Flight Systems Sabres

History of the Project

Founded in 1968 by Bob Laidlaw at Mojave in California, Flight Systems Inc. (FSI) began its involvement with the Sabre in the mid-1970s. At that time, the company signed a contract to supply remotely-piloted Sabres to the US Army for use as high speed targets. Laidlaw had demonstrated two such aircraft to the Army in 1975.

In order to fulfil this contract, ex-Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Canadair Sabres were overhauled and converted to drone configuration at a plant in Moncton, Canada, which was run by David McEwen. After modification, the Sabres were then dismantled and trucked in crates to Mojave for flight testing.

Flight Systems' storage area at Mojave. Foremost of these aircraft is 23344, which was not converted to drone spec.

The Moncton plant opened on 30th September 1976, and initial deliveries to the US Army began from Mojave in mid-1977. Converted aircraft became known as QF-86Es, and by 1st January 1980, 36 had been ordered. The QF-86E specification was as follows:

Powerplant: One Orenda 10 engine, rated at 6,325 lb thrust.

Fuel Capacity: 415 US gal, plus 2x120 or 200 gal drop tanks.

Launch: Conventional. Aircraft programmed to come to a halt and make a safe take off and climb out if control is lost on take off.

Guidance: Radar command guidance system, primary mode is NoLO (No Local Operator) over full range of pre-programmed manoeuvres, including take off and landing, but provision for pilot control is retained. Control is from one fixed and one mobile station manufactured by Vega Precision Laboaratories, or a Drone Control System made by IBM.

Special Equipment: Vega Precision Laboratories command/telemetry data system, and FSI interface computer for processing uplink command and downlink telemetry data to and from aircraft. A fourth installation, the IBM Drone Function Control System, is optional. Other options include radar altimeter (for simulated low-level attacks), scoring gear, infra-red flare dispenser, chaff dispenser, ECM pods and TV (used as a take off and landing aid).

Weights: Empty; 10,850 lb. Clean, take off; 13,500 lb. Take off + 2x120 gal drop tanks; 15,200 lb.

Max Speed: 527 kts/607 mph.

Ceiling: 45,000 ft.

Stress Limit: +7.0G.

A remote destruct system was fitted to QF-86Es so that the aircraft could be destroyed if control was lost. Two lights installed on a panel in the fuselage side indicated whether this system was 'Safe' or 'Armed'. Many QF-86Es were also equipped with a smoke system, similar to that fitted to Golden Hawks aerobatic team aircraft.

Stripped-out Sabre 5 awaits its turn on the conversion line.
The QF Sabres were placed on the US civil register by FSI for flight testing, but often carried 'US Army' titles on the tail fin prior to delivery to the Army at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Around 15 FSI personnel (pilots and technicians) were deployed to Holloman AFB NM for QF-86E operations. Each drone flew on average around 25 hours prior to being shot down, as destruction of the QF-86E was usually avoided. By October 1984, 50 QF-86Es had been delivered to the US Army, from a final total of 56. Further Canadair Sabre airframes were obtained from South Africa in 1981, but most of these aircraft were never converted for use by FSI or the Army. The US Army QF-86E drone program finished in June 1996, and fortunately, a few Sabres survived to see another day. The drone requirement was then filled by the QF-100, the first arriving at Mojave in early 1985 for conversion.

Flight Systems' conversion hangar at Mojave. Note the smoke oil tank in the gun bay of the aircraft at right.

Further to the target drone requirement, FSI was awarded a contract to tow aerial gunnery targets for the US Air Force in the early 1980s, and thus began another era in FSI Sabre operations. To fulfil this need, further Canadair Sabres (mainly Sabre 6s) were converted to enable Dart targets to be carried. Conventionally piloted, these aircraft differed from the QF-86Es in wearing FSI's smart blue and white corporate colour scheme. These aircraft spent much of their time away from Mojave, and could often be found towing targets at various US Air Force Bases. One FSI Sabre target tug was also deployed to Kadena AFB, Okinawa to serve PACAF requirements, and an FSI team would annually travel to Kadena to service the aircraft. Many of these target tugs were purchased from the defunct Haydon-Baillie collection in the UK. In addition to the Sabres, FSI F-100s also towed targets for the USAF.

Surviving FSI Sabres were transferred 'on paper' to parent company Tracor, based in Austin TX during 1989. Below I have detailed all known FSI Sabres, plus details of their fate or initial subsequent owner. Thus, for brevity, I have not included the current status of many aircraft, e.g. N38453 (ex-SAAF 378) now flies from Mojave, privately owned by Al Hansen.

QF-86E Target Drones - individual aircraft details

Canadair Sabre 5
RCAF 23021. To N1049D May79. Crashed at White Sands NM 01Feb80 after ground station malfunction.
RCAF 23028. To N99605 .78. Shot down by Patriot missile, White Sands NM 12Oct78.
RCAF 23034. To N1046G May79. Cancelled from register Nov82.

RCAF 23036. To N1046P May79. Flew into ground 18Sep82 White Sands NM.
RCAF 23058. To N1046S May79. Cancelled from register Nov82.
RCAF 23096. ex-N8686F with Boeing, to FSI Jul74, and registered N74180. Reported sold .86.

23034 at Mojave (Scott Van Aken)
RCAF 23097. To N5591C Feb80. Shot down by Standard missile 31Jul86
RCAF 23102. To N63551 (date?). Lost at White Sands 30Jun78 after Roland near miss.

Approach and intercept of QF-86E 23102 by a Roland missile over White Sands. The missile was fitted with a proximity fuse and the drone incredibly survived the explosion. However, the shock somehow activated the destruct system, and a few seconds later the Sabre exploded. (Bob Laidlaw)
RCAF 23106. To N5591F Feb80. Shot down by ADATS 14May88.
RCAF 23128. To N96123 Sep76. Shot down by DIVADS gun at White Sands NM 29Aug80.
RCAF 23129. No further details.
RCAF 23133. To N96120 Sep76. Crashed at White Sands NM 18May78 after control malfunction.
RCAF 23135. To N92426 .78. Crashed on landing at White Sands NM 22May79.

RCAF 23146. To N5591K Feb80. Shot down by Patriot missile, White Sands NM 26Oct82.

RCAF 23147. To N72491 Dec77. Damaged at White Sands NM 16Oct79, presumed scrapped.
RCAF 23151. To N5591L Feb80. Crashed on recovery, White Sands NM 23Aug82.
RCAF 23160. To N5591M Feb80. Shot down by Stinger missile, White Sands NM 21Aug82.
RCAF 23190. To N98230 Dec77. Shot down by Sidewinder missile, White Sands 08Jan80.
RCAF 23195. To N5591N Feb80. Shot down by ADATS 26Jun82.
RCAF 23198. To N5591S Feb80. Shot down by Stinger 25Sep82.
RCAF 23202. To N55911 Feb80. Shot down by ADATS 11Apr84.
RCAF 23203. To FSI as N201X .77. Cancelled from register Jun83.
RCAF 23206. To N5592D Feb80. Shot down by Chaparral system 27Mar87.
RCAF 23207. To N5592K May80. Shot down by ADATS 06Apr84.
RCAF 23208. To N46869 Feb84. Cancelled from register Apr88 (presumed written off), wings to N86EA.
RCAF 23209. To N4688J Feb84. Served with 6585th TG, Holloman AFB NM by Sep91, registration cancelled Apr88. For sale by Aviation Classics Reno NV Apr98.

23209 pictured at Holloman AFB.
RCAF 23215. To N2291B Jul78. Shot down by Patriot missile, White Sands NM 27Apr79.

RCAF 23222. To N46882 Nov83. (not converted?), reported sold .86
RCAF 23223. (not converted?). To Southern California Aviation Inc. Corona Del Mar CA Jan85, became N86EA.
RCAF 23224. No further details.
RCAF 23226. To N46883 Feb84. (not converted?), to Southern California Aviation Inc. Corona Del Mar .86
RCAF 23227. To N2290R Jul78. Cancelled from register Jun83.
RCAF 23238. (not converted?). To Southern California Aviation Inc. Corona Del Mar CA Jan85, became N86EB.
RCAF 23241. To N8544 (date?), ex-Lockheed, to FSI Mar76, written off in crash at Mojave.
RCAF 23252. To N96122 Sep76. Shot down by Patriot missile, White Sands NM 08Nov79.
RCAF 23259. To N98250 Nov77. Shot down by Standard missile 21Aug85.
RCAF 23268. To N96125 Sep76. Damaged by Roland missile and crashed on recovery to White Sands NM 16Aug78. Sale reported to Newport Beach CA .86 (Global Aerospace?).
RCAF 23280. To N2290V Jul78. Cancelled from register Jun83.
RCAF 23283. To N2290E (date?)(To N2209Z?). Cancelled from register Jun83.

RCAF 23289. To N99594 .78. Shot down by Roland 16Aug78.
RCAF 23291. To N70726 Sep77. Shot down by Roland 29Aug83.
RCAF 23293. To N4689H Feb84. To Southern California Aviation Inc. Corona Del Mar CA .86.
RCAF 23300. To N4724A Feb84. Cancelled from register Dec85, served with 6585th TG, Holloman AFB NM by Sep91. Noted at Mojave Jul96.

23300 is still airworthy and now owned by Rock Clemens at Carson City, NV.
RCAF 23303. No further details.
RCAF 23306. To N306X (.77?). Shot down by Roland missile, White Sands NM 22Jul78.

RCAF 23308. To N4724N Feb84. Cancelled from register Oct84.
RCAF 23309. To N92473 .78. Shot down by Chaparral missile system 11Jun86.
RCAF 23310. No further details.
RCAF 23315. To N72492 Dec77. To Fighter Imports Inc. Chino CA .89.
RCAF 23320. To N74170 (.76?). First QF-86E, shot down by DIVADS gun at White Sands NM 29Aug80.

RCAF 23323. To N98279 Nov77. Shot down by DivAD 13Apr85.
RCAF 23331. To N46901 Feb84. Cancelled from register Oct84.
RCAF 23338. To N4689N Feb84. To Chanute AFB IL .88(?) (aircraft noted at Mojave Jul96) - survived 13 unmanned sorties.

Seen here during 1995 at Holloman AFB, 23338 survived the drone programme.
RCAF 23339. To N46791 .78. Destroyed by ground station after control malfunction, White Sands NM 25Jul81
RCAF 23344. (not converted?). To Southern California Aviation Inc. Corona Del Mar CA Jan85, became N86EC.
RCAF 23351. (not converted?). To Southern California Aviation Inc. Corona Del Mar CA Jan85, became N86ED.
RCAF 23352. To N98270 Nov77. Lost after autopilot malfunctioned on Patriot mission 06Nov82.
RCAF 23358. To N4690J Feb84. Cancelled from register Apr88.
RCAF 23363. To N74180 .(?). Swapped with Boeing Seattle WA for 23096 in .74, which became N74180 no.2.
Two further Sabre 5s were registered N98275 and N99175, possibly 23129, 23224, 23303 or 23310.

Canadair Sabre 6
RCAF 23454. To N186F (.76?). Crashed on recovery to White Sands NM 17May78.

SAAF 350/ c.n. 1459. To N3841V Mar83, operating with 6585th TG Holloman AFB NM by .91 as '23669' - no further details
SAAF 352/ c.n. 1461. To N38301 Oct83, not converted, to Corporate Jet, Scottsdale AZ Jul91
SAAF 359/ c.n. 1468. To N3831B Oct83, not converted, to M D Aire Encino CA May91
SAAF 363/ c.n. 1472. To N3842H Oct83, not converted, to Corporate Jet, Scottsdale AZ Mar92
SAAF 371/ c.n. 1480. To N3842J Oct83, not converted, to T J Brown, New Bern NC .91
SAAF 373/ c.n. 1482. To N3844E Oct83, not converted, to Darryl Greenamyer, Ocala FL .92
SAAF 378/ c.n. 1487. To N38453 Oct83, not converted, to Global Aerospace, Newport Beach CA Sep92

N38453 (1487) is now owned by Al Hansen at Mojave. It is marked as '1487'. (Melvyn Hiscock)
SAAF 380/ c.n. 1489. To N3846J Oct83, not converted, to Global Aerospace, Newport Beach CA Sep92

Canadair Sabre Target Tugs

Canadair Sabre 5
RCAF 23231. To N91FS Jun82. Noted with FSI .95
RCAF 23285. To N92FS Jun82. Noted with FSI .95
RCAF 23347. To N93FS Feb82. Lost off Okinawa (PACAF).
RCAF 23367. To N8549 (date?), re-registered N92402 Sep76, re-registered N86FS Sep77. Noted at Mojave Dec93.
(missing photo)
N87FS (top) and N86Fs were still stored with BAE/Flight Systems at Mojave during 2001.(Melvyn Hiscock)
SAAF 382/ c.n. 1491. To N3847H Oct83, reported re-registered N87FS, to Global Aerospace, Newport Beach CA Sep92
c.n. 1593. To N1039B Apr79, re-registered N81FS Jun80. Lost in Atlantic Ocean (Mar87?)
c.n. 1600. To N1039C Apr79, re-registered N82FS Oct81. To Smith & Sons Aircraft, Paso Robles CA Jun93 as N186JC.
c.n. 1666. To N1039D Apr79, re-registered N83FS Oct81. Crashed in Tampa Bay .83, reported recovered and flown again, but off register by Apr84.
c.n. 1675. To N1039K Apr79, re-registered N80FS May81. No further details.

Now privately owned, N80FS with Al Hansen at Mojave 2001. (Melvyn Hiscock)
c.n. 1710. To N1039L Apr79, re-registered N89FS Oct81. To Airspray, Red Deer, Canada Jan98 as C-GBUI.



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