The F-101 lineage included several versions: low-altitude fighter-bomber, photo reconnaissance, two-seat interceptor and transition trainer. To accelerate production, no prototypes were built, the first Voodoo, an F-101A, made its initial flight on September 29, 1954. When production ended in March 1961, nearly 800 Voodoos had been built. Development of the unarmed RF-101, the world's first supersonic photo-recon aircraft, began in 1956 while 35 RF-101As and 166 RF-101Cs were produced, many earlier single-seat Voodoos were converted to the reconnaissance configuration.
The reconnaissance version of the future F-101A was included in the initial GOR of February 1951. Soon thereafter, McDonnell expressed doubts about the basic aircraft's capability of satisfying the reconnaissance configuration requirements.
Procurment of the RF-101A was initiated by a letter contract in January 1953 that covered the production of two prototypes. A formal contract was not negotiated until the following year.
The RF-101A mockup inspection took place about 18 months after the first mockup inspection of the basic F-101.
The first flight occured in May 1954. The Air Force accepted delivery of the second prototype the following month.
The December 1955 reassignment of the future RF-101As from SAC to TAC generated a number of configuration changes in order to satisfy TAC's request for additional electronic devices.
The first production aircraft flew in June 1956. This aircraft, identified as the RF-101A-20, and two other productions had the 1,773-Imperial gallon fuselage fuel tank capacity of the F-101A.
The fourth production aircraft--the RF-101A-25, first delivered in April 1957--and all subsequent RF-101A productions were built to the same specifications and grouped under the same block number. Their fuselage fuel tank capacity was supplemented by two 75-Imperial gallon tanks-one in each wing. Otherwise, being the reconnaissance version of the F-101A, there was little dissimilarity between the two. The RF was lighter, however, and had retained the bombing capability of the F-101A.
The most distinctive feature of the RF-101A was its nose, which had been slightly lengthened for the installation of photographic equipment. This equipment-initially unavailable or scarce-normally comprised a long focal length Fairchild KA-1 framing camera, one vertical and two side oblique Fairchild KA-2 framing cameras, and one CA1 KA-18 strip camera.
The RF-101A entered operational service on 6 May 1957. The aircraft was assigned to the 363rd Tactical Reconaissance Wing (TRW) at Shaw AFB as a replacement for the RF-84F, which was being transferred out of the Tactical Air Command. Although harboring distinct advantages over the subsonic RF-84Fs, the new, high-performance RF-101As were delivered without certain equipment vital to the accomplishment of the reconnaissance mission and their picture-taking capability would be limited until photographic production items became available. Even then it was doubtful whether the RF-101A could compensate for the RB-57, which was also being phased out of the reconnaissance inventory. The RF-101A, at best, was considered as a sort of consolation prize for the RF-104 and RF-105, both of which had been scratched from the Air Force's future reconnaissance forces.
There was one other configuration. The RF-101G was an F-101A modified for reconaissance. The F-101 airframe of the RF-101G, so designated in 1966, was extensively modified to accommodate photographic and electronic components far superior to those of teh original RF-101As. ALthough it also involved significant airframe modifications, several of the 35 RF-101A productions were brought up to the G standard.
The last two RF-101As were accepted by the Air Force in October 1957.
A total of 35 RF-101As were accepted.
Twenty were accepted in FY 57, and 15 during the first 4 months of FY 58.
The flyaway cost per production aircraft was $1,604,963.00--airframe, $1,150,903; engine (installed), $288,466; electronics, $106,630; armament, $56,200; ordnance, none.
The average cost per flying hour was $853.00. Average maintenance cost per flying hour was $322.00.
Like the F-101As from which they derived, the few RF-101As produced had a limited impact on the Air Force's operational capability. Between 1960 and 1970, eight of them were supplied to Nationalist China through the Military Association Program. Several flying accidents, the cannibalization of a few others, and transfter of one RF-101A to the Air National Guard in 1966 further depleted the 35-aircraft fleet. In June 1970 six of the 14 RF-101As remaining in the regular reconnaissance forces were used for training, but all RF-101s were phased out of USAF inventory during the following year. The RF-101Gs, including the two or three RF-101As converted to the G configuration, were allocated to the Guard almost as soon as they became operational, and nine of them were transferred in mid-1966. Toward the end of 1970 the ANG inventory still counted 26 RF-101Gs.
The Pueblo crisis led the President to activate three RF-101 squadrons from the Air National Guard. Each of the squadrons served a rotational tour in Japan and compiled impressive records. Combined, they flew 19,715 tactical flying hours in 11,561 sorties and processed 841,601 feet of aerial film and 318,856 prints.
On 27 November 1957, four "Voodoos" (RF-101 aircraft) assigned to Shaw AFB lifted off the runway from Ontario County Airport in California. The planes headed for New York and a place in history using air-to-air refueling.. The flight, known as Operation Sun Run, successfully broke the transcontinental flight record. The trip took three hours and seven minutes at a record speed of 781.74 miles per hour.
The RF-101 also served extensively in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. The Air Weather Service presence in South Vietnam began in December 1961 with the deployment of a single weather forecaster to Saigon to provide briefings for an RF-101 reconnaissance operation.
In the autumn of 1962, the pilots of the 363rd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing at Shaw AFB played a major part in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Utilizing their RF-101s for low altitude photo reconnaissance missions, they helped identify and track activites at Cuban missile sites, airfields and port facilities. The Voodoo helped confirm that offensive missile sites in Cuba were being dismantled. In awarding the wing the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award, 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."
Four Voodoos were delivered to Taiwan in 1959 under Project Boom-Town. The aircraft, flown by CNAF pilots, allegedly conducted reconnaissance missions over international waters off the coastline of the Chinese mainland, but, in fact, penetrated deeply into the Chinese airspace. The first Voodoo was shot down in August 1961; in less than four years three others were downed. The US Air Force transferred another four aircraft to cover these losses. RF-101s operated successfully over mainland China for several years before operational attrition ended their careers.
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