The most produced day fighter version of the Sabre let was the F-86F, although the "F" was also ordered to fulfill the fighter-bomber role, a mission at which it excelled in Korea by 1953. A total of 2,540 F-86Fs were built when production ceased in October 1955 and the last deliveries occurred in December 1956. The F-86F Sabres used serial numbers 51-2850 to 51-2943,51-12936 to 51-12976, 51-13070 to 51-13510, 524305 to 52-5530, 53-1072 to 53-1228, 583816 to 554030, 554983 to 55-5117, 56-2773 to 56-2882 and 57-6338 to 57-6457. The F-86F was built at both the Inglewood plant, company suffix "NA", as Models NA-172 and NA-191, and at the Columbus, Ohio plant, company suffix "NH", at the former Curtiss-Wright factory as of December1951, as Models NA-176 and NA-193. This additional assembly location was operated by North American Aviation as the factory in California was at maximum production. The first F-86F-1, 52-2850, flew on March 19, 1952 with J. Pearce at the controls. The first six F-86Fs were delivered on March 27,1952. The first Columbus-built Sabre was also an F-86F, serial number 51-13070, which flew in May 1952. F-86Fs were first ordered on April 11,1952. They arrived in Korea within three months and first equipped the 39th Fighter Squadron of the 51st Fighter Group.
Initial "F" model Sabres were assembled with older model J47 turbojets due to engine shortages, but most were assembled with the upgraded General Electric J47-GE-27 jet engine developing 5,910 pounds of thrust, 12% stronger than the -13 engine. A shortage of -27 engines occurred again later, and 93 Sabres produced durint that delay used the -13 engine from the F-86E. These Sabres were referred to as the F-86E-10 and F-86E-15.
The F-86F had rerouted hydraulic lines to minimize damage to both its normal and alternate systems if hit by enemy fire. The "F" also featured a revised cockpit layout. The F-86F's dimensions were similar to the "E", but the "F" at 688 miles per hour was nearly ten miles per hour faster at sea level. Its cruising speed at 513 miles per hour, however, was about 25 miles per hour slower. The time to climb to 30,000 feet in 5.2 minutes was about a minute faster, and the service ceiling, at 48,000 feet, was slightly better. The range was 463 miles. The flyaway cost was $211,111. Internal fuel remained the same, at 435 U.S. gallons, but with the F-86F-5, the maximum fuel increased to 835 U.S. gallons from 675 U.S. gallons on the "E", when the "F" added stronger shackles beneath each wing to handle 200 gallon droptanks instead of the 120 gallon tanks used on the "A" and the "E". These larger droptanks could also be released. This increased tankage added an extra 20 minutes to the F-86F in the combat zone.
Armament of all production F-86Fs remained the same with six .50 caliber M3 machine guns with 1,602 rounds. The "F"s retained mechanical engine control but no autopilot. The "all flying" horizontal tail remained, but it was now armor plated to reduce damage. Also retained were the full power hydraulic irreversible controls and the artificial feel system in the allerons and horizontal tail. The windscreen was flat, and the sliding canopy continued.
The F-86F-2 Sabres were four E-10s and six F-1s fitted with four 20mm T-160 (M39) belt fed cannons. The F-86F-3 were two other F-1s fitted with four 20mm Oerlikon cannons. These modified Sabres were tested by United States Air Force pilots in combat over Korea during "Project Gun Val". When all four cannons were fired at once during testing, however, their exhaust gases sometimes caused compressor stalls in the engine, and the turbojet flamed out. As a result, the cannons were modified to fire only one pair at a time to avoid killing the engine. Six confirmed MiG-15 kills and three probables were made during a 16 week trial period. This system of four cannons later replaced the Sabre's six machine guns in the F-86H which went into service alter the Korean War.
The F-86F-10 and all subsequent "F"s added a new and easier to maintain radar ranging AA gunsight and a new manual pip control bomb-aiming device. The Type A4gyro computing sight automatically computed lead for the guns and assisted in aiming rockets or bombs. As long as the pilot smoothly pursued the target and kept the center dot on the reflector glass behind the windscreen on the target, the sight computation was automatic. The AN/AP-30 radar provided range data to the AA. It automatically locked onto the target and computed its range.
The F-86F-15 contained several internal modifications to the controls. The most significantly changed F-86Fs, however, were the F-25 and F-30 Sabres. The F-86F-25 was introduced with a legendary new wing designed in response to pilot reports that early F-86Fs in Korea could not turn as tightly as the Mig-15 in combat at high Mach numbers and altitudes. F-86s turning with MiG-15s had encountered aerdynamic forces that opened their leading edge slats, which normally opened only at slow speeds.
To correct this problem, North American test pilot George Welch suggested a change in the Sabre's wing during summer 1952 that led to the famous "6-3" wing. Welch recommended removing the slats and extending the F-86's leading edges instead. Three modified F-86E Sabres were tested. By August 1952, the 6-3 wing was perfected. This modification deleted the leading edge slats and added a new solid leading edge with six inches more chord at the root near the fuselage and three inches more length at the wing tip. Finally, a five inch high boundary layer "fence" was added to the wing's upper surface at 70% of the wingspan to direct air flow. These changes resulted in a lowerdrag cieffucuent and added seven miles per hour to the Sabre's top speed to 695 miles per hour. They also improved the maneuverability at high altitude by delaying the onset of buffeting.
The result of these changes was that the F-86F now turned inside the Mig-15 at high altitudes.The F-86's performance improved by 1.5g at Mach 0.92 at 30,000 feet before buffeting developed. The operating altitude also increased to 52,000 feet, maximum Mach reached 1.05 (in a dive), and the rate of climb increased by almost 300 feet per minute. The F-86F then became the unquestioned supreme day fighter in the world, but the trade off for the improved high-speed performance was that the Sabre's stalling speed was increased by 20 miles per hour. This required a faster landing approach (as there were no leading edge slats), and the low speed handling qualities suffered. Higher take off and landing speeds were needed to maintain controllability, but the improvement in combat far outweighed any negative aspects.
Beginning with the 171st F-25 and 200th F-30, all Sabres on the assembly line received the 6-3 wing. North American quickly sent 6-3 wing kits to Korea to retrofit 50 F-86Fs in service. In time, over 50% of all "F"s and some "E"s received the modification. Soon the Sabre pilots turned inside the MiGs in combat at altitude with Sabres that were slightly faster at all altitudes. The only escape for the Mi-15 was to climb above 50,000 feet where the F-86s could not easily reach. The F-86F-30 also introduced an additional wing pylon closer to the fuselage. This allowed the Sabre to carry two 1,000 pound bombs or two 120 U.S. gallon drop tanks plus the usual 200 U.S. gallon drop tanks used on earlier F-86Fs The extra hardpoints permitted the F-86F to function better in its dual role as a fighter-bomber.
Two F-86F-30s, serial numbers 52-5016 and 53-1228, were modified into two seat trainer TF-86F Sabres at the direction of the Tactical Air Command as a potential replacement trainer for the T-33 dual-seat jet trainer. Each TF-86F had its fuselage lengthened to 42 feet, 9 inches. The first TF-86F flew on December 14, 1953. Both were capable of 692 miles per hour with a service ceiling of 50,500 feet. 52-5016 was lost in a crash early in its career, but 53-1228 served at Edwards Air Force Base as a chase plane for seven years. The TF-86F program, however, was cancelled in favor of the later F-100F program.
One F-86F-30, serial number 52-5947, had its .50 calibre machine guns removed and panelled over. A retractable rocket launching panel was added to both sides directly beneath the canopy on the outer fuselage allowing this Sabre to fire unguided rockets. This idea was modified to a lower belly rocket tray and used in the all-weather F-86D Sabres. The F-86F-35 carried a LABS, or Low Altitude Bombing System. This was used to deliver a nuclear weapon while allowing the F-86 to escape the blast. Only a few F-86Fs carried such equipment, which was very complex.
The final "F" model Sabre was the F-86F-40. It was first built for the Japanese Air Self Defense Force. The F-86F-40 iis signifigant in that its outer wing changed again from the F-25. The FAO's wing was lengthened by one foot on each side and returned to using leading edge slats. The longer wing again reduced the stalling speed and allowed slower landing approaches and shorter takeoff distances. The result was an overall improvement over Sabres with the 6-3 wing. The conversion also improved the combat radius and the Sabre's high altitude maneuverability. Because of this, the United States Air Force converted all active duty Sabres to F-40 specifications beginning in March 1955 and added leading edge slats once again, although the Sabre's weight was increased by 200 pounds. The maximum speed also fell to 678 miles per hour at sea level. North American built 280 F-86F=40 Sabres and Mitsubishi in Japan assembled 300 more.
Many F-86F-40 Sabres could carry AIM-9B Sidewinder missiles. The AIM-9B was also known as the GAR-8 missile. It required adding two Aero 3B missile launchers to the F-86 by special pylons bolted under the wing inside the inboard hardpoints. The MM-9B missile was nine feet long, five inches wide in diameter and weighed 155 pounds. It operated on a passive, infrared (IR) homing principle. The missile was aimed by the AA gunsight. The IR seeker head generated a "ready" tone in the pilot's headset, (not unlike a rattlesnake's buzz, hence the name, Sidewinder), telling the pilot the missile had detected the target and was receiving a homing signal. The AIM-9 is still in production today although the models for the 1990s are the AIM-9L through -9R. They now weigh about 190 pounds and have a range of ten miles with a maximum speed of over Mach two. The Sidewinder has been called "the most influential and successful weapon of its type ever built." (Warplane Magazine, August/September 1989).
One F-86F-40, serial number 55-3816, was tested carrying four Century rocket pods beneath each wing. One last F-86F, serial number 52-4608, was equipped with a Rocketdyne AR2-3 rocket motor beneath its fuselage. This added 6,000 pounds more thrust. This Sabre climbed to 30,000 feet in 24 seconds! F-86Fs eventually equipped eight squadrons of the Air Defense Command in addition to those assigned to the Tactical Air Command. The ADC F86Fs were phased out by early 1955, and by the end of the year, TAC was replacing its "F"s with the F-86H. Some F86Fs went to the Air National Guard, but most were reassigned beginning in 1954 under the Mutual Defense Assistance Program to other nations where they flew well into the last quarter of the century. The F-86F was flown in several wars by other nations and fought successfully against the MiG-15, -17, -19 and -21. Several F-86Fs were modified for Korea and flew with cameras as RF4~6Fs with the 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing and later with Nationalist China. Some "F"s were later modified into radio controlled target planes and redesignated QF-86F. Some QF-86Fs were flown by the U.S. Army, and several are flown today by the U.S. Navy for missile tests. Of all F-86 models produced, the "F" survives in the greatest numbers today.
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.
Return to Classics Page