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DVD SAVANT

F-86 Sabre
Aircraft Films


F-86 Sabre
Aircraft Films
2004
B&W & Color
1:37 flat full frame
+/- 5 hours
Street Date March 30, 2004
29.99

Starring various Air Aces of the Korean War
Produced by Mark Gray, Jonathan Strickland
Directed by Jonathan Strickland

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Military films have been fairly popular on DVD and many of them are a big disappointment. Either substandard-quality declassified government films are shown without explanation, or some producer takes it upon himself to tell the whole story of a war or engagement with woefully inadequate footage. Clips are used out of context and faked Kevin Burns-style voiceovers are used to paste it all together. As a marketing hook, fifty-year old combat footage is edited to a disco beat. Most of these pseudo-docus are largely unwatchable.

The plain-wrap F-86 Sabre two-disc set is a happy exception to the norm. A show dedicated to only one aircraft is bound to have its limitations, and the makers of this collection of found film items wisely refrain from meddling with the available resources. It's a dream show for the serious fighter jet buff.

The 43-minute Main Program is a series of illustrated talks by various retired flyers, in their own words. If they're faked, I was completely fooled, as these guys sound and talk like the real item. There are no generalities; when the fliers talk about their experiences it is in complete detail. We see what they looked like back in the 1950s and become intimately acquainted with the Sabre Jets they flew.

The testimony is carefully ordered to show the development of the F-86, the first of which was flown in 1947. The pilots give us the kind of detail that never makes the big docus, and when a technical issue is discussed, we're given specific footage to back it up. Instead of random shots of the airplane's weapon systems, the film shows us the specific configuration of the six large-caliber machine guns and shows us calibration firings on a test stand. After watching the technicians load up the ammo, we're convinced we could do it ourselves without further training.

The fliers talk about the specific airbases and the kinds of missions they flew. One of them is from the UK; another is a Taiwanese pilot-commander who flew the jets during a threat from mainland China in 1958.

Free from editorial embellishment and graphic hype, the Main Program is a welcome "just the facts" presentation that will glue the aviation addicts to the screen. The producers also let most of the footage play without a background score, also a welcome decision.

That's the basic appeal here; instead of predigested and content-managed entertainment, F-86 Sabre gives us prime source content. This is a visual resource of reference quality.

The rest of the two discs are filled with sometimes redundant but equally authoritative archive material. Here's a breakdown:

Contents:

Disc one: The Main Program (see above).
Walkaround: An okay videotape look at a single F86 jet maintained by the North Carolina Air National Guard.
The Fighting 51st: An uncut 30 minute overview on one interceptor wing's work in the Korean War, with full pre-flight briefing coverage and details of the workings of the entire wing command.
Warning Red: A late 1940s docu on how the early warning system and how it distinguishes normal air traffic from suspected sneak attack Russian bombers.
No Sweat: An amusing and well-made instructional film about the importance of details on a routine flight. The pilot here is hung-over, so he neglects to do basic things like check the weather forecast. A series of avoidable mistakes culminate in a crisis situation that ends well but rather embarrassingly.
Slideshow: 200 F-86 photos.

Disc Two contains an endless series of original camera documentation short subjects:
Initial flight: the first test of the XP-86 in 1947.
F-86E: first flight coverage,
YF-86D: Test flights.
Opening moments of the 1951 bendix race,
A flight science docu on Negative G effects,
High Noon: a silent fragment showing the 527th Fighter Squadron scrambling,
The Statue of Liberty Wing: a dedication ceremony in France
Bob Hoover: performs aerobatics shown in color
43 minutes of F-86 gun camera footage identified by pilot where possible,
Outtakes from The Fighting 51st,
Wartime interviews (some with audio) with F-86 Aces Col. Royal Baker, Major John Bolt, Captain Manuel Fernandez, Captain Harold Fischer, Colonel Francis Grabreski, Major Vermont Garrison, Captain Joseph McConnell (the one played by Alan Ladd in The McConnell Story), Major James Hagerstrom, Major James Jabara, Colonel James Johnson, Lt. Colonel George Ruddell, and future astronaut Buzz Aldrin.
Newsreel fragments show the 50,000th landing at K-2, March 1951, the
4th Fighter Interceptor Wing, February 1953, the
16th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, Summer 1953, and
Project GUNVAL, a color short on a secret USAF test to put a 20mm cannon as F-86 armament.

A special section on the Russian MiG fighter shows some terrific footage of the F-86's main combat adversary.
We Flew the MiG has full coverage of the rush to test a MIG surrendered by a defecting Chinese pilot. Chuck Yeager is one of the pilots chosen to test it; they discover that it's slower than the F-86 but climbs much faster. The Americans admire the easily-changed weapons pod and its mean cannon is shown in testing operation.
The MiG at Wright-Patterson is the same plane displayed later.
Defection shows Chung Nak-hiun defecting with his MiG-15 in 1960.
Russian Air Show features a selection of Russian aircraft.
May Day Parade 1949 is a complete short showing the armed might of the Soviet Union assembled before Stalin and cheering citizens in Red Square; some jets do a flyover.

There's no story, no political slant and no baloney in this handsome two-disc set; the transfers and encoding are all excellent. This is the perfect disc for the jet fighter fan. Aircraft films has a website with more information. They claim that they've done an HD restoration of William Wyler's famous B-17 show The Memphis Belle as well.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, F-86 Sabre rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Packaging: Two discs in Double Keep case
Reviewed: July 9, 2004





DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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