The CAC Sabre, sometimes known as the Avon Sabre or CA-27, is an Australian variant of the North American Aviation F-86F Sabre fighter aircraft. The F-86F was redesigned and built by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC). Equipping five RAAF squadrons, the type saw action in the Malayan Emergency in the late 1950s, and was employed for air defence in Malaysia and Thailand in the 1960s. Ex-RAAF models also saw service with the Royal Malaysian Air Force and the Indonesian Air Force.
In 1951, CAC obtained a licence agreement to build the F-86. It was decided to power the aircraft using a licence-built version of the Rolls-Royce Avon R.A.7. This involved a re-design of the fuselage as the Avon was shorter, wider and lighter than the General Electric J47 that powered the North American-built aircraft. Because of the engine change the type is often referred to as the Avon Sabre. To accommodate the Avon, over 60% of the fuselage was redesigned along with a 25% increase in the size of the air intake. Another major revision was in replacing the F-86F’s six machine guns with two 30mm ADEN cannon, while other changes were also made to the cockpit and to provide an increased fuel capacity.
The prototype aircraft (designated CA-26 Sabre) first flew on 3 August 1953. The production aircraft were designated the CA-27 Sabre and first deliveries to the Royal Australian Air Force began in 1954. The first batch of aircraft were powered by the Avon 20 engine and were designated the Sabre Mk 30. Between 1957 and 1958 this batch had the wing slats removed and were redesignated Sabre Mk 31. These Sabres were supplemented by 20 new-build aircraft. The last batch of aircraft were designated Sabre Mk 32 and used the Avon 26 engine, of which 69 were built up to 1961.
The RAAF operated the CA-27 from 1954 to 1971. The Aircraft Research and Development Unit received the first example in August 1954; it was delivered to No. 2 (Fighter) Operational Training Unit (subsequently No. 2 Operational Conversion Unit) in November. Over the next six years the Sabres progressively equipped Nos. 75, 3, 77 and 76 Squadrons.
From 1958 to 1960, CAC Sabres of No. 78 Wing, comprising Nos. 3 and 77 Squadrons, completed numerous ground attack sorties against communist insurgents in Malaya, during the Malayan Emergency. Following the Emergency, they remained in Malaysia at RAAF Butterworth. Armed with Sidewinder missiles, the Sabres were responsible for regional air defence during the Konfrontasi between Indonesia and Malaysia from 1963 until 1966, though no combat took place. Between October and December 1965, a detachment of six Sabres, initially from No. 77 Squadron and later from No. 3 Squadron, was based at Labuan to conduct combat patrols over the Indonesian–Malaysian border on Borneo.
In 1962, a detachment of eight CAC Sabres, which was later expanded and designated No. 79 Squadron, was sent from Butterworth to RAAF Ubon, Thailand, to assist the Thai and Laotian governments in actions against communist insurgents. Australia and Thailand were allies of South Vietnam and the United States during the Vietnam War; No. 79 Squadron was responsible for local air defence at Ubon, where United States Air Force attack and bomber aircraft were based. The squadron never engaged North Vietnamese aircraft or ground forces and was disbanded in 1968.
The RAAF began re-equipping with the Dassault Mirage III in 1964. The last Sabres in Australian service, operated by No. 5 Operational Training Unit, were retired in July 1971.
Former RAAF CAC Sabres were operated by No. 11 Squadron of the Royal Malaysian Air Force (TUDM) between 1969 and 1972. Following the establishment of better relations with Indonesia, 23 CAC Sabres were donated to the Indonesian Air Force (TNI-AU) between 1973 and 1975, and operated by No. 14 Squadron; five of these were former Malaysian aircraft.
In Australia one aircraft, RAAF Sabre A94-983, has been restored to flying condition, and takes part in displays at the Temora Aviation Museum, New South Wales.
- CA-26 Sabre
- Prototype, one built.
- CA-27 Sabre Mk 30
- Production version powered by the Avon 20 engine and fitted with leading-edge slats; 22 built.
- CA-27 Sabre Mk 31
- Version similar to Mk 30 but with an extended leading edge; 20 built and surviving Mk 30s converted to this standard.
- CA-27 Sabre Mk 32
- Final production batch with underwing pylons and Avon 26 engine; 69 built.