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Rare F-86A Coming to AirVenture

May 24, 2017 - The year 2017 is shaping up to be a great one for fans of classic jet fighters, as we’re expecting a strong showing of North American F-86 Sabres at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh this summer.

One of them is an early A-model, and has the distinction of being the world’s oldest flying jet. This F-86 — serial No. 48-178 — was built in February 1948 and was the 50th A-model off the line at the North American factory in Inglewood, California. The early pioneer of the jet age is considered an excellent example of a true machine-age icon as it doesn’t have a single semiconductor.

The only surviving A-model currently flying, its service history includes Strategic Air Command, Air Defense Command, and the California Air National Guard. It flew in defense of the Los Alamos nuclear research facility with the 94th Fighter Squadron of the 1st Fighter Group. The Sabre was later transferred to a technical college in Fresno, California, and then sold to a local scrap dealer where, thankfully, it wasn’t scrapped. It and another F-86A in the same scrap yard were purchased by Ben Hall of the Sabre Pilots Association in 1970 and the extra parts helped to restore 48-178 to airworthy condition four years later.

The airplane flew again on May 24, 1974, and continued to fly regularly in North America (one of its pilots included the legendary Bob Hoover). It was sold in October 1983 and was operated by John Dilley of Fort Wayne Air Services through 1990 when Robert Horne, founder of the Golden Apple Trust, acquired it and brought it to the U.K., and the F-86A has flown on the European air show circuit for most of the past 22 years operated by Golden Apple Operations Ltd.

Dr. John Swartz, EAA Lifetime 1075948 and Warbirds 596506, of Afton, Oklahoma, acquired the aircraft a little more than a year ago, then had it disassembled and shipped to Heritage Aero in Rockford, Illinois, for reassembly and testing. Swartz had hoped to bring the airplane to Oshkosh in both 2015 and 2016, but didn’t quite make it, so we’re excited to welcome the airplane this year along with as many as four other Sabres.

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