Commonwealth Sabre

Last revised February 10, 2014






Perhaps the ultimate Sabre was the version built under license in Australia by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation. It is generally conceded to have been the best of the numerous variants of the Sabre.

Since early 1950, Australia had been making plans to acquire jet fighters. The initial choice had been the British-designed Hawker P.1081, to be built under license in Australia. However, the Hawker parent company was too busy at the time to provide its Australian collaborators with much assistance, so this project was abandoned in October 1950, and attention shifted to the Sabre.

The acquisition of the Sabre was approved on February 22, 1951. In April of 1951, an Australian mission was sent to North American Aviation to negotiate the terms of the license and to gain manufacturing experience. In October 1951, the terms of the license were worked out, and an order for seventy-two aircraft was placed with the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation of Fishermen's Bend (near Melbourne). At the same time, one hundred sets of major components were ordered from NAA.

However, the Australian government decided that some changes were needed in order to adapt the Sabre to Australian requirements. These included additional engine power and larger-caliber armament. It was hoped that one of the side-effects of these enhancements in the Sabre's performance would be an increase in its service longevity.

The most important change was the replacement of the General Electric J47-GE-27 engine by the Rolls-Royce Avon R.A.7 rated at 7500 pounds of thrust. The greater power of the Avon required that the air intake be increased in size, and in order to avoid having to make major changes in the cockpit area, the extra intake area was obtained by inserting a 3 1/2 inch horizontal splice at mid-fuselage and lowering the bottom line of the entire aircraft. Since the Avon weighed about 400 pounds less than the J47, the new engine had to be positioned further aft in order to maintain the center of gravity. Since the aft-mounted engine could no longer be supported entirely by the original forward fuselage, this had to be lengthened and the rear fuselage had to be shortened accordingly. The rear fuselage had to be redesigned to support the jet pipe so that neither tailplane inertia loads nor tail unit flight loads were transferred to the engine. The much greater thrust of the Avon required a larger exhaust nozzle, which also increased the depth of the rear fuselage slightly. The overall length of the CAC Sabre, however, remained identical to that of the F-86F.

It had originally been planned to replace the six 0.50-inch machine guns of the F-86 with the standard British armament of four 20-mm cannon, but in August 1952 the decision was made to adopt a pair of 30-mm Aden cannon. The Aden cannon was a development of the World War 2 Mauser MG213 cannon, and had a rate of fire of 1200 rounds per minute and a 2600 ft/sec muzzle velocity. This new armament required some structural redesign of the fuselage. The cannon were mounted in the original 0.50-inch machine gun bays, but staggered, and the starboard weapon was mounted inverted and 8 inches forward of the port weapon. The ammunition bays each had a capacity of 162 rounds, which were electrically fed to the gun breeches. The fuselage, from the gun bays forward, had to be strengthened considerably to withstand the heavier amount of recoil coming from the high-velocity cannon.

By the time all of these changes had been made, only forty percent of the original F-86 structure remained, making the Commonwealth Sabre for all practical purposes an entirely new aircraft. However, the wing was a standard F-86E/F wing with leading edge slats, and the stabilizer/elevator assembly was the standard all-flying tail of the F-86E/F.

The Avon engine was to be built under license in Australia, the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation being assigned the responsibility for its manufacture. This was one of the few examples in aviation history where both the engine and the airframe were built by the same corporation. License production of the Avon engine began in Australia in 1953. However, at first, the engines were assembled from components imported from England,

The first prototype Australian Sabre, RAAF serial number A94-101, was designated CA-26. It was completed in early July of 1953. In late July it was disassembled and trucked to Avalon RAAF Base, where it was reassembled and readied for its first flight. It flew for the first time on August 3, 1953, piloted by RAAF Flt. Lt. W. Scott. It was powered by an imported Avon engine, since the Commonwealth-built versions of the Avon were not yet ready.

The first production version, the CA-27 Sabre Mk.30, included some additional changes. These included some revision of the cockpit, a provision for propylnitrate engine starting, and an increase in fuel capacity. The first example of the Sabre Mk.30 (A94-901) flew on July 13, 1954, powered by a CAC-assembled Avon R.A.7 that had been designated Avon 20. It was delivered to the RAAF a month later. Experimental and production test flying was performed at Avalon, near Geelong, Victoria. The Type Trials were carried out for the RAAF by the Aircraft Research and Development Unit at Laverton, Victoria.

Twenty-two Sabre Mk.30s (A94-901 to A94-922) were produced. They were powered by Avon 20 engines, which were assembled by CAC from imported components. The aircraft were also equipped with wing slats. Late in 1954, the Mk.30s were delivered to a Sabre Trials Unit at Williamtown, New South Wales, in preparation for their delivery to operational units. No. 3 Squadron of No. 78 Wing received its first Sabres on March 1, 1956.

The next production version of the Commonwealth Sabre was the CA-27 Mk.31, which was powered by the CAC Avon 20 engine. It differed from the Mk.30 in having the "6-3" leading edge wing extension in place of the previous slats. However, many of the earlier Sabre Mk.30s were later retrofitted with this "6-3" extended wing leading edge. The internal fuel capacity was 423 US gallons. Twenty-one Sabre Mk.31s were built, with serials being A94-922 to A94-942.

The 17th and 21st aircraft in the batch (A94-938 and A94-942) were modified with 84 additional gallons of fuel in the extending wing leading edges, as applied to USAF F-86Fs. This increased the Sabre's internal fuel capacity to 507 US gallons, which could be supplemented by a pair of 120-gallon or 200-gallon drop tanks carried under the wings. Alternatively, the underwing pylons could accommodate a pair of 500 pound bombs or sixteen 5-inch HVARs

The last 28 aircraft on the original RAAF order were completed as Mk 32s (A94-943 thorough A94-970). The Mk.32 featured Australian-built Avon 26 engines, rated at 7500 lb.s.t., and had the "6-3" wing extensions of the earlier Mk.31. An additional pair of underwing pylons were fitted, which gave the aircraft "dual-store" capability. The "wet" leading edge tested out on a couple of Mk.31s was made standard. However, the introduction of four underwing pylons reduced the leading edge fuel capacity to only 72 gallons.

An additional 20 Mk 32s (RAAF serial numbers A94-971 through A94-990) were ordered in July of 1957. A final order for 21 more Mk 32s (RAAF serial numbers A94-351/A94-371) was issued in 1959. The last CAC-built Sabre, A94-371, was delivered to the RAAF on December 19, 1961. A total of 112 Sabres had been built by Commonwealth.

Also introduced on the Mk.32 version was a twin Sidewinder air-to-air missile installation, the first installation being tested on A94-946. The DeHavilland Firestreak missile was considered for a brief period, but was rejected for a number of reasons, including the amount of airframe and fire-control system modifications that would have been needed. The launching shoes for the Sidewinder missiles were fitted to the inboard underwing pylons. The first test firings were carried out in October 1959. Most earlier Commonwealth Sabres were retrofitted with Sidewinder launching capability. Alternative ordinance loads on the inboard pylons included two 500-pound bombs or clusters of four 5-inch or six 3-inch rockets, these being carried in conjunction with 120 US gallon drop tanks outboard.

CAC Sabres equipped six RAAF squadrons: No. 2 OUT, and Nos. 3, 75, 76, 77, and 79 Squadrons. The Sabres of Nos 3 and 77 Squadrons became part of the British Commonwealth Strategic Reserve, and participated in air strikes against the insurgents during the Malayan emergency beginning in February of 1959 and continuing until July of 1960. After the end of the emergency, the Sabre squadrons took over garrison duties, participating in a number of SEATO air exercises. In May of 1962, No. 79 Squadron was formed with Sabres, being added to the SEATO force during the Thailand crisis. RAAF Sabres of No. 79 Squadron flew some of the early combat air patrols over Thailand in the early stages of what later became the Vietnam war.

The Australian Sabres were phased out of RAAF service in the late 1960s and early 1970s, being replaced in service by the Australian-built Mirage IIIO. The last RAAF Sabre was retired on July 31, 1971.

After being declared surplus to RAAF requirements, some eighteen Sabre Mk.32s were supplied during 1969 through 1971 to the Tentera Udara Diraja Malaysia (TUDM), or Royal Malaysian Air Force. The first Sabres arrived in Malaysia in October of 1969. RAAF serials were A94-353/354, -359, -362/365, -367, -369, and -371. Two nonflying examples (A94-356 and A94-357) were also supplied as training aids. Six more Avon Sabres were delivered to Malaysia in November of 1971 (RAAF serials were A94-946, -948, -978, -979, -983, and -987). No. 11 Squadron of the TUDM flew the type until April of 1978, when they were finally phased out of TUDM service and were replaced by Northrop F-5A and F-5B Freedom Fighters. Five were transferred to Indonesia in August of 1976, and A94-983 was returned to Australia for restoration to flying condition for the RAAF Historic Flight.

In February of 1973, the Indonesian government ordered 18 ex-RAAF Avon Sabres for the Tentara Nasional Indonesia-Angkatan Udara, or Indonesian Republican Air Force. They replaced the unserviceable MiGs that previously equipped the Indonesian air force. All Sabres were initially operated by No. 14 Squadron (renamed Satuan Sergap (Fighter Unit) F-86 in 1974). These aircraft were supplemented by another five Avon Sabres purchased from Malaysia in July of 1976 as attrition replacements. On September 1, 1978, Satuan Sergap F-86 was redesignated SkU 14. The surviving aircraft were withdrawn and replaced by Northrop F-5E/Fs in the early 1980s.

Specification of the Commonwealth Sabre Mk.32:

Engine: One CAC-built Rolls-Royce Avon 26 turbojet rated at 7500 lb.st. Performance: Maximum speed: 700 mph at sea level, 672 mph at 10,000 feet, 607 mph at 38,000 feet. Initial climb rate: 12,000 feet/minute. Service ceiling: 55,000 feet. Tactical radius: 290 miles (clean), 400 miles (with 2 drop tanks and two Sidewinder AAMs). Maximum range with two 200-gallon drop tanks: 1150 miles. Weights: 12,120 pounds empty, 15,990 pounds normal loaded (clean), and 18,650 pounds maximum. Dimensions: Wingspan 37 feet 1 1/4 inch, length 37 feet 6 inches, height 14 feet 4 3/4 inches, wing area 302/26 square feet. Armament: Two 30-mm Aden cannon and two AIM-9 Sidewinder infrared-homing air-to-air missiles. Underwing loads could include two 500-lb bombs and two 100 Imp. Gall. drop tanks.

Serials of RAAF Commonwealth Sabres:


A94-101 	Commonwealth CA-26 Sabre 
			On static display at Point Cook, VIC.
A94-901/922	Commonwealth CA-27 Sabre Mk 30
			901 donated to Bangstonw Museum 1999
			902 converted to components 1967
			903 converted to components 1966
			904 converted to components 1966
			905 w/o Dec 14, 1960.
			906 crashed Sep 1963, converted to components.  Some parts to A94-989
			907 noted at RAAF Laverton, RAAF Tottenham, RAAF Forrest Hill and Point Cook
			908 converted to components Aug 1965
			909 purchased by Temora Aviation Museum 1999.
			910 under restoration to flying condition
			911 in landing accident May 3, 1955, Williamtown NSW.  Converted to components.
			912 converted to components Sep 1966.
			913 converted to components Jan 1966
			914 on static display at Darwin Aviation Museum, NT
			915 used as Firestreak trials aircraft, located at Narromine NSW
			916 scrapped 1963
			917 (77 Sqdn) crashed Sep 12, 1957 at Williamtown after flameout.  Pilot ejected and was rescued,
				but died 5 days later.
			918 converted to components Dec 1965
			919 converted to components Aug 1965
			920 converted to components Apr 1966
			921 converted to components Sep 1965 
			922 used as Firestreak trials aircraft.  Stored as VH-SRE at Camden Aviation Museum, NSW.  Traded to
				aviation museum at Kbely in the Czech Republic.  Painted as A94-923.  
A94-923/942	Commonwealth CA-27 Sabre Mk 31
			923 converted to components Aug 1965.  Fuselage and wings noted at Jandakot 1988. 
			924 crashed at Stockton Beach NSW Feb 10, 1960.
			925 converted to components Jan 1967
			926 crashed Mar 7, 1960 near Raymond Terrace, NSW
			927 converted to components Apr 1966.
			928 converted to components Jan 1967
			929 crashed Nov 12, 1963, Newcastle, NSW.  Pilot ejected safely.
			930 converted to components Jan 1967.
			931 (76 Sqdn) crashed Mar 11, 1963, Goulburn NSW.  Pilot ejected safely
			932 converted to components Mar 1965
			933 converted to components Sep 1965
			934 converted to components Feb 1966
			935 crashed after flame out in 1965 at Williamtown.  Rebuilt.  W/o after accident Oct 24, 1961.
				Now under reconstruction at Queensland Air Museum, Caloundra QLD.
			936 converted to components Feb 1966
			937 crashed Apr 12, 1960 at Williamtown, NSW.
			938 w/o Mar 8, 1960.  Converted to components 1981
			939 converted to components Feb 1966
			940 crashed Oct 15, 1957, Williamtown NSW
			941 is gate guard at Fishermans Bend DSTO, VIC
A94-943/990	Commonwealth CA-27 Sabre Mk 32
			943 converted to components July 1963 after collision with A94-951 near Butterworth
			944 SOC Apr 1973.  To Mt Gambier for display
			945 to TNI-AU Mar 1973 as F-8604/TS-8604.  To USA 1989, held by Ocotillo Wells, Aero Trader
			946 to RMAF Nov 1971 as FM1946.  Phased out 1976.
			947 crashed into sea off Williamtown NSW Dec 19, 1963 after multiple control and
				system failures.  Pilot ejected safely.
			948 to RMAF Nov 1971 as FM1948.  Phased out 1976.
			949 to TNI-AU Mar 1973 as F-8605.  To USA 1989, held by Ocotillo Wells, Aero Trader
			950 crashed Nov 26, 1958, Bruthen, VIC after flameout  Pilot ejected safely
			951 at Fighter World, Williamtown, NSW.
			952 to TNI-AU Nov 1973 as F-8606.  Crashed Dec 1976
			953 was at RAAF Forrest Hill at Wagga Wagga NSW
			954 scrapped Oct 1971.  Reported at Toowoomba QLD in USAF markings
			955 to TNI-AU Nov 1973 as F-8617.  To USA 1989, held by Ocotillo Wells, Aero Trader
			957 to TNI-A& Mar 1973 as F-8607.  To USA 1989, held by Ocotillo Wells, Aero Trader
			958 crashed at RAAF Butterworth, Malaysia Sep 11, 1962 after multiple birdstrikes.  Pilot killed.
			959 on a pole at Raymond Terrace, NSW.
			960 at RAAF Forrest Hill, Wagga Wagga NSW
			961 collided with A94-976 and crashed Jul 22, 1960, Butterworth, Malaysia.  Pilot ejected safely.
			962 crashed into power lines Jul 18, 1971.  Pilot OK but plane was written off.  Later used as
				training aid.  Now at RAAF Museum Point Cook and in restoration hangar at RAAF Amberley. 
			963 to TNI-AU Mar 1973 as F-8608
			964 damaged Apr 1963, converted to components
			966 crashed Mar 15, 1971 over ocean off Williamtown NSW after loss of control during flight test.  Pilot ejected safely 
				and was recovered.
			967 crashed Oct 9, 1963, Butterworth, Malaysia.  Pilot ejected safely.
			968 to TNI-AU Mar 1973 as F-8609/TS-8609.  Exported to USA 1989, held by Ocotillo Wells, Aero Trader
			969 to TNI-AU Mar 1973.  Crashed Oct 1974.
			970 to TNI-AU Mar 1973 as ground training aid.  In storage at Point Cook Aviation Museum, VIC.
			971 to TNI-AU Mar 1973.
			972 to TNI-AU Mar 1973 as F-8612.  Scrapped Jun 1976 after starter explosion.
			973 w/o Dec 1963 after takeoff accident at Butterworth, Malaysia.
			974 with Classic Jets Fighter Museum, Parafield SA
			975 To TNI-AU Mar 1973 as F-8613.  Crashed Sep 1975
			976 collided with A94-961 and crashed Jul 22, 1960, Butterworth, Malaysia.  Pilot ejected safely.
			977 crashed Jun 10, 1961, Sunei Patani, Malaysia
			978 to RMAF  Nov 1971 as FM1978, phased out 1976.  To TNI-AU Jul 1976.
			979 to RMAF Nov 1971 as FM1979.  Phased out 1976.  To TNI-AU Jul 1976.
			980 to TNI-AU Mar 1973 as F-8614/TS-8614.  To USA in 1989 held by Ocotillo Wells, Aero Trader
			981 crashed near Singleton Jun 25, 1959 after high-speed dive.
			982 gate guard at RAAF Forest Hill, Wagga Wagga, NSW
			983 to RMAF Nov 1971 as FM1983.  Phased out 1976.  Now on civil registry as VH-PCM based at Point Cook, VIC
			984 (79 Sqdn) crashed Sep 24, 1964, Malaysia after FOD-induced engine faiure.  Pilot ejected safely.  
			985 crashed Mar 19, 1968, Butterworth, Malaysia
			986 crashed Jan 3, 1968, Ubon, Thailand
			987 to RMAF Nov 1971 as FM1987.  Phased out 1976.  To TNI-Au Jul 1976
			988 to TNI-AU Mar 1973 as F-8615
			989 on static display at Moorabin Air Museum, VIc
			990 to TNI-AU Mar 1973 as F-8616
A94-351/371	Commonwealth CA-27 Sabre Mk 32
			351 crashed Feb 9, 1968 Williamton, NSW
			352 crashed Feb 1973 on deliverty to TNI-AU
			353 to RMAF in 1969 as FM1993 and FM1353.  To TNI-AU Aug 1976.
			354 to RMAF 1969 as FM1994 and FM1354.  Phased out 1976.
			355 crashed Sep 19, 1964 Quirindi NSW after collision with A94-356
			356 to RMAF 1969 as FM1996, phased out 1976.  In storage for restoration
			357 to RMAF 1969 as FM1997 and FM1357.  Phased out 1976
			358 crashed Aug 9, 1966 near Merewether, Newcastle NSW after disintegration in midair
			359 to RMAF 1969 as FM1999 and FM1359.  Phased out 1976
			360 crashed in Darwin harbor Nov 1, 1961 after wing failure due to pilot-induced oscillation.
			361 to TNI-AU as F-8601 1973.  Scrapped after starter motor explosion 1976.  Tail of
				F-8609 is now on this aircraft
			362 to RMAF Aug 1969 as FM1902 and FM1362.  Phased out 1976.  Now in Sungai Besi TUDM Airport Museum
			363 to RMAF Aug 1969 as FM1903 and FM1363.  Phased out 1976.  Now on display at Butterworth
				airbase, Malaysia.
			364 to RMAF Aug 1969 as FM1904 and FM1364.  Phased out 1976.  Now at RMAF Museum, Kuala Lumpa
			365 to RMAF Aug 1969 as FM1905 and FM1365.  Phased out 1976.  Now gate guard at Butterworth airbase
			366 to TNI-AU Mar 1973 as F-8602.  To USA 1989.  Held by Aero Trader, Ocotillo Wells
			367 to RMAF Aug 1969 as FM1907 and FM1367.  Phased out 1976.  Not at RMAF Museum, Kuala Lumpa.
			368 to TNI-AU Mar 1973 as F-8603/TS-8603.
			369 to RMAF 1969 as FM1909 and FM1369.  To TNI-AU as F-8619.  To USA in 1999.  Held by Aero Trader,
				Ocotillo Wells
			370 to TNI-AU Dec 28, 1972 as instructional airframe
			371 to RMAF 1969 as FM1911 and FM1371.  Phased out 1976.

Sources:



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

  9. Indonesian Air Arms, Past and Present, Marco Pennings, Air International, July 1998, p. 39.

  10. E-mail from Darren Crick on loss of A94-924.

  11. Daniel Leahy on A94-962

  12. Darren Crick's Australian Serial Number Database, http://www.derwood.com/adf/.

  13. Greg Hyde on A94-922 and 923.

  14. E-mail from James Elsbury on loss of A94-966, his plane.