2 September 1953

Colonel J. Stanley Holtoner with his FAI record-setting F-86D Sabre, 51-6168. (FAI)

2 September 1953: Colonel J. Stanley Holtoner, U.S. Air Force, flew a production North American Aviation F-86D-35-NA Sabre, serial number 51-6168, to a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Speed Record over a 100 kilometer course at Vandalia, Ohio, averaging 1,110.75 kilometers per hour (690.188 miles per hour).¹ Colonel Holtoner was the commanding officer of the Air Force Flight Test Center, Edwards Air Force Base, California. He was awarded the Thompson Trophy.

On the previous day, Captain Harold E. Collins flew another F-86D Sabre, 51-6145, setting an FAI World Speed Record over a 15 kilometer straight course of 1,139.219 kilometers per hour (707.878 miles per hour).²

North American Aviation F-86D-35-NA Sabre 51-6168, FAI World Speed Record holder. (FAI)

The The North American Aviation, Inc. F-86D Sabre was an all-weather interceptor developed from North American Aviation F-86 fighter. It was the first single-seat interceptor, and it used a very sophisticated—for its time—electronic fire control system. It was equipped with search radar and armed with twenty-four unguided 2.75-inch (69.85 millimeter) Mk 4 Folding-Fin Aerial Rockets (FFAR) rockets carried in a retractable tray in its belly.

The aircraft was so complex that the pilot training course was the longest of any aircraft in the U.S. Air Force inventory, including the Boeing B-47 Stratojet.

North American Aviation F-86D-1-NA Sabre 50-463, the eighth production aircraft. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

The F-86D was larger than the F-86A, E and F fighters, with a longer and wider fuselage. It was also considerably heavier. The day fighter’s sliding canopy was replaced with a hinged “clamshell” canopy. A large, streamlined radome was above the reshaped engine intake.

The F-86D Sabre was 40 feet, 3¼ inches (12.275 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 1½ inches (11.316 meters), and overal height of 15 feet, 0 inches (4.572 meters). The interceptor had an empty weight of 13,518 pounds (6,131.7 kilograms), and maximum takeoff weight of 19,975 pounds (9,060.5 kilograms). It retained the leading edge slats of the F-86A, F-86E and early F-86F fighters. The horizontal stabilizer and elevators were replaced by a single, all-moving stabilator. All flight controls were hydraulically boosted. A “clamshell” canopy replaced the sliding unit of earlier models.

The F-86D was powered by a General Electric J47-GE-17 engine. This was a single-shaft, axial-flow turbojet with afterburner. The engine had a 12-stage compressor, 8 combustion chambers, and single-stage turbine. The J47-GE-17 was equipped with an electronic fuel control system which substantially reduced the pilot’s workload. It had a normal (continuous) power rating of 4,990 pounds of thrust (22.20 kilonewtons); military power, 5,425 pounds (24.13 kilonewtons) (30 minute limit), and maximum 7,500 pounds of thrust (33.36 kilonewtons) with afterburner (15 minute limit). (All power ratings at 7,950 r.p.m.) It was 18 feet, 10.0 inches (5.740 meters) long, 3 feet, 3.75 inches (1.010 meters) in diameter, and weighed 3,000 pounds (1,361 kilograms).

North American Aviation, Inc., F-86-50-NA Sabre 52-10143 banks toward the camera.

The maximum speed of the F-86D was 601 knots (692 miles per hour/1,113 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, 532 knots (612 miles per hour/985 kilometers per hour) at 40,000 feet (12,192 meters), and 504 knots (580 miles per hour/933 kilometers per hour)at 47,800 feet (14,569 meters).

The F-86D had an area intercept range of 241 nautical miles (277 statute miles/446 kilometers) and a service ceiling of 49,750 feet (15,164 meters). The maximum ferry range with external tanks was 668 nautical miles (769 statute miles/1,237 kilometers). Its initial rate of climb was 12,150 feet per minute (61.7 meters per second) from Sea Level at 16,068 pounds (7,288 kilograms). From a standing start, the F-86D could reach its service ceiling in 22.2 minutes.

The F-86D was armed with twenty-four 2.75-inch (69.85 millimeter) unguided Folding-Fin Aerial Rockets (FFAR) with explosive warheads. They were carried in a retractable tray, and could be fired in salvos of 6, 12, or 24 rockets. The FFAR was a solid-fuel rocket. The 7.55 pound (3.43 kilogram) warhead was proximity-fused, or could be set for contact detonation, or to explode when the rocket engine burned out.

North American Aviation F-86D-60-NA Sabre 53-4061 firing a salvo of FFARs.

The F-86D’s radar could detect a target at 30 miles (48 kilometers). The fire control system calculated a lead-collision-curve and provided guidance to the pilot through his radar scope. Once the interceptor was within 20 seconds of its target, the pilot selected the number of rockets to fire and pulled the trigger, which armed the system. At a range of 500 yards (457 meters), the fire control system launched the rockets.

Between December 1949 and September 1954, 2,505 F-86D Sabres (sometimes called the “Sabre Dog”) were built by North American Aviation. There were many variants (“block numbers”) and by 1955, almost all the D-models had been returned to maintenance depots or the manufacturer for standardization. 981 of these aircraft were modified to a new F-86L standard. The last F-86D was removed from U.S. Air Force service in 1961.

After its service with the United States Air Force, F-86D 51-6168 was transferred to the Greek Air Force. In 2009, it was photographed, stripped and sitting on its belly, at Agrinion Airport (AGQ), Greece.

North American Aviation, Inc., F-86-50-NA Sabre 52-10143, right roll over Malibu CA

¹ FAI Record File Number 10428

² FAI Record File Number 8868

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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9 thoughts on “2 September 1953

  1. Thanks for the article. As a kid I was intrigued by the slightly odd looks of the Sabre Dog and the wicked fast F-101 Voodoo. Also I wondered how accurate the rocket salvo could possibly be based on my extensive experience with bottle rockets launched from actual glass Coke bottles on the Fourth of July! I believe I recently read that the projected hit accuracy for the entire salvo was somewhere between 3% up to a sharpshooter 8%! I hope one of your readers knows something about these weapons in use. It must have been a hoot to feel that burner kick in when that bird was flying level at 250 knots. Happy Labor Day festivities.

    1. Thanks, Tom. Although I think of the F-86F as the “ideal” Sabre, The appearance of the F-86D is “curiously attractive.” (Quoting Rock Hudon’s description of Paula Prentiss in “Man’s Favorite Sport” 1964, one of the funniest movies of all time.)
      I find it . . . well, interesting. . . that at airplane so sophisticated (for its time) should have been armed with such a primitive weapon as an unguided rocket. And so few of them. While the rocket body was very rigid, at the speed the missile flew its stabilizing fins could deform significantly. Presumably, the “shotgun pattern” that resulted was considered desirable. I haven’t found any data on Circular Error Probability in the air-to-air role. The weight of the FFAR’s explosive warhead was only about 3 times that of a 20 mm cannon shell. Personally, I’d rather have 600 relatively accurate rounds than 24.

      1. You’re right on picking a cannon over that odd armament choice. Maybe it was seen as the low cost rocket alternative to the nuke warhead Falcon, AIM-4 it was called I believe.
        As to its looks it is absolutely dynamic compared to possibly the ugliest fighter ever built, Boeing’s entry into the Joint Strike Fighter competition with Lockheed. That thing was hit twice with the “double ugly stick.”

  2. As a young A1C in the USAF, I had the privilege of watching these great old airplanes fly. I was TDY at Suwon, we were flying F-102s from Naha and the ROK Air Force was flying F-86s and D models. 50 years ago!

  3. The F-86D was different enough from the A,E, F and H-models that it was initially designated the F-95. But in 1949, Congress decided they weren’t going to pay for a “new” fighter, so the Air Force and North American Aviation redesignated it the F-86D. This was the opposite of what happened just four years earlier when Boeing came up with a new variant of the B-29, the B-29D with 28-cylinder Pratt & Whitney engines replacing the 18-cylinder Wright engines, and with a larger vertical tailfin. Congress decided they weren’t going to pay for an upgrade of an old design, so Boeing and the Air Force rebranded it the B-50. Funny how the whims of politics work.

    Also, I’ve never thought it was just a coincidence that the radome looked exactly like the propeller hub of the F-86’s immediate ancestor, the P-51 Mustang. I imagine that engineer Edgar Schmued, the designer of both aircraft, decided. “I busted my a$$ calculating the aerodynamic contour of that prop spinner! Why bother doing the same work twice?” I wonder if they used the same tools to make both. The radome actually makes the Sabre Dog give us an idea of what the P-51 might have looked like if they’d applied the sweep-wing data to it BEFORE they adapted the airframe to a jet engine.

  4. Although the US Air Force stopped using the F-86D’s in 1961, they still soldered on in the Air National Guard units, until the mid 196’s.

  5. I was crew chief on F86D 210033 in 514th FIS Manston RAF station Dec 1954 to April 1958 great plane

  6. I flew the F-86L with the Nebraska ANG in 1963-64. We would “qualify” at least twice a year at either Volk Field WS or Alpena, MI. out over one of the Great Lakes. As I remember, we would select the full salvo of 24 until both the pilot and plane qualified by achieving at least three hits in the target. (A towed Del Mar) Once both were qualified, we would select six to be fired per run. I never fired all 24 at night, but six at night put out quite a display, especially if one of the fins did not fully deploy. Not armed, we would run against B-47s, B-52s, and occasionally B-58s, which was a real challenge. I thought it was a fun mission. It was a good bird in its day. Great site, Bryan; check it every morning with my coffee.

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