North American Avitation F-86F-30-NA (early) - "Cheetahs over Korea"

Would you like to see the F-86F-30-NA (early) in game?
  • Yes, as a tech tree vehicle
  • Yes, as a premium vehicle
  • Yes, as an event vehicle
  • Yes, as a squadron vehicle
  • No, I would not like the SAAF’s F-86F in game.
0 voters

A South African airman of 2 Squadron poses with his F-86F-30 on the tarmac. The vast majority of the Sabres operated by the SAAF were early model F-86F-30s, which featured a wing similar to the F-86A-5 save for the addition of one hardpoint on each wing. This wing was phased out by most USAF units later in the Korean War due to the superior high speed and high altitude handling characteristics of the hard edge wing.


      For anyone who’s played up to early jets, or military aviation buffs in general, the Sabre probably doesn’t need any introduction. As both an icon of the Korean War and most air forces’ first step into the jet age, it’s (deservedly) earned its fair share of fame. However, with such a long service history there are bound to be some less popular variants which still have their own unique attributes. For example, out of the eight F-86Fs present in the game, all of them either have the “6-3” hard edge wing or the improved extended wing of the F-86F-40, but there is no example of the early model F-86F in game, which used the same wing as the F-86A-5. This combination of the F-86F’s improved engine and F-86A’s wing type was the first to reach service in Korea, and among its users was 2 Squadron SAAF.


  • Transsonic swept-wing fighter bomber of the early jet age
  • First jet to be operated by the SAAF
  • Uprated J47-GE-27 engine while retaining the F-86A-5’s wing
  • All-moving tailplane for better high speed control
  • Additional pylons for drop tanks



Click here to reveal

      As the war in Korea between the UN coalition and Communist forces raged, the F-86A was getting its baptism of fire in the skies against MiG-15s. Compared to the planes it replaced, such as F-80s, F-84s, and even F-51 Mustangs, the modern new fighter proved to be a deadly upgrade for American pilots and other air forces who operated under their umbrella in terms of maneuverability, speed, and staying power. However, both the plane’s pilots and its designers recognized that there was good room for improvement. Specifically, the MiG-15 was noted for its high altitude performance, which the F-86A struggled to meet. To rectify this issue, the easiest solution was to address the Sabre’s main deficiency at the time: its engine power. First came the F-86E, which besides an uprated J47-GE-13 (which was fitted to late production F-86As and retrofitted to early ones) had an all-moving tailplane for better response at high speed. The F-86F was what truly elevated the platform, though, with the even more powerful J47-GE-27 giving better performance at all heights.


Maj. James Hagerstrom poses of the 67th FBS poses in front of his F-86F-30-NA with “MiG Poison” written on the nose. The six kill marks on his cockpit prove that name isn’t just for show. Notably, the fin flash of 67th FBS was identical to 2 Squadron SAAF’s save for the fact that the frontmost stripe was red instead of orange like on the SAAF planes (even if the colorization here doesn’t make it look that way). It’s not clear whether this pattern was copied and changed by SAAF pilots because of its similarity to the South African tricolor or if they shared a similar fin flash as a show of comradery.

      Originally, the F-86F was delayed because General Electric couldn’t produce its new engine in time, so the F-86E-10 was originally produced with the J47-GE-13 but could be upgraded to the -27. Those which left the factory with the J47-GE-27 were considered the first F-86F aircraft and left for Korea in mid-1952, with as many more going out as North American and Columbus (who had been roped in to help make more Sabres) could produce. Initially, the F-86F was sent to the 84th FIS (Fighter-Interceptor Squadron) with more being delivered to the 4th FIW (Fighter-Interceptor Wing), and as the name suggests it was meant to be employed in mostly fighter operations. However, the next F-86Fs after the first batches would be different in that they included a new pylon for the exclusive purpose of carrying drop tanks, allowing both bombs and drop tanks to be carried at once. The North American-produced F-86F-30-NA would go to Korea and equip the 8th and 18th FBW (Fighter-Bomber Wing) while the Columbus-produced F-86F-25-NH would be retained for use by other USAF units.

F-51D 361 “Miss Marunouchi” of 2 Squadron SAAF is being given final checks by ground crew before it takes off for a sortie. For over half of their time in Korea - and the majority of their sorties - 2 Squadron flew the Mustang in ground attack operations. Apparently, the SAAF managed to cannibalize three written off Mustangs and combine their parts into one functional plane in the field.

      Until the F-86F arrived, most fighter-bomber units were using the F-51D Mustang, including the 18th FBW which the SAAF was attached to. The Mustang was primarily employed for ground attack as it stood no chance against any sort of jet fighter if the jet pilot wasn’t a fool. Its excellent range, good carrying capacity, and pleasant flight characteristics made it good for the job, but the liquid cooled Merlin engine made the Mustang vulnerable to ground fire as if the radiator were damaged the plane would most likely have to make an emergency landing well before making it back to base. The volunteers of 2 Squadron SAAF came into possession of 95 F-51Ds on loan from the USAF to support the UN’s war effort, and lost 74 of them in intense action between enemy fire and accidents over 10,373 sorties. While this loss rate was higher than average, it speaks more to the intensity of their mission than any lack of skill, as South Korea acknowledged their “higher performance than is normally expected” in a Presidential Unit Citation which was thanks in good part to their excellent ground crew. Whether because of their performance or by virtue of being attached to 18th FBW, 2 Squadron would be converted to F-86Fs at the start of 1953 which was a very welcome upgrade compared to the Mustang.

F-86F-30-NA 622 “Lady of Lorette” is seen here with a couple other SAAF Sabres on the ground. She was unique among 2 Squadron’s aircraft for having the ‘6-3’ hard edge extended wing which became standard fit for later F-86Fs (before the extended slat wing was introduced, anyway). This wing did improve overall speed and especially high altitude performance and maneuverability, but with the SAAF’s typical operating altitudes for ground support, it can be imagined that the crew didn’t find those new advantages to be worth the drawbacks.

      Following conversion training in Japan, 2 Squadron was equipped with the new planes and immediately got to work. Starting from late February 1953, in the five short months before the armistice would be signed the Flying Cheetahs would set out on 1,694 sorties in total with their F-86Fs. Based on the Sabre’s track record, the SAAF pilots were pretty confident they could handle the MiG-15s with ease, but they never encountered any since the times they were attacked in their Mustangs and so continued to primarily provide air support. Action was intense in the months just before the armistice and on the last day of the war 2 Squadron went all out as a show of force, conducting 41 sorties. Out of the 22 Sabres assigned to the squadron, only four were lost during combat (with one hydraulic failure happening after the armistice), a significantly better rate than the Mustang even against similar odds. Of note is that while most if not all other F-86Fs in Korea were upgraded in the field to ‘6-3’ wings using kits, the SAAF doesn’t seem to have ever bothered with it. The sole known example of a hard-edge winged F-86F in 2 Squadron was a replacement for a combat loss.


Four CL-13Bs of the SAAF fly in formation most likely some time in the 70’s. After their experience in Korea, the SAAF were extremely fond of the Sabre, and purchasing the improved Canadair model for their own air force was a no-brainer. It was relegated to secondary roles after the Mirage III was introduced but stayed in service until 1980.

      With the armistice being signed between the UN and Communist leaders, the Korean war had came to an uneasy truce which continues to this day. As such, 2 Squadron’s job in helping the UN was done. In October 1953 the F-86Fs that had not been lost were all returned to the USAF and the veterans of 2 Squadron, with battle honors in tow, returned home. The experience was extremely good for the SAAF both as their first foray into the world of jet aircraft and understanding the strengths and weaknesses of their current inventory. It was determined that the Vampires which South Africa had acquired for their air force were already outmoded besides for training purposes and a replacement was needed. The love for the Sabre that pilots held was most likely a large factor in the SAAF determining to buy Canadair CL-13Bs in 1956. 2 Squadron pilots would get the chance to hop back in the cockpit of a new and improved Sabre until 1963 when the first Mirage IIIs would begin being introduced.


Click here to reveal

North American Aviation F-86F-30-NA Sabre (early)


  • Span: 37 ft 1 in (11.31 m)
  • Length: 37 ft 6 in (11.43 m)
  • Height: 14 ft 8 in (4.48 m)
  • Wing area: 287.9 ft2 (26.75 m2)


  • Empty: 10,840 lb (4,917 kg)
  • Full fuel: 14,857 lb (6,739 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 19,797 lb (8,980 kg)


  • 1 x General Electric J47-GE-27 turbojet engine
    • 5,910 lbf (2,681 kgf) static thrust


  • 0.40 (static, full fuel)
  • 0.30 (static, MTOW)

Maximum speed (full fuel load):

  • 688 mph (1,107 km/h) @ sea level
  • 666 mph (1,072 km/h) @ 10,000 ft (3,048 m)
  • 643 mph (1,035 km/h) @ 20,000 ft (6,096 m)
  • 618 mph (995 km/h) @ 30,000 ft (9,144 m)
  • 600 mph (965 km/h) @ 40,000 ft (12,192 m)

Service ceiling: 50,000 ft (15,240 m)


  • Guns:
    • 6 x .50 caliber (12.7 mm) M3 Browning heavy machine gun
      • 300 rounds/gun1
      • 1,800 rounds total1
  • Bombs:
    • Up to 2 x 250 lb (113 kg) AN-M57A1 G.P. bomb (box or cone fin)
    • Up to 2 x 500 lb (227 kg) AN-M64A1 G.P. bomb (box or cone fin)
    • Up to 2 x 750 lb (340 kg) M117 G.P. bomb
    • Up to 2 x 1,000 lb (454 kg) AN-M65A1 G.P. bomb (box or cone fin)
  • Rockets:
    • Up to 16 x 5" (127 mm) HVAR rocket
  • Drop tanks:
    • Up to 2 x 120 gallon (454 litre) drop tank
    • Up to 2 x 200 gallon (757 litre) drop tank

Crew: 1

Additional equipment:

  • AN/APG-30 ranging radar
  • Ejection seat


  1. For whatever reason, the Standard Aircraft Characteristics for the F-86F-1 through F-20 cite a standard ammo load of 267 rounds/gun despite space being present for 300. I don’t know if this was common to the early F-86F-30 so I’m just using the maximum value and value given for late F-86F-25 through F-40.

Why it should be in the game

      The SAAF’s F-86F-30 is very important historically as the first jet plane operated by the SAAF, with the Sabre as a whole becoming an icon in SAAF history thanks to the CL-13B later on. The SAAF’s Sabres provide an interesting combination of the F-86F’s superior engine power and the F-86A’s wing providing better maneuverability at common altitudes in game. Besides the US, of course, there are very few if any other nations who can lay claim to the early model F Sabres, meaning it’s relatively unique. Overall, it would boast both excellent maneuverability and speed and would be a joy to fly for SAAF enthusiasts or otherwise.



British F86? Nice event or even squadron vehicle

Very noice would like to see +1

+1, probably in the UK tree, since that is where South African vehicles are

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