During the closing years of WW2, both the Allies and Axis powers were exerting every effort to put jet aircraft in the field. The Germans had successfully introduced their superb jet fighter, the Me 262, as well as a jet bomber, the Arado 234. The Japanese had been working on a twin-engined jet, the Nakajima Kikka (inspired by the Me 262) and the Royal Air Force had managed to equip No. 616 (South Yorkshire) Squadron, with Gloster Meteors, making it the Allies first jet unit, and had the much more capable De Havilland Vampire waiting in the wings. The United States was struggling to iron the bugs out of a test batch of the Lockheed YP-80 Shooting Star (using British jet engine technology) when hostilities ended, knowing that the earlier Bell P-59 Airacomet was totally unsuitable for combat. All the Allied nations recognised that German jet technology was far in advance of their own, and technical teams, such as Air Technical Intelligence teams of the United States Army Air Forces Intelligence Services, fanned out over Germany immediately behind the advancing armies, putting ‘Operation Lusty’ into effect. By gathering up personnel, data and aircraft, the United States sought to advance their own jet designs by an infusion of German technology.
North American Aviation had produced many thousands of the excellent P-51 Mustang during WW2, but their XFJ-1 Fury for the US Navy, which first flew in September 1946, and used a number of P-51 components, was a very pedestrian, straight-wing jet fighter . The addition of a 35 degree swept wing, fin and tail surfaces, using German research data mainly from Messerschmitt, and the General Electric J47-GE-7 turbojet of 5200 lbs thrust, gave the new F-86 a top speed of 685 mph. One weakness, if anything, was the standard armament of 6 x .50 calibre Browning machine guns, similar to those used in the P-51 Mustang (although with power-boosted feed motors). The Korean War, which broke out on 25th June 1950, pitted the F-86 against the redoubtable Russian-designed (and sometimes Russian-flown) MiG 15, which was equipped with 2 x NR-23 Nudelman-Rikhter 23mm cannon and 1 x N-37 Nudelman 37mm cannon. The Sabres which fought over the Korean peninsula (F-86A, E and F models) relied on superior tactics and pilot training to enable them to amass over 790 claimed kills at a ‘kill to loss ratio’ of 10:1
The F-86F Sabre shown here is on display at the New England Air Museum, Windsor Locks, Connecticut and is in the markings of Major Frederick “Boots” Blesse, USAF, a 10-kill ace with the 334th Squadron of the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing in Korea (later, Major General F. C. Blesse, USAF, DSM, Silver Star, DFC, Legion of Merit, Purple Heart). General Blesse later had a distinguished combat career in Vietnam, and wrote the classic book on fighter tactics, ‘No Guts, No Glory’.
The one problem I have with this beautiful F-86F is that, according to General Blesse in an interview given after his retirement, he never flew the F model Sabre whilst in Korea, ‘only the A and E models’. The F-86F was a major step forward with an improved gunsight and better combat agility, brought about by the so-called ’6-3′ wing and boundary layer fences, to improve air flow over the upper surface of the wing. Ideally, if you are telling a story of the Korean War (and a fine painting of a MiG kill by Major Blesse is also displayed) then try to match the machine to the man to the moment.