Another trip down one of the best Innarnuts rabbit-holes there is, and one of the hardest to extricate oneself from: early jet fighters and/or fighter-bombers. Consider it a knock-on effect of yesterday’s Eyrie post, maybe.
I started off my day browsing through some of the other good ol’ 50s and 60s vintage aircraft, like the Convair Delta Dart and Delta Dagger, the F101 Voodoo, and another McDonnell product you just might have heard about already: one of the most fantastically successful military aircraft ever produced by this or any nation, the McDonnell F4 Phantom II.
The main impetus for this post would be Convair’s F106A Delta Dart, upon which hangs a wild and crazy tale.
The F-106 all-weather interceptor was developed from the Convair F-102 Delta Dagger. Originally designated F-102B, it was redesignated F-106 because it had extensive structural changes and a more powerful engine. The first F-106A flew on December 26, 1956, and deliveries to the Air Force began in July 1959. Production ended in late 1960 after 277 F-106As and 63 F-106Bs had been built. The F-106 used a Hughes MA-1 electronic guidance and fire control system. After takeoff, the MA-1 can be given control of the aircraft to fly it to the proper altitude and attack position. Then it can fire the Genie and Falcon missiles, break off the attack run and return the aircraft to the vicinity of its base. The pilot takes control again for the landing.
The aircraft on display was involved in an unusual incident. During a training mission from Malmstrom Air Force Base on Feb. 2, 1970, it suddenly entered an uncontrollable flat spin forcing the pilot to eject. Unpiloted, the aircraft recovered on its own, apparently due to the balance and configuration changes caused by the ejection, and miraculously made a gentle belly landing in a snow-covered field near Big Sandy, Mont. After minor repairs, the aircraft was returned to service. It last served with the 49th Fighter Interceptor Squadron before being brought to the museum in August 1986.
Bizarre, no? Well, just check this out:
Like I said: crazy, man, crazy. As MAJ Foust notes, the “Cornfield Bomber” should really have been called the “Wheatfield Fighter,” just for accuracy’s sake. But hey, once a nick has been generated, it tends to stick like glue, and fairness or accuracy be damned. Knowing military pilots as I do, I think it entirely safe to assume that the amount of crap MAJ Foust caught in the ready room for the rest of his career would have been measurable in container-ship loads: “Hey, Foust, guess we know now where the real failure point was—that plane flew better with you OUT of it than IN it!”
Anyways, the above-mentioned McDonnell F101 Voodoo is yet another of my faves, one I also consider to be a good-looking aircraft. A few of the deets:
The McDonnell F-101 Voodoo is a supersonic jet fighter designed and produced by the American McDonnell Aircraft Corporation.
Development of the F-101 commenced during the late 1940s as a long-range bomber escort (then known as a penetration fighter) for the United States Air Force’s (USAF) Strategic Air Command (SAC). It was also adapted as a nuclear-armed fighter-bomber for the USAF’s Tactical Air Command (TAC), and as a photo reconnaissance aircraft based on the same airframe. On 29 September 1954, it performed its maiden flight. The F-101A set a number of world speed records for jet-powered aircraft, including fastest airspeed, attaining 1,207.6 miles (1,943.4 km) per hour on 12 December 1957.
Delays in the 1954 interceptor project led to demands for an interim interceptor aircraft design, a role that was eventually won by the F-101B Voodoo. This role required extensive modifications to add a large radar to the nose of the aircraft, a second crew member to operate it, and a new weapons bay using a rotating door that held its four AIM-4 Falcon missiles or two AIR-2 Genie rockets hidden within the airframe until it was time to be fired. The F-101B entered service with USAF Air Defense Command in 1959 and the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) in 1961. While the Voodoo was a moderate success, it may have been more important as an evolutionary step towards its replacement in most roles, the F-4 Phantom II, one of the most successful Western fighter designs of the 1950s; the Phantom would retain the twin engines, twin crew for interception duties, and a tail mounted well above and behind the jet exhaust, although it was an evolution of the F3H Demon while the Voodoo was developed from the earlier XF-88 Voodoo.
The Voodoo’s career as a fighter-bomber was relatively brief, but the reconnaissance versions served for some time. Along with the US Air Force’s Lockheed U-2 and US Navy’s Vought RF-8 Crusaders, the RF-101 reconnaissance variant of the Voodoo was instrumental during the Cuban Missile Crisis and saw extensive service during the Vietnam War. Interceptor versions served with the Air National Guard until 1982, and in Canadian service, they were a front line part of NORAD until their replacement with the CF-18 Hornet in the 1980s. The type was operated in the reconnaissance role until 1979. US examples were handed off to the USAF Air National Guard where they were operated until 1982. The RCAF Voodoos were in service until 1984.
Pretty? You tell me:
I‘d say she was pretty, yeah. Note some of the commonalities with the F4, which we’ll be delving into a bit more in just a sec, so hold yer dang horses, aiight? Low-mounted twin engines, tandem seating for two aircrew, tail section above and well aft of the exhaust, etc. Now for the justly-renowned F4 Phantom II.
The McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II is an American tandem two-seat, twin-engine, all-weather, long-range supersonic jet interceptor and fighter-bomber originally developed by McDonnell Aircraft for the United States Navy. Proving highly adaptable, it entered service with the Navy in 1961 before it was adopted by the United States Marine Corps and the United States Air Force, and by the mid-1960s it had become a major part of their air arms. Phantom production ran from 1958 to 1981 with a total of 5,195 aircraft built, making it the most produced American supersonic military aircraft in history, and cementing its position as a signature combat aircraft of the Cold War.
The Phantom is a large fighter with a top speed of over Mach 2.2. It can carry more than 18,000 pounds (8,400 kg) of weapons on nine external hardpoints, including air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground missiles, and various bombs. The F-4, like other interceptors of its time, was initially designed without an internal cannon. Later models incorporated an M61 Vulcan rotary cannon. Beginning in 1959, it set 15 world records for in-flight performance, including an absolute speed record and an absolute altitude record.
The F-4 was used extensively during the Vietnam War. It served as the principal air superiority fighter for the U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps and became important in the ground-attack and aerial reconnaissance roles late in the war. During the Vietnam War, one U.S. Air Force pilot, two weapon systems officers (WSOs), one U.S. Navy pilot and one radar intercept officer (RIO) became aces by achieving five aerial kills against enemy fighter aircraft. The F-4 continued to form a major part of U.S. military air power throughout the 1970s and 1980s, being gradually replaced by more modern aircraft such as the F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon in the U.S. Air Force, the F-14 Tomcat in the U.S. Navy, and the F/A-18 Hornet in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps.
The F-4 Phantom II remained in use by the U.S. in the reconnaissance and Wild Weasel (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) roles in the 1991 Gulf War, finally leaving service in 1996. It was also the only aircraft used by both U.S. flight demonstration teams: the United States Air Force Thunderbirds (F-4E) and the United States Navy Blue Angels (F-4J). The F-4 was also operated by the armed forces of 11 other nations. Israeli Phantoms saw extensive combat in several Arab–Israeli conflicts, while Iran used its large fleet of Phantoms, acquired before the fall of the Shah, in the Iran–Iraq War. As of 2021, 63 years after its first flight, the F-4 remains in active service with the air forces of Iran, South Korea, Greece, and Turkey. The aircraft has most recently been in service against the Islamic State group in the Middle East.
Over its long and illustrious career, the Phantom II has proven to be one of the most capable, versatile, and deadly planes in ANY nation’s inventory, period. She was large and quite heavy for a fighter/interceptor, but her operators overcame those disadvantages quite handily. Fast? Oh, you betcher; like lightning, this old gal was fast.
To show off their new fighter, the Navy led a series of record-breaking flights early in Phantom development: All in all, the Phantom set 16 world records. Five of the speed records remained unbeaten until the F-15 Eagle appeared in 1975.
- Operation Top Flight: On 6 December 1959, the second XF4H-1 performed a zoom climb to a world record 98,557 ft (30,040 m). Commander Lawrence E. Flint Jr., USN accelerated his aircraft to Mach 2.5 (2,660 km/h; 1,650 mph) at 47,000 ft (14,330 m) and climbed to 90,000 ft (27,430 m) at a 45° angle. He then shut down the engines and glided to the peak altitude. As the aircraft fell through 70,000 ft (21,300 m), Flint restarted the engines and resumed normal flight.
- On 5 September 1960, an F4H-1 averaged 1,216.78 mph (1,958.16 km/h) over a 500 km (311 mi) closed-circuit course.
- On 25 September 1960, an F4H-1F averaged 1,390.24 mph (2,237.37 km/h) over a 100 km (62.1 mi) closed-circuit course. FAIRecord File Number 8898.
- Operation LANA: To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Naval aviation (L is the Roman numeral for 50 and ANA stood for Anniversary of Naval Aviation) on 24 May 1961, Phantoms flew across the continental United States in under three hours and included several tanker refuelings. The fastest of the aircraft averaged 869.74 mph (1,400.28 km/h) and completed the trip in 2 hours 47 minutes, earning the pilot (and future NASA Astronaut), Lieutenant Richard Gordon, USN and RIO, Lieutenant Bobbie Young, USN, the 1961 Bendix trophy.
- Operation Sageburner: On 28 August 1961, a F4H-1F Phantom II averaged 1,452.777 kilometers per hour (902.714 miles per hour) over a 3 mi (4.82 km) course flying below 125 feet (38.1 m) at all times. Commander J.L. Felsman, USN was killed during the first attempt at this record on 18 May 1961 when his aircraft disintegrated in the air after pitch damper failure.
- Operation Skyburner: On 22 November 1961, a modified Phantom with water injection, piloted by Lt. Col. Robert B. Robinson, set an absolute world record average speed over a 20-mile (32.2 km) long 2-way straight course of 1,606.342 mph (2,585.086 km/h).
- On 5 December 1961, another Phantom set a sustained altitude record of 66,443.8 feet (20,252 m).
- Project High Jump: A series of time-to-altitude records was set in early 1962: 34.523 seconds to 3,000 m (9,840 ft), 48.787 seconds to 6,000 m (19,700 ft), 61.629 seconds to 9,000 m (29,500 ft), 77.156 seconds to 12,000 m (39,400 ft), 114.548 seconds to 15,000 m (49,200 ft), 178.5 s to 20,000 m (65,600 ft), 230.44 s to 25,000 m (82,000 ft), and 371.43 s to 30,000 m (98,400 ft). All High Jump records were set by F4H-1 production number 108 (Bureau Number 148423). Two of the records were set by future distinguished NASA astronaut LCdr John Young.
On the bathroom wall at the H-D shop I used to wrench at, my old boss had a framed photo from his days as a Gyrine jet mechanic: him back-seating a check-flight on an F4—a reward from his superiors for being named USMC Mechanic Of The Year a cpl years running. The canopy is up as the aircraft taxis back over to the hangar area, after doing a high-speed pass at extremely low altitude over the base runway.
In the photo—shot by a fellow Marine from ground-level-right of the aircraft as it rolled smoothly by—Goose’s flight helmet is still on, strap undone and hanging loose, as he flashes two thumbs waaaay up. The woozy grin smeared all over his face is as wide and beatific as one would expect to see on someone who had just been personally introduced to Einstein, Beethoven, Chuck Yeager, and Jesus Christ Himself, all at the same party.
Now, here’s another vidya I ran across, of a matched set of MiG 29s taking fullest possible advantage of the vectored-thrust concept.
The real action starts at around 1:35 in, with the two MiGs standing on their tails only a few feet above the tarmac as if they’d been hung on a string from the ceiling of some kid’s bedroom. Guess we know now where at least some of that super-duper-top-secret UFO tech might’ve ended up.