Wednesday, December 18, 2013

F - 106

F-106 Delta Dagger

Convair F-106 Delta Dart

First Flight:                          1956, December 26
Type:                                    Single-seat interceptor
                                             Pratt & Whitney P-17 turbojet engine
                                             11,113kg / 24,500lb after-burning thrust
                                             M61A-1 20mm / 0.78 cannon (1)
                                             AIM-4Falcon AAM (4)
                                             AIR-2A Genie air-to-air nuclear missile – 1.5 kiloton warhead
                Length:                 21.55m / 70ft 8.75in
                Height:                 6.18m / 20ft 3.3in
                Wingspan:           11.67m / 38ft 2.5in
                Wing area:          64.8m2 / 697.8ft2
                Empty:                  10,800kg / 23,814lb
                Normal:                16,012kg / 35,500lb
                Max Take-off:      17,350kg / 38,250lb
                Max Speed:         2393kph / 1487mph / Mach 2.25 @ 40,000ft w/out tanks
                Ceiling:                 17,680m / 58,000ft - sustained
                Range:                  3138km / 1950 miles – external tanks
                                              1850km / 1150 miles – internal fuel
                Climb:                   9144m / 30,000ft per minute
                                              17,374m / 57,000ft – 4.5 minutes
                F-106A:                277
                F-106B:                  63 (two-seat)

Indented fuselage over wing aided streamlining

The nuclear weapon that destroyed Hiroshima had the blast equivalent of 14,000 tons of TNT.  A nuclear weapon targeting a city during the Cold War would likely be over 70 times that powerful.  These thermonuclear weapons were measured in megatons, or increments of a blast equaling 1,000,000 tons of TNT.  A one megaton explosion would create a blast of heat that would instantly ignite fabric and paper six miles from the detonation.  The old ‘Duck and Cover’ drills practiced by school kids in the 50s had the benefit of giving people a false sense of hope.  In reality, the few survivors there were of such a blast would likely hope death would relieve them of their misery. 

Genie missile capable of carrying nuclear warhead

When the F-106 was being developed during the 1950s both the Soviet Union and the United States were limited to the use of strategic bombers for delivering their nuclear devastation on an opposing city.  Assessing the Soviet inventory U.S. military planners most feared the Tupolev Tu-95 ‘Bear’.  It was capable of flying long distances at very high altitudes.  Its likely path of attack was over the Arctic Circle from a base somewhere in northeast Siberia.  A network of very large radar installations, known as the DEW Line (Distant Early Warning) was set up to meet this threat.  Likewise a number of jet interceptors were designed during this period with the exclusive purpose of intercepting these Russian bombers before they could reach their North American targets.  Among these aircraft were the F-89 Scorpion, the F-94 Starfire and the F-102 Delta Dagger.  None of them adequately met the requirements of the Air Force’s Air Defense Command.  The United States Air Force wanted an aircraft capable of flying Mach 2, twice the speed of sound, and be able to reliably destroy an enemy bomber even if it were flying well above 50,000 feet. 

Tupolev Tu-95 'Bear' - best Russian strategic bomber

 The initial flights of the prototype F-106 in late 1956 were disappointing.  There naturally was some grumbling about scrapping the program but the plane showed potential.  Its avionics were absolutely revolutionary if only they could make it work.  An aircraft promising a technological leap in aviation is going to take time to properly develop.  No one should really be surprised that the F-106 would not become operational for another three years.  When the F-106 Delta Dart, or simply Six as it was referred to by its pilots, went into service with the Air Force in 1959 it could already go twice the speed of its predecessor the F-102.  The instrumentation featured a Tactical Information Display that graphically summarized the current situation by pointing out where you were, where your target was in relation to you as well as other contemporary information relevant to the pilot’s mission.  The F-106 had infrared target acquisition technology to back up its radar-based, Hughes MA-1 fire control system.  It took Hughes Aircraft years to get this setup right but it was worth the wait.  The cutting-edge avionics were computerized, digitized and data-linked with those manning the powerful radars on the ground.  If you were part of this system put together by ADC (Air Defense Command) you had to feel any enemy bomber formation coming over the Arctic horizon was doomed.  Your feeling of security and well-being was short-lived.

New air intakes for powerful and thirsty jet engine

Within a couple of years both the United States and Soviet Union were bringing on line a new technology that made the Buck Rogers cockpit of the F-106 irrelevant.  There simply was no defensive response to the launch of a nuclear tipped Intercontinental Ballistic Missile.  You make your peace with God and comfortably sit in your favorite easy chair waiting to be vaporized.  Around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis some entrepreneurial types offered to sell their neighbors bomb shelters for the back yard.  When it wasn’t being used on doomsday it made for a great family rec room.  Such were the unintended benefits of the Cold War. 

F-106 - pilots simply referred to it as Six

The F-106 was an impressive aircraft.  It even displayed remarkable dogfighting characteristics although that never was its designers’ intent.  It remained on duty as this nation’s primary defense against air attack well into the 1970s, shadowing curious Tupolev ‘Bears’ snooping off the coast of Alaska and keeping Soviet aircraft an honest distance from the American east coast while on their way to Cuba.  It was clear the threat of nuclear annihilation now came from giant land-based ballistic missiles and from missiles launched from submerged submarines hidden somewhere in the vast spaces of ocean.  Still, so long as there were bombers capable of flying thousands of miles there would continue to be someone on patrol in a cockpit ready to respond.

America's original seven astronauts pose by F-106

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