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"Flying the RAAF's Avon Sabre" (F-86) 


Two ground-crew members chat with Sergeant Barry Weymouth of Footscray, Vic.
in the cockpit of his Vampire aircraft, based at Malta in the early 50s. 

Australia's Avon-Sabre was widely regarded as the best of all the F-86 variants operating around the world. 

- Capable of exceeding Mach 1 (the speed of sound) at high altitude, its main shortcoming was the lack of satellite navigational aids, as found in modern aircraft.  The Sabre had powerful and sensitive hydraulic flight-controls for pitch and roll; the rudder was mechanical only.  Some inexperienced pilots over-controlled during their conversion phase.  Severe and rapid oscillations could induce bruising should the pilot's harness not be tight enough!  The human body was incapable of timing the necessary control corrections.

I have very happy memories of flying the Sabre. 

From early days, one incident stands out.  (Fortunately, I was an experienced pilot and capable of handling emergencies.  At Central Flying School I was a Category-A instructor, equipped with the required skills.)  During my Sabre 'type' conversion, engine compressor stalls and surges were not uncommon.  At altitude, and inverted, I had a series of three flameouts, one accompanied by an extremely loud bang under my seat ("bang surge") with an immediate misting in the cockpit, disallowing outside vision.  I had little trouble in relighting the engine after each flameout.  (And was too far away from base to do anything else!)  The last flameout occurred at the end of the landing run...!

The Engineer Officer suggested that 'finger trouble' could be the cause, but I was too experienced and careful to accept that.  Indeed, a defective fuel pump was found to be the culprit, previously considered to be 100% reliable.  Modifications followed.

Whilst taxiing, the Sabre used fuel at about 35 pounds per minute.  At 40,000 ft., that rate of fuel flow was sufficient to provide a cruising speed of Mach 0.83.

With the large external fuel tanks fitted, the Sabre constantly needed pilot input to the control system to dampen the oscillations.  This was tiring for pilots [fighters in that era did not have auto-pilots], especially on a long instrument-flight, until the drop-tanks were empty.  I found it beneficial to cruise-climb to 46,000ft and make a small acceleration to Mach 0.86/0.87 approx.

In the cold temperatures of Equatorial altitude, I have flown the the Sabre to 52,000 ft, where directional stability is degraded, the air being so thin.  An unpleasant thunderstorm incident happened in Thailand, when a large thunderstorm changed direction and blacked out our Ubon base.  The Air Traffic Control / Ground-Controlled Approach people could not see even large aircraft, like the C130 Hercules, and were therefore directing all traffic to alternate airfields with clear conditions.

I was too low on fuel to divert, so I needed Ubon Ground Control to assist me for the approach to land.  Two approaches had to be aborted and my fuel was down to 200 pounds.  As I made a third approach, I was facing a possible ejection should the exercise again be unsuccessful.  Through the storm I sighted the runway and landed (much relieved) in appalling conditions.  Fuel remaining was down to 150 pounds - about 20 Imperial gallons.

In Squadron armament activities I was quite pleased with the good results from the younger pilots.  As the Squadron Fighter Combat Instructor I had to use all my experience to produce best results.

Leading aerobatic teams was another satisfying experience.   Whilst stationed at Butterworth I led a team which performed at the Manila International display. 


From Williamtown I next led a Sabre team, the 'Black Diamonds', who were a very competent group of RAAF pilots, and included a fifth solo demonstrator, USAF Major Steve Shiner, an exceedingly capable pilot.  Among other tight manoeuvres flown, I led the team in an inverted flyover; whilst still in tight formation, I released control pressure to induce a near-zero-G flyover.  It apparently looked most impressive!

One of Australia's two remaining airworthy Sabres, A94-983, is decorated in "Black Diamond" livery.

In the recovery I had to return the team to positive-G flight.   So I carried out a quartet turn downwind rollout which enabled me to then lead the team through a tight, low-level turn over the display area.  The noise and the closeness of the team was very popular with spectators.

A disciplined inline taxi-return to the tarmac ended the routine.  In the landing circuit, at low fuel state, a flare-out speed of 95 knots could be achieved.  At heavier fuel levels, and with large drop-tanks fitted, about 125kts was usual.

Promotion to Wing Commander, and a posting away from flying, ended my very happy and contented days of flying the lovely Sabre.

Richmond, NSW, Sep17, 1961.  Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation Avon Sabres of the Black Diamonds
aerobatic team performing at RAAF Base Richmond, during an Air Force Week display. 
[AWM P00448.048]

Matching flight suits!  The 'Black Diamonds' team circa 1961. 
L to R: John Pyman, Barry Weymouth, Mick Parer, Maurie Baston. 
[75 Squadron Assn.]


Wing Commander Laurence Barry Weymouth, an outstanding aerobatic pilot, died in Queensland, after a long illness, in November 2013, aged 87.  Barry joined the RAAF in 1950, training on Tiger Moths and Wirraways before going to Williamtown for Mustang conversion in preparation for service in Korea in 1951.  However, that plan was cancelled.  Instead, Barry went to the Middle East (Cyprus) and then to No.78 Wing (75 Squadron), Malta, as a Sergeant Pilot. 

Flying British-made Vampires, he formed an aerobatic team with Vic Oborn, Les Reading and Tony Armstrong.  In Malta he took part in a 700-aircraft Coronation Flypast [1953].  In the late 1950s Barry was posted to Butterworth (Malaysia).  In June 1959, Barry founded the original No.78 Wing Sabre Aerobatic Display team.  Team members joining Barry were Mick Parer (drawn from No.77 Squadron) and Peter Dart and Ted Radford (from No.3 Squadron) with Dennis Stenhouse (also 3SQN) as standby.  This team performed over Manila (Philippines) in November 1959.  Among his qualifications, Barry was a Category 'A' Instructor at Central Flying School and graduated from No.6 Fighter Combat Instructor Course at Williamtown in September 1960. 

In 1961, following approval for the formation of a new Sabre Aerobatic Team in No.75 Squadron, Barry was appointed Leader of the “Black Diamonds”, with team-mates John Pyman, Mick Parer, Maurie Baston and Major Steve Shiner USAF (the 'solo' demonstrator).  Performances by this team displayed sequences based on both new ideas and past experience, along with discussions with Major 'Fitz', the leader of the USAF Thunderbirds formation display team.  Barry also flew RAAF Sabre patrols from Ubon, eastern Thailand, during the Vietnam War era.

Barry, a dedicated and loyal operator, was held in high esteem by his peers and enjoyed the camaraderie of the Service.  One anecdote describes Barry, in a happy but somewhat inebriated state, suffering the misfortune, whilst driving a Service car, of not just pranging the vehicle, but deftly selecting a crash-site outside a civilian Police Station - and neatly using several Police vehicles to cushion his impact!

 [Additional note by Jim Hall, QLD President , 3 Squadron Association:]  

Barry's funeral was held on Bribie Island, where he had lived for a number of years, ever active in the local community and one time President of the Lions Club.  The funeral was well-attended, with family and friends and representatives of our Association.  Also unprecedented, in my experience with the Association, Wing Commander Tim Alsop (the CO of 3 Squadron at Williamtown) flew an F-18 up to Brisbane, hired a car and drove up to Bribie to pay his respects to Barry and his family.  Tim was in full uniform and his presence added greatly to the occasion.  The family were extremely grateful and much moved by the thought and effort that Tim had put in.  The RSL was represented and when the Last Post was played in the church, Tim donned his cap and saluted, which made us all puff out our chests that little bit more.  It brought a tear to the eyes of more than one mourner.  I can’t thank Wing Commander Alsop enough for his consideration and effort to take the time to come up for Barry’s funeral.


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