by Duncan Curtis

Duncan Curtis is an aviation writer living in England who has followed F-86 activity "across the pond" for many years. We are pleased to publish his first story about overseas Sabres. Watch for additional segments about F-86s in the United Kingdom and Europe in future issues of Sabre Jet Classics.

The United Kingdom now plays host to two Sabres. One is an F-86D that is under restoration and will be discussed in a future story, and the other is a beautifully restored F-86A that will soon return to the sky. In this article, we will review the history of the only F-86A Sabre in Great Britain at the present time.

F-86A 48-178

178 was assembled in Los Angeles and delivered to the United States Air Force on April 18,1949 as the 50th F-86A-5 Sabre. Assigned to 1st Fighter Group at March Air Force Base, California, the aircraft served with either the 27th, 71st or 94th FIS (as yet not ascertained) until March 1951 when it was then assigned to the 56th Fighter Group (61st, 62nd, 63rd FIS) based at Seifridge Air Force Base, Michigan.

This tour was short, however, and by April 1951, 178 was with the 116th FIS, Washington Air National Guard, which had been called to active duty during the Korean War. By August 1951, the aircraft was operating with the 93rd FIS at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. While many F-86As were sent to Korea 178 missed out on the glory, and along with other aircraft in the 93rd, was tasked with the defense of the Los Alamos nuclear facility. 178 spent over a year and a half with the 93rd, although USAF records become puzzling at this point. They have the aircraft serving with the "469" FIS at McGhee-Tyson Airport, Tennessee. I presume this is a misprint for the "460" FIS, although even then, this squadron did not activate (at McGhee-Tyson, with the F-86D) until March 1954. Can anyone clarify this?

In May 1954, the Sabre was sent to the 196th FBS, California Air National Guard, and flew from Ontario International Airport. It spent over three years with the Guard, and about the time the 196th started receiving the F-86D/L. in August 1957, 178 passed to the Air National Guard Maintenance Squadron at Ontario. In February 1958, the aircraft was dropped from the USAF inventory.

'l'he story may have ended there had it not been for Ben Hall of Seattle, Washington. He discovered 178 discarded in a Fresno scrapyard in 1970. Twelve years of neglect had not been kind to the Sabre. The cockpit had been well stripped and there was no engine. Undaunted, Hall bought 178 and parts from another F-86A, 47-606. He decided on a rebuild to flying condition. Four years and much hard work was involved, and the aircraft, now registered N68388 and painted predominently white, flew from Paine Field, Washington on May 24,1974. The first public display followed at Abbotsford in Canada. Ben Hall, however, gradually found the Sabre to be more and more expensive to operate, and he finally sold the aircraft to John Dilley in Fort Wayne, Indiana during 1989. Prior to this, the aircraft was re-registered N178 in October 1983 and was painted as a Korean War 4th FIW machine, although with incorrectly colored identification stripes.

As we go to press, we are pleased to report that 178 (G-SABR) flew again at 15:10 local time on May 21, 1992. Adrian Gjertsen flew the F-86A up to 6,000, with the gear down at all times, and after one practice approach, landed safely at Bounemouth after a 25 minute flight. The only problem to report was with the radio, which was about the only modern part on the Sabre! Congratulations to all members of the Golden Apple Trust's team.

WEBMASTER NOTE: The author of this artilce, Duncan Curtis, has an outstanding Web Site which can be found on our "Links to other aviation sites" section.

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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