THE ROCKET-ASSISTED SABRE PROGRAM

In 1960, the Air Research and Development Command of the United States Air Force at Edwards Air Force Base in California conducted a series of tests on a rocket-assisted F-86F, serial number 52-4608, which was redesignated to JF86F-30. This modified Sabre quickly became the fastest and highest flying Sabre in aviation history. The project was a joint USAF and North American Aviation test program intended to develop an improved day interceptor that would fill the gap until the F-104 Stadighter became available in greater numbers. All test flights were conducted at the North American test area at Palmdale, California, and the project pilot was Jay Ranks.

The modification that made 52-4608 so unique was the installation of a RocketdyneAR2-3 rocket engine beneath its fuselage, located behind the wing at the site of the fuselage break. The AR2-3 system weighedapproximately 225 pounds, took only about thirty minutes to service, and was considered almost completely reliable. The rocket motor could be throttled to between 3,000 and 6,000 pounds of thrust at 35,000 feet, with a maximum usage of 2.8 minutes. It could be operated at any altitude up to 80,000 feet, and it could be restarted. The system, furthermore, was considered easy to learn for its pilots.

The AR2-3 rocket motor was fed by the same KP-4 jet fuel used by the Sabre's J47 jet engine, along with a hydrogen peroxide oxidizer fed by a pump from two external 200-gallon modified droptanks attached to the Sabre's outer wing pylons. Two other standard 120-gallon (IP-4) droptanks could also be carried on the inner pylons, but these greatly increased the drag on the rocket-assisted Sabre during the faster interceptions. Another unique feature with the JF-86F-30 Sabre was the addition of two GAR-8 Sidewinder missiles, in addition to the usual six .50 caliber machine guns, which could also be used.

During its testing, 52-4608, with the rocket package assisting its J47, reached 70,840 feet, although the recommended maximum altitude for attacking enemy aircraft was placed at 60,000 feet where both the J47 and the AR2-3 still functioned normally. At 45,000 feet, the rocket-assisted F86F was capable of Mach 1.03 in level flight, and the Sabre could achieve an incredible Mach 1.22 at 60,000 feet in level flight (with both figures based upon not carrying the two inboard JPA drop tanks). The time to climb for the rocket-assisted Sabre to 60,000 feet was 2.4 minutes, and it could reach a target 95 nautical miles away at 60,000 feet in 16.7 minutes from the time it began rolling for take off.

The AR2-3 assisted Sabre concept was generally successful, but it did not proceed beyond its testing program. Several AR2-3 rocket motors, however, were later used in the NF104 program by test pilots at Edwards Air Force Base.

Whatever happened to the world's fastest and highest flying Sabre? We are pleased to report that one of our Sabre Societymembers, Bob Scott of San Martln, California, who flew F-86As, "E"s, "Fs and "H"s with the Air Force and the Air National Guard, and who later retired as a Delta Air Lines L-1011 Captain, acquired 52608 in the early 1970s from salvage at North Ainerican Aviation. This remarkable F-86F Sabre is now in storage in a disassembled condition. Bob hopes it will someday be restored and placed in the Edwards Air Force Base museum, although it potentially could be restored to fly again. Bob's famous Sabre currently carries Federal Aviation Administration registration number N57963 as of July 1989.


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