More than 6,000 F-86s were manufactured by North American Aviation's Los Angeles, Calif., and Columbus, Ohio, divisions.
The first swept-wing airplane in the U.S. fighter inventory, the F-86 scored consistent victories over Russian-built MiG fighters during the Korean War, accounting for a final ratio of 10-to-1. All 39 United Nations jet aces won their laurels in Sabres.
Four models of the craft (F-86A, E, F and H) were day fighters or fighter bombers, while the F-86D, K and L versions were all-weather interceptors.
Successive models of the daylight versions — all designed to destroy hostile aircraft in flight or on the ground — were equipped with more powerful engines and armament systems that ranged from bombs and rockets to machine guns and cannon. All were rated in the 650-mph (1,046-kph) class with a 600-mile (966-kilometer) combat radius and a service ceiling of more than 45,000 feet (13,716 meters).
The three interceptor versions sported black radome noses, replacing the yawning jet intakes of the other models. The K model, manufactured in Turin, Italy, by Fiat, was flown by NATO forces. The F-86L had added equipment for use in conjunction with the U.S. Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) defense system.
Forerunner of the operational Sabre was the XF-86, first flown Oct. 1, 1947, by North American Aviation test pilot George Welch. A few months later, Welch became the first pilot to fly the plane at Mach 1 in routine flight. Although technically rated as subsonic, the Sabre was no stranger to supersonic speeds.
Various models of the Sabre held world speed records for six consecutive years, setting five official records and winning several National Aircraft Show Bendix Trophies.
In September 1948, an F-86A set the Sabre's first official world speed record of 570 mph (917 kph). This mark was bettered in 1952 by an F-86D that flew at 698 mph (1123 kph). The D became the first model of a fighter to better its own record, in 1953, with a run of 715 mph (1151 kph).
The F-86E and subsequent models incorporated a unique control system, developed by North American, called the "all-flying tail." The F-86A contained a booster control system that called for the pilot to do part of the work of controlling the aircraft, whereas the newer system added full power-operated control for better maneuverability at high speeds. An "artificial feel" was built into the aircraft's controls to give the pilot forces on the stick that were still conventional but light enough for superior combat control.
U.S. production of the F-86 ended in December 1956.