There is an Aussie in disguise at the Indonesian Air Force Museum (Museum Dirgantara Mandala) in Yogyakarta, Java and it wasn’t me! Within the main museum building hangar you will find a well-preserved former RAAF CAC CA-27 Sabre jet fighter in Indonesian Air Force (TNI-AU) markings (TS-8618, formerly RAAF A94-370).
The CA-27 was a modified North American F-86 Sabre fitted with a more powerful but differently sized licence-built 7,500lb thrust Rolls Royce Avon turbojet engine, producing a top speed of 1,167km/h (700mph), rather than the original 6,100 lb thrust General Electric J-47 engine which had a top speed of 1,106 km/h (687 mph). Other modifications included an increased fuel capacity, lightened airframe, revised cockpit layout and a Plessey isopropyl nitrate liquid fuel combustion starter to start the engine without an external power source.
Armament was 2 x 30mm ADEN cannons (replacing 6 x 0.50 caliber machine guns to bring it more in line with contemporary Soviet jets that only carried cannons) and by 1960, AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles (it could also carry rockets and 2 x 1,000 lb bombs if required). Initially dubbed the Avon Sabre by CAC, it was said to be one of the finest variants of the Sabre jet.
The only prototype first flew on August 3rd, 1953 and 111 production model CA-27 Sabre jets were produced from 1953 to 1961, with the first entering RAAF service in 1954. The last was retired by the RAAF in 1971.
Why is an ex-RAAF jet in Indonesian markings? Simple really. Firstly in 1969, with the gradual retirement of Sabre jets as RAAF pilots converted to Dassault Mirage IIIO supersonic fighter aircraft (commencing in 1964), the Australian government donated 18 refurbished Sabre jets to Malaysia and then in 1973 did likewise for Indonesia, also donating 18 refurbished aircraft (they basically replaced unserviceable MiG-21F-13 fighters after Indonesian-Soviet Union relations soured in the late 1960’s). In 1976 Indonesia received 5 more ex-RAAF Sabre jets from Malaysia as attrition replacements. They received the serial number range F-8601 to F-8623 (later redesignated TS-8601 to TS-8623 with “TS” meaning “Tempur Sergap” i.e “Combat Assault” – information sourced from ADF-Serials) and were operated by the Indonesian Air Force (TNI-AU) No. 14 Squadron until retired in 1981.
The Indonesian CAC Sabre was also flown by No. 14 Squadron in the “Spirit 78” aerobatic display team formed in 1978. Their aircraft featured a red stripe along the fuselage as per the museum aircraft (TS-8618, formerly RAAF A94-370).
The RAAF conducted initial training of Indonesian personnel for operation of the CAC Sabre at RAAF Williamtown in NSW. In February 1973, RAAF No. 2 Operational Conversion Unit (2OCU) pilots flew the jets over a ten day period from RAAF Williamtown to Bali via Mount Isa and Darwin in the Northern Territory. Indonesian pilots then flew them to Iswahyudi Air Base in Java. As part of the overall training package provided by Australia, the RAAF Sabre Advisory Unit was based in Indonesia until February 1975. They provided further aircrew, technical and logistical training to TNI-AU personnel.
5 Indonesian CAC Sabre jets crashed during their operational life (A94-352 crashed on take-off from Denpasar, Bali during delivery in February 1973 and was later replaced. The aircraft was returned to Australia and is there today as a flying warbird). 10 of the retired aircraft were purchased by Kermit Weeks in 1989 and shipped to the United States with the intention to sell them for restoration as museum pieces or flying warbirds. A number are on display or remain in storage in the United States. The remaining aircraft are on display around Indonesia.