The best F-86: Canadair Sabre 6 versus CAC Sabre 32

‘Hawk One’. Photo: Peter Handley. Vintage Wings of Canada.

10th October 2014 | Of the many versions of the very successful North American F-86, many former pilots and historians are of the opinion that the Canadair Sabre CL-13B (Sabre Mk. 6/Sabre 6) is the best of the lineage.

However, Australians can justifiably contend that the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) Sabre (also known as the Avon Sabre or CA-27) Mk. 32 is overall the finest. Since the controversy rages amongst Military Aviation Chronicles historians the case, summarised below, is now presented to the readers.

Temora Aviation Museum’s Sabre Mk. 32. Photo Copyright: Gavin Conroy. Used with permission.

A Valiant Air Command Web page states, “The North American F-86 Sabre was arguably the most successful and elegant American fighter of the 1950s.” Yet, as good as the F-86 lineage was Canadair arguably made the plane even better and possibly produced the ultimate dogfighting Sabre in the Mark (Mk.) 6 version. Gerhard Joos states (page 5) in The Canadair Sabre, “In fact, it was the best version in overall performance of all . . versions built, including the FJ-4 Fury.”

In North American F-86 Sabre, Stewart Wilson and William Greene and Gordon Swanborough in The Complete Book of Fighters indicate many of the flight performances of the Canadair Mk. 6 and Mk. 32. Admittedly statistics alone do not present a complete picture, but the paragraphs below present a comparative analysis of the two marks.

Relating to the Canadair Mk. 6, the Avro Canada Orenda 14 axial flow turbojet powerplant produces a maximum of 32.3 kilonewtons (7,275 pounds) of thrust. The normal loaded weight is between 6,628 kilograms (14,613 pounds) and 7,450 kilograms (16,426 pounds). The foregoing combination generates a maximum speed of 1,143 kilometres per hour (618 knots/770 miles per hour) at sea level, 1,094 kilometres per hour (519 knots) at 10,000 feet and 998 kilometres per hours (539 knots/620 miles per hour) at 36,000 feet.

‘Hawk One’. Photo: Chrish 14-122.

The Mk. 6’s initial rate of climb is to 3,597 metres (11,800 feet) per minute or 60 metres per second. Its service ceiling is 16459 metres (54,000 feet). The machine’s tactical radius, in ‘clean’ configuration, is 584 kilometres (316 nautical miles) and maximum range with auxiliary tanks is 2,406 kilometres (1,300 nautical miles).  A Mk. 6’s service ceiling is 16459 metres (54,000 feet).

‘Hawk One’. Photo: Peter Handley. Vintage Wings of Canada.


Internal armament for the Mk. 6 consisted of six 12.7mm (.50-inch) Browning M3 machine guns, rated at firing 1150-1250 rounds per minute, in the nose with an ammunition capacity of 267 rounds per gun. The muzzle velocity of the Browning is  874 metres (2,870 feet) per second  and the effective range of the 12.7mm round is approximately 2,200 metres (1,651 yards). Projectile weight is 49 grams (1.7 ounces).

Sabre Mk 32 at Temora Aviation Museum via Temora Aviation Museum’s Facebook page.


In comparison, the CAC Sabre Mk. 32’s loaded weight is 7,273 kilograms (15,940 pounds).  It is powered by the Avon Mk. 26 axial flow turbojet engine which is certified as generating  33.3 kilonewtons (7,500 pounds) of static thrust). It propels the Australian Sabre at a maximum speed of 1,126 kilometres per hour (607 knots/699 miles per hour) at sea level, 1,081 kilometres per hour (583 knots/672 miles per hour) at 3,050 metres (10,000 feet) and 997 kilometres per hour (527 knots/607 miles per hour) at 11,580 metres (38,000 feet). The version’s initial rate of climb is 61 metres per second (12,000 feet per minute).  Its service ceiling is 15,850 metres (52,000 feet).

Mk.32 CAC Sabre Construction number CA27-83 at Temora Aviation Museum. Photo by Bidgee. Source: Wikipedia.

The Mk. 32’s internal fuel capacity is 1,623 litres (357 imperial gallons) with provision for two 454 litre (100 imperial gallons) droppable overload tanks. This capacity provides for a range of 1,850 kilometres (1,153 statute miles/1,000 nautical miles.)

Internal armament consisted of two ADEN 30mm (1.1811 inch) cannon in the nose, which provided a rate of fire of 1,200-1,700 rounds per minute. Ammunition capacity was 162 rounds per gun.  The Mk. 4 weapon fires a 220 gram (7.76 ounce) projectile at a muzzle velocity of 741 metres per second (2,430 feet per second). Projectile effective range is 1510 metres.

Stewart Wilson, author of North American F-86 Sabre, states (page 47) that the Sabre Mk. 32 (manufactured between 1955 and 1961) was “the final CAC Sabre, and to many analysts the most capable day fighter variant of North American’s original design.” He notably adds (page 48) the following: “The Sabre Mk. 32 differed from its predecessors in that the variant incorporated the Avon 26 turbojet engine with surge-free operation.”

R.Y. Costain, a member of the F-86 Sabre Pilots Association and an aviator with experience with both the Sabre 5 and 6, piloted Mk. 5 drones “both as a safety pilot and remotely” at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. He commented that the Canadair planes “were marvellous fighters.” Mr. Costain also added, “The Orenda 14 engine in the Mk. 6 gave us problems, however. We had a number of failures over the years. . . .”

Mk 6 Sabres of 421 Squadron RCAF Station Grostenquin, France, June 1957. Canadian Department of National Defence Photo PCN 109.

From a purely statistical standpoint, the Canadair Mk. 6 is slightly faster, possesses a higher service ceiling, its guns had a longer effective range, and the six weapons could put more shells onto the target during any given interval. However, within its weapons’ effective range the CAC Mk. 32’s two larger calibre and heavier cannon shells were more lethal.

Sadly, few airworthy examples remain operational. In Australia the Temora Aviation Museum periodically flies its beautiful unarmed CAC Mk. 32, and Vintage Wings of Canada/Les ailes d’époque du Canada regularly thrills crowds with its stunning and also unarmed ‘Golden Hawks’ Canadair.

‘Hawk One’. Photo: Peter Handley. Vintage Wings of Canada.

Notably, the Mk. 5 ‘Hawk One’ has been retrofitted with wings possessing leading edge slats and an Orenda 14 engine. Therefore, the aircraft resembles and performs much like a Sabre 6.

Perhaps the debate over the ‘best Sabre’ will never die. Suffice it to say that Canada and Australia can and should take pride in having produced the best Sabre Jets. As a result the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force were therefore able to operate the ultimate variants of this legendary aeroplane.

Readers are encouraged to make viewing of either aircraft a priority and are invited and encouraged to provide feedback and opinions.


The author (John T. Stemple) thanks J.R. Alley & R.Y. Costain of the F-86 Sabre Pilots Association, Pierre Clément of Vintage Wings of Canada/Les ailes d’époque du Canada, and photographers Peter Handley and Gustavo Corujo.

Suggested Viewings

Sources & Suggested Readings

ADEN cannon

ADEN cannon

ADEN cannon

Aden Mk 4

Aircraft Registry – Sabre

Browning M3

Browning M3 Machine Gun

CAC Sabre

Canadair Sabre

Could You Fly a Sabre? The challenge of handling a 1950s MiG killer

Davis, Larry, F-86 Sabre in Action – Aircraft No. 33, Squadron/Signal Publications, 1978.

F-86 Sabre Plots Association

F-86 Sabre Jet

Green, William and Gordon Swanborough, The Complete Book of Fighters, New York: Smithmark, 1994, p. 106.

Hawk One

History of a Dogfighter, Gerhard, The Canadair Sabre (Profile Publications No. 186), Leatherhead, England: Profile Publications, Ltd., 1967.

Joos, Gerhard, The Canadair Sabre (Profile Publications No. 186), Leatherhead, England: Profile Publications, Ltd., 1967.

List of Surviving Sabre Aircraft

Milberry, Larry, The Canadair Sabre, Toronto: CANAV Books, 1986.

North American F-86 (Day-Fighter A, E AND F Models)

Orenda Engines

Rolls-Royce Avon

Temora Aviation Museum

The Golden Hawks

The Sabre

The Ultimate MiG-Killer, the F-86F

Valiant Air Command

Vintage Wings of Canada/Les ailes d’époque du Canada

Wilson, Stewart, North American F-86 Sabre, Bungendore, New South Wales, Australia: Notebook Publications, 2002.

Wing and a Prayer – Sabre F-86 – A Fighter Pilot’s Fighter