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World’s Oldest Airworthy Jet Returns to U.S.

Aims for Oshkosh 2015

  • F-86
    The F-86A before being disassembled and shipped to its new owner in the U.S.
  • F-86
    Work on reassembling the F-86A will begin in January. Until then it’s safely waiting at Heritage Aero in Rockford, Illinois.

December 11, 2014 - A unique F-86A Sabre that has the distinction of being the world’s oldest flying jet recently arrived back in the United States after several decades in Europe, and the primary goal of its new owner is to bring it to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015.

The jet (S/N 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 airplane was released to the United States Air Force Materiel Command in February 1949 and entered service with the U.S. Air Force in April that year at March Air Reserve Base, California.

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 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 UK, and the F-86A has flown on the European air show circuit for the past 22 years operated by Golden Apple Operations Ltd.

Dr. John Swartz, EAA Lifetime 1075948/Warbirds 596506, of Afton, Oklahoma, recently acquired the aircraft, had it disassembled and shipped to Heritage Aero, Rockford, Illinois. That’s where the airplane is now, according to Heritage owner Cliff Wilewski, EAA 145720/Warbirds 12444.

“We’re going to take a breather for the rest of December and do the reassembly in January and February,” Wilewski said. “We plan to have her flying by early March.” The goal is to complete assembly and achieve FAA certification in time for EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015, which occurs July 20-26.

America’s gain is Europe’s loss; this was the only flying Sabre jet of any kind on the continent and was based at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford, England. Read the recent feature story by Global Aviation Resource for a retrospective on the F-86A.

The following video was produced as a fond farewell to the airplane from Golden Apple.


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