North American F-86E Sabre

Last revised October 29, 1999

The next production version of the day-fighter Sabre was the F-86E. Initial work on this model began at North American Aviation on November 15, 1949 under the company designation NA-170. A contract for 111 examples under the designation F-86E was finalized on January 17, 1950.

The F-86E was externally identical to the F-86A except for the presence of an "all-flying" tailplane, which was intended to correct many of the undesireable transonic characteristics that had been experienced by the F-86A. The stabilizer fitted to the F-86A was moveable by an electric motor which could change the angle of incidence in flight to trim out excessive air loads. Unfortunately, the elevator of the F-86A had been found to be largely ineffective in the supersonic regime, and recovery from a supersonic dive required very large angles of elevator movement which exerted so much stress that it could on occasion cause rivets to pop out from the trailing edge. Sabre pilots had complained that the flight controls appeared to be "strange" in the transonic speed range. They seemed to "reverse"--if the pilot wanted to pull up and his speed was near Mach 1, the aircraft continued to go down. Several accidents had been caused by this effect, which had come to be known as "control reversal". In reality, the controls did not actually reverse, they simply did not respond very effectively.

The new elevator of the F-86E was called an "all-flying tail". Instead of using the mechanically adjustable stabilizer just for trim control, the F-86E's elevators and horizontal stabilizer operated as one unit. The horizontal stabilizer was pivoted at its rear spar so that the leading edge was moved eight degrees up or down by the normal action of the controls. The elevator was mechanically linked to the stabilizer and moved in a specific relation to the stabilizer movement, with elevator travel being slightly greater than stabilizer travel. This effectively created a larger elevator surface--as the pilot called for more elevator, the stabilizer could move in conjunction with the elevator, creating a greater angle of attack, thus giving better control at all speeds.

In the F-86A, the elevator controls were actuated by cables, with a hydraulic boost. On the F-86E, the cable system was eliminated and replaced with a fully hydraulic system having greatly increased boost for the controls. Only the rudder remained cable-controlled. The fully hydraulic controls had their drawbacks. One of these was that the pilot lost his "feel" for the aircraft handling--the loads were no longer transmitted back to the control stick. An artificial "feel" had to be created for pilot feedback, which consisted of a bobweight and bungee system.

Externally, the only difference between the F-86A and E was the presence of a bulge in the fuselage of the E immediately in front of the stabilizer to cover the gearing mechanism. Internally, there were several significant changes. The A-1CM gunsight-AN/APG-30 radar combination that had first been installed in the last 24 F-86A-5-Nas was made standard on the F-86E. The J47-GE-13 engine rated at 5450 lb.s.t. was the powerplant.

The first F-86E (50-0579) made its maiden flight on September 23, 1950, with George Welch at the controls. The all-flying tail of the F-86E eliminated many of the undesirable compressibility effects that had been experienced with the F-86A. In particular, it made the recovery from a supersonic dive much easier to accomplish. The all-flying tail of the F-86E made sonic dive recovery much more straightforward, with much less danger of structural damage or catastrophic failure. In other respects, the performance of the F-86E was similar to that of the F-86A.

The first of 60 F-86E-1-NAs were delivered in February of 1951, followed by 51 F-86E-5-NAs which differed only in the placement of cockpit control panel switches. Both the E-1 and the E-5 had the same wing, the same V-shaped windscreen, and the same weapons capabilities as the F-86A.

First to get the new Sabre was the 33rd Fighter-Interceptor Wing at Otis AFB in Massachusetts. Both the 33rd and the 1st FIGs began receiving F-86Es in the early spring of 1951 to replace some of the older aircraft that had been acquired when the 4th FIG had been sent to Korea. In June of 1951, the first shipment of F-86Es was sent to Korea, where they gradually replaced F-86As in service. The F-86E entered action in Korea with the 4th Wing in September of 1951, replacing that unit's F-86As on a one-by-one basis.

The conversion to the F-86E was rather slow, and the last F-86A was not replaced until July of 1952. Following their replacement by F-86Es, the war-weary F-86As were returned to the USA and issued to Air National Guard squadrons.

In 1949, Canadair Ltd. of Montreal acquired a license to manufacture the Sabre in Canada. The first Canadian production version was powered by the 5200 lb.s.t. J47-GE-13 engine. The first aircraft assembled at Cartierville (near Montreal) was designated CL-13 Sabre Mk 1. This first Canadian Sabre was assembled from components largely supplied by NAA, and was essentially an F-86A-5-NA. Only one Sabre Mk 1 was built, the first production version being the Sabre Mk 2. The Mk 2 was the Canadian equivalent of the F-86E, and also used the J47-GE-13. Faced with a shortage of Sabres available for service in Korea, in February 1952, the USAF arranged to purchase sixty Sabre Mk.2s from Canada. These were designated F-86E-6-CAN, and were delivered to the USAF between February and July of 1952. These Canadian-built Sabres were fitted with US equipment in California before being delivered to operational units. With few exceptions, the entire production of Canadair E-6s went to squadrons in Korea, serving with both the 4th and the 51st FIGs.

Plans were for the F-86E-5-NA to be immediately followed on the NAA production lines by the F-86F. The F-86F, known as the NA-172 by the company, was to be equipped with the more powerful J47-GE-27 engine, rated at 5910 lb.s.t. A contract for 109 NA-172s was approved on April 11, 1951 and was increased to 360 aircraft on June 30. However, production by General Electric of the J47-GE-27 engine was delayed, and the first 132 NA-172s on the contract were fitted with the 5200 lb.s.t. J47-GE-13. Since this effectively made them F-86Es rather than F-86Fs, they were delivered to the USAF as F-86E-10-NAs from September 1951 to May 1952. These aircraft had provisions for the installation of the -27 engine once it became available, and they could be distinguished from the earlier F-86Es by the introduction of a new optically-flat windscreen which replaced the V-shaped windscreen of earlier F-86As and Es. In addition, the instrument panel layout was modified. Most of the E-10s went directly from the assembly lines to combat squadrons operating in Korea. Some of these aircraft were later retrofitted with the -27 engine when it became available.

Further delays in deliveries of -27 engines caused the last 93 aircraft on the NA-172 F-86F contract being completed as F-86E-15-NAs with J47-GE-13 engines from August to December of 1952. These aircraft were used by the Air Training Command and by Air National Guard squadrons, and none went to Korea. Many of the E-15s were later retrofitted with both the -27 engine and the 6-3 solid leading edge wing introduced on the F-86F.

A total of 369 F-86Es were built.

The following wings received F-86Es:

As the F-86E was phased out of active USAF service, many were passed on to the Air National Guard. The F-86E served with the following Air National Guard squadrons: 107, 121, 170, 171, 172, 198, and 199.

Serials of F-86E Sabre

50-0579/0638	North American F-86E-1-NA Sabre
			c/n 170-1/60.
50-0639/0689	North American F-86E-5-NA Sabre
			c/n 170-61/111.
51-2718/2849	North American F-86E-10-NA Sabre
			c/n 172-1/132.
51-12977/13069	North American F-86E-15-NA Sabre
			c/n 172-268/360.  Originally intended as F-86F-15-NA
52-2833/2892	Canadair F-86E-6-CAN Sabre
			Ex-RCAF Sabre Mk 2.

Specification of the F-86E-5-NA:

Engine: One General Electric J47-GE-13, 5200 Dimensions: wingspan 37.12 feet, length 37.54 feet, height 14.79 feet, wing area 287.9 square feet. Weights: 10,555 pounds empty, 14,578 pounds takeoff (clean) 16,346 pounds takeoff (drop tanks). Performance: maximum speed 679 mph at sea level, 601 mph at 35,000 feet. Initial climb rate 7250 feet per minute. Altitude of 30,000 feet could be reached in 6.3 minutes. Service ceiling 47,200 feet. Combat radius 321 miles, ferry range 1022 miles.


  1. F-86 Sabre in Action, Larry Davis, Squadron/Signal Publications, 1992.

  2. The North American Sabre, Ray Wagner, MacDonald, 1963.

  3. The American Fighter, Enzo Angelucci and Peter Bowers, Orion, 1987.

  4. Flash of the Sabre, Jack Dean, Wings Vol 22, No 5, 1992.

  5. Wings of the Weird and Wonderful, Captain Eric Brown, Airlife, 1985.