After flying F-86As for four years and 1,000 hours with the 92nd Fighter Squadron of the 81st Fighter Group, I was assigned to the 15th Fighter Squadron in Tucson, Arizona. My new duties were to be the chief of maintenance as well as a squadron test pilot. After arriving there, I was amazed at the maintenance problems described to me about the F-86D by both the pilots and crew chiefs. The "D" did not sound like the F-86A I had been so much in love with before. From a distance, the F-86D looked like any other F-86, with the exception of its nose radome. But as I got closer, I could see it was a different breed. It was enlarged around the middle to make room for its afterburner, and it had a dragchute compartment built into its aft section below the rudder. The lower rocket pod hanging behind the nose wheel looked like something that should not happen to any airplane! But I soon decided to "get with the program" and learn as much about the F-86D as I could. My first impression after flying the "D" was how different it was from the "A" model. But I thought, "Oh well, that's progress!"
I cannot remember every new system introduced on the F-86D because it has been so long ago, but a few stand out. First, the aircraft had electronic fuel control. This was intended to give our pilots automatic starts, control all engine performance up to 100% r.p.m., and add afterburner at all altitudes and airspeed ranges. I thought this was great, with no more worries about "hot" starts. But as I was informed by my instructor, this system had to be monitored very carefully when starting. If a fuel control amplifier malfunctioned, it could give us a hot start like nothing we had ever seen before! The engine in the "D", however, was the same J47 we had in the F-86A and other early models, but this Sabre was fitted with an afterburner that gave us considerably more thrust. I might add that if we had electronic fuel control problems in the air, a very good backup system was available. We could switch to manual control and still get home.
The second new feature, which was the most important in the F-86D, was its Hughes EA fire control sy tem. The F-86D's radar was equipped with a central data computer that allowed its pilot to acquire a target from about 30 miles out, track it, lock on, engage autopilot, and make a fully automatic firing run without the pilot taking his eyes off the radar scope. The retractable rocket pod carried 24 2.7 inch folding fin unguided missiles. The pod extended, fired rockets, and then retracted in only a few seconds. This was accomplished without upsetting the aircraft's trim. After making many hot firing runs at targets towed over Yuma, Arizona, we became very proficient using the F-86D's fire control system, and we had a lot of fun flying the bird.
The third system on the F-86D that the "A" did not have was its solid slab "all-flying" horizontal stabilizer. This gave our pilots very positive control, especially at higher speeds. The "D" had a slightly different feel than the "A". This was because of the positive action of the solid slab elevator that was combined with the artificial feel feature built into our control sticks. Because of this, some pilots, mostly newer or inexperienced, found themselves in avery frightening situation, usually on take off, called a "JC" maneuver. This was caused by the pilot pulling the control stick back and forth during take off while getting the climb attitude established, and then quickly moving the stick to compensate for the landing gear's retraction. It was possible to over-control the "D" to the point where the stick seemed out of synchronization with the aircraft's response. Usually the pilot recovered by pulling the stick and holding it back while sucking in his breath and calling out the name of the Almighty, thus the meaning of the term, "JC" maneuver! Our North American tech reps, however, called It, "Pilot Induced Oscillation", caused by the pilot overcontrolling the F-86D.
By 1957, most F-86Ds went through a modification program and were redesignated F-86L. Several changes were made to the aircraft and its fire control system. These changes made the aircraft perform better and improved its turning capability at altitude. The F-86L was possibly a little faster, too, but not by much. By this time, however, the F86D/L was fading into history as its air defense role was shifting to the F-101, the F-102 and the F-106.
The Sabre Jet was a fantastic aircraft. Our F86 pilots and crews in Korea proved to the world how well it performed.Certainly the D/L models were not as glamorous as the day-fighter Sabres, but these all-weather models should be remembered along with the best aircraft of the United States Air Force's past.
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