As any fighter pilot would anticipate, the Sabre is an absolute joy to fly. Most pilots who have sat in it have expressed surprise at how tight the cockpit is – the old adage of strapping a fighter to your back is not far off when it comes to the F-86. 

 The Sabre loves to fly fast and, while she is no match for today’s afterburner equipped fighters, she accelerates to over 450 knots with little effort or sensation in the cockpit. Yet, she is surprisingly easy to fly – a fighter pilot’s fighter as they say. Even at an all up weight of 16,233 pounds, nosewheel rotation occurs at 115 knots and she eagerly leaps into the air at 131 knots – with only 2,800 feet of runway behind her. As the jet rapidly accelerates through 200 knots her leading edge slats automatically slide closed. Once over 300 knots the roll rate of the aircraft, even at half aileron deflection, is very fast – dizzyingly so at full deflection. Combining pitch, roll and acceleration rates as she races through the sky, it is readily apparent why the Sabre was so successful as a dog fighter – and why she was so revered by those fortunate enough to have flown her.

One of the truly amazing technological advances of the Sabre was its leading edge slats which automatically deploy at slow speeds to improve manoeuvrability. Mounted on simple rollers, there is no sound or sensation as they extend or retract, an invaluable asset in a slow speed dog fight or while turning base to final. Overhead pitches are nominally flown at typical fighter speeds of 300 knots. After lowering gear and full flap at 185 knots, final turn is flown at a minimum of 150 knots decreasing to 130 on final and 110 over the threshold.


The F-86 Sabre that was destined to become Hawk One has a distinguished history. It was the 1,104th Sabre to come off the Canadair assembly line in August 1954, bearing the RCAF serial number 23314. Built as a Sabre 5, it was one of 1,183 Canadian-built Sabres that were delivered to the RCAF between 1951 and 1957 to equip 12 squadrons in Europe as Canada’s aerial commitment to the defence of Europe in the early days of the Cold War.

The jet served in Europe with 441 (F) Sqn following the move of  RCAF 1 (F) Wing from North Luffenham, England to Marville, France. Upon repatriation to Canada, it served in a number of locations, most appropriately as one of the training aircraft for the Golden Hawks at RCAF Stn Trenton during the workups for the 1963 airshow season. The aircraft ended its service career with the RCAF and Canadian Forces at the Sabre Transition Unit located at CFB Chatham, New Brunswick where it was used as a lead-in fighter trainer for the CF-104 Starfighter. Sabre 23314 flew its last RCAF sortie on December 31st, 1968.

Following the removal of its six 50 calibre machine guns and several years in storage, 23314 was sold to private interests in the United States where it remained for some 35 years. Following its sale to Vintage Wings in September 2007, it winged its way home to Canada to begin a long restoration process.


Today, the Golden Hawk legacy lives on through the Snowbirds and the Discovery Air Hawk One -a refurbished classic RCAF F-86 Sabre 5 in the colours of the legendary Golden Hawks aerobatic team. The Hawk One is touring Canadian airshows and will be making a stop at the Western Canada Aviation Museum on June 14 and 15, 2011, allowing Canadians young and old to “look, touch and learn” about the rich aviation heritage that helped build our nation.

This flying tribute to a century of aviation history is a result of a unique partnership between the Vintage Wings of Canada, presenting sponsor Discovery Air and the Department of National Defence, assisted by generous donations from the private sector.