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The most numerically important version of the Sabre, with 2,506 built including two prototypes, the F-86D - or 'Sabre Dog' as it was popularly known - all weather fighter was also the first major redesign of the basic Sabre to attain production. The changes were such that only 25 percent of the original remained untouched (mainly the wings and undercarriage) and at the time of the prototype's first flight on 22 December 1949, the 'D' was regarded as a new aircraft by the USAF and was designated the F-95A. Political expediency then took a hand - it was easier to get funding for developed versions of existing aircraft than for new ones - and the F-95A became the F-86D Sabre in July 1950.
Conceived in the era of the early days of the Cold War and intended to intercept Soviet bombers which would undoubtedly be carrying nuclear weapons in a time of war, the F-86D introduced several 'firsts' to the art of fighter design and service, notably in that it was the first single seat all weather (or 'night') fighter (the traditional second crew member was replaced by electronic fire control and target location wizardry) and it was the first fighter in regular service to entirely dispense with guns and carry rocket armament instead.
Compared with the day fighter Sabres which proceeded it, the F-86D had an afterburning version of the J47 engine, a nose radome for the radar under which was placed a widened engine air intake, a rear hinged 'clamshell' canopy in place of the previous aft sliding type, an 'all flying' tailplane with no separate elevators and no dihedral, hydraulically powered flight controls, a longer, wider and deeper fuselage and an electronic fuel management system which significantly reduced the pilot's workload.
The major area of commonality with the day fighter Sabres was in the use of the F-86A's slatted wing and undercarriage design, the latter coping with increased maximum weights which were eventually some 20 percent greater than the F-86A's.
As the F-86D was designed to shoot down bombers, it was decided to dispense with the gun armament and replace it with 24 2.75in (70mm) Mighty Mouse FFAR (Folding Fin Aircraft Rocket) rockets which would almost guarantee a 'kill' if fired accurately. The rockets were accommodated in the lower forward fuselage area below the cockpit, and when fired, the retractable tray on which they were mounted would pop out and the selected number of rockets dispatched towards the target. The firing sequence took only half a second to complete while the rocket carried a 7.55lb (3.42kg) warhead and had a range of up to 2.5 miles (4.1km).