Developed from the XF-88 penetration fighter, the F-101 originally was designed as a long-range bomber escort for the Strategic Air Command. However, when high-speed, high-altitude jet bombers like the B-52 entered active service, escort fighters were not needed. Therefore, before production began, the F-101's design was changed to fill both tactical and air defense roles.
Having manufactured parts and major components for a number of aircraft during World War II the young McDonnell Aircraft Corporation joined the giants of the aircraft industry responding to a 1945 Air Corps requirement for a penetration fighter. Influenced by captured German data on jet and rocket propulsion for aircraft, design work began in June 1946. The McDonnell factory ultimatery built two prototypes - the XF-88 and the XF-88A -- and began test flights in October 1948. A limited postwar budget and changes in Air Force requirements caused a cancellation of the XF-88 project in 1950.
Although the F-88 had failed to perform satisfactorily in its intended roles of escort fighter and ground support plane, many desirable qualities were attributed to its prototypes. Nevertheless, there were other reasons for cancelling production. A significant number of Republic's F-84Es, under contract since late 1948, had already entered USAF inventory and could satisfy immediate requirements for a penetration fighter. Moreover, a new model series of the proven North American Sabre, the F-86D - flown in December 1949 - was expected to meet the urgent requirements for a better interceptor.
In 1951, as the Strategic Air Comnand (SAC) phased in the 8-36 as the mainstay of its bombing force, the Air Force called for an escort fighter. The Air Force, pending development of a new fighter, planned to replace the F-84E with the F-84F, the production of which had been decided. SAC, however, did not support these plans and wanted a long range fighter capable of escorting the transoceanic B-36s. On 12 January 1951 SAC outlined the minimum characteristics of the interim aircraft needed for the period 1952-1953. Headquarters USAF agreed to evaluate several contractor offers which might more nearly satisfy SAC.
The general operational equirements of 6 February 1951, published as Skeleton GOR 101, was subsequently expanded as GOR 101-2 to cover the aircraft's next model series.
Included in the contractor's offers in response to GOR 101 were Lockheed's F-90 and F-94, an improved configuration of the McDonnell F-88, North American's F-93, Northrop's improved F-89, and three Republic submissions: the F-91, the already purchased F-84F, and another version of the F-84F that would be equipped with a turboprop engine. McDonnell's new F-88 was chosen, but the Air Force did not commit itself to go to production until several months later.
The October production decision for the F-88 was the result of Korean War experiences. Existing fighters had proved unsatisfactory as escorts for B-29s. Between June 1950 and September 1951, American pilots flew a mix of fighters and downed 13 Russian-built MIGs for every plane lost, a ratio reflecting superior flying skill rather than better equipment. The Air Force thus found itself facing two problems: development of a satisfactory escort fighter and replacement of the F-84s and F-86s used in Korea. In October 1951, it released fiscal year 1952 funds, previously allocated to the F-84F and F-86F aircraft, to get McDonnell's new F-88 into production without further delay.
Moreover, instead of procuring the Voodoo solely as an interim fighter while an "ultimate" long range fighter was being developed, the Air Force decided that the latter would be obtained by improving early Voodoo productions. The first production aircraft would have the same airframe as the "ultimate" series, but the first aircraft would only incorporate "available" production-type equipment, systems components, and engines. Then, as more advanced equipment became available, the airframes would be modified to receive them.
The Cook-Craigie production policy (26 November 1951), outlined for the Convair F-102, was extended to the new Voodoo. This meant that the initial production run of the basic aircraft would be kept to the minimum needed for comprehensive testing. While these aircraft were being assembled, preparations would be made for full scale production of a version that would incorporate the changes judged necessary because of the test program. The test airplanes already produced would then be reworked on the production line into the approved configuration. The leading objectives were to eliminate the faults in a basic design before many aircraft had been built and to get operationally effective weapon systems into tactical use as quickly as possible.
In 1953, AAC altered the requirement to a strategic fighter capable of delivering nuclear weapons, causing diversions, and fighting off enemy interceptors. McDonnell Aircraft corporation redesigned the XF-88 to carry Iarger engines, lengthened the fuselage to provide additional fuel storage, and submitted its strategic fighter proposal. The new aircraft, designated the F-l0lA, was the first Air Force fighter designed to be supersonic.
The improved Voodoo bore the designation F-101. The Air Force Council directed the new designation because of the significant differences between the F-88 and the new configuration proposed by McDonnell in May 1951.
Both GORs were cancelled in November 1958, when the Air Force decided to terminate the F-101 production - the F-lO1B interceptor, excepted. New requirements, if any, would be met by modifying existing F-101s.
The F-101 made its first flight on Sept. 29, 1954. The first production F-101A became operational in May 1957, followed by the F-101C in September 1957 and the F-101B in January 1959. By the time F-101 production ended in March 1961, McDonnell had built 785 Voodoos, including 480 F-101Bs, the two-seat, all-weather interceptor used by the Air Defense Command.
In the reconnaissance versions, the Voodoo was the world's first supersonic photo-reconnaissance aircraft. These RF-101s were used widely for low-altitude photo coverage of missile sites during the 1962 Cuban Crisis and during the late 1960s in Southeast Asia.
Army Air Force headquarters had asked the Air Materiel corunand (AMC) to examine the possibility of converting the XF-88 to a reconnaissance aircraft with interchangeable nose sections to allow one airframe to function alternately as a fighter or reconnaissance aircraft. If the designer could devise both gun and reconnaissance noses that maintenance crews could interchange in the field, the XF-88 could become a truly versatile aircraft.
The Air Force traditionally modified fighter, bomber or transport aircraft to obtain its reconnaissance aircraft and the Voodoo was no exception. Conceived in the final months of World War II, it took 12 years to come to life and several more years to achieve the recognition it deserved.
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