In the early 1950s, the air forces of America's NATO allies had an urgent need for a high performance interceptor capable of meeting the perceived Soviet bomber threat. As the highest-performance interceptor in the US inventory, the F-86D was a natural choice. However, the advanced Hughes E-4 fire-control system of the F-86D was considered too sensitive for export overseas, lest Soviet intelligence get their hands on it. In addition, the USAF was at that time experiencing troubles of its own with the maintenance and reliability of the E-4, and it was thought that it was not a good idea to burden America's NATO allies with such a troublesome and unreliable system, advanced though it might be. The F-86K was an simplified version of the F-86D interceptor designed to meet this need.
On January 22, 1953, NAA was informed by the USAF that they would like to have Italy manufacture an interceptor that would be similar in configuration to the F-86D but would have cannon armament instead of the FFARs. It should have a simpler fire control system and carry a crew of two rather than just one. North American replied that a two-seat version of the F-86D would be much too costly and time-consuming to design, and proposed instead that the single-seat format of the F-86D be retained, but in a simplified version.
The USAF accepted North American's suggestion, and the project was given the company designation of NA-205. In place of the E-4 fire control system, NAA came up with a new MG-4 fire control system designed for operation with a quartet of 20-mm M-24A1 cannon with 132 rpg. Although this system was less complex than the E-4, it nevertheless retained the APG-37 nose radar. The new simplified system still permitted the use of the same lead-pursuit attack strategy employed by the F-86D, automatically computing the firing range for the cannon and automatically displaying the suggested breakaway time. A modified AC type A-4 gunsight assembly was to be installed.
Two government-furnished F-86D-40-NAs were allocated to the NA-205 project. Serials were 52-3630 and 52-3804. Work on the project began on May 14, 1953. The designation YF-86K was applied to the two planes.
On May 16, 1953, a license agreement was reached with Fiat in which the F-86K would be assembled in Italy from US-supplied components. Two days later, a contract committed MDAP funds for 50 sets of F-86K parts that would be manufactured by NAA in California but assembled in Italy by Fiat. This contract was known on company records as NA-207. Since these aircraft were purchased with MDAP funds, they were given USAF serial numbers, although they never actually served with the USAF. These serials were 53-8273/8322. According to the terms of the contract, these Italian-assembled F-86Ks were to be supplied to France's Armee de l'Air, to the newly-revived West German Luftwaffe, as well as to Italy's own newly-organized Aeronautica Militare. The air forces of Holland and Norway later joined the program.
However, in order to get quantity production underway as soon as possible, 120 F-86Ks were to be assembled in California by NAA under contract NA-213 approved on December 18, 1953. These planes were to be supplied to Norway and the Netherlands, but these aircraft were carried on USAF books with serials 54-1231 thru 54-1350 since they were purchased with MDAP funds.
The first YF-86K (53-3630) flew on July 15, 1954, piloted by NAA test pilot Raymond Morris. It had the same engine as the F-86D-40-NA, a J47-GE-17B. The internal fuel tankage remained the same, at 610 US gallons. Like the F-86D, it could carry a pair of 120 US gallon drop tanks on underwing pylons. In order to make room for the 20-mm cannon and their ammunition, the YF-86K differed from the D in having a slightly longer nose (40.9 feet as opposed to 40.3 feet), and the gun bays and muzzle ports were cut into the forward fuselage. Large vent holes were cut into the gun bay doors to relieve the gun gas buildup that had been such a problem in Korea. The afterburning J47 engine had the same electronic fuel control system as was found in the USAF F-86D. All of the other major assemblies found in the F-86D were replicated on the YF-86K, including the wing, the wing leading edge slats, the landing gear, the tail assembly (including the drag chute) and the flight control systems. Both of the YF-86Ks were shipped to Italy after initial tests.
The first North American-built F-86K (54-1231) made its maiden flight on March 8, 1955. The 120 NA-213 aircraft were manufactured in California from April to December 1955. One F-86K was kept in the USA for test work, but 60 were delivered to Norway's Kongelige Norske Flyvapen and 59 went to the Netherlands' Koninklijke Nederlandse Luchtmacht.
North American shipped 50 sets of F-86K parts to Italy for assembly under the NA-207 contract. The first of the Fiat-assembled F-86Ks (MM6185/53-8273) was flown on May 23, 1955, with NAA representative Col. Arthur de Bolt at the controls. More sets of F-86K parts were delivered to Italy under the following contracts:
The NA-242 batch differed from the previous batches by having the extended wing leading edges and wingtips of the F-86F-40-NA, increasing wingspan from 37.1 to 39.1 feet and wing area from 287.9 to 313.37 square feet. Many previous Fiat-assembled F-86Ks were modified in the field to bring them up to the NA-242 standard.
Both of the US-assembled YF-86Ks and 63 of the Fiat-assembled F-86Ks were delivered to Italy's Aeronautica Militare Italiana (AMI) in 1956-57, equipping the 1o Aerobrigata. The first two operational aircraft (MM6192/6193) were delivered from Turin on November 2, 1955. The first unit to receive the F-86K was 6 Gruppo Caccia Ogni Tempo of 1 Stormo at Istrana. The following gruppi flew the F-86K: 6 Gruppo/1 Stormo, 17 Gruppo/1 Stormo, 23 Gruppo/1 Stormo, 21 Gruppo/51 Aerobrigata, 22 Gruppo/51 Aerobrigata, 12 Gruppo/4 Aerobrigata. The final AMI F-86K was delivered by Fiat in October of 1957.
Serials of Fiat-built F-86Ks delivered to the AMI were MM6185/6234 (53-8273/8322), MM6235/6237 (55-4811/4813), plus the following planes which had no MM serials allocated: 55-4871, 4880, 4889/4893, 4903, and 4905/4906. These were later joined by 22 former French F-86Ks in 1962. These planes were not assigned MM numbers, and had the USAF serials 55-4815, 4818/4821, 4824, 4829/4830, 4832, 4833, 4837, 4843, 4844, 4846, 4854, 4858/4860, 4863, 4865, 4868, and 4869. Eight more Ks were transferred to the AMI from the Netherlands in 1963. These were 54-1249, 1256, 1261, 1275, 1288, 1292, 1297, and 1315.
Phaseout of the AMI F-86K began during 1964, when Italian Air Force units began transitioning to the F-104 Starfighter. The last AMI F-86K was withdrawn from service in July of 1973.
France's Armee de l'Air received 62 Fiat-built F-86Ks. The first F-86Ks arrived in France in September of 1956, deliveries continuing until mid-1957. Serials were 55-4814/4844, 55-4846/4865, 55-4867/4780, 55-4872/4874, and 55-4876/4879. First to receive the type was ECTT 1/13 "Artois", initially based at Lahr in Germany, followed by ECTT 2/13 "Alpes" which joined 1/13 after it transferred to Colmar. When 1/13 reequipped with Mirages in 1962, a third unit was formed, ECTT 3/13 "Auvergne". Some or possibly all of these F-86Ks received Sidewinder launch rails.
The Armee de l'Air F-86Ks were replaced by Mirage IIIC fighters beginning in 1962. The last French F-86Ks were phased out in August of 1962. Following their withdrawal from active service with the Armee de l'Air, 22 French F-86Ks were returned to Italy. Most of the remainder were destroyed under the terms of the MAP agreement.
Norway operated 60 NAA-built F-86Ks, 59 being delivered between September 1955 and October 1956. The remaining aircraft was lost during acceptance trials in the USA, and was not replaced until January of 1960. A hangar fire destroyed four of Norway's F-86Ks on March 10, 1956, and four Fiat-assembled F-86Ks (55-4874, -4884, -4886, -4890) were delivered in June of 1956 as replacements. The F-86K served with No. 337 and No. 339 Squadrons based at Gardermoen, and later with No. 332 and No. 334 Squadrons at Rygge (having replaced the F-86Fs of those units). Norwegian F-86Ks went out of service in 1966-67. As they were withdrawn from service, most were scrapped.
Holland's Koninklijke Luchtmacht (KLu) operated 57 NAA-built F-86Ks. These were delivered by ship between October 1955 and April 1956. They served with No. 700 Squadron, No. 701 Squadron, and No. 702 Squadron. In 1957, these aircraft were supplemented by six F-86Ks assembled in Italy by Fiat. Sixteen F-86Ks were written off while in Dutch service, and eight were returned to Italy in 1963. The Dutch F-86Ks were replaced by F-104G Starfighters in the mid 1960s. As they were removed from service, most Dutch F-86Ks were scrapped, but F-86K 54-1305 (serialed Q-305) survived and is on display at the RNAF museum in Soesterburg.
As detailed above, 63 Fiat-assembled F-86Ks went to Italy, 62 went to France, six went to the Netherlands and Norway got 4. The remaining 86 of the 221 Italian-assembled F-86Ks went to the West German Luftwaffe in 1957/1958, although a number of them remained stored until 1960 and some never actually flew in West German service. The first Luftwaffe F-86K unit became operational in October of 1960. Luftwaffe F-86K units included JG 74 and JG-75. Serials were 55-4845, 4866, 4878, 4881, 4882, 4888, 4895/4899, 4901, 4904, 4907/4935, 4935, 4936, 56-4116/4160. In 1962, all Luftwaffe F-86Ks were equipped with Martin-Baker ejector seats and were made Sidewinder capable.
The Luftwaffe F-86Ks remained in service until 1966, when they were finally replaced by F-104G Starfighters. Most of the ex-Luftwaffe F-86Ks were passed along to Venezuela. During its nearly seven years of service with the Luftwaffe, only four F-86Ks were lost to accidents.
In the field, the four 20-mm cannon of the F-86K were often supplemented by a pair of AIM-9B Sidewinder infrared-homing air-to-air missiles mounted on underwing launchers.
As F-86Ks were withdrawn from front-line service in Germany, Italy, Norway, Holland, and France, many were overhauled and transferred to other air forces.
74 former-Luftwaffe F-86Ks were sold to the Fuerzas Aereas Venezolanos in 1966. F-86Ks transferred from Germany were 55-4866, 4895, 4896, 4898, 4901, 4907, 4910/4913, 4823, 4925, 4930, 56-446/4118, 56-4121/4126, 4128, 4129, 4131, 4132, 4134/4144, 4146/4145, 4158/4160. An additional 27 F-86Ks may have been transferred solely for use as spares. The flew with Escuadron de Cazas 34 and 35, and may have equipped EdC 36 (along with F-86Fs) for a while. Many F-86Ks remained in storage and never actually flew. The F-86K proved to be a maintenance nightmare for the FAV, and at least 27 were involved in mishaps. It appears that out of the total of 74 F-86Ks received by the FAV, about 27 were cannibalized for spare parts to keep the remainder flying. Most FAV F-86Ks were grounded in July of 1969 with over-age hydraulic hoses. Five FAV F-86Ks were sold to Honduras in 1969. The last FAV F-86Ks were withdrawn during the early 1970s.
The Fuerza Aerea Hondurena received five ex-FAV F-86Ks from Venezuela in 1969, but only two were actually airworthy. They may have seen some action shortly after the 1969 "Soccer War" with El Salvador, but they proved too expensive to operate and were retired in 1980.
40 F-86Ks were overhauled by Fiat in 1963-64 and passed along to the Turk Hava Kuvvetleri (THK), the Turkish air force. These remained in service until 1969.
Engine: One General Electric J47-GE-17B, 7500 lb static thrust with afterburner.
Performance: Maximum speed 692 mph at sea level, 612 mph at 40,000 feet. Initial climb rate 12,000 feet per minute. Altitude of 40,000 feet attained in 7.3 minutes. Service ceiling 49,600 feet. Combat range 272 miles, ferry range 744 miles.
Weights: 13,367 pounds empty, 16,252 pounds combat weight, 20,171 pounds takeoff (area interceptor).
Dimensions: Wingspan 37.12 feet, length 40.93 feet, height 15 feet, wing area 287.9 square feet.
Armament: Four 20-mm M-24A1 cannon with 132 rpg. In addition, a pair of AIM-9B Sidewinder infrared-homing air-to-air missiles were often mounted on underwing launchers
53-8273/8322 North American F-86K Sabre c/n 207-1/50. Assembled by Fiat from NAA-built components 54-1231/1232 North American F-86K-13-NA Sabre c/n 213-1/2. For MDAP 54-1233/1238 North American F-86K-14-NA Sabre c/n 213-3/8. For MDAP 54-1239/1250 North American F-86K-15-NA Sabre c/n 213-9/20. For MDAP 54-1251/1275 North American F-86K-17-NA Sabre c/n 213-21/45. For MDAP 54-1276/1300 North American F-86K-18-NA Sabre c/n 213-46/70. For MDAP 54-1301/1350 North American F-86K-19-NA Sabre c/n 213-71/120. For MDAP 55-4811/4936 North American F-86K Sabre c/n 221-51/176. Assembled by Fiat from NAA-built components