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North American F-86 Sabre

The North American F-86 Sabre, 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 swept-wing Soviet MiG-15 in high-speed dogfights in the skies of the Korean War (1950–1953), fighting some of the earliest jet-to-jet battles in history.

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.

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.

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 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 XP-80 and XP-84.

Because these rival designs were more advanced in their development stages, it was feared that the XP-86 would be cancelled.

Crucially, the XP-86 was not able to meet the required top speed of 600 mph (970 km/h); North American had to quickly devise a radical change that could leapfrog 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.

These data showed that a thin, swept wing could greatly reduce drag and delay compressibility problems that had bedevilled fighters such as the Lockheed P-38 Lightning when 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.

A 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 modified NACA four-digit airfoils, 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 a 6-inch extended chord at the root and a 3-inch extended chord at the tip) retrofitted after combat experience was gained in Korea.

This modification changed the wing airfoils to the NACA 0009-64 modified configuration at the root and the NACA 0008.1–64 mod at the tip.

The XP-86 prototype, which led to the F-86 Sabre, was rolled out on 8 August 1947.

The first 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.


North American F-86


three prototypes, originally designated XP-86, North American model NA-140


this was the first prototype fitted with a General Electric J47 turbojet engine.


554 built, North American model NA-151 and NA-161.


A few F-86A conversions as drone directors


11 F-86A conversions with three cameras for reconnaissance


188 ordered as upgraded A-model with wider fuselage and larger tyres but delivered as F-86A-5, North American model NA-152


original designation for the YF-93A, two built, 48–317 & 48–318, order for 118 cancelled, North American model NA-157


prototype all-weather interceptor originally ordered as YF-95A, two built but designation changed to YF-86D, North American model NA-164


Production transonic all-weather search-radar equipped interceptor originally designated F-95A.

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.


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 manoeuvrability, North American model NA-170, NA-172, essentially the F-86F airframe with the F-86E engine, 60 of these built by Canadair for USAF.


Designation for ex-RAF Sabres diverted to other NATO air forces


Designation for surplus RCAF Sabre Mk. Vs modified to target drones


Uprated engine and larger “6–3” wing without leading-edge slats, North American model NA-172, NA-176, NA-191, NA-193, NA-202, NA-227, NA-231, NA-238, NA-256, 300 additional aircraft in this series assembled by Mitsubishi in Japan for Japanese Air Self-Defence Force.

Sabre Fs had much improved high-speed agility, coupled with a higher landing speed of over 145 mph (233 km/h).

The F-35 block had provisions for a new task: the nuclear tactical attack with one of the new small “nukes”.

The F-40 had a new slatted wing with a slightly higher span, resulting in a slight decrease in speed, but also much better agility at both high and low speeds and a reduced landing speed of 124 mph (200 km/h).

The USAF upgraded many previous F versions to the F-40 standard.

One E and two Fs were modified for improved performance via rocket boost.


F-86F-30 (52-4608) had a Rocketdyne AR2-3 with 3,000–6,000 lbf thrust at 35,000 ft (10,668 m), giving a top speed of M1.22 at 60,000 ft (18,288 m).


Designation for 10 aircraft modified to carry the M39 cannon in place of the M3 .50 calibre machine gun “six-pack”.

Four F-86E-10s and six F-86F-1s 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.


About 50 former Japan Self-Defence Forces (JASDF) F-86F aircraft converted to drones for use as targets by the U.S. Navy


Some F-86F-30s converted with three cameras for reconnaissance; also 18 Japan Self-Defence Forces (JASDF) aircraft similarly converted


Two F-86F converted to two-seat training configuration with lengthened fuselage and slatted wings under North American model NA-204


Extensively redesigned fighter-bomber model with deeper fuselage, uprated engine, longer wings and power-boosted tail plane, two built as North American model NA-187


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)


Target conversion of 29 aircraft for use at United States Naval Weapons Centre


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


Upgrade D model


Upgrade D model

North American FJ Fury 

CAC CA-27 Sabre 

Mk 30

21 built, wing slats, Avon 20 engine.

Mk 31

21 built, 6–3 wing, Avon 20 engine.

Mk 32

69 built, four wing pylons, F-86F fuel capacity, Avon 26 engine.

Canadair Sabre

Sabre Mk 1

One built, prototype F-86A

Sabre Mk 2

350 built, F-86E-type, 60 to USAF, 3 to RAF, 287 to RCAF

Sabre Mk 3

One built in Canada, testbed for the Orenda jet engine

Sabre Mk 4

438 built, production Mk 3, 10 to RCAF, 428 to RAF as Sabre F-4

Sabre Mk 5

370 built, F-86F-type with Orenda engine, 295 to RCAF, 75 to Luftwaffe

Sabre Mk 6

655 built, 390 to RCAF, 225 to Luftwaffe, six to Colombia and 34 to South Africa


F-86F 40-NA




37 ft 1 in (11.30 m)


39 ft 1 in (11.91 m)


14 ft 1 in (4.29 m)

Wing area

313.4 sq ft (29.12 m2)



NACA 0009-64 mod


NACA 0008.1-64 mod.

Empty weight

11,125 lb (5,046 kg)

Gross weight

15,198 lb (6,894 kg)

Max take-off weight

18,152 lb (8,234 kg)

Fuel capacity

JP-4 fuel, 437 US gallons (364 imp gal; 1,650 L) internals


2x 200 US gallons (170 imp gal; 760 L) drop tanks


1 × General Electric J47-GE-27 turbojet engine,

5,910 lbf (26.3 kN) thrust


Maximum speed

687 mph (1,106 km/h, 597 kn) at sea level at 14,212 lb (6,446 kg) combat weight

678 mph (589 kn; 1,091 km/h) / M1.02

599 mph (521 kn; 964 km/h) at 35,000 ft (10,668 m) at 15,352 lb (6,964 kg)

597 mph (519 kn; 961 km/h) at 21,148 ft (6,446 m)

599 mph (521 kn; 964 km/h) at 22,835 ft (6,960 m)

Stall speed

124 mph (200 km/h, 108 kn)


1,525 mi (2,454 km, 1,325 nmi)

Combat range

414 mi (666 km, 360 nmi) with two 1,000 lb (454 kg) bombs


2x 200 US gallons (170 imp gal; 760 L) drop tanks

Service ceiling

49,600 ft (15,100 m) at combat weight

Rate of climb

9,000 ft/min (46 m/s) at sea level

Time to altitude

30,000 ft (9,144 m) in 5 minutes 12 seconds







6 X 0.50 in (12.7 mm) M3 Browning machine guns (1,800 rounds in total)


Variety of rocket launchers, e.g: 2 Matra rocket pods with 18 SNEB 68 mm rockets per pod


5,300 lb (2,400 kg) of payload on four external hardpoints,

Bombs were usually mounted on outer two pylons as the inner pairs were plumbed for 2 200 US gallons (760 L) drop tanks which gave the Sabre a more useful range.

A wide variety of bombs could be carried (max standard load out being two 1,000 lb bombs plus two drop tanks), napalm canisters and could have included a tactical nuclear weapon.



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