An all-metal monoplane jet fighter with swept wings.
The development of the Sabre began in the autumn of 1944 as a modification of the NA-134 shipboard fighter. In November 1944, North-American presented its plan for a daytime fighter to the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF): the NA-140 model, based on the NA-134 and later given the designation of XP-86. It was decided in the design process that the XP-86 would feature the more promising swept wings instead of straight ones. The prototype Sabre XP-86, built with swept wings, first flew on October 1, 1947.
The first production model of the Sabre was the Р-86А (manufacturer number NA-151). In June 1948, the aircraft was given the new designation of F-86A. It was fitted with a General Electric J47-GE-1 (-3, -7) turbojet engine producing 2,360 kg of thrust.
The aircraft's armament consisted of six 12.7mm Browning M3.5 machine guns with 1,800 total rounds of ammunition. The distinctive features of the production model were a curved windscreen and flaps over the machine gun firing ports, which could be closed by means of an electric motor. The first production Р-86А-1 took off on 20 May 1948. Most of the F-86А-1s were used to perform various tests and were not delivered to the front.
The F-86A-5 (NA-151) was the first real combat Sabre with a J47-GE-7 engine. It was produced for the first time on February 23, 1949. This model had a new windscreen, and the closeable flaps of the machine gun firing ports were removed to simplify maintenance. The cockpit canopy could be jettisoned if necessary. Two 780-liter fuel tanks could be mounted on the underwing pylons. Instead of fuel tanks, the aircraft could carry a combat load, which usually consisted of two 100-lb (45-kg), 500-lb (227-kg) or 1,000-lb (454-kg) bombs, two 375-kg tanks filled with napalm, or two 220-kg bomb clusters. Guide rails could also be mounted to hold eight unguided 5-inch HVAR rockets under each wing.
A contract to deliver the next batch of the F-86As was signed in May 1948. These aircraft were still designated as F-86A-5s but they were named NA-161s at the plant, as they had a number of differences from previous series. In particular, they were equipped with a J47-GE-13 engine. Deliveries of this batch began in October 1949 and were finished in December of the following year.
The last 24 F-86A-5s had a new A-1CM sight coupled with an AN/APG-30 radar ranging unit. The planes originally equipped with the А-1СМ were designated as F-86A-6s, and those retrofitted on site were designated as F-86A-7s.
The first USAAF military unit that received the F-86A was the 94th FS (Fighter Squadron) of the 1st FW (Fighter Wing). The pilots in the unit nicknamed the new fighter the Sabre.
The F-86A fighters took part in the Korean War, making their first combat flight on December 17, 1950. Compared to its main opponent, the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 fighter, the Sabre's flight characteristics were somewhat better at low altitude, but it was inferior to the MiG in its rate of climbing, service ceiling, speed at high altitude, and armament. However, the Sabre's main advantage was its sight, equipped with a radar ranging unit that enabled more accurately aimed fire when maneuvering at high speeds.
The total number of the F-86A aircraft constructed was 554, and they served only with the USAF and the Air National Guard (ANG).