Volume 03, Issue 5
F-101 Voodoo: The 'One-Oh-Wonder'
BY RYAN WILLIAMSON
The word "speed" ran constantly through the minds of the designers of the F-101 Voodoo and defined its contribution to the U.S. Air Force. As swift as the aircraft was, however, its design slowly took shape over the course of a decade.
As early as August 1945, less than two weeks after the end of World War II, the U.S. Army Air Forces invited aircraft manufacturers to bid in a competition for a long-range jetfighter. McDonnell Aircraft Company in St. Louis built two models, designated XF-88, to demonstrate the impressive capabilities of their sleek design. Over 10 days in the summer of 1950, one XF-88 participated in a "fly-off" with two competing aircraft. Although the Air Force ranked the XF-88 highest of the three aircraft, the onset of the Korean War forced officials to cancel procurement of any new aircraft.
The Strategic Air Command, however, was soon in the market for a twin-engine fighter to escort long-range bombers. When McDonnell sent an unsolicited proposal for just such an aircraft in 1951, it was precisely what SAC needed.
The new aircraft, designated F-101, was based on the XF-88 with thin, swept-back wings. It also incorporated several significant design changes, including a larger fuselage and a raised horizontal stabilizer. The Air Force skipped the prototype process altogether, so the first F-101 Voodoo was actually the first production model F-101A. The Voodoo was the first production aircraft to go supersonic on its initial flight, on Sept. 29, 1954, more than nine years after work had begun on the XF-88.
In addition to the Voodoo's role in SAC, Air Defense Command required an aircraft to intercept Soviet bombers and carry out long-range nuclear strikes. This mission called for a weapon system officer, leading to the two-seat F-101B. The version that would see the most action, however, was the RF-101 reconnaissance Voodoo, which could accommodate up to six cameras in its nose and ammunition bay.
The Voodoo's speed stood unquestioned after two RF-101s flew from California to New York and back in "Operation Sun Run" in November 1957. The total trip took only six hours and 42 minutes, with an average speed of 721.8 mph (1,162 kilometers per hour). In "Operation Fire Wall" a few weeks later, an F-101A Voodoo broke the world's absolute speed record by flying 1,207.6 mph (1,943 kilometers per hour) over the Mojave Desert in California. This speed was so impressive that Voodoo pilots nicknamed the aircraft "One-Oh-Wonder."
During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, RF-101s flew 82 missions over Cuba, flying low to avoid fire from Soviet surface-to-air missiles. One RF-101 pilot claimed he flew so low that a Russian technician almost hit his Voodoo with a volleyball. Thanks to the Voodoo's reconnaissance flights, the United States could confirm that the Cuban nuclear sites were being dismantled, thus averting potential disaster. In recognizing the achievements of the 363rd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing pilots who made those flights, U.S. President John F. Kennedy said, "You gentlemen have contributed as much to the security of the United States as any group of men in our history."
That speed made the Voodoo an invaluable asset to the Air Force, but had its drawbacks as well. Because the Voodoo could so easily reach supersonic speeds in level flight, the sonic booms from test flights often shook homes and broke windows in the areas around the St. Louis factory where Voodoos were produced. As a result, McDonnell Aircraft instituted a "good neighbor" policy regarding its high-speed tests, flying at higher altitudes and away from population centers.
A total of 807 Voodoos were produced in three basic versions: the F-101A/C, F-101B and RF-101A/C (the C models differed only in their structural integrity). The F-101 was McDonnell Aircraft's first major Air Force program, and the experience and reputation gained from the Voodoo would serve the company well as it produced such future fast Air Force fighters as the F-4 Phantom II and the F-15 Eagle.
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