THE FRENCH AIR FORCE & THE F-86K

by Jean-Marie Dieudonne

The F-86K was an all-weather interceptor developed by North American for use by NATO air forces in Europe. Based on the F-86D-40 airframe, the F-86K did not have the highly complex Hughes E-4 Fire Control System, although it did use the same radar. Air Force felt the E-4 FCS was far too complex and classified for use by NATO. Therefore, North American developed the MG-4 Fire Control System, a much simpler unit to maintain, that used the readily available, easily maintained, and highly accurate, type A-4 lead computing gunsight.

In addition, the F-86K would not be armed with air-to-air rockets as on the F-86D, instead having four M24A-1 20mm cannons, with a cyclic rate of 700-800 rounds/ minute. There were no provisions for carriage of any type of underwing ordnance. However, beginning in 1959, many F-86Ds and Ks in service with non-U.S air forces, were modified to fire the GAR-8 (AIM-9) Sidewinder heat-seeking air-to-air missile.

The first of 120 production F-86Ks built by North American Aviation, was delivered to the U.S. Air Force in May 1955. The majority of the North American production run was delivered to Norway and The Netherlands Air Forces. But the main production would be provided by Fiat of Italy. Fiat built a total of 221 F86Ks, plus taking taking delivery of the two initial protype F-86Ks, for a total of 223 aircraft. The Italian Air Force received 65 Fiat-built F-86Ks; France took delivery of 60 of the Turin-built Ks; and West Germany received 88.

It is the 60 F-86Ks that were delivered to France in 1957 that Sabre Pilot Jean-Marie Dieudonne was very familiar with. "I graduated in U.S. Air Force Pilot Class 53G, flying the T-6 Texan at Kinston, North Carolina, then the T-28 Trojan and T-33 Shooting Star at Bryan AFB, Texas, had gunnery training in the T-33 at Del Rio, Texas, then to Luke AFB, Arizona to fly the F-84E Thunderjet."

"The Armee de l'Aire (French Air Force) received 60 F-86K Sabres that were split into two squadrons - Escadre de Chasse 1/13 "Artois", and 2/13 "Alpes". We were the only squadron in the Armie de l'Aire classified as "Tout Temps", or all-weather fighter. The first squadron, EC 1/13, was created in 1956 at Lahr AB in West Germany. We had twelve pilots that initially were sent for an advanced instrument flying course since we were all coming from day fighter squadrons."

"Our first commander was Colonel Risso, a survivor and great fighter pilot from the French squadron that had operated in Russia during World War 2, known as the Normandie-Niemen Squadron. In late 1956, EC 1/13 began receiving the first of 8 brand new Lockheed T33 Shooting Star jet trainers, along with the F-86K simulator. The U.S. Air Force supplied two instructor pilots, Captains Linn and Evans, and we were under the overall command of Major Hill. By that time we started to gain more pilots, and we were charged with making them more profident in instrument flying using the T-33s and the F-86K simulator."

"About the same time as the simulator program began to end, the first of our brand new Fiat-built F-86Ks began to arrive at Lahr AB. This is where the exciting part began - flying that marvelous aircraft. I made my first flight in the F-86K on 11 February 1957.

"It was about that time that we moved from Lahr AB, West Germany, to the eastern part of France and a new airbase - Colmar Myenheim. Here we received the rest of the 60 F-86Ks and we split into the two operational squadrons, EC 1/13 and 2/13."

"Most of our training missions in the F-86K at this time were aircraft identification in both daylight and night-time conditions, and in all types of weather. Often, we would take off from Colmar, make a training intercept, then land at either a U.S. Air Force or RCAF base in West Germany, where we would refuel, then take off for another intercept before heading for home at Colmar."

"Once we became fully combat operational, we would sit alert at one end of the runway at Colmar. The alert pilots lived in tents both during summer and winter. (We had some USAF F-86D pilots visit us, standing alert beside our F-86Ks and living with us in tents during the winter. We didn't see them again so we knew it was very uncomfortable.)"

"I recall that we scrambled several times on one Czechoslovakian IL-18 airliner that was flying from Paris back towards the east. The guy would never follow the flight plan, and we suspected he was taking infrared photos of restricted areas. But he knew where he was supposed to be right away when he heard us approaching for a high-angle identification pass."

"I was also scrambled on one mission to help a pair of US F-l0lA Voodoo fighters that had an emergency at high altitude above a very thick undercast. They joined up on each side of me and we let down through the cloud deck for a landing at Solingen AB in West Germany. (They sent us a box of whiskey, thank you very much!) Such was our life in EC-1/13 with the F-86Ks."

In April 1962, and EC 1/13 converting in September. All remaining aircraft were consolidated into EC 3/13 at Colmar, beginning in April 1962. The last 22 Amnie de l'Aire F-86Ks were returned to Italy and sold to Central and South American nations that wanted a first line interceptor to defend their skies against unwanted intruders.


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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