F-86 Sabre (Walk Around 5521)
By Larry Davis
Publisher: Squadron/Signal Publications 2000 81 Pages
PDF 18 MB
SABREJET — Just the word brings to mind thoughts of silver, swept-wing jet fighters wheeling and zooming in the cold blue skies over northwest Korea. The North American F-86 Sabre was the western world's premier fighter aircraft during the early 1950s. To many of the Communist pilots that were competing against the F-86 in 'MiG Alley,* the Sabre was also better than anything flying in the eastern world. Over 800 MiG pilots in Korea discovered firsthand about the superiority of the F-86.
The F-86, however, did not begin its life as the premier fighter design of its time. The design began during the waning years of World War Two. when the Allies were engaging the jet aircraft of Hitler's Luftwaffe. The Messerschmitt Me 262. powered by two Junkers Jumo 004B jet engines, was 90 miles (144.8 km) per hour faster than the best Allied fighter, the Supermarine Spitfire Mk. XIV. Only stupidity on the part of the Nazi leaders kept the Me 262 from wresting air superiority away from the propeller-driven Allied fighters that had worked so long and hard to win it.
Propeller aircraft were doomed by the introduction of the Me 262. Even the vaunted North American P-5I Mustang and de Havilland Mosquito were no match for the speed of the German jets. The Allies began crash programs to put their own jets into the air. Engineers at North American Aviation designed a new aircraft designated the XP-86. the planform of which bore some resemblance to the earlier P-51 Mustang.
The straight-wing XP-86 jet fighter, although equal to the speed of the Luftwaffe's Me 262. did not have the speed that the US Army Air Forces planners had hoped for. Additionally, neither the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star, already in production, nor the Republic XP-84 Thunderjet possessed the range of speed desired by the USAAF. Something else was needed in the XP-86 design to make the aircraft the fighter that everyone thought a jet could be. That "something' was the swept wing.
In late 1945. after considerable development of the straight wing design had been underway. North American engineers decided to mate a swept wing to the existing XP-86 airframe design. Wind tunnel testing revealed astonishing results. These results indicated an aircraft capable of flying at or near the speed of sound — Mach One (approximately 670 mph (1078 kmh) at 30.000 feet (9144 m). The swept-wing XP-86 would be able to fly at speeds almost 150 mph (241 kmh) faster than other jet fighter designs of the era.
The Army Air Force gave the go-ahead to the redesign of the XP-86 on 20 November 1945. The swept wing XP-86 was rolled out of the North American factory on 8 August 1947. George Welch brought the XP-86 near Mach One on the very first test flight on I October 1947. Some aviation historians now contend that Welch may have broken the sound barrier in the XP-86 before Chuck Yeager did so in the Bell X-l on 14 October 1947.
The die had been cast. The North American P-86 — redesignated F-86 in 1948 — would be built to fulfill four major roles before production ended. These missions included a fighter interceptor, a fighter-bomber, the fastest photo reconnaissance aircraft of its era. and the first single seat, all-weather jet interceptor in history. Eleven variants of the F-86 would be built in five nations around the world, not including license-built overseas sub-variants. The US Navy even purchased a Sabre variant for the fleet, the FJ Fury. Sabres would serve in no less than 31 nations before finally being phased out of service during the late 1980s.
F-86s were pitted against the best fighter in the Communist world — the MiG-15 — during the Korean War. Although similar in design, the MiG-15 was 3310 pounds (1501.4 kg) lighter than the F-86A. F-86 development throughout the war brought the Sabre closer to the MiG-15 in terms of performance. The inexperienced MiG pilots were also no match for the veteran USAF Sabre pilots. By the end of the Korean War. over 800 MiGs had been shot down by F-86 pilots compared to a loss of only 78 F-86s. The kill ratio was an astonishing 10:1 — and some historians state this ratio might be much higher.
In the skies over 'MiG Alley.' the North American F-86 Sabre proved itself to be the finest fighter aircraft design of its era.