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North American F-86 Sabre Fighter (1949)

Authored By Staff Writer | Last Updated: 4/8/2014

The F-86 Sabre achieved 757 air victories to just 103 losses in the Korean War.

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The F-86 Sabre was the product of the North American Aviation Company based in the United States of America. The aircraft served a pivotal role in the Korean War by winning back air superiority for the NATO allies, going toe-to-toe with the impressive Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 "Fagot". Though its standard armament of 6 x machine guns were no match for the cannon-power of the MiG-15's, pilot training and tactics made all the difference in the long run, particularly when Sabre pilots were veterans and aces from World War 2 while North Korean and Chinese pilots were relatively green when it came to jet-powered dogfights. Only Soviet-piloted MiG's presented a serious threat, and this was proven in the early months of the conflict. Nevertheless, the F-86 Sabre went on to become a war winner, making aces out of many more pilots to come and eventually forcing the stalemate in the Korean Peninsula.

Origins:
By this time in history (in a post-World War 2 world), North American had already made a grand name for itself with the success of the P-51 Mustang. The company, like others around it, then began to look to the future of flight - namely jet-powered aircraft - and in 1944 started development of an in-house design. This design featured a stout cockpit, straight-wing, nose-mounted intake, bubble canopy and a single turbojet engine. The design was eventually showcased to - and accepted by - the United States Navy on January 1st, 1945 with the designation of FJ-1 "Fury". Prototypes followed in late 1946 and the original 100 production examples was curtailed to just 30.

Nevertheless, experience garnered in the development of the Fury led North American to look into a larger version of the aircraft for possible marketing to the USAAF (later to become the USAF in 1947). In May, 1945, three of these XP-86 prototypes were ordered featuring straight wings but in all respects resembling her Fury pedigree.

The fall of the Third Reich in 1945 allowed American aircraft engineers (and engineers of other nations for that matter) to unprecedented access of German swept wing design studies. Swept wings were then added to a revised XP-86 design. The USAAF ordered 30 production models without so much as a completed prototype and added another 158 afterwards with some requested revisions and eventually increasing this total to 554 P-86A models. By this time (1948) the USAAF had become the USAF and the naming convention of "P" for "pursuit" gave rise instead to "F" for "fighter". As such, the F-86A was born. Deliveries to the USAF in three initial batches began in February of 1949 and the name designator of "Sabre" was officially bestowed to the system after a naming contest was held.

Design:
Though the initial design featured straight wings, the revised design and eventual production models were all seen fitted with swept-back wings and tail surfaces. The monoplane wings were low-mounted onto the fuselage sides with slight dihedral to each. Wings were placed forward in the design and extended rearwards, giving the Sabre its noticeable silhouette. The fuselage was not a true cylindrical form though it was rounded at the edges when viewed from the front. The front edge was snipped off and was made up of the air inlet duct feeding the engine. The duct, engine and exhaust system ran the length of the fuselage to the very rear and base of the empennage. The pilot was afforded good vision from his forward-located cockpit which featured a hinged jettisonable canopy and large curved and frameless glass surface - only the forward portion of the canopy had framing. The cockpit was located just forward of the wing root and just aft of the air inlet duct. Accommodations amounted to one pilot seated in an ejection seat. The single engine powerplant was located in the center of the design. The empennage was of a traditional type, featuring a single vertical tail fin and horizontal surfaces with noticeable dihedral. The undercarriage was a traditional tricycle arrangement with two main single-wheel gears retracting inwards with a nose gear fitted with a single wheel retracting backwards under the cockpit.

Variants:
XP-86 was the original designation of the Sabre, though this was later changed to the XF-86. North American targeted this design as model NA-140.

The XF-86 was the prototype day-fighter designation to which three prototypes were constructed.

YF-86A was the first prototype to mount the General Electric J47 series turbojet engine.

The F-86A became the initial Sabre production model and was the first to be delivered to the frontlines in the Korea War. First flight was achieved in May of 1948. Power was derived from a 1 x General Electric J47 turbojet engine of 4,850lbs thrust. These were progressively uprated in a series of four upgraded J47 engines, eventually topping 5,200lbs thrust. Armament consisted of 6 x 12.7mm machine guns with an optional offensive punch of 8 x 5" rockets or 2,000lbs of bombs held underwing. Performance of the model included a top speed of 685 miles per hour, a range of 1,200 miles and a combat ceiling of 49,000 feet. Production of the F-86A completed in December of 1950, to which 554 total examples were delivered. An F-86A model set the first Sabre world speed record in September of 1948, reaching a top speed of 670 miles per hour. Another speed record was set on November 19th, 1952, hitting 698.505 miles per hour and then again on July 16th, 1953 - this time topping at 715.697 miles per hour.

The F-86A spawned the DF-86A drone director conversions. Likewise, eleven A-models became the RF-86A three-camera reconnaissance aircraft.

The F-86B followed. The USAF ordered 188 of the type as an upgrade to existing F-86A models but the order eventually turned these aircraft into F-86A-5 models instead.

The F-86C was the original designation of the YF-93A which began life as a design intended to fulfill the USAF "Penetration Fighter" bomber escort competition requirement. The F-86C developed into such a different aircraft that the new YF-93A designation was assigned to it. The aircraft squared off against a McDonnell XF-88 (eventually to become the F-101 Voodoo) and a Lockheed XF-90 (never produced). Though the Penetration Fighter program was eventually abandoned, the USAF still put in an order for 118 F-93A models but this order was itself cancelled with the promising results of the Boeing B-47 Stratojet project - a new high-speed bomber with no need for an escort.

The YF-93A was designed as two prototypes as S/N 48-317 and S/N 48-318. The first prototype sported two flushed air inlet ducts along the fuselage sides, a departure from the Sabres underslung intake. This arrangement allowed for avionics to be placed in the fuselage between the two parallel intake ducts. The second prototype featured more conventional intakes though both sported a newer and more powerful nose landing gear to take on the added weight of additional fuel stores. Power was derived from a 1 x Pratt & Whitney J48 series turbojet engine of 8,750lbs with afterburner. Performance was reported with a 708 miles per hour top speed, 1,967 mile range and a service ceiling of 46,800 feet. The proposed armament of the aircraft was certainly something special and would have consisted of 6 x 20mm cannons. Despite the work put into these machines, they became test platforms for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) and were eventually scrapped.

F-95 was the original designation of F-86D "Dog Sabre"/"Sabre Dog" models. Prototypes were made up of aircraft S/N 50-577 and S/N 50-578. These prototype aircraft began as YF-95A prototypes but were then designated as YF-86D and ultimately becoming theF-86D. As such, production D-models were originally designated as F-93A fighters but this was changed to F-86D before the production lines had started launching the model.

The original F-95A had been designed as a day/night, all-weather interceptor. The aircraft featured swept back wings and tail surfaces, an underslung air inlet duct fairing, external fuel tank provisions, an all-moveable horizontal tail, hydraulically-powered irreversible controls and an F-5 automatic pilot system. The cockpit was of a 5.0psi differential pressurization and featured anti-G suit controls along with an integrated cooling and heating system. The YF-93A featured wing flaps were single-slotted electrically operated types. Speed brakes were hydraulically operated and fitted to the aft portion of the fuselage. Two YF-95A prototypes were produced. These models became the YF-86D. Of course no Sabres were ever produced with the F-95A designation but some 2,500 F-85D models were.

The F-86D "Dog Sabre" was essentially an "all-new" Sabre model. This production model was based on the YF-95A prototype and the prototype YF-86D achieved first flight on December 22nd, 1949. However, the D-model was not featured in the Korean War while the A-, E- and F-models were - their designation order was not chronological with introduction into service as might be expected. The F-86D was an all-weather interceptor and - for all intents and purposes - a "bomber destroyer". Two YF-86D systems existed and led to approximately 2,506 total F-86D production models. The D-model was quite a different beast from previous Sabre variants - it was bigger, more powerful and shared just 25 percent of the previous form's parts. The nose radome was a discernible feature of the model type.

The F-86D became the first USAF aircraft to mount an all-rocket armament in an ventral weapons "tray" containing 24 x 2.75" "Mighty Mouse" Folding Fin Aerial Rockets (FFAR) - hence the "bomber destroyer" classification above. As another first, the solo F-86D pilot was charged with the operation of the aircraft while manning the advanced Hughes Aircraft Company collision-course radar fire-control system - most designs with this level of complication usually dictated the need for a dedicated second crew member in a two-man cockpit. To fit this interception radar and fire control equipment, the F-86D model featured a distinct "nose" cone extending out over the upper portion of the existing Sabre air inlet duct opening at the front of the fuselage.

With the fire control computer and radar, the aircraft could literally "fly itself" to a computed targets position. Once within 500 yards of said target, the aircraft would lower its retractable rocket tray and spray the target (expected to be enemy bombers) with 24 x 2.75" Mighty Mouse missiles - with all actions handled automatically by the computer.

Power for the F-86D was derived from a 1 x General Electric J47-GE-33 turbojet of 5,550lbs and (eventually) up to 7,650lbs of thrust with afterburner. Performance was reported with a top speed of 761 miles per hour, a range of 800 miles and a combat ceiling of 50,000 feet. Production of D-models officially completed in September of 1953. The type spawned the F-86G, YF-86K, F-86K and F-86L forms.


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Specifications for the
North American F-86 Sabre
Fighter


Focus Model: North American F-86D Sabre
Country of Origin: United States
Manufacturer: North American Aviation Company - USA; Mitsubishi - Japan
Initial Year of Service: 1949
Production: 9,500


Crew: 1


Length: 37.50ft (11.43m)
Width: 37.07ft (11.30m)
Height: 14.99ft (4.57m)
Weight (Empty): 10,950lbs (4,967kg)
Weight (MTOW): 17,000lbs (7,711kg)


Powerplant: 1 x General Electric J47-GE-27, turbojet engine generating 5,970lbs of thrust.


Maximum Speed: 690mph (1,110kmh; 599kts)
Maximum Range: 785miles (1,263km)
Service Ceiling: 50,000ft (15,240m; 9.5miles)
Rate-of-Climb: 12,000 feet per minute (3,658m/min)


Hardpoints: 2
Armament Suite:
STANDARD:
6 x 12.7mm machine guns

MODEL-SPECIFIC:
24 x 2.75in rockets in ventral tray
2 x AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range, air-to-air missiles under the wings.
4 x 20mm cannon armament in place of machine guns.

Up to 2,000lbs of external stores.


Variants:
XP-86 - Original Army Air Force prototypes (3)


YP-86A - Re-engined with GE J47 turbojet.

P-86A - Redesignated from YP-86A

F-86A - Redesignated production model from P-86A; Featured J47-GE-1 turbojet.

F-86D "Sabre Dog" - Complete redesign of base model; Redesignated as night/all-weather aircraft; Hughes fire control system; J47-GE-33 turbojet.

F-86E - Slab tailplane adjustable inflight; J47-GE-27 turbojet

F-86F - J47-GE-27 turbojet; Extended leading edges; production also by Mitsubishi for Japan.

F-86K - Based on F-86D model with J47-GE-17B tubojet.

F-86L - Rebuilt "D" model with updated electronics and larger wing surface.

FJ-2 Fury - US Navy variant.

Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) Sabre Mk 30 - Australian license-produced model; 2 x 30mm cannons; Rolls-Royce Avon turbojet.

CAC Sabre Mk 31 - Australian license-produced model; 2 x 30mm cannons; Rolls-Royce Avon turbojet.

CAC Sabre Mk 32 - Australian license-produced model; 2 x 30mm cannons; Rolls-Royce Avon turbojet.

Canadair Sabre Mk 2 - Canadian license-produced model featuring Orenda turbojet.

Canadair Sabre Mk 4 - Canadian license-produced model featuring Orenda turbojet.

Canadair Sabre Mk 6 - Canadian license-produced model featuring Orenda turbojet.


Operators:
Argentina; Bangladesh; Bolivia; Burma; Canada; Columbia; Denmark; Ethiopia; France; West Germany; Greece; Honduras; Indonesia; Iran; Iraq; Italy; Japan; Malaysia; Netherlands; Norway; Pakistan; Peru; Philippines; Portugal; Taiwan; Saudi Arabia; South Africa; South Korea; Spain; Thailand; Tunisia; Turkey; United Kingdom; United States; Venezuela; Yugoslavia