Friday, December 20, 2013

F - 101 Voodoo

McDonnell F-101 Voodoo

McDonnell F-101 Voodoo

First Flight:                          1954, September 29
                                             F-101A:  single-seat tactical fighter-bomber
                                             F-101B:  two-seat interceptor
                                             Pratt & Whitney J57-P-55 turbojet engines
                                             6749kg / 14,880lb afterburning thrust
                F-101A                M39 20mm / 0.79 cannon (3)
                                                             Port side of fuselage (2)
                                                             Starboard side of fuselage (1)
                                              3050kg / 6724lb bombs, including tactical nuclear
                F-101B                 MB-1 Genie nuclear-tipped air-to-air missile (2)
                                              Falcon air-to-air missiles (4)
                                              Falcon air-to-air missiles (6)
                Length:                 20.54m / 67ft 4.75in
                Height:                 5.49m / 18ft
                Wingspan:           12.09m / 39ft 8in
                Wing Area:          34.19m2 / 368ft2
                Empty:                  13,141kg / 28,970lb
                Loaded:                19,300kg / 42,550lb
                Max Take-off:       23,768kg / 52,400lb
                Max Speed:     1965kph / 1221mph
                Ceiling:             16,705m / 54,800ft
                Range:              2494km / 1550 miles
                       Fuel:          8123 liters / 2,146 US gallons – mostly internal
                Climb:               11,133m / 36,500ft per minute
                                           805 – most were F-101B two-seat interceptors

Fuel cells above engines along fuselage spine

Flying a dogfighter isn’t like flying a troop transport – it isn’t “steady as she goes”.  You want high-performance maneuverability so you can expect instability inherent to the design.  That may be OK if you’re flying a World War I vintage biplane like the Spad – you’ve got time to react doing a hundred miles an hour at several thousand feet.  If you’re flying a crazy rocket sled at tree-top level at eight hundred miles an hour you have to really know what it is you’re doing at all times or they’re pealing up your goo from all over the landscape.   Even good fighter pilots might take a pass on flying McDonnell’s F-101 Voodoo, especially if you have a wife and kids to come home to.

Two-seat F-101B was interceptor

Now that I’ve implied its virtual suicide to climb into a Voodoo’s cockpit let me pass along a bit of reassuring information.  The F-101 had an outstanding safety record with the lowest-accidents-per-hours-flown ratio of any combat aircraft of its time.  How does an unforgiving combat jet with quirky flight characteristics have anything to do with safety?  The Voodoo killed a number of test pilots because it was their job to discover the nature of the aircraft.  In the 1950s the Air Forces of both super powers were aggressive in pushing the jet performance envelope.  Design engineers were rushed into unknown territory.  Pilot safety was not first and foremost in this equation.  For instance, the high tailplane of the Voodoo gave it some extravagant performance characteristics but it was also the reason for a number of unpleasant surprises.  Pilots learned from the unfortunate early errors of others and, for the most part, stayed focused to avoid becoming a statistic draped in black.

F-101 had impressive range even without drop tanks

The entire saga begins with the XF-88 being flown in 1948 as a prototype interceptor.  Given the nature of jets during this period it should come as no surprise that its speed was disappointing.  The project looks to be scrapped and engineers are updating their resumes.  Along comes the Korean War in 1950.  The B-29 Superfortress is satisfactorily terrorizing the populace of North Korea with its bombing missions when, all of a sudden from out of the blue, in roars a jet named the MiG 15.  Our bombers begin to drop like smoked sausages.  The US Air Force’s Strategic Air Command starts to believe they need an escort fighter to protect its huge B-36 Peacemaker in a possible bombing run on the Soviet Union or China.  Looking around they recognize the long range potential of the XF-88 and, from this need, the F-101 Voodoo is born.  Sometime during 1954 SAC changes its mind about the Voodoo.  Maybe the new jet B-47s and B-52s are fast enough to take care of themselves.  Maybe the F-101 doesn’t have what it takes to protect these bombers all the way to their target, anyway.

F-101B capable of firing nuclear-tipped Genie missile

The F-101 is not dead.  The Air Force’s Tactical Air Command thinks this aircraft is just what they need in Europe to deliver tactical nuclear bombs on targets behind the Iron Curtain.  The F-101 meets its criteria.  It’s got the speed needed for survivability and it can come in low to the ground.  It’s got the payload ability to handle with ease iron bombs or tactical free-falling nukes.  It’s big enough to hold two thousand US gallons of fuel internally – making it perfect as a long range fighter-bomber.  Here’s the way it works:  the Voodoo begins its bombing run low, then the pilot initiates a loop, releasing the nuke about half way through so that it’s lobed at about a 45o angle.  The jet finishes its loop, rolls and drops, racing off at full speed so as not to be enveloped in the detonation.  It’s not a piece of cake.

RF-101A used in reconnaissance role over Vietnam

There was still another scenario for the versatile F-101 Voodoo.  NORAD, or more specifically the Air Force’s Air Defense Command needed an interceptor to meet the threat of Soviet bombers approaching American cities from over the Polar icecap.  Both the proposed F-102 and F-106 were behind in meeting this need because of a series of frustrating delays in their development.  The Air Force needed an insurance policy and the F-101B was chosen to be it.  This two-seater, missile-bearing interceptor was very effective but also extremely complicated to maintain – a real nightmare for mechanics.  Once the delta jets, the F-102 and F-106, came online these aircraft were handed to the Canadians to use, where they did their job despite being stationed in the adverse weather of the Arctic Circle.

Air-brakes deployed above engines on this CF-101B

The Voodoo isn’t remembered for its combat performance but it did play a key role as America’s first supersonic reconnaissance aircraft.  It was critical in providing the White House information on the nature of missile installation during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Its greatest role, though, was the contribution it made during the Vietnam War.  Voodoos routinely flew hazardous daylight reconnaissance missions over Hanoi at speeds of Mach 1.8.  Anything slower and you’re likely to be the victim of a Vietnamese MiG 21 – whose own afterburners could light up to attain speeds of over 1,300 miles per hour; and you've only got a camera to defend yourself.  The Voodoos speed saved a lot of pilots but you’re not exactly the Road Runner dodging Wiley Coyote.  There were 40 Voodoos shot down over the North, mainly because of SAM strikes and anti-aircraft fire.

F101:  extraordinary performance but also tricky

The Voodoo served the Air Force for thirty years in one of any number of capacities.  Its startling performance was at a cost of tricky handling.  You have to be among the best to fly the F-101 and you are always diligent about monitoring your jet’s behavior because it never flies itself and it doesn’t forgive a moment’s inattention… kind of like Valentine’s with your girlfriend.

F-101Bs intercept B-52G

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