North American JF-86F(R) Saber
North American JF-86F(R) Saber
North American JF-86F(R) Saber
North American JF-86F(R) Saber

This unique aircraft was often referred to as the F-86F(R), 52-4608 was officially a JF-86F temporary test machine. In the photographs above, the fairing for the Rocketdyne AR2-3 motor can be seen to the rear and behind the drop tanks. The drop tanks themselves were lengthened 200-gallon Sabre tanks and housed 165 gallons of hydrogen peroxide oxidizer.


Manufacturer: North American
Year/Model: 1952 JF-86F Sabre
BU-S/N: 524608
Tail Number: FU-608
Power Plant: 5,970 lb thrust, J47-GE-27
2d Power Plant: 3,000 to 6,000 lb thrust, AR2-3
Wingspan: 37 feet one inch
Length: 37 feet six inches
Height: 14 feet 8 inches
Gross Weight: 22,850 pounds
Maximum Speed: Mach 1.22
Maximum Range: 1,270 statute miles
Service Ceiling: 70,840 feet
Crew: 1
Status: Static Display
Owner: Estrella Warbirds Museum

This is another rare Sabre in our stable. It is currently being transferred to Estrella Warbirds Museum where it will undergo a restoration before being put on display.


In 1959 a joint NAA/USAF project developed an experimental Sabre which became the highest-flying and fastest of all F-86s. As a test airframe NAA utilised F-86F-30 s/n 52-4608. This aircraft had been damaged in a mid-air collision at Williams AFB in June 1959 and it is likely that it was initially sent to the Inglewood U.S. AIR FORCE plant for repair, arriving there on 5 October, 1959. It was then tagged for modification to test the Rocketdyne AR2-3 rocket motor.

Like the JF-86E that had earlier been used to test the YLR63-AJ-3, 52-4608 had the rocket motor housed in a faired external structure, though this time positioned further aft in a semi-buried installation to the rear of the main landing gear. 52-4608 was redesignated as a JF-86F (Special Test, Temporary) on 1 July 1960, though the aircraft is often referred to as the F-86F (R).

Weighing 225 lb for a variable thrust of between 3,000 and 6,000lb, the AR2-3 was rated up to 80,000 feet, burning a mix of JP-4 jet fuel and hydrogen peroxide oxidizer. The latter was housed in modified and enlarged 200-gal drop tanks fitted on the outer wing pylons. Each tank could hold 165 gallons of oxidizer and rocket burn was limited by the oxidiser capacity to 2.3 minutes at full thrust.

Though machine guns were deleted from this aircraft, pylons and dummy Sidewinder missiles were fitted, and for many flights in the program, 120-gallon drop tanks were also installed on the inner pylons. In the cockpit, rocket motor selectors and switches were mounted just forward of the standard throttle box while the rocket gained its own throttle just aft of the standard item.

In early 1960, flight testing began from North American's Palmdale test area, with Capt Norris J. Hanks assigned as project test pilot and 1LT Duane E. Baker as Project Engineer. Further flights were centered on Edwards AFB with NAA pilots Jim Brooks and Jo Roberts being involved at this time. Results gained from these flights included an altitude of 70,840 feet and a top speed of Mach 1.22 at 60,000 feet in level flight. These quoted figures were in the 'clean' configuration but with the oxidant tanks fitted. Further flights demonstrated a climb to 60,000 feet in 2.4 minutes and a Mach 1.03 top speed in level flight at 45,000 feet with the rocket running in addition to the aircraft's J47. During one flight in November 1960, the aircraft managed to climb up to 40,000 feet in an incredible 66 seconds. Further missions were completed to ascertain the effectivity of the Sidewinder missile on this type of aircraft. One sortie was completed at a weight of 22,850 Ib, which made 52-4608 the highest-flying, fastest and heaviest of all Sabres.

By the end of 1960, the AR2-3 programme was complete. It was deemed to be have been successful and it was agreed that the installation greatly increased the operational envelope of the F-86, though further Sabre development was not forthcoming. In 1970 the F-86F(R) was purchased by Robert D. Scott with a view to him restoring it. Sadly, Robert passed away in 2011 and this historic aircraft was since donated to the Estrella Warbirds Museum.

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