F-86F in Foreign Service

Last revised November 5, 1999

Following the end of the Korean War, numerous surplus F-86Fs were transferred to US allies. Oddly enough, relatively few F-86Fs were transferred to the Air National Guard, most retired USAF F-86Fs going directly into the Mutual Defense Assistance Program (MDAP) and being sold to other nations.

The following is a list of foreign nations which received F-86F Sabres from USAF stocks. Other nations received Sabres built in Canada, Italy, or Australia, but these will be covered separately.

Republic of China:

The Chinese Nationalist Air Force on Taiwan was one of the first recipients of these surplus USAF Sabres. During December 1954 to June 1956, the Chinese Nationalist Air Force got 160 ex-USAF F-86F-1-NA through F-86F-30-NA fighters. By June of 1958, the Nationalist Chinese had built up an impressive fighter force, with 320 F-86Fs and seven RF-86Fs having been delivered. All of these aircraft had the "6-3" wing and most were upgraded to F-86F-40 standards.

Sabres and MiGs were shortly to battle each other in the skies of Asia once again. In August of 1958, the Communist mainland tried to force the Nationalists off of the islands of Quemoy and Matsu by shelling and by blockade. Nationalist F-86Fs flying top cover over the islands found themselves confronted with Communist MiG-15s and MiG-17s, and there were numerous dogfights. During these battles, the Nationalist Sabres introduced a new element into aerial warfare--many of them were carrying a pair of early model AIM-9 Sidewinder infrared-homing air-to-air missiles on underwing launching rails. The Sidewinder proved to be devastatingly effective against the MiGs. In one air battle on September 24, 1958, Nationalist Sabres succeeded in destroying ten MiGs and scoring two probables without loss to themselves. In one month of air battles over Quemoy and Matsu, Nationalist pilots destroyed no less than 29 MiGs and got eight probables, against a loss of two F-84Gs and no Sabres. The Nationalist pilots had far more flying experience than did their Communist opponents. Many Nationalist victories were often against straggling MiGs left without wingmen. There have been some reports that US Navy pilots were flying many of the Sabres that participated in these battles.

A sort of urban legend has sprung up surrounding these air battles. According to a widely-reported story, during one of these air battles, one of the Sidewinders failed to explode when it struck the tail of a MiG. The MiG pilot managed to stagger back home, and found upon landing that the unexploded Sidewinder missile was still jammed in his tailpipe. This Sidewinder missile was passed along to Soviet intelligence, and the Soviets promptly proceeded to copy the design virtually bolt-for-bolt, producing the K-13 (AA-2 "Atoll") air-to-air missile.


The next recipient of the Sabre was the nascent air force of Japan. In late 1953, the Allied nations (minus the USSR) decided to let Japan begin to re-equip its military forces. It was agreed that F-86Fs would be supplied to the Japanese Air Self Defense Force, or JASDF. In 1954, the F-86F was selected to be the standard fighter of the revived Japanese Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) or Nihon Koku Jietai. Initially, Japanese Sabres were to come from USAF surplus stocks, but eventually they were to be assembled in Japan under license by Mitsubishi at Nagoya. Between December 1955 and 1956, the newly-formed JASDF received 29 ex-USAF F-86F-25 and -30 aircraft. JASDF serials were 52-7401/7410 and 62-7411/7430. The first JASDF Wing was activated on October 1, 1956 at Hammatsu with 68 T-33A trainers and 20 F-86Fs. A total of 135 ex-USAF F-86Fs were ultimately received between 1956 and early 1957. Most were Korean War veterans, and were eventually brought up to F-86F-40 standards, although the last 45 were never flown and were returned to the USA because of a shortage of Japanese pilots.

Mitsubishi built 300 F-86F-40s under license between 1956 to 1961. The Japanese Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) was the first customer for the F-86F-40-NA, receiving its first examples in 1956. These supplemented the F-86F-25s and -30s that had already been supplied from US surplus stocks to equip the first postwar Japanese fighter squadrons. These aircraft were from the first US-built production block (USAF serials 55-3816/4030) and carried the JASDF serials 62-7431/7535.

In December 1961, Mitsubishi modified eighteen surplus ex-USAF F-86F-25s and -30s to RF-86F configuration by adding three cameras near the cockpit. They could be identified by their characteristic fuselage bulges. These went to the 501st Hikotai, which operated them until 1979 when they were replaced by the RF-4E Phantom.

In all, a total of 480 F-86Fs were flown by the JASDF. Hikotais 1 to 10, plus the "Blue Impulse" aerial display team were equipped with the F-86F.

The arrival of the Sidewinder missile in Japan in November of 1959 markedly enhanced the capabilities of JASDF Sabres. Sabres served with ten squadrons, numbered 1 through 10, as well as with the well-known Blue Impulse aerobatic team. The last F-86F squadron was No. 6, which re-equipped with the Mitsubishi F-1 in 1980. The last Japanese F-86F (63-7497) made its final flight on March 15, 1982. Many ex-JASDF Sabres were later returned to the USA under the terms of the MAP agreement. The last JASDF F-86F was returned in March of 1982.


In 1954, Pakistan began receiving the first of 120 F-86F Sabres. Many of these aircraft were F-86F-35s from USAF stocks, but some were from the later F-86F-40-NA production block that was made by North American specifically for export. Many of the -35s were brought up to -40 standards before they were delivered to Pakistan, but a few remained -35s throughout their careers. They were operated by PAF Nos. 5, 11, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, and 26 Squadrons at different times.

Pakistani Sabres were to be key participants in the 22-day war with India in 1965 over the status of Kashmir. By this time the Sabre was no longer a world-class fighter, since fighters with Mach 2 performance were now in service. Nevertheless, the Pakistani F-86Fs were able to give a good account of themselves. The top Pakistani ace of the conflict was Wing Commander Mohammed Mahmood Alam, who ended the conflict with a total of 11 kills. Five of his victories were scored in a single day (September 7, 1965), making Alam the only jet "ace-in-a-day". Even more remarkable, four of these kills were scored by Wing Commander Alam in a space of less than one minute. These five kills were all against Indian Air Force (IAF) Hawker Hunter Mk.56 fighters, which were export versions of the Hunter Mk.6 of the Royal Air Force.

The Pakistani F-86Fs did less well against the IAF Folland Gnat, which was small, nimble, and hard to see. However, only seven Sabres were listed as being lost in air combat during the 1965 conflict.

Pakistani F-86Fs saw further action during the 1971 war with India. By this time, the US-built F-86Fs had been joined by Canadian-built Sabre Mk.6s. acquired from surplus West German Luftwaffe stocks. Pakistani Sabres accounted for a large fraction of the PAF's 141 aerial victory claims. Kills were reportedly scored against Indian warplanes such as Folland Gnats, MiG-21s and Su-7s.

The last Pakistani Sabres were withdrawn in 1980, following a series of fatigue-related accidents. A PAF F-86F-40 (55-5005) is on display at the Peshawar air base in Pakistan.

South Africa:

During the Korean War, the South African Air Force operated 22 F-86F-30-NA Sabres on loan from the USAF. They flew with No. 2 "Cheetah" Squadron in Korea, which was attached to the 18th FBW of the USAF, carrying out 2032 combat sorties during the last few months of the Korean War. Six were written off during action. Following the end of the Korean War, the SAAF Sabres were returned to the USAF, and were transferred to Taiwan via MAP. To replace them, 34 Canadair Sabre Mk 6s were delivered to the SAAF in April of 1954.


Belgium's Force Aerienne Belge received five F-86F-25 fighters in June of 1955. However, no trace of these aircraft has been found in Belgian records, so it is uncertain as to what use, if any, Belgium made of these planes. I have seen a photo of a Sabre in Belgian livery. In any case, Belgium never adopted the Sabre as a service type, deciding instead to use the Hawker Hunter and the Republic F-84F Thunderstreak.


Beginning in March of 1957, Norway's Kongelige Norske Flyvapen received 115 F-86F-35s. They were assigned to Norway through the US military aid program as replacements for F-84G Thunderjets. The delivery of the first of 90 F-86Fs took place in March of 1957, and was completed by May of 1958. In order to cover attrition, Norway received two more batches of F-86Fs, consisting of six and 19 aircraft respectively. F-86Fs operated with No. 331 Squadron at Bodo, No. 332 Squadron at Rygge, No. 334 Squadron at Bodo, and No. 338 Squadron at Orland. All were brought up to F-86F-40 standards. By the mid 1960s, most of the RNoAF F-86Fs had been grounded by wing fatigue problems. The last Norwegian squadron operating the F-86F transitioned to the Northrop F-5 in 1967. Some ex-Norwegian F-models were passed on to Saudi Arabia and Portugal.


In exchange for letting the USAF use airbases in Spain, surplus F-86Fs were delivered to Spain's Ejercito Del Aire Espanol to replace their aging Hispano-built Messerschmitt Bf-109 fighters. Beginning in 1955, the Ejercito del Aire Espanol received a total of 270 ex-USAF F-86F-20, -25, and -30 fighters. They were reconditioned by the Construcciones Aeronauticas S.A (CASA) near Madrid, modernized, marked with Spanish insignia, and turned over to the Spanish Air Force. Most were brought up to F-86F-40-NA standards by CASA. The Spanish F-86Fs were given the designation C.5, and were assigned serial numbers C.5-1 to C.5-270. They served with the Ala de Caza 1 (Fighter Wing 1), AdC.2, AdC.4, AdC.5, and AdC.6. The last Sabre was delivered in 1958. These F-86Fs were replaced by the Northrop F-5 beginning in 1967. The last Spanish Sabre (C.5-199, F-86F-25 52-5330) was phased out of service at the end of 1974.

A dozen or so Sabres are preserved in Spain. C.5-82 (former F-86F-40-NA serial number 55-3966) is on display at Torrejon. C.5-231 (former F-86F-25 serial number 52-5307) is mounted on exhibit at Moron.

Republic of Korea:

The Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) received its first Sabres when five F-86Fs were turned over to ROK pilots on June 20, 1955. Korea received 85 ex-USAF F-86F-25 and -30 fighters between June 1955 and June 1956. These replaced the F-51D Mustang fighters used previously, equipping units of the RoKAFs 10th Wing. In 1958, 27 more F-86Fs and ten RF-86F reconnaissance aircraft were delivered. Many of the ROKAF ex-USAF Sabres were retrofitted with the "F-40" wing with extended tips and slats. Many were modified to carry the AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missile. These ROKAF Sabres were replaced by Northrop F-5s beginning in 1965. At least three F-86Fs survived until 1987.


The Philippines received 40 mainly ex-Taiwanese F-86F-25, -30 and -35s in 1957-58. They equipped the 6th and 7th Tactical Fighter squadrons of the 5th Fighter Wing and the 8th and 9th Tactical Fighter Squadrons of the 6th Fighter Wing. Many of the surviving F-86Fs were upgraded to F-86F-40 standards. These were replaced by Northrop F-5s beginning in 1966. The last Philippine F-86F was withdrawn from service in 1979, but some sources suggest that the last three were not withdrawn from service until 1984.


The Fuerza Aerea Del Peru received 15 ex-USAF F-86F-25's beginning in July of 1955. Somewhere between five and 11 more are believed to have been delivered later. At least two squadrons (Escuadron de Caza 12 (later Grupo de Caza 12) and one other unnamed unit) operated the Sabres. Attrition was heavy, and at least nine were lost in accidents by December of 1963. One of the primary causes was wing spar cracks, since the FAP pilots tended to fly their aircraft aggressively in mock combat against rival Hawker Hunter equipped units. Surviving Sabres were replaced in 1979/80 by Soviet-supplied Sukhoi Su-22s.


The Fuerzas Aereas Venezolanas received 30 ex-USAF F-86Fs in 1955-60. These were operated by Grupo Area de Caza No. 12, Escuadron de Caza 36 Jaguares and possibly also by Escuadron de Cazas 37 and 38. These operated alongside F-86Ks acquired from Luftwaffe surplus stocks. Four FAV F-86Fs participated in an abortive coup in 1958, strafing the presidential palace in Caracas. Six F-86Fs were lost in accidents. Most surviving F-86Fs were grounded in 1969. The F-86Fs were retired in 1971, nine going to Bolivia.


In 1973, nine of Venezuela's F-86Fs were transferred to the Fuerza Aerea Boliviana. They equipped Brigada Aerea 21, Grupo Aereo de Caza 32 at Santa Cruz. These remained in service in Bolivia until 1993, when the survivors were finally retired. Aside from a few unmanned QF-86 target drones employed by the US Navy, these were the last examples of F-86Fs in operational service anywhere in the world. This must be some sort of record for the longevity of a combat aircraft. The F-86F entered service in 1952, and remained in service until 1993. Forty-one years!


In 1958, the Forca Aerea Portuguesa (FAP) received 50 F-86Fs from ex-USAF stocks. These were assigned the serials 5301/5350. A small number of former Norwegian Air Force F-86Fs were also purchased as spares in 1968-69. All of them were brought up to F-86F-40 standards, including Sidewinder capability. Two Portuguese squadrons (Esc. 51 and 52) operated these Sabres. In August of 1961, eight FAP Sabres were deployed to Portuguese Guinea in a show of force against the insurgents. They ended up staying for three years, flying ground attack and close support missions against the rebels. The were withdrawn from Guinea in October of 1964. The last six FAP Sabres were withdrawn in July of 1980.


The air force of Tunisia, the Armee de l'Air Tunisien, received twelve (some sources say 15) F-86F Sabres in 1969, all of them being former USAF aircraft. Information about them is sketchy, but they were replaced by the Macchi MB-326K in 1978. There have been rumors that 12 more F-86Fs were delivered to Tunisia from the USA in 1983.


In 1960, the Imperial Ethiopian Air Force received 14 Sabres. It later received enough Sabres to equip three interceptor squadrons.


28 surplus F-86Fs were sent to the Fuerza Aerea Argentina (FAA) in 1960. The first of these were received on September 26, 1960. FAA serial numbers C-101/C-128. The corresponding USAF serials are not known. FAA Sabres saw action in helping to foil an April 1962 coup attempt against the established government. The FAA Sabres attacked the Navy base at Punta Indio and destroyed a Navy C-54 on the ground, helping to quelch the coup. Argentina attempted to sell F-86Fs to Venezuela in 1976, but the deal was embargoed by the United States. The planes were then offered to Uruguay, but the deal fell through just before they were scheduled to be delivered. During the Falklands/Malvinas war of 1982, there was some thought to FAA Sabres being deployed to Port Stanley, but this idea was deemed impractical.

Iran (Imperial Iranian Air Force)

An uncertain number of F-86Fs were delivered to Iran and served until the early 1970s.

Iraq (Royal Iraqi Air Force):

In the late 1950s, a large number of F-86Fs were ordered by the government of Iraq. However, the government of King Faisal II was overthrown by a violent coup in 1958, and Iraq left the pro-Western Baghdad Pact shortly afterwards. As a result, the US government vetoed further arms sales to Iraq after only five F-86Fs had been delivered. Little is known about them, although it is believed that they were passed on to Pakistan. Iraq was subsequently supplied primarily with Soviet-built equipment.

Saudi Arabia:

In 1958, the Royal Saudi Air Force was equipped with sixteen F-86F fighter bombers taken from US inventories. They were retrofitted with the F-40 wing with extended tips and slats. The RSAF may have gotten three more F-86Fs from Norway in 1966. Not all of these aircraft actually entered service because of a spares shortage, but those that did served with No. 7 Squadron at Dhahran. Little use is believed to have been made of these aircraft. In any case, they were withdrawn from service during the early 1970s and replaced with Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighters.


Thailand received the last of 40 F-86Fs in March of 1962. They served with Nos. 12, 13 and 43 Squadrons. They were replaced in 1966 by Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighters.


  1. F-86 Sabre in Action, Larry Davis, Squadron/Signal Publications, 1992.

  2. The North American Sabre, Ray Wagner, MacDonald, 1963.

  3. The American Fighter, Enzo Angelucci and Peter Bowers, Orion, 1987.

  4. The World Guide to Combat Planes, William Green, MacDonald, 1966.

  5. The World's Fighting Planes, William Green, Doubleday, 1964.

  6. Flash of the Sabre, Jack Dean, Wings Vol 22, No 5, 1992.

  7. F-86 Sabre--History of the Sabre and FJ Fury, Robert F. Dorr, Motorbooks International, 1993.

  8. Thirty Seconds over Sargodha, John Fricker, Air Enthusiast, Vol 1, No 1, 1971.

  9. Larry Davis, North American F-86 Sabre, Wings of Fame, Volume 10, 1998.