An intelligence warning in 1948 prompted the U.S. Air Force to hurriedly develop an all-weather interceptor. Starting with the basic airframe of its F-86A, North American incorporated two unprecedented concepts into the F-86D (initially designated the F-95). First, a highly sophisticated electronic system replaced the second crewmember carried by other interceptors of the time. Second, the F-86D became the first production single-seat fighter in which air-to-air missiles replaced the classic gun armament.

With its air intake reshaped to make room for the enclosed radar, the F-86D, nicknamed “Sabre Dog,” presented a distinctive profile. The interception radar and associated fire-control computed the target’s position, guided the aircraft on an intercept course to within 500 yards of the target, lowered the retractable tray of 24 rockets, and fired the rockets automatically. The effect of these weapons would have been devastating to an enemy bomber because each 2.75-inch “Mighty Mouse” folding fin aircraft rocket contained the power of a 75mm artillery shell. The first prototype (YF-86D) flew on December 22, 1949, and North American delivered 2,506 F-86Ds before production ended in September 1953. Nearly a thousand F-86Ds were upgraded to F-86L standard to work with the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) Air Defense System. Although the U.S. Air Force had phased out its F-86Ds by June 1961, Japan and other nations continued flying them.

The aircraft on display, serial number 52-3651, came to the museum in April 2011. It is marked as an F-86L assigned to the 116th Fighter Interceptor Wing at Dobbins Air Force Base, Georgia, during the late-1950s. Delivered to the USAF in February 1954, the museum’s aircraft was first assigned to the 54th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron at Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota. It served with other Fighter-Interceptor squadrons before its final assignment to the 3350th Flying Training Wing at Moody AFB, Georgia. The aircraft was retired in July 1959.

Some sources incorrectly identify this aircraft as an F-86L. 52-3651 does not have the 12-inch wing extensions or the blade antenna in front of the left wing that are found on the “L” model.

Span: 37 ft. 1 in.
Length: 40 ft. 4 in.
Height: 15 ft.
Weight: 19,975 lbs. loaded
Armament: Twenty-four 2.75 in. Mighty Mouse folding fin aircraft rockets
Engine: General Electric J47 of 7,650 lbs. thrust with afterburner
Serial Number: 52-3651

Maximum speed: 761 mph.
Cruising speed: 500 mph.
Range: 800 miles
Service ceiling: 50,000 ft.