by Larry Davis
Towards the end of 1952, the 15th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron sought authorization to reequip with newer aircraft. The F-86F was already in service with both the 4th and 51st Fighter interceptor Groups, and new aircraft were arriving each day. North American Aviation was working on a factory-built RF-86, but it was still many months away. Far East Air Material Command authorized a conversion of several F-86F aircraft to RF-86F under Project HAYMAKER. Several brand new F-86F-30 aircraft went to the Tsuiki Rear Echelon Maintenance Combined Operation (REMCO) facility in Japan after a short combat stint with one of the groups in Korea.
At Tsuiki, the aircraft had all armament, radars, and the gun sight removed. A camera suite identical to that of the ASHTRAY RF-86A was then installed, but using K-14 cameras in place of the slower speed K-9s Again, the K-14s had to be mounted horizontally shooting through a mirror complex with an aperture in the bottom of the fuselage. The K-14 dicing camera was now mounted between the two vertical cameras. As with the RF-86A, the underside of the forward fuselage was bulged to cover the camera suite installation. The Tsuiki REMCO facility built 3 HAYMAKER RF-86F-30s, serial 52-4330, -4257, and -4529.
The HAYMAKER, RF-86F-30s began equipping the 15th TRS at Kimpo in 1953, flying side by side with the ASHTRAY aircraft that remained in service. Once again, the RF-86Fs were marked identical to aircraft of the 4th FTG, including painting fake gun ports on the blank gun panels. The mission profiles were identical to the RF-86A. Takeoff as lead in a flight of four 4th FIG F-86s. Near the target area, often north of the Yalu River, the RF-86F broke down and away from the rest of the flight. The RF-86F pilot would then make a high Mach run over the target while the rest of the flight orbited nearby.
The results of both the ASHTRAY and HAYMAKER programs were successful in spite of the shortcomings of a 'field-modified' installation. No HAYMAKER aircraft were lost. In June 1953, the first North American RF-86F production aircraft began arriving in Korea. The factory-built aircraft were a vast improvement over the HAYMAKER aircraft. Using all the available information that was coming in daily from the pilots of the 67th TRW in Korea, North American engineers fixed all the problems that
The camera suite was the latest high speed unit, using a pair of K-22s and a K-l7 dicing camera. However, it was not mounted horizontally, and used no mirrors in the installation. The K-22s were mounted vertically. However, the vertically mounted K-22s, with their longer focal length, took the main camera body and film magazines, outside the fuselage contours of the F-86. North American solved this by simply designing a large bulge on the gun bay door, which covered the film magazine.
Ballast totaling almost 750 lbs, needed to re-align the aircraft center of gravity, was added to the forward fuselage. The canopy of the factory-built RF-86F was elongated to counter a buffet caused by the bulged fuselage. All camera windows had sliding doors. And the factory aircraft had the new '6-3' hard wing with leading edge fences.
North American built 8 RF-86Fs for the US Air Force (serials 52A377, -4379, -4492, -4800, -4808, -4822, A823, and 4864). None of the factory-built RF-86Fs were completed in time to join in the combat during the war in Korea. However, all the RF-86Fs were involved in clandestine and standard reconnaissance missions after the war ended, including many missions into China and Soviet Union air space which remain classified to this day.
In spite of the success in combat of the RF-86A and F programs, Air Force chose a reconnaissance version of the Republic F-84F as their next generation tactical recon aircraft - the RF-84F Thunderflash. However, interest in the RF-86F by Japan, South Korea, and Nationalist China, kept the type in front line service into the 1980s. North American Aviation provided conversion 'kits' to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, who were in the process of assembling F-86FA-40 aircraft.
Mitsubishi converted at least 18 aircraft to RF-86F-40 standard. The 501st Hikotai (squadron) finally turned in their RF-86Fs in favor of RF-4E Phantoms on I October 1979 South Korea had one squadron of 10 RF-86Fs still flying missions in the late 1980s. These aircraft were made up of F-86F-25 and -30 air frames, which were brought up to F-40 standard, then converted to RF-86F. The Taiwanese Air Force on Formosa had 7 RF-86Fs, all modified similar to the South Korean RF-86Fs.
Several RF-86F aircraft survived the many years of front line service, only to be used up in the US Navy target drone program at China Lake NAS. One of the original North American Aviation built RF-86F-30s assigned to the 15th TRS, #524492, had been a 'gate guard' at Bergstrom AFB, Texas until the base was closed. It is now at the US Air Force Museum awaiting a complete restoration back to its Cold War markings of the immediate post-Korean War era.
The Sabrejet Classics Editor is working with the restoration people at Wright-Patterson and would like to hear from any member that might have stories and photos of 15th TRS RF-86Fs, especially the aircraft being restored. Please contact Larry Davis, Sabrejet Classics Editor, 4713 Cleveland Ave. NW, Canton, OH 44709.
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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