FIRST GENERATION FIGHTER
The Sabre F-86 was designed in answer to the US Air Force’s need for a high altitude, day fighter / escort / interceptor. The F-86 entered service in 1949, with the Strategic Air Command’s 22nd Bomb Wing, 1st Fighter Wing, and 1st Fighter Interceptor Wing.
In November 1950, the Soviet-built MiG-15 first appeared over the skies of Korea. Vastly superior to every United Nations aircraft then in use in the theater, the MiG forced the US Air Force to rush three squadrons of F-86s to Korea. Upon arriving, US pilots achieved a high level of success against the MiG. This was largely due to experience as many of the US pilots were World War II veterans whereas their North Korean and Chinese adversaries were relative novices.
American success was less pronounced when F-86s encountered MiGs flown by Soviet pilots. In comparison, the F-86 could out dive and out turn the MiG, but was inferior in rate of climb, ceiling, and acceleration. Nevertheless, the F-86 soon became the iconic American aircraft of the conflict and all but one US Air Force ace achieved that status flying the Sabre. The most famous engagements involving the F-86 occurred over northwestern North Korea in an area known a “MiG Alley.” In this area, Sabres and MiGs frequently dueled, making it the birthplace of jet vs. jet aerial combat.
After the war, the US Air Force claimed a kill ratio of around 10 to 1 for MiG-Sabre battles. Recent research has challenged this and suggested that the ratio was much lower. In the years after the war, the F-86 was retired from frontline squadrons as the Century Series fighters, such as the F-100, F-102, and F-106, started to arrive.
While the F-86 ceased to be a frontline fighter for the US, it was exported heavily and saw service with over thirty foreign air forces such as Taiwan where its pilots continued to compile an impressive record against their MiG-equipped Communist Chinese foes. The F-86 also saw service with the Pakistani Air Force during both the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pakistani Wars.
After thirty-one years of service, the final F-86s were retired by Portugal in 1980.
Check out these videos:
- A close up view of the American passion for the Sabre and a tribute to the Korean War ,
- A musical slide show of the Korean War