F-100 Super Sabre: The Fighter Jet That Killed More of Its Pilots Than Enemy Aircraft

The F-100 pioneered a new era of supersonic military jets.
F-100C 4mation

The F-100 Super Sabre was born in 1951 when designers began pushing to take the next giant leap in aviation – a fighter that could break the sound barrier.

The first units of this innovative aircraft were delivered to the USAF in 1953, and until then, only experimental aircraft were capable of breaking the sound barrier… but the arrival of the F-100 started the era of supersonic aerial combat.

North American F-100 Super Sabre

Super Sabre in a museum
Super Sabre in a museum by Pixabay.com

The North American F-100 Super Sabre, also known as the “Hun,” was a single-engine jet used in the role of fighter-bomber produced by the U.S. company North American Aviation.


In January 1951, North American Aviation delivered a proposal for a supersonic fighter to the USAF. The mock-up was reviewed, and after more than a hundred revisions, the new aircraft was finally accepted.

It was a huge success and provided the USAF an enormous speed advantage compared to the Soviet MiG-17.

The MiG-17 reached a speed of Mach 0.93, but the F-100 achieved a supersonic speed of Mach 1.04 to be the first supersonic aircraft of the USAF.

The F-100 flew extensively over Vietnam as the Air Force’s primary close air support aircraft used for ground attacks until it was replaced by the high-speed F-105 Thunderchief.


The first USAF supersonic jet

F 100A
F-100A by USAF. Public Domain.

While there were some supersonic test aircraft, the F-100 was the first fighter in the United States to reach the supersonic flight level, be mass-produced, and used in actual combat scenarios.

This aircraft reached speeds never before seen outside of test flight and had a top speed of 924 mph (1487 km/h), which earned it the record for the fastest aircraft of its time and provided the US a significant advantage during the early stages of the Cold War.

But, developing this supersonic jet involved a lot of sacrifice and technical problems for US engineers and test pilots.


A plane riddled with multiple technical problems

F 100 Super Sabre
F-100 Super Sabre by NASA. Public Domain.

This jet was a dangerous threat to enemies, but it was also a very dangerous aircraft for pilots. The USAF operational evaluation revealed that the aircraft had superior performance to all models in service, but it also had several shortcomings.

Out of the 2,294 aircraft, 889 were lost in accidents and it caused the death of 324 pilots, making it one of the least reliable jets in the USAF’s history. 

One of the most critical problems was its limited stability at low speeds, which made the aircraft uncontrollable for pilots during maneuvers and landings.


Sometimes, the various mechanical issues completely broke the airframe. Also, the aircraft could stall suddenly, sending it into spin and roll that would occur too rapidly for the pilot to correct.

Likewise, landings were difficult and unstable, requiring a long time to learn how to fly the jet.

Additionally, in 1954, the F-100A experienced six significant accidents because of flight instability, structural failures, and hydraulic system failures, resulting in the Air Force having to ground the entire fleet.


Due to ongoing issues, the Air Force started phasing out the F-100A in 1958, and the last aircraft went out of active service in 1961.


North American F-100C Super Sabre ’54-2091 by Alan Wilson. Licensed under CC by 2.0

  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 50 feet (15 meters)
  • Wingspan: 38 feet 9 inches (11.81 meters)
  • Height: 16 feet 2.75 inches (4.946 meters)
  • Max takeoff weight: 34,832 pounds (15,800 kilograms)
  • Maximum speed: 924 mph (1,487 km/h or Mach 1.4)
  • Service ceiling: 50,000 feet (15,000 meters)
  • Range: 1,995 miles (3,211 kilometers)

The F-100 was the pioneer of the supersonic fighter jets

From the launch of the F-100, the race to develop the fastest aircraft by the world’s military powers began – and the F-100 was the pioneer of all the supersonic fighter jets we know today.

Although it was a very unreliable aircraft and had numerous accidents, it was a trendsetter with its new technology and supersonic capabilities that opened a wide range of possibilities for new planes in the decades to come.


Feature image credit: F-100C 4mation by USAF. Public Domain.