Indo-Pakistan Theatre

Sabre F-86F-40-NA



  • Role: Fighter
  • National origin: United States
  • Manufacturer: North American Aviation
  • First flight: 1 October 1947
  • Introduction: 1949, with USAF
  • Retired: 1994, Bolivia
  • Primary users    United States Air Force; Japan Air Self-Defense Force; Spanish Air Force; Republic of Korea Air Force
  • Number built: 9,860
  • Unit cost: US$219,457 (F-86E)
  • Developed from: North American FJ-1 Fury

Design Overview

The F-86 was produced as both a fighter-interceptor and fighter-bomber. Several variants were introduced over its production life, with improvements and different armament implemented (see below). The XP-86 was fitted with a General Electric J35-C-3 jet engine that produced 4,000 lbf (18 kN) of thrust. This engine was built by GM’s Chevrolet division until production was turned over to Allison. The General Electric J47-GE-7 engine was used in the F-86A-1 producing a thrust of 5,200 lbf (23 kN) while the General Electric J73-GE-3 engine of the F-86H produced 9,250 lbf (41 kN) of thrust.

The fighter-bomber version (F-86H) could carry up to 2,000 lb (907 kg) of bombs, including an external fuel-type tank that could carry napalm. Unguided 2.75 in (70 mm) rockets were used on some fighters on training missions, but 5 inch (127 mm) rockets were later carried on combat operations. The F-86 could also be fitted with a pair of external jettisonable jet fuel tanks (four on the F-86F beginning in 1953) that extended the range of the aircraft. Both the interceptor and fighter-bomber versions carried six 0.50 in (12.7 mm) M3 Browning machine guns with electrically boosted feed in the nose (later versions of the F-86H carried four 20 mm (0.79 in) cannons instead of machine guns). Firing at a rate of 1,200 rounds per minute, the .50 in (12.7 mm) guns were harmonized to converge at 1,000 ft (300 m) in front of the aircraft, using armor-piercing (AP) and armor-piercing incendiary (API) rounds, with one armor-piercing incendiary tracer (APIT) for every five AP or API rounds. The API rounds used during the Korean War contained magnesium, which were designed to ignite upon impact but burned poorly above 35,000 ft (11,000 m) as oxygen levels were insufficient to sustain combustion at that height. Initial planes were fitted with the Mark 18 manual-ranging computing gun sight. The last 24 F-86A-5-Nas and F-86E were equipped with the A-1CM gunsight-AN/APG-30 radar, which used radar to automatically compute a target’s range, which later proved to be advantageous against MiG opponents over Korea.


Flying characteristics: The Sabre’s swept wings and jet engine produced a flying experience that was very different from the pinnacle generation of propeller-driven fighters that were operational in the early days of jet fighter development in the 1940s and early 1950s.

The transition from props to jets was not without accidents and incidents even for experienced fighter pilots. Early on in the jet age some US manufacturers instituted safety and transition programs where experienced test and production pilots would tour operational fighter squadrons to provide instruction and demonstrations designed to lower the accident rate.

As well, the ongoing technical development and long production history of the F-86 resulted in some significant differences in the handling and flying characteristics between the various F-86 models. Some of the major changes to the design included the switch from an elevator/stabilizer to an all-flying tail, the discontinuation of leading edge slats in favour of a solid leading edge with increased internal fuel capacity, increased engine power and internal missile bay (F-86D).

Each of these design changes impacted the handling and flying characteristics of the F-86 and not necessarily for the better. In the case of the solid leading edge and increased internal fuel capacity, the design change produced increased combat performance, but exacerbated a dangerous and often fatal handling characteristic upon takeoff if the nose was raised prematurely from the runway. This ‘over-rotation’ danger is now a major area of instruction and concern for current F-86 pilots. The 1972 Sacramento Canadair Sabre accident resulting in 22 fatalities and 28 other casualties was a result of over-rotation on takeoff.

Indo-Pakistani War of 1965: In 1954, Pakistan began receiving the first of a total of 120 F-86F Sabres. Many of these aircraft were the F-86F-35 from USAF stocks, but some were from the later F-86F-40-NA production block, made specifically for export. Many of the −35s were brought up to −40 standards before they were delivered to Pakistan, but a few remained −35s. The F-86 was operated by nine PAF squadrons at various times: Nos. 5, 11, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 and 26 Squadrons. During the 22-day Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 the F-86 became the mainstay of the PAF, though the Sabre was no longer a world class player fighter (due to availability of Supersonic Jets). However many sources state the F-86 gave the PAF a technological advantage.

Air to air combat: In the air-to-air combat of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, the PAF Sabres claimed to have shot down 15 IAF aircraft, comprising nine Hunters, four Vampires and two Gnats. India, however, admitted a loss of 14 combat aircraft to the PAF’s F-86s. The F-86s of the PAF had the advantage of being armed with AIM-9B/GAR-8 Sidewinder missiles whereas none of its Indian adversaries had this capability. Despite this, the IAF claimed to have shot down four PAF Sabres in air-to-air combat. This claim is disputed by the PAF, which admitted to having lost seven F-86 Sabres but only three of them during air-to-air battles. The top Pakistani ace of the conflict was Sqn Ldr Muhammad Mahmood Alam, who ended the conflict claiming nine confirmed and two probable kills / damaged aircraft.

Ground attack: The aircraft remained a potent weapon for use against ground targets. On morning of 6 September, six F-86s of No. 19 Sqn struck advancing columns of the Indian army using 5 in (127 mm) rockets along with their six .50 in (12.7 mm) M3 Browning machine guns. On the same day, eight F-86 fighters of the same squadron executed an attack against IAF Pathankot.

No. 14 PAF Squadron earned the nickname “Tailchoppers” for their successful attack against the Indian bomber base in Kalaikunda. PAF claims of destroying around 36 aircraft on the ground at various Indian airfields. However, India only acknowledges 22 aircraft lost on the ground to strikes partly attributed to the PAF’s F-86s and its bomber Martin B-57 Canberra.

Indo-Pakistani War of 1971: The Canadair Sabres (Mark 6), acquired from ex-Luftwaffe stocks via Iran, were the mainstay of the PAF’s day fighter operations during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, and had the challenge of dealing with the threat from IAF. At the beginning of the war, PAF had eight squadrons of F-86 Sabres. Along with the newer fighter types such as the Mirage III and the Shenyang F-6, the Sabre were tasked with the majority of operations during the war. In East Pakistan only one PAF F-86 squadron (14th Squadron) was deployed to face the numerical superiority of the IAF.

PAF F-86s performed well, with Pakistani claims of downing 31 Indian aircraft in air-to-air combat. These included 17 Hawker Hunters, eight Sukhoi Su-7 “Fitters”, one MiG 21 and three Gnats while losing seven F-86s. The most interesting of these was a battle between two Sabres and four MiG-21s. One MiG was shot down, without any Sabres lost. This was achieved due better low speed performance of Sabre in comparison to delta winged MiG-21.

India however claims to have shot down 11 PAF Sabres for the loss of 11 combat aircraft to the PAF F-86s. The IAF numerical superiority overwhelmed the sole East Pakistan Sabres squadron (and other military aircraft) which were either shot down, or grounded by Pakistani fratricide as they could not hold out, enabling complete air superiority for the Indian Air Force.

After this war, Pakistan slowly phased out its F-86 Sabres and replaced them with Chinese F-6 (Soviet MiG-19 based) fighters. The last of the Sabres were withdrawn from service in PAF in 1980. They are now displayed in Pakistan Air Force Museum and in the cities in which their pilots lived.

Hawker Hunter F.6


  • Role: Fighter/ Fighter-bomber/Ground attack/ Reconnaissance aircraft
  • Manufacturer: Hawker Siddeley
  • National origin: United Kingdom
  • First flight: 20 July 1951
  • Introduction: 1954
  • Retired: Retired from military service 2014
  • Status: Active as a war bird
  • Number built: 1,972
  • Unit cost: £100,000 in 1956

The Hunter F.1 entered service with the Royal Air Force in July 1954. It was the first high-speed jet aircraft equipped with radar and fully powered flight controls to go into widespread service with the RAF. The Hunter replaced the Gloster Meteor, the Canadair Sabre, and the de Havilland Venom jet fighters in service. Initially, low internal fuel capacity restricted the Hunter’s performance, giving it only a maximum flight endurance of about an hour. A tragic incident occurred on 8 February 1956, when a flight of eight Hunters was redirected to another airfield owing to adverse weather conditions. Six of the eight aircraft ran out of fuel and crashed, killing one pilot.

Another difficulty encountered during the aircraft’s introduction was the occurrence of surging and stalling with the Avon engines. The F.2, which used the Armstrong-Siddeley Sapphire engine, did not suffer from this issue. Further problems occurred; ejected cannon ammunition links had a tendency to strike and damage the underside of the fuselage, and diverting the gas emitted by the cannon during firing was another necessary modification. The original split-flap airbrakes caused adverse changes in pitch trim and were quickly replaced by a single ventral airbrake. This meant, however, that the airbrake could not be used for landings.

To address the problem of range, a production Hunter F.1 was fitted with a modified wing featuring bag-type fuel tanks in the leading edge and “wet” hardpoints. The resulting Hunter F.4 first flew on 20 October 1954, and entered service in March 1955. A distinctive Hunter feature added on the F.4 was the pair of blisters under the cockpit, which collected spent ammunition links to prevent airframe damage. Crews dubbed them “Sabrinas” after the contemporary movie star. The Sapphire-powered version of the F.4 was designated the Hunter F.5.

The single-seat fighter versions of the Hunter were armed with four 30 mm (1.18 in) ADEN cannon, with 150 rounds of ammunition per gun. The cannon and ammunition boxes were contained in a single pack that could be removed from the aircraft for rapid re-arming and maintenance. Unusually, the barrels of the cannon remained in the aircraft while the pack was removed and changed. In the two-seat version, either a single 30 mm ADEN cannon was carried or, in some export versions, two, with a removable ammunition tank. Later versions of the Hunter were fitted with SNEB Pods; these were 68 mm (2.68 in) rocket projectiles in 18-round Matra pods, providing an effective strike capability against ground targets.


Two seater Hunter T.7a GF

The Hunter featured nose-mounted ranging radar, providing range input to the gyro gunsight for air-to-air gunnery only. Other equipment included pylon-mounted underwing external fuel tanks, a forward-facing gun camera, and large streamlined pods for collecting expended shell cases beneath the gun pack. These were nicknamed “Sabrinas”, after the buxom actress of the time. Several variants were fitted with tail-mounted brake parachutes. Typically, export Hunters were equipped to be compatible with additional types of missiles, such as the AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missile and the AGM-65 Maverick air-to-surface missile.

Layout and structure

The Hunter is a conventional swept wing all-metal monoplane. The fuselage is of monocoque construction, with a removable rear section for engine maintenance. The engine is fed through triangular air intakes in the wing roots and has a single jetpipe in the rear of the fuselage. The mid-mounted wings have a leading edge sweep of 35° and slight anhedral, the tailplanes and fin are also swept. The Hunter’s aerodynamic qualities were increasingly infringed upon by modifications in later production models, such as the addition of external containers to collect spent gun cartridges, underwing fuel tanks to increase range, leading edge extensions to resolve pitch control difficulties, and a large ventral air brake.

The airframe of the Hunter consists of six interchangeable major sections: the forward fuselage (housing the cockpit and armament pack), center fuselage (including the integral wing roots and air duct intakes), rear fuselage, tail unit assembly, and two individually produced wings. Production was divided up so major sections could be completed individually and manufacturing of the type could be dispersed to reduce vulnerability to attack. Establishing initial full-rate production for the type was difficult, as manufacturing the Hunter required the development of 3,250 tool designs and the procurement of 40,000 fixtures, jigs, and tools.

Indian Air Force

In 1954, India arranged to purchase Hunters as a part of a wider arms deal with Britain, ordering 140 Hunter single-seat fighters at the same time that Pakistan announced its purchase of several North American F-86 Sabre jet fighters. The Indian Air Force (IAF) was the first to operate the Hunter T.66 trainers, placing an initial order in 1957. The more powerful engine was considered beneficial in a hot environment, allowing for greater takeoff weights. During the 1960s, Pakistan investigated the possibility of buying as many as 40 English Electric Lightnings, but Britain was unenthusiastic about the potential sales opportunity because of the damage it would do to its relations with India, which at the time was still awaiting the delivery of large numbers of ex-RAF Hunters.

By the outbreak of the Sino-Indian War in 1962, India had assembled one of the largest air forces in Asia, and the Hunter was the nation’s primary and most capable interceptor. During the conflict, the Hunter demonstrated its superiority over China’s Russian-sourced MiGs and gave India a strategic advantage in the air.

Note: India’s aerial superiority deterred Chinese Ilyushin Il-4 bombers from attacking targets within India. In 1962, India had selected to procure its first supersonic-capable fighter, the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21; large numbers of Russian-built fighters had increasingly supplemented the aging Hunters in the interceptor role by 1970.

The Hunter was to play a major role during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965.

Note:  along with the Gnat the Hunter was India’s primary air defence fighter, and regularly engaged in dogfights with the Pakistani F-86 Sabres and F-104 Starfighters. The aerial war saw both sides conducting thousands of sorties in a single month. Both sides claimed victory in the air war, Pakistan claimed to have destroyed 104 aircraft against its own losses of 19, while India claimed to have destroyed 73 enemy aircraft and lost 35 of its own. Despite the intense fighting, the conflict was effectively a stalemate.

IAF Hunters performed extensive operations during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971; India had six combat-ready squadrons of Hunters at the start of the conflict.

Note:  Pakistani infantry and armoured forces attacked the Indian outpost of Longewala in an event now known as the Battle of Longewala. Six IAF Hunters stationed at Jaisalmer Air Force Base were able to halt the Pakistani advance at Longewala by conducting non-stop bombing raids. The aircraft attacked Pakistani tanks, armoured personnel carriers and gun positions and contributed to the increasingly chaotic battlefield conditions, which ultimately led to the retreat of Pakistan’s ground forces.

Note:  Hunters were also used for many ground-attack missions and raids inside Pakistan’s borders, such as the high-profile bombing of the Attock Oil refinery to limit Pakistani fuel supplies. In the aftermath of the conflict, Pakistan claimed to have shot down a total of 32 of India’s Hunters.








 Courtesy of




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