Published: Airpower Journal - Summer 1997
F-86 Sabre: The Operational Record by Robert Jackson. Smithsonian Institute Press, 470 L'Enfant Plaza, Suite 7100, Washington, D.C. 20560, 1994, 154 pages, $24.95.
A very well written book, F-86 Sabre could best be described as an operational synopsis of North American Aviation's successor to the P-51/F-51 Mustang. Veteran aviation author Robert Jackson takes the reader from the inception of the F-86 late in World War II through the twilight years of the last operational Sabres in the mid-1970s. In so doing, he examines in at least some detail all the variants of the F-86 made in the United States, Canada, and Australia as well as the US Navy's Fury variants. Mention is also made of the F-100 Super Sabre and its follow-on, the F-107. One should note that descriptions of these types are somewhat limited due to the book's emphasis on aircraft operations. However, these descriptions do constitute one of the three highlights of F-86 Sabre.
The other two highlights involve the combat record of the F-86, first with the USAF and its allies in Korea and then with the Pakistani air force in two wars with India in the 1960s and early 1970s. The description of air combat in Korea is truly outstanding. In a very few pages, one quickly understands the gist of the Korean air war. Jackson discusses combat conditions, describes allied and Communist tactics, and covers the involvement of Russian pilots. He mentions the principal problems faced by the USAF fighter force, describes combat sorties, and recounts our losses. Pakistani use of the F-86 provides an interesting counterpoint to its use in Korea. Pakistan successfully used the 30-year-old design for air defense and air-to-ground operations. One veteran pilot became an ace in less than two minutes of air combat in the F-86. Although the F-86 acquitted itself well during the first Pakistani-Indian war, by the 1970s the Sabre could not compete with the newer types operated by the Indian air force. Because Pakistani Sabre losses during the second war were excessive, the surviving F-86s were relegated to training roles.
Although these highlights provide much to recommend F-86 Sabre, the remainder of the book, which catalogues its use with tens of other air forces, does not hold the reader's attention nearly as well. Despite Jackson's best efforts, these descriptions almost become a litany of squadron numbers, aircraft losses, and the few highlights associated with the F-86 in that particular service. Granted, one might expect this in a book subtitled The Operational Record, but that did not help me get through those sections.
Otherwise, my biggest disappointment with F-86 Sabre was the absence of color photos. Throughout its long and distinguished career in the world's air forces, the F-86 sported a myriad of colorful markings and nose art, well documented in color film and movies. However, one would never know this from Jackson's book. At this price, failure to treat the reader to even some of these photos borders on criminal behavior. This deficiency left me negatively disposed to the book before I read the first sentence.
Such problems limit the overall appeal of F-86 Sabre. On the strength of its combat descriptions, I recommend the library's copy of the book to general aviation fans. Only die-hard Sabre addicts should seriously consider adding F-86 Sabre to their library at list price.
Lt Col David Howard, USAF
Maxwell AFB, Alabama