Canadair Sabre

Last revised October 31, 1999

When Canada joined NATO in 1949, that nation was faced with the necessity of upgrading and enlarging the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). As the best single seat fighter in the Western world at the time, the Sabre was a natural choice to be the primary day fighter of the re-equipped RCAF. However, there were many in Canada who did not want to bring yet another US-built aircraft into RCAF service, and wanted a British aircraft instead. As a compromise, rather than simply purchase Sabres outright from the USA, the Canadian government decided instead to build the type under license, becoming the first foreign nation to choose to do so.

In August of 1949, the Canadian government ordered one hundred examples of the Sabre from Canadair Ltd. of Montreal. Under the provisions of the agreement, the Sabres were to be assembled at the Canadair plant at Cartierville near Montreal from drawings and components supplied by North American. The Canadian-built aircraft were to have been almost identical to the F-86A then under production in California. The engine was to be the 5200 lb.s.t. General Electric J47-GE-13.

Although the first Canadian-built Sabres were built largely from American-supplied components, by the time that production of the Canadair Sabre was completed, the original order had been increased tenfold and the engines and 85 percent of the components were being manufactured entirely in Canada. The final Canadian-built Sabre, the Mk 6, is generally rated as being one of the most capable of all Sabre variants built anywhere.

Sabre Mk 1

The first aircraft assembled at Cartierville was known as the CL-13 Sabre Mk 1. It bore the RCAF serial number 19101, and was basically an F-86A-5-NA, since it had been assembled mostly from parts shipped to Canada from North American. The engine was the J47-GE-13. The aircraft was rolled out of the factory in early July of 1950. Since the runway at Cartierville was too short for jet operations, 19101 was trucked to nearby RCAF Dorval for initial flight tests. It made its maiden flight there on August 9, 1950, piloted by Canadair's chief test pilot Al J. Lilly. A few days later Lilly became the first man in Canada to fly faster than sound.

Sabre Mk 2

Only one Sabre Mk 1 was built, since the contract with North American called for Canadair to build a version of the F-86E. The first Sabre version to be built in quantity was the CL-13 Sabre Mk 2. The Mk 2 was basically the Canadian equivalent of the USAF F-86E-1 and had the all-flying tail, the V-shaped windshield, and the J47-GE-13 engine of that version. The first flight of a Mk. 2 (19102) took place on January 31, 1951. A total of 350 Mk. 2s were built between January 1951 and August 1952, RCAF serials being 19102 thru 19199 and 19201 thru 19452.

RCAF Sabre operations began with No 410 Squadron at Dorval, which received its first Mk. 2 on April 10, 1951. Nos. 411 and 413 Squadrons followed in the summer of 1951. As the Sabre 2 went into service with the RCAF, the newly-equipped RCAF squadrons were sent overseas in support of NATO. Nos. 410 and 411 Squadrons of No. 1 Fighter Wing went to Europe in 1952, and No. 439 Squadron went to England in 1952. No. 2 Wing of the RCAF went to Grostenquin, France in October 1952. Nos. 3 and 4 Wings went to Germany in 1953.

The USAF found itself short of Sabres during the Korean War, and in February 1952, the USAF arranged to purchase sixty Sabre Mk.2s from Canada. These were designated F-86E-6-CAN in USAF service, and were delivered between February and July of 1952. These Canadian-built Sabres were fitted with US equipment in California before being delivered to operational units in Korea, and were assigned the USAF serial numbers 52-2833/2892.

Sabre Mk 3

From the start, the Canadian government had contemplated using the home-grown Avro Orenda jet engine in the Canadair-built Sabre. North American Aviation had initiated company project NA-167 on August 16, 1949, which involved the installation of an Orenda engine in the 251st F-86A-5-NA, serial number 49-1069. This aircraft is sometimes referred to as the F-86J. Tests in October 1950 were encouraging, and Canadair decided to proceed with the installation of the Orenda in one of its Sabres. The 100th Sabre Mk 2 (19200) was modified to take the 6000 Orenda 3 engine. The Orenda engine had a slightly larger diameter than the J47, so the fuselage required some minor structural changes. This re-engined aircraft became known as the Sabre Mk 3.

On June 3, 1952, the noted aviatrix Jacqueline Cochran used the Sabre Mk 3 to set a women's speed record of 652.552 mph over a 100-km closed course at Edwards AFB in California.

Sabre Mk 4

The Orenda engine was originally scheduled for introduction onto the Canadair Sabre production line in the Mk 4 version. However, the Orenda engine was not yet ready by the time that the Mk. 4 was introduced, and it was deemed more feasible to retain the basic F-86E configuration and the J47-GE-13 engine for the Mk.4. Consequently, the Sabre Mk 4 ended up being quite similar to the Mk 2 version. The Mk 4 version introduced a number of refinements to the cabin air conditioning, compass, pressurization controls, and canopy release. The Mk. 4 was first flown on August 28, 1952. There were 438 Mk 4s built, covering RCAF serials 19453 through 19890. Many Mk. 4 aircraft (an even a few Mk 2s) were later retrofitted with the "6-3" wing.

The Canadair Sabre Mk 2 and 4 served with the following RCAF units:

Sabre with RAF

It is not widely known, but the Canadair Sabre served with Britain's Royal Air Force for a brief time. During the early 1950s, the Sabres of the RCAF were actually the only swept-wing fighters available for the defense of Western Europe. At that time, the Royal Air Force was still flying such straight-winged types as the Gloster Meteor and the DeHavilland Vampire while they waited for the swept-wing Supermarine Swift and Hawker Hunter to reach production status. Early in 1953 the RAF somewhat reluctantly decided to acquire the Canadair Sabre to fill in the gap. United States MDAP funds helped to provide 430 Sabre Mk 2 and Mk 4 fighters for the RAF.

Britain obtained three Mk 2 Sabres for the RAF in October 1952. These were loaned in preparation for the delivery of no less than 428 Sabre Mk 4s. Deliveries of Sabre Mk 4s continued from December 1952 to December 1953. They were supplied to the Royal Air Force for use in Germany as Britain's contribution to the NATO effort. The RAF kept Canadair's mark numbers, but rendered them in British style as F.2 and F.4. RAF serials for the Canadair Sabres were XB530/550 (21), XB575/603 (29), XB606/646 (41), XB664/713 (50), XB726/769 (44), XB790/839 (50), XB856/905 (50), XB941/990 (50), XD102/138 (37), XD707/736 (30), and XD753/781 (29). One Sabre F.4 (XB551) was procured separately to replace a Sabre F.2 (XB530) which was returned to Canada. The lot XD102/138 was later re-serialled as follows. XD102/105 --> XB647/650, XD106/111 --> XB770/775, XD112/116 --> XB851/855, and XD117/138 --> XB978/999. This ended up causing some duplication of some serial numbers in the XB941/990 branch, which was eradicated by separately having XB901/905 being reserialed as XB912/916 and XB941/990 becoming XB917/977.

Those Sabres purchased with MDAP funds were assigned USAF serial numbers 52-10177/10236, although they never actually served with the USAF.

The first RAF Squadron to take delivery of the Sabre was No 67 Tactical Air Force Squadron, which became operational in May of 1953. In December No. 66 Squadron became the first RAF Fighter Command Sabre unit. RAF Tactical Air Force Squadrons Nos 3, 4, 20, 26, 67, 71, 93, 112, 130, and 234 reequipped with Sabres and were based in Germany. Fighter Command Squadrons No.66 and 92 remained in Britain with their Sabres.

RAF Sabre XB982 (the 773rd Canadair-built Sabre) was used as a test bed for the Bristol Siddeley Orpheus 801 engine in 1958. It made its first flight on July 3, 1958, and made subsequent flights with upgraded versions of that non-afterburning engine, which produced 6810 pounds of thrust. Had this engine become available earlier, the Orpheus engine may well have been adopted for the RAF Sabre, but by this time the Sabre had reached the end of the line and more advanced aircraft were already entering service.

The service of the Sabre with the RAF was rather brief, the aircraft being seen only as an interim type. By June of 1956, all RAF Sabres based in Germany had been replaced by Hawker Hunters. The ex-RAF Sabres were then transferred to other European air forces, notably Italy (180 aircraft) and Yugoslavia (121 aircraft).

Between 1956 and 1958, 302 ex-RAF Sabres were returned to the USAF. These planes were painted in camouflage, provided with USAF national markings and even given spurious USAF serial numbers (actually their original RCAF serials). These were assigned the designation F-86E(M) for record-keeping purposes, where the M stood for *Modified*.

Sabre for Italy

180 of these ex-RAF Sabres were shipped to Italy in 1957, one machine (XB733) crashing on delivery. First to transition to the F-86E(M)was the 4a Aerobrigata, which was based at Pratica di Mare. Units of the Aeronautica Militare Italiana (AMI) using the Sabre Mk 4 included:

Deliveries of the F-86E(M) to Italy were completed in 1957.

The AMI F-86E(M) fighters were dedicated to the air defense role. The aircraft was evaluated with HVAR rockets and the Italian-developed SISPRE C-7 air-to-air missile, but neither weapon entered AMI service with the Sabre. F-86E(M)s also equipped the Cavallino Rampante (Rampant Horse) aerobatic team, painted with an ivory fuselage, blue and tail with white stars, a red nose, and additional red highlights.

In 1961, the Frecce Tricolori (Tricolor Arrows) aerobatic team was formed with six F-86E(M)s. Initially they were painted blue with tricolor tailplane and wing undersurfaces, and featuring a blue rhomboid on the nose containing a black arrow. Later, the rhomboid was replaced by individual red, white, and green arrows, and yellow code letters were added to the fin.

Five Italian Sabres of the 4a Aerobrigata were dispatched to the Belgian Congo in 1963 to support UN peacekeeping operations there. A detachment of Philippine Air Force personnel operated these AMI Sabres from February to June of 1963.

The 4a Aerobrigata began to reequip with the F-104G Starfighter in 1963. The last F-86E(M) left AMI service in March of 1965.

Sabres for Yugoslavia

During 1958-59, Yugoslavia's air arm, the Jugoslovensko Ratno Vazduhoplovstvo (JRV), got 122 of the ex-RAF Sabre F.4s which had been returned to the USAF. Yugoslavia was one of the few nations with an air force that flew both Western and Soviet Bloc combat aircraft side-by-side. During a border incident in the late 1950s, a JRV Sabre shot down a Hungarian MiG-15.

Eight Yugoslavian F-86E(M)s were eventually transferred to the Fuerza Aerea Hondurana, the first of which arrived in 1976. Some of these Sabres remained flying into the 1990s, but by now they have probably all gone to the boneyard.

Sabres for Greece

As the newer Mk 5 and Mk 6 Sabres became available, most RCAF Sabre Mk 2 and 4 aircraft were retrofitted with extended wing leading edges and then sold to foreign air forces. Beginning in July 1954, Greece's Royal Hellenic Air Force received 104 ex-RCAF Sabres. The first Sabre Mark 2s were delivered in mid-1954, and went to No. 341 Squadron of No. 112 Wing. In 1955, two more squadrons, Nos. 342 and 343, both under No. 112 Wing, were equipped with Sabres. These Sabres served until the early 1960s, when they finally went out of service.

Sabres for Turkey

At the same time, Turkey's Turk Hava Kuvvetleri (THK) acquired 105 refurbished ex-RCAF F-86E(M) aircraft. It seems that every time you sell an aircraft to Greece, you also have to sell one to Turkey, and vice-versa. These aircraft formed the core of Nos. 141, 142 and 143 Squadrons. These aircraft were intended for the defense of Western Europe, but long-standing hostilities between Greece and Turkey occasionally flared up and these two nations sometimes would aim their aircraft at each other.

Sabres for Honduras

Eight ex-Yugoslav (originally RAF) Sabre Mk.4s (F-86E(M)) were supplied to the Fuerza Aerea Hondurena (FAH), arriving there in July of 1967. They flew some harassment missions over El Salvador following the end of the 1969 "Soccer War". Some remained in service until well into the 1980s, when they were replaced by Super Mysteres.

Sabre Mk 5

The first production Canadair Sabre to use the Canadian-designed Orenda engine was the CL-13A Mk 5 version, which was powered by the 6355 lb.s.t. Orenda 10. It was fitted with the "6-3" wing and had a pair of tiny wing fences, which made it the aerodynamic equivalent of the USAF F-86F-30. This "6-3" wing had also been fitted to some late Mk.4s. The first Sabre Mk 5 (RCAF serial no. 23001) made its maiden flight on July 30, 1953. The additional power enabled the Mk 5 to reach 40,000 feet in 9 minutes, half the time it took the Mk 2 to reach the same height. However, the deletion of the leading edge slats had raised the stalling speed and had compromised the low-speed stability. In addition, the increased engine power cut into the range, reducing it more than 20 percent over that of the F-86F.

A total of 370 Mk 5s were built. RCAF serials were 23001/23370. They began to replace the older Sabres in RCAF service.

The newly-revived Luftwaffe of the Federal Republic of Germany had ordered 225 Canadair Sabre Mk 6s to equip 3 day-fighter wings. In order to jump-start the effort, 75 ex-RCAF Mk 5s were supplied to the Luftwaffe in 1957/58, where they served with the Waffenschule 10 training unit that was assigned the task of conversion of pilots to the Canadair Sabre. From a peak of 65 airworthy Mk 5s in January of 1959, the Luftwaffe inventory had declined to about 25 by April of 1960. The last Luftwaffe Sabre Mk.5s were disposed of in March of 1962, and most were scrapped.

Sabre Mk 6

The last production version of the Canadair Sabre was the CL-13B Sabre Mk 6. It had the more powerful two-stage Orenda 14 of 7275 pounds of thrust. The higher thrust of the Orenda 14 resulted in a major improvement in the fighter's climb rate and altitude performance. The Mk 6 was actually a bit lighter than the Mk 5, and the Mk 6 became the best performer of the entire Canadian-built Sabre series, and one of the most potent Sabres built by any nation. The top speed was 710 mph and the service ceiling was 55,000 feet, over 7000 feet greater than that of the F-86F. The initial climb rate was 11,800 feet per minute.

The first flight of the Mk 6 (23371) took place on October 19, 1954. The early examples of the Mk 6 had the same extended "6-3" wing with fences of the Mk 5, but later examples introduced the "6-3" wing with leading edge slats for improved low-speed handling characteristics. Many of the Mk 5 aircraft already in service were retrofitted with the slats.

292 Mk 6s were built for the RCAF. Serials were 23371/23662. All were delivered to RCAF Wings Nos 1, 2, 3, and 4. Ninety additional Mk. 6s were later procured for the RCAF. RCAF serials were 23663/23752. The Sabre Mk 6 remained in service with the RCAF until replaced by the CF-104 Starfighter in 1963. The Sabre Transition Unit retired its last aircraft in November 1968, the type being officially phased out on December 9 of that year.

Subsequent Sabre Mk 6s went to overseas customers. The last Sabre Mk 6 (a machine intended for the Luftwaffe) rolled off the assembly lines on October 9, 1958. A total of 1815 Canadair Sabres had been built, including 655 Mk 6s. p>

Sabres for Colombia

Six Mk 6 aircraft (some sources say Mk 4s) were delivered to Colombia in 1956. They were assigned the serials 2021 to 2026 by the Fuerza Aerea Colombiana. They were supplemented by a pair of ex Spanish Air Force F-86Fs in 1963, these planes being assigned the serials 2027/2028. The Sabres were operated by 10 Escuadron de Caza-Bombardero. Four were lost in accidents. The survivors were all withdrawn from service in 1966.

Sabres for South Africa

In 1955, 34 Sabre Mk 6s were ordered for the South African Air Force (SAAF). South Africa had actually operated a squadron of Sabres during the Korean War, but these aircraft had actually been only "loaned" to No. 2 Squadron of the SAAF and were returned to the USAF when No. 2 Squadron returned home. The Sabre Mk 6s arrived in South Africa beginning in 1956. 17 of them were marked in Afrikaans and issued to No. 1 Squadron, and the other 17 were marked in English and issued to No. 2 Squadron. SAAF serials were 350 to 383 (RCAF serials were 23669/23702). They remained in service with No 2 Squadron until 1964 when they were replaced by Mirage IIICZ fighters. The CL-13Bs remained with No. 1 Squadron until 1976, when they were replaced by Mirage F.1AZ ground attack fighters.

Sabres for Luftwaffe

225 Sabre Mk 6s were supplied to the West German Luftwaffe, and the type became the primary day fighter of the newly formed German air arm. They had been preceded in Luftwaffe service by Sabre Mk 5s, which had served primarily in training roles in anticipation of the arrival of the Mk 6s. The first operational unit was Jagdgeschwader 71 "Richthofen", initially commanded by Major Erich Hartmann, highest-scoring ace of all times (352 kills during World War 2). He accepted the first of the unit's Sabre Mk 6s on June 6, 1959. The Mk 6s also served with Jagdgeschwadern 72 and 73. The Luftwaffe Sabres usually operated in the air-to-air mode, although they were occasionally equipped with underwing air-to-ground ordinance. In service, many Luftwaffe Sabres were modified to become Sidewinder-capable. JG 71 converted to the F-104G Starfighter in 1964, and the other two wings converted to the Fiat G-91R in 1964/66 and became light attack units.

Sabres for Pakistan

The India-Pakistan war of 1965 had caused the US to embargo further arms shipments to Pakistan, at least for the time being. In order to take up the slack, Pakistan arranged in 1966 to acquire 90 Sabre Mk 6s from ex-Luftwaffe stocks. These saw action in the 1971 Indo-Pakistan War. Sabres accounted for a large portion of the PAF's 141 aerial victories during that conflict. Kills of Indian warplanes included Folland Gnats, MiG-21s, and Su-7s. The last PAF Sabre Mk 6 was withdrawn in 1980 after a number of fatigue-related accidents.

Sabres for Argentina

Argentina ordered thirty-six Sabre Mk 6s, but the order later had to be cancelled because President Juan Peron had run his country into the ground economically and he was unable to raise the necessary foreign exchange needed to finance the purchase.

Sabres for Israel

24 Mk 6s were ordered by Israel in 1955. At least 8 were allocated serial numbers and one was even painted in Israeli markings. However, the upheaval caused by the 1956 Suez crisis led the Canadian government to cancel the delivery of the planes. The Heyl Ha'Avir purchased the Dassault Mystere IV instead.

Sabres for Bangladesh

After the December 1971 war that resulted in the transformation of East Pakistan into the independent nation of Bangladesh, the government of that new country found itself in the possession of five ex-Pakistani Sabre Mk 6s that had been abandoned by the retreating PAF. These were operated until late 1973, when the lack of spares made it necessary to ground them.

Specification of the Canadair Sabre Mk 6:

Engine: One Orenda Engines Orenda 14 turbojet rated at 7275 Performance: Maximum speed: 710 mph at sea level, 680 mph at 10,000 feet, 630 mph at 36,000 feet. Initial climb rate: 11, 800 feet/minute. An altitude of 40,000 feet could be reached in 6 minutes. Tactical radius (clean): 363 miles. Maximum range with two 200-gallon drop tanks: 1495 miles. Weights: 11,143 pounds empty, 16,426 pounds normal loaded, and 17,611 pounds maximum. Dimensions: Wingspan 37 feet 1 inch, length 37 feet 6 inches, height 14 feet 7 inches, wing area 304 square feet. Armament: Six 0.50 Colt-Browning machine guns. Underwing loads could include two 100-lb, 500-lb, or 1000-lb bombs, 750-lb napalm tanks, 500-lb fragmentation clusters, or sixteen 5-inch rocket clusters.

Canadair Sabre Developments:

Several developments of the Canadair Sabre series were planned, but most never got off the drawing board, and remained only paper projects.

The CL-13C was to be a more advanced version of the Sabre designed to use an afterburning engine. An afterburner was actually fitted to a Mk 6 for tests, but nothing ever entered production.

The CL-13D was to have an Armstrong-Siddeley Snarler rocket motor. It too never saw the light of day.

The CL-13E was the 21st Mk 5 (23021) with the fuselage faired to test an application of the Area Rule. The aircraft apparently exhibited no improvement in performance. and was not proceeded with. It eventually ended up on the civil register in the USA as N1049D, where it crashed on February 1, 1980.

The CL-13G was to have been a two-seat training version similar in concept to the TF-86F. It never got past the design stage.

The Cl-13H was to have been fitted with all weather radar. It too never got past the design stage.

The CL-13J was to have to have been fitted with the simplified Bristol afterburner. It was not proceeded with.

RCAF Serials of Canadair Sabres:

Preserved Sabres in Canada include CL-13A Sabre Mk 5 serial number 23257 at Trenton , and CL-13B Sabre Mk 6s 23455 and 23651 at Ottawa.


  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. Echoes and Kapponi--F-86 Sabres in Italian Service, Riccardo Niccoli, Air Enthusiast, Jan-Feb 1996.

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