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  • Northrop F-89 Scorpion All-Weather Interceptor Aircraft

    The Northrop F-89 Scorpion jet-powered interceptor provided a decade of Cold War air defense for North America.

     Updated: 8/18/2016; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ¬©www.MilitaryFactory.com

    The Northrop F-89 Scorpion delivered a decade of service to the United States Air Force, charged with the critical defense of the upper North of the American continent from Soviet bomber incursions during the Cold War. The design was a relatively large two-seat, jet-powered fighter-type interceptor aircraft specifically designed to a USAF specification intended to replace the outgoing, propeller-driven Northrop F-61 "Black Widow" and North American F-82 "Twin Mustang" aircraft with origins in World War 2. The USAF commissioned work on the program in 1945 which resulted in a first flight of the XP-89 prototype on August 16th, 1948. The F-89 Scorpion was officially introduced in September of 1950 as the newest USAF dedicated interceptor.

    The F-89, itself, was largely conventional for the time, arranged with an internal twin-engine turbojet configuration and air intakes mounted low along the fuselage sides. The engines exhausted from individual ports under and behind each wing root at the base of the empennage. One of the more novel design features was use of the "deceleron" control surface which was utilized as a "speedbrake" for lining up behind potential targets prior to firing. The aircraft was managed by two crewmembers - the pilot in the forward cockpit with the radar operator in the rear. The elongated nose cone assembly housed a powerful radar system that would be utilized for the required interception sorties. The wings were straight assemblies fitted at amidships and (eventually) capped with wingtip-mounted unguided rocket pods in streamlined nacelles (up to 104 x "Mighty Mouse" rockets were housed altogether). Additionally, later Scorpion models could be outfitted with a combination load of Falcon air-to-air missiles and Mighty Mouse rockets - all intended to bring down large enemy bombers. While not granted exceptional performance benefits in her design (no thanks to the use of straight wings lacking any sweep), the F-89 was gifted with a service ceiling that allowed the system to avoid potentially lethal low-altitude confrontations with ground-launched missiles or enemy interceptors. When at rest, the F-89 certainly promoted a very distinct low-set profile, its fuselage belly nearly skirting the turf. The undercarriage was wholly retractable and consisted of two single-wheeled main legs under the wings and a single-wheeled nose leg under and ahead of the cockpit floor.

    internally, and the main reason for the aircraft's existence and success, the ultimate form of the F-89 was equipped with the then-powerful AN/APG-40 series radar suite coupled to the AN/APA-84 computer system capable of tracking aerial targets up to 50 miles out. The system was tied to the technologically-laden Hughes fire control system (FCS) which featured an integrated advanced autopilot function. All told, the collective system was designed to be able to track targets, guide the aircraft to within range of the onboard armament and automatically engage targets without pilot input.

    The F-89 series served the USAF primarily throughout the tumultuous 1950s in a frontline capacity before being relegated to second line duty the decade following. All F-89 versions were then out of service by the end of the 1960s after some 1,050 examples had been delivered. At the time of its inception, the F-89 marked two "firsts" becoming the first operational combat-level aircraft outfitted with nuclear-tipped air-to-air weaponry (in the Genie rocket) and the first USAF jet-powered fighter to support guided munitions. Ex-USAF mounts were transferred to the Air National Guard for the remainder of her days. The last F-89 was retired from ANG service in July 1969.

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    Northrop F-89D Scorpion Technical Specifications

    Service Year: 1950
    Type: All-Weather Interceptor Aircraft
    National Origin: United States
    Manufacturer(s): Northrop Aviation Corporation - USA
    Production Total: 1,050

    Structural (Crew Space, Dimensions and Weights)

    Operating Crew: 2
    Length: 53.84 feet (16.41 meters)
    Width: 59.65 feet (18.18 meters)
    Height: 17.59 feet (5.36 meters)

    Weight (Empty): 25,194 lb (11,428 kg)
    Weight (MTOW): 42,241 lb (19,160 kg)

    Installed Power and Standard Day Performance

    Engine(s): 2 x Allison J-35-A-35 turbojet engines with afterburner developing 7,200 lb of thrust.

    Maximum Speed: 636 mph (1,024 kph; 553 knots)
    Maximum Range: 2,600 miles (4,184 km)
    Service Ceiling: 49,196 feet (14,995 meters; 9.32 miles)
    Rate-of-Climb: 5,250 feet-per-minute (1,600 m/min)

    Armament / Mission Payload

    6 x 20mm T-31 internal cannons

    104 x "Mighty Mouse" 2.75-inch air-to-surface rockets in wingtip launchers.


    3 x Falcon air-to-air missiles
    27 x Mighty Mouse 70mm unguided rockets

    Global Operators / Customers

    United States

    Model Variants (Including Prototypes)

    XF-89 - Initial prototype; fitted with Allison J-35-A-9 series engines of 4,000lbs thrust.

    XF-89A - Second prototype with J-35-A-21A engine of 5,100lbs thrust; 6 x 20mm internal cannons added.

    F-89A - Initial production variant; evaluation models numbering eight total examples; modified tailplanes.

    F-89B - Second production mark; upgraded avionics suite; 40 examples produced, limited by engine issues.

    F-89C - Third production mark; fitted with J-35-A-21 / -33 series engines of 5,600lbs thrust; production limited to 164 examples.

    YF-89D - F-89B production model with new avionics and armament package.

    F-89D - Definitive F-89 mark based on YF-89D prototype; sans 6 x 20mm internal cannons; wingpods fitting 104 x rockets; Hughes E-6 fire control system; AN/APG-40 series radar coupled to AN/APA-84 computer system; 682 examples produced.

    YF-89E - Developmental testbed from F-89C production model for Allison YJ71-A-3 engine of 7,000lbs thrust.

    F-89F - Proposed variant fitting J71 engine with new fuselage design and wing assemblies; not selected for serial production.

    F-89G - Proposed improved F-89 with Hughes MA-1 fire control system with support for GAR-1/-2 Falcon air-to-air missiles.

    YF-89H - Three F-89D converted testbed airframes.

    F-89H - Fitted with E-9 fire control system; support for 6 x GAR-1/-2 Falcon air-to-air missiles with 42 x FFAR; 156 examples produced.

    F-89J - Final F-89 variant; F-89D conversions with support for 2 x MB-1 Genie nuclear rockets with 4 x Falcon air-to-air missiles; 350 conversions from F-89D production models.

    DF-89A - F-89A production models modified as aerial drones.

    DF-89B - F-89B production models modified as aerial drones.