The single-place, supersonic RF-101C differed from the RF-101A in two respects. It had the strengthened internal structure of the F-101C, and had retained that aircraft's capability for delivering nuclear weapons. In terms of operational service, the RF-101C also followed the F-101C's pattern. Both quickly outclassed their A counterparts, with the RF-101C soon establishing itself as the Air Force's reconnaissance workhorse.
The Production contract came in March 1956 and called for procurement of 70 RF 101Cs.
The Air Force decided to reduce production of the F-101 and to convert to the reconnaissance configuration the last 96 aircraft under contract. Being late F-101 productions built to the 7.33 g specification of GOR101 and singled out by the C suffix since September 1956, the converted aircraft entered the inventory as RC-101Cs.
First Flight: 12 July 1957
First Acceptance (Production Aircraft): September 1957
Enters Operational Service: 1957
The aircraft became operational at Shaw AFB, with the 20th and 29th Photo Jet squadrons of the 432d TRW.
RF-101H was another configuration of the F-1-1C converted to the reconnaissance configuration. Like the RF-101Gs, the RF-101Hs were transferred to the ANG as soon as operational, the first transfer of 10 aircraft occurring in late 1966. In June 1970, 30 RF-101Hs were in the Guard's inventory.
End of Production: 1959
The last six RF-101Cs were accepted by the Air Force in March.
A total of 166 RF-101Cs were Accepted
Eighty RF-101Cs were accepted in FY 58, and 86 in FY 59. Flyaway Cost Per Production Aircraft was $1,276,145.00 (Excluding $277,668 in Class V modification costs for each RF 101C.)-- airframe, $803,022; engines (installed), $287,764; electronics, $61,079; ordnance, $441; armament, $123,839.
Flyaway Cost Per Modified Aircraft (RF-101H) was $2,979,745.00(Also omitting Class V modification costs of $416,718 per RF-101H.)--airframe, $2,387,899; engines (installed), $429,016; electronics, $106,630; armament, $56,200; ordnance, none.
Average Cost Per Flying Hour: $853.00
Average Maintenance Cost Per Flying Hour: $322.00
The new aircraft reached the oversea commands almost as soon as operational. By the end of 1958, 30 RF-101Cs had already joined the USAFE. They were stationed at Nouasseur AB, Morocco, and Leon and Phalsbourg Air Bases in France. In May 1959, following TAC inactivation of the 17th and 18th Photo-Reconnaissance Squadrons, another contingent of 36 RF-101s came under USAFE's control. Deployment of the RF-101C to the Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) also took place in early 1958, but it was preceded by that of a few RF-101As. In December PACAF's 40 RF-101A/C aircraft, four more than first authorized, were located at Kadena AB, Okinawa and Misawa AB, Japan.
Both the RF-101A and RF-101C were beset with excessive main tenance difficulties and poor supply support. Premature failure of components, due to design deficiencies, aggravated the initial operational problems. In January 1959 all RF-101s were grounded for 1 week because of the collapse of main landing gears. In August of the same year, the aircraft were again temporarily grounded because of deficient hydraulic systems. The hydraulic problems, first experienced by the USAFE and PACAF aircraft, were not limited to the F/RF-101A and C model series; early F-101B productions were also grounded for the same reasons. Urgent modifications, accomplished by McDonnell teams and Air Force depot personnel, while helpful did not immediately eliminate the landing gears and hydraulic system malfunctions. In the latter case, some 500 manhours per aircraft depending upon date of manufacture were needed to solve the problem completely.
The Air Force quickly improved maintenance and supply support of the Voodoos. By 1960 the squadrons so equipped were highly operational. Yet, no easy solution had been found for the skin crack and corrosion problems that plagued all model series of the F-101 since their service introduction. Cracks in fairing doors, wheel wells, ailerons, trailing edges and speed brakes were discovered during each periodic inspection, and contractor teams had to be hired to assist Air Force sheet metal specialists in the repair of affected areas. A main wing carry through spar also had to be perfected to correct suspected cases of wing fatigue. The corrosion problems, which later equally affected the USAFE F-101Cs of Bentwaters, first reached alarming proportions in PACAF. Although some repairs were made at the operating bases by depot field teams, many of the PACAF RF-101s had to be returned to the United States for reskinning of the wings, shingle, and fuse lage at a cost of 8,400 manhours per aircraft. To alleviate the problem, the Air Force in June 1963 awarded a $1.5 million contract for the construction of a corrosion control facility at Kadena AB in Okinawa.
The Air Force continuously strove to improve the RF-101's reconnaissance capability and gave the aircraft better photographic and electronic components as soon as they became available. However, the first major modernization program did not take place until 1962. New high resolution cameras were then installed in most RF-101s. A special modification allowed the aircraft to fly at lower altitudes and the installation of flash cartridge pods gave them a limited night capability. McDonnell's Voodoos were air refuelable. A simple modification, accomplished also in 1962, gave all RF-101 aircraft the added capability of air refueling one another. The modification consisted essentially of installing a buddy refueling tank in place of the external tank of the aircraft's left wing.
Following confirmation on 14 October of the presence of missile sites in Cuba, USAF RF-101Cs were directed to fly at low level over the island. The occasion accented the RF-101C's shortcomings and the aircraft's continued lack of a satisfactory reconnaissance system.
The Air Force decided that the Hycon KS-72A framing camera being developed for the RF-4C another McDonnell production, under contract since May 1962 also would be installed on the RF-101s. The decision in effect endorsed a whole new modernization program, first suggested by TAC in early 1960. Numerous modifications were grouped under Modification 1181, as the modernization was known, and estimated costs were high. They ran over $180,000.00 per aircraft, in addition to some $3 million of basic expenditures. Modification 1181 involved the installation of several new components, and anticipated technical difficulties were soon confirmed. Initial flight tests in July 1963 revealed major deficiencies in the KS-72A prototype. Testing of the camera's low altitude reliability in late 1964 also was disappointing. Modification 1181, including the night capability expected of it, ran into further difficulties as testing was delayed because of the limitations of the RF-101 navigation system. Finally started in the fall of 1964 and first applied to the PACAF and USAFE aircraft, the new modernization program did not end until 1967. However, when completed, Modification 1181 and the KS-72A camera gave the RF-101C an improved low altitude photographic capability that permitted taking full advantage of the aircraft's speed performance. Other accrued advantages were a high altitude true vertical photographic capability, and an increase in sensor reliability through the use of automatic exposure control and an improved camera control system.
Pending availability of the KS-72 cameras to supplement the KA-2s, faster KA-45 cameras were installed in some RF-101Cs during 1963. In the following 2 years, the Air Force also improved the flight safety and maintainability of the aircraft. New main landing gear struts were installed. The RF-101C's fire warning system was modified, and the main fuel lines, fuel filters, and air ducts of the aircraft were overhauled.
The RF-101s, the only Voodoos in the Vietnam War, performed reconnaissance and strike evaluations from 1961 through 1970. RF-101s were pathfinders for F-100s in the first USAF strike against North Vietnam on 8 February 1965. Operating originally out of South Vietnam, the RF-101s later flew mast of their missions over North Vietnam from Thailand.
More than 30 RF-101Cs were lost during the early years of the aircraft's service life, often because of pilot inexperience. The first RF-101C combat loss occurred in late 1964. Highly sophisticated enemy defenses in North Vietnam accounted for most of the later losses.
The RF-101 pilots in Southeast. Asia were still accident prone and not proficient in aerial refueling. Hence, despite acute shortages in aircraft and instructors, the Air Force extended RF-101 flying training to 94 hours.
The RF-101s were earmarked to equip the Air National Guard. The RF-101Cs were to be supplemented beginning in 1965, and soon thereafter entirely replaced by the new RFC Phantoms. Continued increases both in war toll and reconnaissance requirements altered USAF plans. The older aircraft did not possess the speed and radar homing and warning devices of the RF-4C, but its cameras could obtain broad and detailed coverage of the kind of targets encountered in the war and in 1967 all but one of TAC's RF-101C squadrons were dispatched to SEA. In October of the same year, following the arrival of an additional squadron of RF-4Cs, one squadron of RF-101s at Udorn AB, Thailand, was inactivated, but this was as far as earlier RF-101 planning could be carried. The RF-101s rendered surplus were distributed to depleted SEA units instead of being transferred to the ANG. At year end, and also contrary to plans; the Air Force decided to convert to reconnaissance configuration 29 F-101B interceptors in late 1968 and nine more in early 1969.
With the RF-101 weapon system in SEA, the Air Force in late 1965 decided to accelerate the installation of long range navigation (LORAN) D avionics in the aircraft. Delivery postponements and funding difficulties were to cause another change of plans. The project was cancelled in early 1969.
A first contingent of five RF-101Cs was transferred to the Air National Guard in early 1969. Concurrently, in consonance with Vietnamization and force modernization programs, the RF-101Cs departed SEA, and the sole RF-101C squadron remaining in Europe converted to the RF-4C. The Air Force transferred its last RF-101Cs to the Guard during 1971. In October, upon completion of the final transaction and including earlier RF-101A and RFlO1G and H allocations, the ANG inventory counted 131 RF-101s, 116 of which were fully operational.
A new world speed record of 816.279 mph was set by an RF-101C Voodoo on a 500 kilometer closed circuit course without payload at Edwards AFB.
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