RAF Sabres

Canadair CL-13 Sabre F.Mk.4 Unit: 234 Sqn, RAF
Canadair CL-13 Sabre F.Mk.4 Unit: 234 Sqn, RAF

In 1948, the Canadian government decided to re-equip the RCAF with the F-86 Sabre and Canadair was contracted to produce them in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. An initial batch of 10 aircraft was ordered for tool verification. The Korean War changed this to a production batch of 100 aircraft. Canadair slowly built up its production facility to make all components with related equipment obtained from other Canadian suppliers. Canadair gave the Sabre the project number CL-13.

Canadair produced six versions of the CL-13 Sabre. The sole Sabre Mk.1 was essentially the same as the North American Sabre F-86A. It had a General Electric J47-GE-13 turbojet of 5,200 lbf (23 kN) thrust. The Sabre Mk.2 had the same engine, although after the first 20 aircraft were produced, the remainder of the production run was distinguished in having power-assisted controls and an “all-flying” tailplane. The sole Sabre Mk 3 was the first of the Canadian Sabres to use the Avro Canada Orenda turbojet (Orenda 3 with 6,000 lbf (27 kN) thrust). The Sabre Mk.4 retained the General Electric engine and was destined for the RAF and was later passed on to other overseas air forces.

In mid-1952, the Sabre Mk. 4 went into production with the first one flown on 28 August 1952. Apart from some minor structural and systems changes, including improved air-conditioning and gun sight, the Mk 2 and the Mk 4 were identical. Of 438 Mk 4s built, approximately 70 were used temporarily by the RCAF, all surviving examples being passed to the RAF. The other Sabre 4s went directly to the RAF under a mutual aid program, equipping 11 RAF squadrons. The majority served in West Germany with NATO, with two squadrons being based in the UK as part of RAF Fighter Command. The Sabre Mk. 4 served with the RAF until mid-1956 when they were replaced by Hawker Hunters. The survivors were overhauled in the UK, fitted with ‘6-3’ wing modifications and handed to the USAF (which had funded these aircraft) which in turn passed them on to other NATO members, with the majority going to Italy and Yugoslavia.

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*.

The Sabre Mk.5 was the next production version, equipped with an Orenda 10 with 6,500 lbf (29 kN) thrust. A change to the Orenda 14 with 7,440 lbf (33 kN) powered the Sabre Mk.6. The designation Sabre Mk.7 was mainly experimental.

The last Sabre to be manufactured by Canadair (Sabre #1815), after being donated by the Pakistan Air Force, is now part of the permanent collection in the Western Canada Aviation Museum (WCAM) in Winnipeg, Manitoba. From 1950 to 1958, a total of 1,815 CL-13 Sabres were built at the Canadair plant in Montreal.