The First Sabres


On November 20, 1946, North American received its first order for 33 model P-86s. This contract was increased to 221 on December 28, 1947, with 33 to be P-86As and 188 to be P-86Bs, powered by General Electric J47-GE-1 jet engines developing 5,200 pounds of thrust. The first production Sabre was the P-86A-1, North American Model NA-151, which by June 1948 was redesignated F-86A-1. lt was produced at Inglewood, California and therefore carried the company suffix "NA", such as in F-86A-1-NA. Its production began on the assembly line when the last FJ-1 Fury was completed for the Navy. The F86B, which is discussed later in this issue, never went into production.

The F-86A was a day fighter. These Sabres were armed with six .50 calibre M-3 machine guns in their forward fuselages, and early"A"s had gun "doors" or covers over their gun blast exits. The Type M-3 .50 calibre machine guns each had a removable ammunition container below to hold a maximum of 300 rounds per gun. There were also containers in the lower fuselage to collect the spent shell cases and links. The guns were charged on the ground through a manual charger in each fuselage side. Stoppages in the guns could not be ceared while flying. The gun camera in the nose of the fuselage ran automatically when the guns or rockets were fired. The camera could also be operated independently of the guns or rockets. Electric gun heaters were provided in the gun compartments. The gunsight in the cockpit projected an image of either a dot and a cicle or a dot and ten diainond-shaped dots on the windscreen armor glass or on the reflector glass behind the windscreen. This image allowed for the necessy lead for the machine guns to be fired The radar equipment provided only for ranging information. The radar automatically locked onto the desired target. It also indicated when lock-on was made. The radar-ranging gunsight was affected by ground effects to some extent when flying below 6,000 feet.

F-86As were built in production blocks. They used serial numbers 47-605 to 47-637, 48-139 to 48-316 and 49-1007 to 49-1339. A total of 554 "A"s were built using General Elecric J47-GE-1, -3, -9 and -13 engines developing 5,200 pounds of thrust. This jet engine used a 12-stage compressor with eight combustion chambers and a single-stage turbine. The F-86A's wingspan was increased by one inch to 37 feet, 1 inch. The empty weight rose to 10,093 pounds, but the maximum speed at sea level greatly increased to 679 miles per hour, an improvement of 80 miles per hour over the three prototypes. Cruising Speed was 533 miles per hour, and 40,000 feet could be reached in 10.4 minutes. The service ceiling stood at 48,000 feet, but the range fell to 660 miles. A total of 2,000 pounds of bombs could be carried. The horizontal tail surfaces were of conventional design without any "artificial feel system" as later models used. The head and back rests were armor-plated. Early "A"s had fiberglass forward fuselage intakes, vertical stabilizer tips and vercal stabiliter forward dorsal fins. All "A"s had cockpits painted black.

The first P-86A-1, serial number 47-605, was flown by North American's chief engineering test pilot, George S. "Wheaties" Welch, a hero from the Pear; Harbor attack, on May 20, 1948. The first two F-86As were accepted by the Air Fbrce on May 28, 1948. On the next day, another 333 F-86As (Model NA-161) were ordered. North American built 33 F-86A-1s with most used for testing. At least one, 47-608, was tested to -65 degrees F at the climatic hangar at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.

The F-86 was the fastest combat aircraft in the United States Air Force at this time. On September 5, 1948, North American and the United States Air Force decided to break the official world speed record at the Cleveland National Air Races. Major Robert L Johnson of the Air Materiel Command flew an F86A-1, 47-611, to 669.480 miles per hour, but it was an unofficial record because of poor weather and timer problems. On September 15, 1948, however, he flew another F-86, 47-608, to an official record of 670.981 at Muroc Dry Lake in California to set a new speed record over a three kilometer course. Accelerated service tests were initiated on the F-86A at Edwards Air Force Base in January, 1949. Major Frank Everest set an unofficial speed record from Dayton, Ohio to Washington DC in February 1949 at 33 minutes and 3 seconds. Engine production delays, however, held the last F86A-ls from delivery until March 1949.

The next Sabre model was the F-86A-5 which used J47-GE-7 jet engines. The A-5 model also had a "V"-shaped bullet-proof windscreen with heated gun compartments. The -5 could carry two 206 gallon drop tanks, rockets or bombs. A total of 521 were built between March 1949 and December 1950. One A-5, serial number 49-1172, was fitted with a refueling receptade in its upper forward fuselage where its radar had been. The concept was a success, but refueling probes were never used on any F-86 models.

The A-1 and A-5 soon equipped Air Force units. The first F-86s went to the 94th Fighter Squadron of the 1st Fighter Group at March Field in California in February 1949. Their assignment was the defense of the Inglewood plant. One member of the 1st suggested calling the new fighter the "Sabre". The Air Force approved it, and its usage began in spring 1949. The 1st was composed of the 27th and 71st Fighter Squadrons along with the 94th. The 4th Fighter Group, based at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, and the 81st Fighter Group, based at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, next received Sabres. The 4th was composed of the 334th, 335th and 336th Fighter Squadrons stationed at langley flying in defense of Washington, D.C., and the 81st was formed from the 78th, 91st, 92nd and 93rd Fighter Squadrons. The 93rd protected the atomic bomb plant at Los Alamos, New Mexico. Soon after, the 33rd Fighter Group (58th, 59th and 6oth Fighter Squadrons), the 56th Fighter Group (61st, 62nd and 63rd Fighter Squadrons) and the 51st Fighter Group (16th, 25th, and 26th Fighter Squadrons) received Sabres. Many of these aircraft later flew combat in Korea begirgin late 1950. The first F-86As sent to Europe were from the 81st Fighter Wing when it went to (Royal Air Force) RAF Bentwaters in England in August 1951. The 81st was the first outfit from the United States based in England since World War Two. There were also DF-86A Sabres which were F-86As later modified into radio-controlled target drones.

The histoiy of the F-86 in Korea and elsewhere, as well as the histoy of later Sabre models, will be reviewed in future issues of Sabrt Jet Classics.

Early Sabres That Never
Went Into Production

The F-86B

The F-86B was a brief attempt to meet an Air Force requirement for bigger tires on the Sabre. Had the Sabre changed, it would have meant increasing the width of the fuselage by seven inches. Fortunately, advances in tire and brake technology by 1949 alllowed the Sabre to retain its original tire size as the Air Force was convinced it could handle the loads. A planned 190 F-86Bs became 188 more F-86A-5s and two F-86Cs. No F-86Bs were built.

The F-86C

The F-86C, or Model NA-157, was North American's reply to the Air Force's request for a "penetration fighter interceptor" or long-range escort fighter. Its design was begun on December 17, 1047. The f-86C was greatly changed from the now familiar F-86 design. It had a bullet-shaped nose with scooped air intakes on its fuselage sides, six 20mm cannons and additional nose radar. It was a much larger aircraft than the F-86A. The F-86C was powered by a J48-P-1 enginewith afterburner that developed 8,000 pounds of thrust. This jet engine was an American-built version of the British Rolls-Royce Tay assembled by Pratt and Whitney. Because the F-86C was so radically redesigned to accomodate this engine, the new Sabre was redesignated YF-93A in 1950. The aircraft was bigger and heavier requiring dual main wheels and a larger internal fuel supply. The f-86C/YF-93A competed with the McDonnell XF-88 and Lockheed XF-90, and 188 of North American's entry were ordered on June 9, 1048. The first of two YF-93As built was flown by George Welch on January 25, 1950, but the program had ben cancelled in 1949. No further YF-93As were assembled. The Air Force instead ordered more bombers. NACA, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics., purchased both YF-93As for testing lateral air intakes, and they were assigned to NACA's Ames Test Center near San Francisco, California. Neither the F-88 nor the F-90 went into series production.

No portion of this article may be used or reprinted without permission from the President of the F-86 Sabre Pilots Association or the editor of Sabre Jet Classics magazine.

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