On February 3, 1953, the North American company proposed a two-seat training version of the Sabre, perhaps hoping that the success of Lockheed in adapting its single-seat F-80 to the T-33 two-seat trainer could be duplicated for the F-86 Sabre. Initial design work was begun as the NA-204 project on April 8 of that year, and the company proposed that a stock F-86F-30 be modified by adding a student's cockpit ahead of the instructor in a lengthened fuselage and by moving the wing forward eight inches to compensate for the shift in center of gravity. Armament was to be deleted, but all the other F-86F-30 features were to be retained. However, slatted wings were to be used, since it was important to preserve good low-speed handling capabilities in an aircraft intended for the training role.
On September 9, the USAF authorized the conversion of F-86F-30 serial number 52-5016 to the two-seat configuration. This particular plane was one of the early aircraft without the "6-3" wing, and retained the leading edge slats. The length of the fuselage was increased from 37 feet 6 inches to 42 feet 9 inches, and the student and instructor were seated in tandem ejector seats underneath a long clamshell-type canopy. Due to the modification of the fuselage, the aircraft's center of gravity had shifted to the rear, and North American engineers had to correct this by moving the entire wing assembly forward by 8 inches. The wing, tail assembly, and powerplant were the same as those of the standard F-86F, but no armament was fitted. The rebuilt aircraft was designated TF-86F.
The first TF-86F made its maiden flight on December 14, 1953, with Ray Morris at the controls. Bob Hoover also did a considerable amount of the early flight testing. The aircraft weighed only about 100 pounds more than the standard F, and had a performance which closely matched that of the standard F. Range was an additional 300 miles, due to additional fuel tankage. However, on March 17, 1954, on its ninth flight, disaster struck. While doing a slow roll on takeoff, NAA test pilot Joe Lynch lost control of his plane and the aircraft crashed. Joe Lynch was killed.
Another conversion to a two-seat Sabre was authorized on March 23 to replace the one which had crashed. The final F-86F-35 off the production line (53-1228) was modified to the two-seat TF-86F configuration. It was similar to the first TF-86F, but was armed with a pair of 0.50-in machine guns in the nose and was equipped with a pair of underwing racks for drop tanks or bombs. Early-F-86F style wing slats were fitted. In addition, a small ventral fin was added to the aft fuselage to correct what was thought to have caused the crash of the first prototype.
The second TF-86F (53-1228) made its maiden flight on August 5, 1954. In order to try and sell the two-seat Sabre to the USAF, a demonstration tour of training bases began on September 2, 1954. Bob Hoover was the point man for these demonstrations, going from one training base to another, offering pilots a ride in the second seat and giving them an opportunity to see what it was like to fly through the sound barrier. The TF-86F aircraft was delivered to Nellis AFB on January 31, 1955. However, on February 7, the USAF announced that the TF-86F would not be getting any production orders, the contract going instead to a two-seat version of the F-100 Super Sabre.
Even though the number two TF-86F never got any production orders, it nevertheless served for many years as a chase plane at Edwards AFB. It was eventually scrapped.
Engine: One General Electric J47-GE-27, 5910 pounds static thrust. Performance: Maximum speed (clean) was 692 mph at sea level and 611 mph at 35,000 feet. Initial climb rate was 10,300 feet per minute. Service ceiling was 50,500 feet. Maximum ferry range was 1293 miles. Weights: 14,836 pounds takeoff weight (clean), 18,040 pounds takeoff weight (2 200-gallon drop tanks plus 60 rounds of ammunition), 12,980 pounds combat weight. Dimensions: wingspan 37.12 feet, length 42 feet 9 inches, height 14.79 feet, wing area 287.9 square feet. Armament: Two 0.50-in machine guns in the nose.