McDonnell F-101 Voodoo
The Voodoo was a supersonic American jet fighter that first flew in 1954 and was operated by the US Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force. The final flight with the Royal Canadian Air Force was in April 1987.
The Voodoo was the second of the “Century Series” of fighters, following behind the F-100 Super Sabre, and preceding the F-102 Delta Dagger, F-104 Starfighter, F-105 Thunderchief, and the F-106 Delta Dart. (Others in the 100 series were not produced).
The Voodoo can trace its roots back to the first few weeks after the end of World War Two in August 1945 when a requirement for a ‘Penetration Fighter’ was announced by the US Army Air Force, as it was then known. The concept was for something like the P-51 Mustang, but jet-powered and faster.
In 1946 the Strategic Air Command was formed and the Penetration Fighter requirement became more specific. SAC wanted a long range bomber escort that would accompany aircraft such as the new Convair B-36 Peacemaker and the Boeing B-47 on strikes deep into the Soviet Union.
Following the detonation of the first Russian atomic bomb in 1949, the Penetration Fighter’s role changed once again, and it took on other duties including tactical nuclear strike, interceptor and reconnaissance. The Air Force now also needed a more versatile aeroplane – one that could intercept hordes of incoming Russian bombers and scatter their formations with nuclear missiles.
McDonnell won a contract to built two early stage prototypes. The first XF-88 finally flew in October 1948, but the project’s design requirements continued to change, and the competition was reopened to industry several times to newcomers before McDonnell finally had a firm production contract for their heavily revised design, in June 1952.
The designation given to it was F-101 and name chosen was Voodoo, in line with McDonnell’s practice of assigning supernatural names to their aircraft.
Design & development
The gestation of the Voodoo was a long and schizophrenic one and ran from 1946 until 1952. Along the way the requirements, role and specification of the design changed several times. To be fair, this was a period of enormous political and technological change.
Almost all aircraft development programs at the time suffered from this volatility. Any number of major IT projects or aircraft procurement programs have repeatedly shown that the outcome of constant design changes is often project failure.
The Voodoo had dual J-57 engines, swept wings and a T-tail with slight dihedral. The type was unusual in having both boom and probe/drogue in-flight refuelling capability.
Entry to service
The F-101A eventually arrived in production quantities, soon followed by the slightly improved F-101C. Both models had 4 Mk 39 cannon in the nose, two mounting points for drop tanks under the front fuselage, and a centreline mounting point for nuclear bombs, a practice bomb dispenser carrying 6 x 25 lb practice bombs, baggage pod, or one 2,000 lb concrete, drogue chute-equipped practice bomb. The latter was used to practice the LADDS or LABS bomb delivery methods.
There was an initial plan to add the ability to carry 2.75 inch rockets, but this was not proceeded with, and not incorporated into production A or C models.
The C model had a strengthened, 500 lb heavier airframe, rated for 7.33g versus the 6.33g rating of the A model.
In December 1957 a F-101A broke the world speed record, achieving 1207.6 mph in Operation Firewall. The same month in Operation Sun Run a RF-101C broke several speed records between New York and Los Angeles.
Despite their sporty performance, the A and C were unloved by SAC, lacking the very long range needed to escort SACs strategic bombers. All of the airframes were given to TAC, who were in turn disappointed by the Voodoos inability to carry any meaningful load of conventional weapons.
TAC moved their Voodoos from Bergstrom Air Force Base in Texas over to the UK, where they operated as long range, low level, nuclear weapon-equipped fighter-bombers, targeting Warsaw Pact and Soviet airfields. The Voodoo had finally found a role where its very good low level performance and relatively good range could be put to some use.
By all accounts the Voodoo was a heavy, fast and tricky plane to fly, with poor longitudinal stability and a tendency to pitch up, due to it’s high-set tail. It killed a number of pilots during it’s testing and introduction to service. In the first ten years of service roughly one fifth of all F-101s were lost, most of those due to uncontrollable spins.
It was also a complex plane that its mechanics had to spend a great deal of time maintaining. In other words, it was a maintenance nightmare.
The Voodoo ultimately played three main roles. In the strike role the Voodoo could carry just over three metric tonnes (6,724 lb) of practice stores or nuclear bombs.
In the interceptor role the two seat F-101B Voodoo carried up to four AIM-4 Falcon missiles in an internal rotating pallet, and two Genie nuclear rockets mounted side-by-side beneath the fuselage. When carrying both Falcon and Genie, it carried two of each.
However it was probably the reconnaissance role where the Voodoo was most effective. In this configuration it carried up to six cameras and an optional centreline pod for photo-flash cartridges.
The RF-101A returned vital intelligence during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the RF-101C flew low level daylight reconnaissance missions over Hanoi at supersonic speeds. During the Vietnam war Voodoos are believed to have routinely flown the fastest missions of any aircraft in the conflict.
The MIG-21, which was introduced to service a few years after the F-101, had a slightly higher top speed at altitude, but could not match the Voodoo at low level.
In March 1961 all production ended on the Voodoo line. Phase out from US service occurred between 1968 – 1971, however the Voodoo flew on in the US with the Air National Guard until 1982.
The Canadians operated their Voodoos until conversion to the F/A-18 Hornet began in June 1982. The final Voodoo flight in the world was by a Canadian CF-101F to CFB Greenwood on April 7, 1987. It subsequently went on display at a museum.
- First aircraft off the production line, and was followed by the F-101C
- A single seat version with a 6.33g load limit
- Fitted with four Mk 39 cannons.
- 77 built, but only 50 of them saw front line service
- The others were used as test and experimental inventory
- Use of afterburner was limited to 5 minutes due to excessive heat build up
- The first deliveries were to the Strategic Air Command in May 1957
- Initial role was intended to be as bomber escort
- Top speed of Mach 1.52, with relatively good overall performance
- The A model were gradually withdrawn from service starting in 1966
- 29 surviving F-101As were converted to the RF-101G specification
- The modified nose section housed reconnaissance gear rather than cannon and radar
- These served with the Air National Guard until 1972.
- Was also a single seater and 47 of them followed the A model off the production line
- In September 1957 the first F-101Cs became operational
- This was some four months after the A model
- The F-101Cs joined the F-101As at Bergstrom AFB, Texas
- They also had four Mk 39 cannons
- Their airframe was 500 lb heavier and was stressed to a higher 7.33g load limit
- They had a revised fuel system and a revised vertical stabiliser
- Also had improved cooling to the tail section that housed the braking parachute
- The C model lifted the 5 minute limitation on the use of afterburner
- Both the A and C models had an under fuselage pylon for carrying atomic weapons
- Both had two hard-points for 450 gallon drop tanks
- Both were designed to carry a Mk 28 nuclear bomb
- Could also carry the Mk 7, Mk 43 and Mk 57 bombs
- 32 surviving F-101C airframes were later converted to RF-101H specifications
- This equipped them for the reconnaissance role
- They served with the Air National Guard until 1972
- First flew on 27th March 1957 and was deployed in service in January 1959
- 401 of these two seater interceptors were produced
- The rear seat was occupied by a RIO – a Radar Intercept Officer
- Was the only Voodoo fitted with the higher thrust J-57-55 engines
- It had a very long afterburner section that extended nearly 8 feet from the fuselage
- Due to the more powerful engines & aerodynamic refinements it reached Mach 1.85
- The four Mk 39 cannons were removed
- Provision was made for the carriage of six AIM-4/-4A/-4B/-4C Falcon air to air missiles
- These were carried in a rotating pallet with 3 missiles on each side of the pallet
- Late production F-101Bs had provision for two MB-1/AIR-2 Genie nuclear rockets
- Each Genie had a 1.5 to 1.7 kiloton yield with a range of 6 miles
- Early production models were upgraded to carry Genies under Project “Kitty Car”
- Carriage of the Genie resulted in the pallet being redesigned
- It now carried two Genies on one side and two AIM-4D Falcons on the other
- Were upgraded with an Infrared Sighting and Tracking (IRST) system in the nose
- The IRST was installed under Project “Bright Horizon” between 1963 and 1966
- It was installed in place of the refuelling probe
- Was withdrawn from service between 1969 and 1972
- Many airframes being transferred to the Air National Guard, serving until 1982
- A further 79 fully mission-capable dual control versions of the F-101B were built
- These were designated TF-101B, but were later re-designated to F-101F
- 152 F-101Bs were later modified to the same standard as the TF-101B
- These were also designated F-101F
- 25 F-101Bs were later reconfigured for the reconnaissance function
- These were designated RF-101B
- Two prototype and 35 production RF-101As were delivered
- They entered service in May 1957 with the 363rd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing
- They shared the same 6.33g limit as the F-101A
- All their cannons and the radar were replaced with up to six cameras
- The nose section was reshaped to accommodate the camera gear & equipment
- They had a buddy tank that allowed them to refuel other aircraft
- Eight RF-101As were sold to Taiwan
- Four of them are believed to have been brought down over mainland China
- The US transferred another four aircraft to replace the losses
- The RF-101A flew over Cuba in October 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis
- Only the RF101C was believed to have operated in Vietnam, however…
- There are several photos of what are claimed to RF-101As in Vietnam
- These include USAF serial number 54-1512, a McDonnell RF101A-30-MC
- This aircraft was manufacturing serial number 70
- 166 single seat RF-101Cs followed the F-101Cs off the production line
- 96 of them were originally intended to be the F-101C version
- The nickname of the RF-101C was the “Long Bird”
- These were far superior to the RF-101A in the reconnaissance role
- They entered service in 1958
- The RF101C was definitely in Vietnam, performing reconnaissance
- RF-101Cs of the 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing flew sorties over Vietnam
- They initially from Okinawa, but later from bases in Thailand and in South Vietnam
- The RF101Cs began to be replaced by Phantoms in 1967
- They were removed from combat completely by late 1970
- In Vietnam the RF-101C flew 35,000 sorties and a total of 39 aircraft were lost
- 33 of those were lost in combat including 5 to SAMs
- 27 were lost on reconnaissance missions over North Vietnam
- One was lost to an airfield attack and one to a MIG-21 in September 1967
- The MIG-21 was slightly faster at altitude but the Voodoo was faster down low
- The Voodoo could often evade MIGs at low level by simply flying faster
- After withdrawal from Vietnam most were passed on to the Air National Guard
- There they served until 1979
- The CF-101B was a two seat interceptor version of the F-101B for Canada
- 112 US F-101Bs were delivered
- The CF-101F was a dual control version of the CF-101B for Canada
- 20 of these were supplied, sourced from US stocks of TF-101B/F-101Fs
There were several other designations used for test and experimental airframes over the years such as JF-101A.
|Aircraft Type||Twin engine jet fighter|
|Role||Strike, Interceptor and Reconnaissance|
|Crew complement||Single pilot or two crew versions e.g. F-101B|
|First flight||September 29, 1954|
|Last flight||1972 (USAF) 1982 (ANG) April 7, 1987 (RCAF)|
|Unit cost||$1.28M (RF-101C) $1.75M (F-101B) – all in USD|
|Maximum weight||52,400 lb (F-101B)|
|Powerplant(s)||Two Pratt & Whitney J-57 afterburning turbojets|
|Armament||Four 20mm cannon (F-101A and C)|
|Payload||3,050 kg of bombs|
|Service ceiling||58,400′ (F-101B)|
|Maximum speed||Mach 1.85 (F-101B)|
|Claim to fame||Flew the fastest missions of any aircraft in Vietnam|