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CL-13 Sabre
Canadair Sabre Mk 5
Role Fighter
Manufacturer Canadair
First flight 9 August 1950
Introduced 1950
Retired 1980, Portugal
Primary users Royal Canadian Air Force
United States Air Force
Royal Air Force
Number built 1,815
Developed from F-86 Sabre

The Canadair Sabre was a fighter jet built by Canadair under licence from California-based North American Aviation Inc. The resulting variant was considered one of the finest "dogfighters" of its day.[1] It was produced until 1958, and was eventually replaced with the Canadair CF-104.


Design and development

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.

Orenda engine on display at Carleton University

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. 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 7440 lbf (33 kN) powered the Sabre Mk.6. The designation Sabre Mk.7 was mainly experimental. From 1950 to 1958, a total of 1,815 CL-13 Sabres were built at the Canadair plant in Montreal.

Operational history

The second generation of Canadair Sabre aircraft was the Mk 2, with 350 produced from 1952–1953. The RCAF received 290 of these newer aircraft. During the first half of 1952, the remaining 60 Mk.2s were supplied to the USAF for use in the Korean War. Most RCAF Mk.2 Sabres were utilized in the air defence role with NATO's No. 1 Air Division in Europe, proving itself to be an outstanding dogfighter. Others were assigned to the training role at bases in Canada. After replacement by the Sabre 5, just over 200 surviving Sabre 2s were overhauled in the UK and supplied in equal numbers to the Greek Air Force and Turkish Air Forces.

Canadair Sabre 4 in USAF markings en route to the Jugoslav Air Force in 1957

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.

On 30 July 1953, the first Sabre Mk.5 flew with the Orenda 10 engine, which gave it a clear rate of climb and ceiling advantage over earlier variants. Other Mk 5 improvements included a new oxygen system and improved maneuverability and low-speed characteristics achieved by increasing the wing chord by six in (15.2 cm) at the root and three in. (7.2 cm) at the wing tip along with fitting a small vertical wing fence. This modification, originated by North American on the F-86F, dramatically improved maneuverability, though the loss of the slatted leading edge increased landing speed and degraded low speed handling considerably. Canadair built 370 Mk 5s with the majority designated for use in the RCAF’s Air Division squadrons in Europe to replace the Mk.2s. A total of 75 RCAF Sabre 5s were transferred to the German Luftwaffe during 1957.

The Canadair Sabre Mk.6 was the final variant and was considered to be the "best" production Sabre ever built.[2] It was equipped with a two-stage Orenda engine developing 7,275 lb (3,302 kg.) of static thrust. Its altitude performance and climb rate was enhanced over the Mk 5 and the reinstatement of the wing leading edge slat gave it excellent low-speed characteristics. The first production model was completed on 2 November 1954 and ultimately 655 were built with production terminating on 9 October 1958.

A total of 390 Mk 6s went to the RCAF with the majority replacing the existing Canadair Sabre Mk 5s at the Air Division squadrons in West Germany and France. The main air threats to NATO in the 1950s in Central Europe were the early variants of the Soviet MiG- the MiG-15, MiG-17, MiG-19 and MiG-21. Based on the Korean War experience, the selection of the Mk 6 Sabre to provide an effective opposition to the MiG threat proved to be a logical one. Canada’s commitment to NATO was to provide 12 squadrons located at four bases – two in France (Marville and Grostenquin) and two in West Germany (Zweibrücken and Baden Soellingen). Initially, the contribution consisted of only Sabre aircraft; however, later it was decided to include the Avro Canada CF-100 aircraft in the defense package to provide a night and all-weather fighter capability.

In addition to the RCAF deliveries, 225 Canadair Mk 6 Sabres were exported to the West German Luftwaffe, six were delivered to the Colombian Air Force, and 34 went to the South African Air Force.

Canadair Sabres were dominant in the two major conflicts in which they were employed: the Korean War where F-86 Sabres racked up an impressive 11-1 kill record and the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. In January 1966, Germany sold 90 of its Canadian Mk 6 Sabres to Iran. These aircraft were quickly transferred to Pakistan and became the main day fighter of the Pakistan Air Force.

By the end of 1971, the Indian Air Force Gnat proved to be a frustrating opponent for the technically superior Sabres, living up to its IAF nickname "Sabre Slayers" since all its combat "kills" during the two wars were against Sabres. Tactics called for Gnats taking on the Sabres in the vertical where they were at a disadvantage. Moreover, because the Gnat was lightweight and compact in shape, it was hard to see, especially at low levels where most of the dogfights took place.


Women's speed records

In 1952, Jacqueline Cochran, then aged 47, decided to challenge the world speed record for women, then held by Jacqueline Auriol. She tried to borrow an F-86 from the USAF, but was refused. She was introduced to an RCAF Air Vice-Marshal who, with the permission of the Canadian Minister of Defence, arranged for her to borrow 19200, the sole Sabre 3. Canadair sent a 16-man support team to California for the attempt. On 18 May 1953, Ms. Cochran set a new 100 km speed record of 1,050.15 km/h (652.5 mph). Later on 3 June, she set a new 15 km closed circuit record of 1078 km/h (670 mph). While she was in California, she exceeded 1270 km/h in a dive, and thus became the first woman to exceed the speed of sound.

Golden Hawks

The Golden Hawks were a Canadian aerobatic flying team that was established in 1959 to celebrate the RCAF's 35th anniversary and the "Golden" 50th anniversary of Canadian flight, which began with the AEA Silver Dart in 1909. Initially, a six-plane team flying brilliantly-painted metallic-gold Canadair Sabre Mk.5s, was envisioned as performing for only one year, but the Golden Hawks were so popular after their single 63-show season that the team was expanded. In the following year, another plane was added to the team, allowing for a five-plane main formation with two solo jets. The Golden Hawks continued performing for three more seasons, changing to the Mk 6 in 1961, until they were disbanded on 7 February, 1964, having flown a total of 317 shows across North America.[3] In June 1964, two of the Golden Hawk aircraft were sold to Lynn Garrison, an ex-RCAF pilot who founded the Air Museum of Canada in 1964. One of these was registered as CF-AMH and flown by Milt Harradence. The other was operated by Lynn Garrison and then Flight Test Research in Long Beach, California. It was destroyed during a test mission over the Mojave Desert.

Canadair Sabre F.4 of Royal Air Force


Sabre Mk.1
One built, prototype F-86A.
Sabre Mk.2
350 built, F-86E-type, 60 to USAF, three to RAF, 287 to RCAF.
Sabre Mk.3
One built in Canada, test-bed for the Orenda 3 jet engine, various other structural modifications were made to accommodate the Orenda engine.
Family tree of Sabre & Fury variants
Sabre Mk.4
438 built, production: ten to RCAF, 428 to RAF as Sabre F 4.
Sabre Mk.5
370 built, F-86F-type with Orenda engine, all to RCAF, 75 later passed to Luftwaffe.
Sabre Mk.6
655 built, 390 to RCAF, 225 to Luftwaffe, six to Colombia and 34 to South Africa.


Luftwaffe Canadair Sabre
Canadair Sabre 4s of SFR Yugoslav Air Force (JRViPVO)
The F-86 Sabre MK6 # 1815 (the final Sabre produced by Canadair) was flown last in Pakistan and was donated by the Pakistan Air Force in 1996 to the Western Canada Aviation Museum[1]. The donation was made possible due to the efforts of Air Commodore Kamran Qureshi, of the Pakistan Air Force. Air Commodore Qureshi flew this aircraft in the Pakistan/Indian war of 1971. The aircraft recorded six kills. The Air Commodore master-minded the repatriation of the aircraft to Canada and the Museum. Regrettably Air Commodore Qureshi drowned just two hours after the F-86 Sabre 1815 was shipped en route to Canada on board a Canadian Forces C-130 Hercules.
 South Africa
 United Kingdom
Acquired three Canadair CL-13 Mark 2s and 428 Mark 4s, 8 December 1952-19 December 1953; assigned to RAF Sabre Squadrons 3, 4, 20, 26, 66, 67, 71, 92, 93, 112, 130, 147 and 234. During 1956–1958, 302 RAF Sabres were overhauled/modified in the UK and returned to the USAF (who had supplied the aircraft under MDAP) in camouflage colors with RCAF serials and redesignated as F-86E(M); of which 121 were then sent to Yugoslavia and 179 to Italy.
 United States
See: F-86 and CL-13 Sabre Operators (dates, quantities, versions, and squadrons)


Below is a list of museums or sites which have a Canadair Sabre on display:

A Mk 5 variant "BB+237" is (as of July 2007) being restored for static display purposes at Neuhardenberg, Germany. This aircraft was built in 1954 and served with the RCAF in France before joining the West German Air Force until its retirement in 1962.[6]

A Canadair Sabre Mk 5, Construction Number 1104, formerly RCAF 23314, registered C-GBSR, is operated by Vintage Wings of Canada of Gatineau, Quebec. It is painted in the team colours of the RCAF Golden Hawks, that flew air demonstrations from 1959 to 1964, with the exception of the 100th Anniversary of Powered Flight in Canada logo on the tail. 'Hawk One', as it has been dubbed, will fly across Canada in 2009, mostly with the Snowbirds, for the celebration of the Centennial of Flight.

Specifications (Sabre Mk.5)

General characteristics

  • Crew: one, pilot
  • Length: 37 ft 6 in (11.43 m)
  • Wingspan: 37 ft 1½ in (11.32 m)
  • Height: 14 ft 9 in (4.49 m)
  • Empty weight: 10,638 lb (4,825 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 17,560 lb (7,965 kg)
  • Powerplant:Orenda 10 turbojet



  • Guns:0.50 in (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns (1,602 rounds in total)
  • Rockets: variety of rocket launchers; e.g: 2× Matra rocket pods with 18× SNEB 68 mm rockets each
  • Missiles:AIM-9 Sidewinders
  • Bombs: 5,300 lb (2,400 kg) of payload on four external hardpoints, bombs are usually mounted on outer two pylons as the inner pairs are wet-plumbed pylons for 2× 200 gallons drop tanks to give the Sabre a useful range. A wide variety of bombs can be carried (max standard loadout being 2 x 1,000 lb bombs plus 2 drop tanks), napalm bomb canisters and can include a tactical nuclear weapon.

See also

Related development

Comparable aircraft

Related lists List of fighter aircraft


  1. ^ Milberry 1986, pp. 127, 148–149.
  2. ^ Joos 1971, p. 3.
  3. ^ Dempsey 2002
  4. ^ Atlantic Canada Aviation Museum: F-86/CL-13 Sabre Mk. V
  5. ^ RCAF Museum: CL-13 Sabre Mk. V
  6. ^ Flypast Magazine, August 2007.
  • Childerhose, R.J. The F-86 Sabre. New York: Arco Publishing, 1965.
  • Dempsey, Daniel V. A Tradition of Excellence: Canada's Airshow Team Heritage. Victoria: High Flight Enterprises Ltd., 2002. ISBN 0-9687817-0-5.
  • Flypast Magazine, August 2007, Key Publishing Ltd.
  • Joos, Gerhard W. Canadair Sabre Mk 1-6, Commonwealth Sabre Mk 30-32 in RCAF, RAF, RAAF, SAAF, Luftwaffe & Foreign Service. Kent, UK: Osprey Publications Limited, 1971. ISBN 0-85045-024-1.
  • Milberry, Larry. The Canadair Sabre. Toronto: CANAV Books, 1986. ISBN 0-9690703-7-3.
  • Pickler, Ron and Larry Milberry. Canadair: the First 50 Years. Toronto: CANAV Books, 1995. ISBN 0-921022-07-7.

External links


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