Could You Fly a Sabre?

The challenge of handling a 1950s MiG killer

At the 2002 Nellis Air Show near Las Vegas, a Sabre heads up an A team in a USAF Heritage Flight: (from left) P-51 Mustang, P-47 Thunderbolt, F-15 Eagle, P-38 Lightning, and TF-51. (Erik Hildebrandt)
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The first Sabres North American built in the late 1940s flew with a General Electric J47-GE-13. Though it was a step up from the piston engines of World War II-era fighters, the J47 was rated at just 5,200 pounds of thrust. On its Mark 6 variant, Canadair installed the Orenda 14 engine, giving the Sabre 7,200 pounds of thrust. “Quite a margin there,” says Penney.

At transonic cruise, the pilot of either model will need to be mindful of the slightest control inputs, says Sugden. “Little tiny changes in pitch and roll produce rapid changes in altitude and bank angle. The F-86 is pretty stable, but at high speed it’s very sensitive,” he says.

Which makes it all the more jaw-dropping that a young Air Force mechanic, who’d barely flown in a small propeller aircraft, would take one up and live to tell the tale. “It would not be unbelievable, but I wouldn’t recommend it,” says Penney. His advice: If you don’t have the training, leave the flying to those who do.

Paul Hoversten is the executive editor of Air & Space. He also wrote “D’oh! 10 Goofs in Space.”


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