  • North American F-86G Sabre (NA-177): 406 aircraft canceled, became F-86D-20.
  • North American YF-86H Sabre (NA-187): Extensively redesigned fighter-bomber model with deeper fuselage, uprated engine, longer wings and power-boosted tailplane, two built as North American model NA-187.
  • North American F-86H Sabre (NA-187, NA-203): Production model, 473 built, with Low Altitude Bombing System (LABS) and provision for nuclear weapon, North American model NA-187 (F-86H-1 and H-5 blocks) and NA-203 (F-86H-10 block).
  • North American QF-86H Sabre: (NA-187, NA-203) Target conversion of 29 airframes for use at United States Naval Weapons Center.
  • North American F-86J Sabre (NA-167): Single F-86A-5-NA, 49-1069, flown with Orenda turbojet under North American model NA-167 - same designation reserved for A-models flown with the Canadian engines but project not proceeded with.
  • North American YF-86K Sabre (NA-205): Modified F-86D-40, 52-3630, and 52–3004.
  • North American F-86K Sabre (NA-207, NA-213, NA-221, NA-232, NA-242): North American F-86D Sabre NATO airframes.
  • North American F-86L Sabre (NA-165, NA-173, NA-177, NA-190, NA-201: 981 Modified F-86Ds.
  • North American YF-93A (NA-157): Redesignated F-86C Sabre.
  • North American F-93A (NA-166): Canceled All-Weather version of the YF-93A.

Commonwealth Aircraft Corp. (CAC) Sabres [4]

Two types based on the U.S. F-86F were built under licence by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) in Australia, for the Royal Australian Air Force as the CA-26 (one prototype) and CA-27 (production variant). The RAAF operated the CA-27 from 1956 to 1971. Ex-RAAF Avon Sabres were operated by the Royal Malaysian Air Force (TUDM) between 1969 and 1972. From 1973 to 1975, 23 Avon Sabres were donated to the Indonesian Air Force (TNI-AU); five of these were ex-Malaysian aircraft.

The CAC Sabres included a 60% fuselage redesign, to accommodate the Rolls-Royce Avon Mk.26 engine, which had roughly 50% more thrust than the J47, as well as 30 mm Aden cannons and AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles. As a consequence of its powerplant, the Australian-built Sabres are commonly referred to as the Avon Sabre. CAC manufactured 112 of these aircraft.

  • Commonwealth Aircraft Corp. CA-27 Mk 30: 21 built, wing slats, Avon 20 engine.
  • Commonwealth Aircraft Corp. CA-27 Mk 31: 21 built, 6-3 wing, Avon 20 engine.
  • Commonwealth Aircraft Corp. CA-27 Mk 32: 69 built, four wing pylons, F-86F fuel capacity, Avon 26 engine.

Canadair of Canada Sabres [4]

The F-86 was also manufactured by Canadair in Canada as the CL-13 Sabre to replace its de Havilland Vampires, with the following production models:

  • Canadair of Canada Sabre Mk.1: 1 built, prototype F-86A.
  • Canadair of Canada Sabre Mk.2: 350 built, F-86E-type, 60 to USAF, three to RAF, 287 to RCAF.
  • Canadair of Canada Sabre Mk.3: 1 built in Canada, test-bed for the Orenda jet engine.
  • Canadair of Canada Sabre Mk.4: 438 built, production Mk 3, 10 to RCAF, 428 to RAF as Sabre F-4.
  • Canadair of Canada Sabre Mk.5: 370 built, F-86F-type with Orenda engine, 295 to RCAF, 75 to Luftwaffe.
  • Canadair of Canada Sabre Mk.6: 655 built, 390 to RCAF, 225 to Luftwaffe, six to Colombia and 34 to South Africa.

Operators [4]

  • Argentina: Argentine Air Force. Acquired 28 F-86Fs, 26 September 1960, FAA s/n CA-101 through CA-128. The Sabres were already on reserve status at the time of the Falklands War but were reinstated to active service to bolster air defenses against possible Chilean involvement. Finally retired in 1986.
  • Belgium: Belgian Air Force. 5 F-86F Sabres delivered, no operational unit.
  • Bolivia: Bolivian Air Force. Acquired 10 F-86Fs from Venezuelan Air Force October 1973, assigned to Brigada Aérea 21, Grupo Aéreo de Caza 32, they were reported to have finally been retired from service in 1994, making them the last Sabres on active front line service anywhere in the world.
  • Canada: Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF).
  • Colombia: Colombian Air Force. Acquired four F-86Fs from Spanish Air Force (s/n 2027/2028), five USAF F-86F (s/n 51-13226) and other nine Canadair Mk.6; assigned to Escuadron de Caza-Bombardero.
  • Denmark: Royal Danish Air Force. 59 F-86Fs in service from 1958 - 1966.
  • Ethiopia: Ethiopian Air Force. Acquired 14 F-86Fs in 1960.
  • Germany: German Air Force (Luftwaffe).
  • Honduras: Honduran Air Force. Acquired and 10 CL.13 Mk.2 (F-86E) from Yugoslavia.
  • Iran: Imperial Iranian Air Force. Acquired an unknown number of F-86Fs.
  • Iraq: Iraqi Air Force. Bought some units of the type but they were never operated and were returned.
  • Japan: Japanese Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF). Acquired 180 U.S. F-86Fs, 1955-1957. Mitsubishi built 300 F-86Fs under license 1956-1961, and were assigned to 10 fighter hikotai or squadrons. JASDF called F-86F the "Kyokuko" (Rising Sunbeam) and F-86D the "Gekko" (Moon Light). Their Blue Impulse Aerobatic Team, a total of 18 F-models were converted to reconnaissance version in 1962. Some aircraft were returned to the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, California, as drones.
  • Norway: Royal Norwegian Air Force. Acquired 115 F-86Fs, 1957-1958; and assigned to seven squadrons, Nos. 331, 332, 334, 336, 337, 338 and 339.
  • Pakistan: Pakistani Air Force. Acquired 102 U.S.-built F-86F-35-NA and F-86F-40-NAs, last of North American Aviation's production line, 1954-1960s.
  • Peru: Peruvian Air Force. Acquired 26 U.S.-built F-86Fs in 1955, assigned to Escuadrón Aéreo 111, Grupo Aéreo No.11 at Talara air force base. Finally retired in 1979.
  • Philippines: Philippine Air Force. Acquired 50 F-86Fs in 1957. Retired in the late 1970s.
  • Portugal: Portuguese Air Force. A total of 65 acquired: 50 U.S.-built F-86Fs, 1958, including some from USAF's 531st Fighter Bomber Squadron, Chambley and 15 ex-Royal Norwegian Air Force. In Portugal, they served in Squadron 201 (formerly designated as Sqn. 50 and later Sqn. 51, before being renamed in 1978) and Squadron 52, both based at Air Base No. 5, Monte Real. In 1961, Portuguese Air Force deployed some of its F-86Fs to Portuguese Guinea, where they formed Detachment 52, based at Base-Aerodrome No. 2, Bissalanca/Bissau.
  • Taiwan (Republic of China): Republic of China Air Force. Acquired 320 U.S.-built F-86Fs,7 RF-86Fs,18 F-86Ds, The 18 F-86Ds back to U.S. military and US send 6 to Republic of Korea Air Force, 8 to Philippine Air Force in 1966.
  • Saudi Arabia: Royal Saudi Air Force. Acquired 16 U.S.-built F-86Fs in 1958, and three F-86Fs from Norway in 1966; and assigned to RSAF No. 7 Squadron at Dharhran.
  • South Africa: South African Air Force. Acquired on loan 22 U.S.-built F-86F-30s during the Korean War and saw action with 2 Squadron SAAF.
  • South Korea: Republic of Korea Air Force. Acquired U.S.-built 112 F-86Fs and 10 RF-86Fs, beginning 20 June 1955; and assigned to ROKAF 10th Wing. It also served with the ROKAF Black Eagles aerobatic team for annual event from 1959 to 1966. The last F-86s retired in 1990.
  • Spain: Spanish Air Force. Acquired 270 U.S.-built F-86Fs, 1955-1958; designated C.5s and assigned to 5 wings: Ala de Caza 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6. Retired 1972.
  • Thailand: Royal Thai Air Force. Acquired 40 U.S.-built F-86Fs, 1962; assigned to RTAF Squadrons, Nos. 12 (Ls), 13, and 43.
  • Tunisia: Tunisian Air Force. Acquired 15 used U.S.-built F-86F in 1969.
  • Turkey: Turkish Air Force. Acquired 12 U.S.-built F-86Fs.
  • United Nations: United Nations Operation in the Congo. Received 5 F-86E(M)s from Italy as MAP redeployment 1963, crewed by Philippine pilots; F-86F units from Ethiopia and Iran also used in ONUC.
  • United States: United States Air Force.
  • Venezuela: Venezuelan Air Force. Acquired 30 U.S.-built F-86Fs, October 1955 - December 1960; and assigned to one group, Grupo Aéreo De Caza No. 12, three other squadrons.
  • Yugoslavia: Yugoslav Air Force. Acquired 121 Canadair CL-13s and F-86Es, operating them in several fighter aviation regiments between 1956 and 1971.

Civil Aviation [4]

According to the FAA there are 50 privately owned and registered F-86s in the US, including Canadair CL-13 Sabres.

North American F-86A Specifications [5,6]


  • Single-seat jet-propelled fighter.


  • Low-wing cantilever monoplane with 35° sweep-back.
  • Thin laminar-flow wing section.
  • All-metal structure of sandwich type construction in which the structural material is laminated between the inner and outer tapered skins.
  • No ribs in inboard halves of wing panels and skin is milled from 0¼-in. material at roots.
  • Auto slots on leading-edge.
  • Slotted flaps.
  • Hydraulic aileron boost.
  • Gross wing area 274 ft&Sup2; (25.4 m²)


  • Oval section all-metal structure with flush-riveted stressed skin.

Tail Unit:

  • Cantilever monoplane type.
  • All-metal structure.
  • All surfaces have 35° sweep-back.
  • Dihedral tailplane.
  • Hydraulic elevator boost.

Landing Gear:

  • Retractable tricycle type with steerable nose-wheel.
  • Hydraulic retraction.
  • Cleveland 8657 air-oil shock struts.
  • Bendix 26-in. (66 cm) magnesium wheels and Bendix rotor-disc hydraulic brakes on main wheels.
  • Track 8 ft. 3 in. (2.5 m.).


  • One General Electric J-47-GE-9 axial-flow gas turbine (5,200 lbs, 2,360 kg. s.t.) with straight ram air entry in nose of fuselage.
  • Nose entry lipped above to maintain adequate airflow in nose-up position.
  • External long-range drop-tanks may be carried under wings outboard of landing-gear.


  • Pressurized pilot's cockpit with sliding “bubble” canopy.
  • Pilot ejection seat.

Armament and Equipment:

  • Six 0.50-in. (12.7 mm) machine-guns in nose.
  • Provision for 16 5-in. (127 mm) rockets under wings.
  • Latest radio, radar and navigation equipment.


  • Span: 37 ft. 1 in. (11.3 m).
  • Length: 37 ft. 6 in. (11.45 m).
  • Height: 14 ft. (4.27 m).

Weights: [6]

  • Empty weight: 10,093 lb.
  • Loaded weight: 13,791 lb.
  • Maximum weight: 15,876 lb.
  • two 120-gal. drop tanks

Performance: [6]

  • Cruising speed: 533 mph
  • Maximum speed: 679 mph
  • Climb rate: 7,470 ft/min
  • Ceiling: 48,000 ft
  • Combat radius: 330 miles
  • Ferry range: 1,052 miles


  1. Photos: Jim Hough, 2/16/2004
  2. Shupek, John. The Skytamer Archive, photos from the Shupek Photo Collection, copyright © 1998-2019 Skytamer Images (
  3. Photos: Ron Strong, 12/2007
  4. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, North American F-86 Sabre
  5. Bridgman, Leonard. Jane's All The World's Aircraft 1950/51, Sampson Low, Marston & Company, Ltd., London, 1951, pp 262c-264c
  6. Avery, Norm, North American Aircraft 1934-1998, Volume 1, Santa Ana, CA: Narkiewicz//Thompson, 1998, ISBN 0-913322-05-9, pp 148

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