North American Aviation ... The Sabres Fly
The German data on "swept-wing" technology that made the B-47 possible also led to the development of America's first swept-wing fighter, North American's F-86 Sabre Jet. Its prototype, the XP-86, first flew Oct. 1, 1947. The Sabre Jet exceeded Mach 1 on April 26, 1948, and it became the top-performing jet fighter of its time. It was followed by the family of F-100 "Super" Sabres, or the "Century Series," of fighters.
The increasing demand for the F-86 Sabre Jet required more manufacturing space, so North American leased a Naval Industrial Reserve Facility in Columbus, Ohio, which had been used as an aircraft production facility by Curtiss-Wright. Further expansion in 1948 led to the establishment of a new plant in Downey, Calif., which would eventually become headquarters of the North American Aviation Missile Division, where the Apollo spacecraft were built.
By the time the Korean War began June 25, 1950, the Air Force still had 1,804 F-51 Mustangs in service. The Mustangs flew a total of 62,607 missions in combat, while the Sabre Jets emerged as one of the decisive weapons in that conflict. The Fifth Air Force Sabres flew 236 sorties in December 1950 and averaged 1,024 a month during 1951, 3,279 in 1952, and 5,045 a month for the first seven months of 1953. The Sabre's kill ratio during that time was 10 to 1.
By the end of 1952, NAA sales topped $315 million, and employment at the Columbus plant had gone from 1,600 in 1950 to 18,000. The plant became one of NAA's most important facilities. During the next two decades, nearly all the company's naval fighters, trainers and heavy attack bombers were built there, including the F-100 Super Sabre, T-2 Buckeye, the AJ Savage, the A-5 Vigilante and the OV-10 Bronco.
Previous narrative | Next narrative