Considered the foremost military aircraft of the Fifties, the F-86 Sabre was a highly versatile fighter jet as fast as it was lethal.
The F-86 Sabre was a single-seat fighter jet built by North American Aviation (now part of Boeing) in the late-Forties. The aircraft – the first western jet to feature swept wings, as well as one of the first capable of breaking the sound barrier in a dive – saw action throughout the Korean War and Cold War.
Built initially to combat the Russian MiG-15, the Sabre was geared towards flight superiority roles, dispatched to undertake furious high-speed dogfights. Though inferior to the Russian jet in terms of lightness and weaponry, the reduced transonic drag delivered by the swept wings – combined with its streamlined fuselage and advanced electronics – granted it far superior handling. This ability to outmanoeuvre the MiG-15 soon saw it establish supremacy in combat.
Despite overall armament inferiority to its rivals, the Sabre was one of the first military jets capable of firing guided air-to-air missiles and later variants, such as the F-86E, were fitted with radar and targeting systems that were revolutionary for the time. These factors, along with its high service ceiling (ie maximum altitude) and its generous range of around 1,600 kilometres (1,000 miles), therefore enabled it to intercept any enemy aircraft with ease.
However, today the Sabre is most known for its world record-breaking performances, with variants of the jet setting five official speed records over a six-year period in the Forties and Fifties. Indeed, the F-86D made history in 1952 by not just setting the overall world speed record (1,123 kilometres/698 miles per hour), but then bettering it by an additional 27 kilometres (17 miles) per hour the following year.
Today no F-86s are still in service in national militaries, but due to their iconic status and reliable handling, many remain in operation in the civilian sphere, with 50 privately owned jets registered in the US alone.
Who was high flyer Jacqueline Cochran?
Born in 1906, Jacqueline Cochran was a pioneering American aviator and one of the most gifted pilots of her generation. This skill in the air eventually led her to become the first woman in the world to officially break the sound barrier -an amazing feat which she performed in a custom-built, one-off F-86 Sabre.
The record was broken on 18 May 1953 at Rogers Dry Lake in California. In her F-86, Cochran racked up an average speed of 1,050 kilometres (652 miles) per hour, breaking the sound barrier with fellow famous pilot Chuck Yeager as her wingman. Cochran would also go on to become the first woman to take off from an aircraft carrier as well as to reach Mach 2.
F-86 Sabre main parts
Wing – Both wings and tail are swept back, with the former fitted with electrically operated flaps and automatic leading-edge slats. The swept wings lend it excellent agility in dogfights.
Fuselage – A tapered conical fuselage is installed with a nose cone air inlet. Air is ducted under the cockpit and delivered to the J47 engine before being expelled at the rear via a nozzle.
Cockpit – The F-86E is fitted with a small bubble canopy cockpit that covers a single-seat cabin. The cockpit is in a very forward position, tucked just behind the nose cone.
Weaponry – The Sabre is equipped with six .50-caliber (12.7mm) M2 Browning machine guns and 16 127mm (5in) HVAR rockets, as well as a variety of freefall bombs and unguided missiles.
Electronics – An A-1CM gun sight in partnership with an AN/APG-3G radar system makes the F-86E one of the most technologically advanced jets of its time. The radar can quickly work out the range to potential targets.