F-86H Sabre an overlooked gem at Museum of Aviation

BY MARILYN N. WINDHAM (Story Credit, Macon.com)

In the Century of Flight Hangar at the Museum of Aviation sits an airplane that probably gets overlooked. The Century of Flight Hangar has some very impressive aircraft and one can get caught up in looking at the MH-53, SR-71, the U-2 or the RQ-4 Drone.

However, in the very back sits our F-86H Sabre.

It looks small compared to the bigger aircraft, but the F-86 plane was quite the plane to fly in the 1950s and 1960s. The plane enjoyed a large production number, 9,860 to be exact. It was produced by North American Aviation and was built under license in other countries. The F-86 was flown through the mid 1990s by various countries such as the Republic of Korea, Japan, Canada, and Spain. Bolivia was the last country to use the aircraft in 1994. America’s production of the plane ended in 1956.

The reputation of the F-86 was undeniable. It was called the “MiG killer.” It was an aircraft that required a lot of experience, and it was a plane that could be deadly. The F-86 was a true fighter-interceptor, but it also had bombing capabilities. There could be six .50-caliber machine guns, 16 five-inch HVAR rockets or 2,000 pound maximum bomb loads. Later, the F-86 had 4 20mm cannons.

The Sabre was first introduced into the United States Air Force in 1949. By that time the jet had already set a world speed record of 670.9 mph. With the plane’s swept wings it was a fast aircraft. Swept wings are wings of the aircraft that are not straight out from the body of the plane, but at an angle off the body. This configuration, in very simplistic terms, means that there is less drag. The Sabre was the first swept wing airplane in the Air Force’s inventory.

When the Korean War broke out, the Russian-built MiG-15 was the weapon of choice in the air for the Chinese and the North Koreans. American fighters could not go beyond the Yalu River, which was the border between China and North Korea. Our pilots were very efficient in guarding that border and picking off any planes that wandered across.

The Sabre was called “versatile and adaptable” by more than one pilot who flew it. According to the National Museum of the Air Force, our F-86 pilots shot down 792 MiGs. The U.S. only lost 78 Sabres in air-to-air combat.

As good of a fighter jet that the Sabre was, there were more than enough accidents and crashes. The plane was demanding and could be unforgiving. Historian Richard Hallion wrote in his book “Storm Over Iraq: Air Power and the Gulf War,” “The F-86 had a reputation as a ‘lieutenant eater.’ In the early 1950s an F-86 crashed somewhere in the world every week, and accidents sometimes approached one per day. At Nellis Air Force Base in 1953, for example, 22 Sabre pilots died in 11 weeks.”

Our F-86H at the Museum of Aviation was delivered to the Air Force in 1956. It served with the Air Force Reserve before being transferred to the Maryland Air National Guard in 1957. It was with the Maryland Guard until 1970. The aircraft was moved to the museum in 1983 after being an instructional aide at Columbus Technical Institute in Columbus, Ohio. It recently had some restoration to the body of the plane and is awaiting repaint.

Robins Air Force Base in the 1950s processed more than 500 F-86s in preparation for ferry flights across the Atlantic to Europe under Project High Flight. Robins also provided logistics support for armament, communications, fire control, and bomb navigation equipment on all USAF F-86 aircraft worldwide.

As a side point, the museum has only one foreign plane in its collection. It is a MiG-17, a follow-on design to the MiG-15. You can see it in Hangar One, the Southeast Asia War Hangar.

Inspiring the Next Generation of Aviators

Story By: Jodi Ames

932nd Airlift Wing

DOBBINS AIR RESERVE BASE, Ga. — When it comes to inspiring the next generation of aviators, former 22nd Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Stayce Harris knows that continual support and development of science, technology, engineering and math programs are key to instilling passion in young people.

During a recent visit to the U.S. Air Force’s Museum of Aviation in Warner Robins, Georgia to attend the Air Force Reserve change of command ceremony, Harris welcomed the impromptu opportunity to speak to 18 middle school-aged girls taking part in the museum’s Mission Quest Flight Simulation program. The group attended the museum’s program as part of the “Spectacles 2016” summer camp hosted by Wesleyan College.

According to Chrissy Miner, president and chief operating officer of the Museum of Aviation Foundation, the Mission Quest Flight Simulation is one of many programs focused on STEM and aviation heritage that the museum offers.

This particular program is a hands-on teambuilding experience that gives students a chance to work with others to solve problems and collectively accomplish a realistic flying mission, Miner said.

“Our focus is to build and preserve the legacy of aviation and the Air Force for generations to come,” she continued. “We do that by making a continual effort to foster innovation and bridge the gap between the past and the future.”

Part of bridging that gap is where mentors and volunteers like Harris come in.

During her time with the group, Harris encouraged the girls to challenge themselves and seize opportunities.

“I am so proud to see smart, ambitious girls like you pursuing your interests in science, technology, engineering and math,” Harris said. “I want you to know that tremendous opportunities await you–the sky really is the limit.”

Harris also shared her insight on pursuing greatness.

“One of the most valuable life lessons I have learned along the way is that you have to trust in yourself and be persistent in your goals” she said. “It’s my hope that your time here today will open your eyes to a world of exciting possibilities, and I look forward to seeing how you bright and motivated young ladies will become leaders for your generation.”

Miner explained the vital role that guest speakers play in the success of the museum’s educational programs and STEM initiatives.

“It is such an amazing opportunity for these girls to see someone in the flesh who is a career aviator and soon-to-be three star general,” Miner said. “Being able to meet people who have had that kind of success opens up a world of possibilities for them and gives them something to strive for.”

Melissa Spalding, education director for the Museum of Aviation, agreed, noting the dedication of volunteers who support the museum’s camps and programs.

“The outpouring of support we get from people like Maj. Gen. Harris and the entire Robins Air Force Base community is huge,” Spalding said. “There are so many wonderful people willing to lend their time and talents to mentor these young students.”

Having the opportunity to meet and work alongside engineers and aviators from around the Air Force provides a memorable experience that further inspires students to pursue STEM careers, she said.

“The experience our students get, along with the exposure to mentors, has an incredible impact on workforce and career development for students of all ages,” Spalding said.

“To know they’ve met somebody who’s doing the job, and not only that, they have made it to the rank of general–that’s a big deal,” she explained. “For many of our students, it’s like meeting a celebrity. That really connects them and makes their experience at the museum authentic.”

From Miner’s perspective, that’s what the museum’s programs are all about.

“That is our ultimate goal–to support interest and enthusiasm in STEM and aviation career fields,” Miner concluded.