The ferocious F-86 Sabre
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 recordbreaking 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.