CANADAIR CL-13B SABRE MK VI SERIAL 367
The SAAF's use of the Sabre jets started during the Korean War when 2 Squadron had their Mustangs replaced by North American F86F-30 Sabre jets. This was due to the high regard and respect that the SAAF pilots had achieved with their tenacity in the ground attack role with Mustangs.
The first machines, on loan from he USAF, were delivered to 2 Squadron in January 1953. USAF. These early Sabre’s, although F models, which in theory would of been fitted with the newly-developed "6-3" wing, were in fact mostly all fitted with the older slatted non 6-3 wing. At the cessation of hostilities in Korea, 2 Squadron returned all their remaining Sabre's to the USAF in October 1953. Aircraft losses amounted to four out of 22 Sabre’s delivered. Serial numbers were 601 to 622.
The SAAF Museum's Sabre is a Canadair CL-13B Sabre Mk VI, one of a batch of 34 acquired by the SAAF. The specific aircraft displayed at the SAAF Museum, serial 367, was delivered to the SAAF on 11 October 1956. The construction number is 1476 and it was allocated the temporary Royal Canadian Air Force serial of 23686. Initially serving with 2 Squadron, it transferred to 1 Squadron in 1964 when they were replaced by Mirage IIICZ's. In 1976, 1 Squadron re-equipped with the Mirage F1AZ and Sabre 367 undertook its last flight on 3 March 1978 before being retired from service and placed in storage until 1996, Colonel Rod Penhall, Officer Commanding AFB Bloemspruit and an ex-Sabre pilot at 1 Squadron, made the decision to resurrect the Sabre for the SAAF Museum. The aircraft was transported by road to AFB Bloemspruit on 15 January 1997. The team worked for slightly more than three years to restore the aircraft to full flying condition.
Three of the major problems facing the restoration team were the unavailability of pyrotechnic cartridges for the ejection seat, an unserviceable centre wing fuel tank and the requirement to manufacture a new trunion for the engine. By March 2000, the restoration had been completed. Since the aircraft had been in storage for an excessive period, the test flying programme conducted by the Test Flight and Development Centre was treated as a new aircraft being readied for its first flight. All electrical looming and connections, hydraulic and fuel pipes, and flight and engine control systems, were inspected by independent authorities, and safety and technical review boards were convened. After numerous engine ground runs, compass swings and engine relights, approval was granted to advance to the high speed taxi test.
In this specific case, the aircraft was accelerated to 100 knots and the aircraft lifted-off approximately 2ft above the runway for about 4 seconds during which time the test pilot evaluated the aerodynamic responses. The 'first flight' of the restored Sabre, still in its natural metal finish, was conducted on 30 March 2000 at 17h15B and lasted for 30 minutes during which no snags were reported. Despite appearing in numerous air shows during 2000, Sabre 367 was only repainted in full 2 Squadron colours during October 2000.
While it was perhaps to some advantage to purchase Canadian-made Canadair CL-13B Sabre Mk.6s in the mid1950s, the somewhat exotic specifications have made returning one to the air a major challenge. With considerable enthusiasm, the ex-2 Squadron Sabre was flown at a number of air shows during 2000. This followed a great deal of work on the engine and airframe that included the re-manufacture of main engine mount trunnions. Extensive testing followed, with much of the work being carried out at 6 Aircraft Servicing Unit (ASU) at Bloemspruit. After a number of flights, some of them carried out by General Des Barker, the Museum realised it would have to ground the jet as sadly, the SAAF had disposed of its store of replacement seat cartridges for the US-made Weber ejection seat a mere six months before the Sabre project was started as the seat required three different cartridges to complete the ejection sequence. This problem prevented the all-important ‘Release to Service’ from being completed and despite volunteers willing to fly the aircraft with an inoperative seat, it was decided, perhaps wisely, to ground the aircraft. Lack of the necessary technical expertise to maintain the aircraft also became a problem. A malfunctioning oxygen regulator, for which the SAAF had no spares also hampered progress and despite a brave attempt to replace the US regulator with an Impala unit, the unit could not be made to fit. Another reason the Museum decided to not pursue the Sabre restoration was that the centre section fuel booster pump was unserviceable and this prevented the ground crew from starting the engine.
The Sabre also had a healthy appetite for brakes and tyres and although 21 Squadron assisted on occasion because the Falcon 900 had identical tyres, the high consumption and lack of spare parts again discouraged the Museum from seeking funds to keep the jet in the air. Sabre 367 was last flown during 2001 by Lieutenant Colonel Gary Loney.