Staff Writer (Updated: 5/29/2015):
Development of the F-101 Voodoo began as an extension of the twin-engine XF-88 prototype that appeared in 1948. The XF-88 was envisioned as a dedicated interceptor and heavy escort fighter for protection of the USAF's long-range bombers. As was common practice throughout World War Two, bomber formations were protected by smaller and faster fighters such as the North American P-51 Mustang, Lockheed P-38 Lightnings and Republic P-47 Thunderbolts, leaving bombers to concentrate on reaching their target areas and dropping their munitions without concerning themselves entirely on formation defense. Conventional thinking carried on in the post-war world, seeing a need for such performers only this time in sleek new jet-powered airframes. McDonnell introduced the XF-88 and won out in competition against Lockheed and North American designs. By this time, however, the USAF re-evaluated the need for long-range escort fighters in the jet age and saw no need to pursue such a design. As such, the XF-88 project was cancelled.
With the arrival of the Korean War, the jet age was in full swing. However, the USAF long-range, high-altitude bombers were still shown to be at the mercy of enemy fighters, resulting in unacceptable B-29 losses as the conflict progressed. The XF-88 design was revisited by the USAF and it was acknowledged that the need for a long-range escort jet-powered fighter was still there. The XF-88 was worked through a period of redesign that resulted in a lengthening of the fuselage which in turn provided internal space for more fuel (effectively influencing higher operational endurance in the process). Changes throughout the XF-88 (including a new tail arrangement, larger turbojet engines and redesigned intake openings) now warranted a new series designation and the Voodoo aircraft family was born - the XF-88 now becoming the larger redesigned YF-101 "Voodoo" prototype in 1951. The YF-101 was also reconsidered as a true dedicated "strategic fighter" and not so much a "penetration fighter" as originally categorized. This provided the YF-101 platform the capability to mount various weaponry - including nuclear types - while still retaining its initial bomber escort role. The YF-101 (eventually to become the F-101A production model) took to the skies on September 29, 1954 and entered service with the United States Air Force in 1957 as the F-101A.
By this time, the conclusion of the Korean conflict and the arrival of the jet-powered B-52 Stratofortress forced a yet another rethinking of Strategic Air Command needs and the idea of a jet-powered escort fighter was once again dropped. Despite this action, Tactical Air Command moved in looking for a replacement for their aging F-89 Scorpion and F-84 Thunderstreak series of jet fighters. The Voodoo seemed to fit the bill and the F-101A found a home.
Externally, design of the Voodoo was noted for its wing root triangular intake ducts, high-mounted tail plane and engine exhaust ports ending just at the base of the empennage. The crew - be it a single or twin seat model - sat in the forward portion of the rounded fuselage under a clam-shell type canopy, the cockpit itself pressurized. Wings were short, low-mounted, swept and positioned at about the center point of the fuselage. The top aft portion of the fuselage elegantly formed into the vertical tail surface to which the horizontal planes were positioned in the uppermost part. Ailerons were situated on the outer trailing wing edges. This, along with the tail control surfaces, were operated via an irreversible hydraulic system as were the wing flaps (the latter also electrically actuated). A drag chute was incorporated into the design for improved landing roll distances. By any regard, the aircraft maintained a graceful appearance, particularly noteworthy considering the many sharp-angled American designs common in the 1950's. The design elements inherent in the Voodoo design would become apparent in the follow-up McDonnell design - this being the F-4 Phantom.
The F-101A model series was the first production form of the Voodoo. The platform sported a battery of 3 x 20mm M-39 auto-firing cannons and up to 2,000lbs of external stores. Cannons were placed two on the left side of the fuselage and one to the lower right. Gun firing was assisted via an automatic lead computing sight along with a radar ranging system. Bombing was assisted through LABS (Low Altitude Bombing System) and LADD (Low Angle Drogue Delivery) systems. Manual bomb release was provided for through DIRECT. Additionally, the model could carry one nuclear-tipped missile as needed. A-series models made up 3 squadrons and were produced in 75 examples. Performance allowed by the Pratt & Whitney J57-P-13 (15,000lb max thrust with afterburning) turbojet included a top speed of 1,009 miles per hour, a maximum service ceiling of 55,800 feet and a range nearing 1,900 miles.